Our Journey began in September 2017 with a simple message “If you want to take a break, have a look at our product Deux Pas Vers l’Autre: a 10K km thru-hike in Europe, 17 countries, 17 months... We’ll start next January ☺”.
Next came a video and then a conversation. Before we knew it, we were discussing terms and arrangements. I had never heard of such an ambitious journey and what’s more, I believed in it! Both Nil and Marie were totally convinced that they could accomplish their goal, so much so that during our first call with them, Nil said “The only way we don’t finish this trip is if we die first. We will finish”. That was all I needed to hear.
Now fast forward to February 2020, right before COVID-19 became a world pandemic. Two friends and I were on our way to Istanbul Turkey to join Nil, Marie, and a group of their friends to complete their journey together. Only 100 miles to go!
When we arrived to camp it was dark, cold, and windy but all we felt was warmth and excitement. We were quickly greeted by our new friends. It felt more like a reunion than an introduction. We enjoyed a family style meal (freeze dried of course) and had a dance party around the campfire.
Before long it was time to get some rest as we knew we had a big day ahead of us. I fell asleep listening to the wind, the dogs, and the waves of the black sea, the whole time filled with excitement for the next day.
The next morning we woke and I realized dining on this hike was going to be like no other experience I’ve ever had on trail; bread, figs, butter, tea, honey, etc. There were so many good things to choose from and there was no shortage of supply. After our breakfast we packed up and hit the trail.
Within our first steps I found myself having great one on one conversations with future friends, each lasting a few miles before organically transitioning to a new conversation with a new face. It would take two days before I had the chance to really get to know everyone individually and I quickly realized that I was surrounded by great people. Their spirit, humor, and experiences all added to our journey and my only hope was to be a positive contributor myself.
Besides the people in our group, I enjoyed the company of our four legged friends. These stray dogs would walk with us for miles, some sticking with us through multiple villages looking for nothing more than a few behind the ear scratches and the occasional snack to hit the ground. These dogs were beautiful and completely self-sufficient, living off the land and negotiating the random encounters of other dogs.
Like most Americans, European geography is not my strong suit. All I knew about Istanbul was that it is an ancient city with a deep history. Friends and family both cautioned against traveling to this part of the world based on current political events and fear of the unknown. All the fear, uncertainty, and doubt was not enough to keep me away from participating in this journey, and to my most pleasant and humbling surprise the people of Turkey were overwhelmingly generous! Merhaba (“hello”) became my new favorite word to say. We were greeted with nothing less than overwhelming kindness and hospitality everywhere we went.
Passing through a new village for a rest and resupply became something I looked forward to. What I enjoyed most in these villages was “people watching”. I was able to witness and absorb much of the culture and observe social interactions between natives and guests, all without a translator.
Of all the wonderful things I experienced on this trip, love and admiration for those whom I traveled with and encountered is definitely atop the list. I’m not sure if and when I’ll have another experience like it. I’d like to conclude by expressing my admiration and love for Nil and Marie for creating this amazing opportunity and life shaping experience.