Walking is so damn accessible. It's something we all , pretty much, do everyday. We walk to the shops, for a coffee, to work, around the supermarket, to the pub and around the block for a bit of exercise. We walk without thinking about it, all day.
Yet, what Paula Constant achieved is almost unfathomable. In 2004 Paula and her husband, Gary, walked out of Trafalgar Square, London, carrying packs that exceeded recommended hiking maximums by about 20 kilos, to commence their dream adventure. They were to walk, ....with very little training, from London & finish in the Sahara Desert.
From London they walked through France to Spain...across the Pyrenees and along the Camino de Santiago.....down through Portugal and back into Spain. Exhausted yet? It's starting to sound a little like the Demtel commercial...'But wait there's more'....(no steak knives, sorry)...but Paula then walked to Algeciras, across to Morocco and down through the Western Sahara.
Just thinking about it tuckers me out. Over 12,000km's. One foot in front of the other, day after day.
I first came across Paula's journey when my brother handed me a book back in 2010 and said 'I think you'll like this.' It was a copy of Slow Journey South, Paula's first book about her adventure. I was hooked and slightly encouraged by the fact that this seemingly 'normal' person has achieved something so incredible by a means that were completely available to me. I have two feet!! .... & I love an adventure.
Paula was the inspiration for the Great Ocean Road walk I organised with 5 friends last year (this years adventure is in exactly 2 weeks time! Yippee). The GOR walk is a far cry from the Sahara but with little training and little space in our lives, I was encouraged by her philosophy to just get out and get walking. Paula's story has stayed with me since and I often draw on her determination to keep me focused on taking each and every step, no matter how seemingly small, in the direction of my desired destination.
Hello Paula & thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I appreciate you taking the time between hiking & writing to be here at Stupendous Joy. You have carved an incredible life for yourself through walking. Where on earth did the desire to traverse countries on foot come from?
I'd traveled a lot with a pack on, in trains and buses or cars. I was tired of seeing places pass me by - it always seemed that the most interesting parts were those in between stops, that I could never find my way back to. I wanted to walk through these places so that I could be a part of daily life, see a country as did those who inhabited it.
Most of us have tripped up short of our goals after one mere set back.....but you, wow! How did you stay so motivated through blisters, foul weather, a marriage breakdown and financial strain to keep on putting one foot in front of the other in order to persue your dream?
Sometimes I think it was the walking that actually got me through those things. It was easier to physically put one foot in front of the other than to stop and think about it. Somehow walking allows you to walk through things almost subconsciously, so it passes, and you stamp it out. You don't have to sit in the middle of the pain and think of nothing else. Walking, in my opinion is the greatest cure of them all.
You talk about the journey of life interesting you more than the giddy highs of intrepid adventure. No doubt you gained many insights into yourself and life through the intensity of your walking. What changes or revelations did you experience through the walk?
I think the changes wrought in me by the walk only became apparent years later. In some ways it is only now that I realise what walking did for me - how it matured me, made me more patient, made me more humorous. Perhaps the best thing about being out there for so long was the realisation that the human experience really is universal - just at the moment you feel the loneliest, you discover that the nomadic Muslim 60 year old guy next to you is thinking the same thing and you both laugh. This is the secret to happiness for me.
What were the small unexpected joys experienced on your walk?
Dawn every day. Walking in the middle of the night beneath wheeling stars so bright they couldn't help but make me smile, right before I rolled over and died in deep, deep sleep again, with the desert breeze on my face. My camels, who cracked me up and kept me company. The many small kindnesses I was shown and the humility of many of the people I met. The sheer joy of cresting a dune to find Tomboctou lying in front of me. The miracle of good food in an arid part of the desert. The sight of the dunes changing colour in the middle of a dune sea. So many joys to be honest. No matter how hard the day was, I never wished myself somewhere else.
I imagine the adventurous spirit is a hard one to quell once ignited. What's next?
A 'very' mini adventure. I'm setting off this weekend from the Costa tropical in Spain to walk 1300kms to Santiago de Compostela along the very well resourced Via de la Plata. It is a little walk that will give me time to think and write, and I' can't wait. It feels like a luxury. Walking never ends. It is a passion that once ignited can't be quelled, a wonderful meditation that you can find anywhere, anytime. I Love it, and feel very grateful that I've had the chance and support to walk as far as I have.
Thanks for the lovely insight into your walking Paula. For your inspiration in getting me and my friends out there hiking... with little training..... and igniting a sense of adventure in us. There's nothing quite like being out in the elements and savoring every step, right here, right now. All the best with your current adventure in Spain. The Camino de Santiago is on my to-do list . I look forward to reading your third book. Much appreciation xx
Paula Constant Links:
::: Books: Slow Journey South & Sahara
::: motivational presentations
My Previous Intervies: