I opened my mouth and stuffed both feet in, along with a sturdy pair of walking boots. What was I thinking?
I’ve been a bit of a couch potato most of my later life. Occasionally I’ll have been inspired to get walking and for a few weeks I’d be out there in the weather labouring away up these steep Welsh hills, loving the few gentler slopes where I’d regain my breath and commune with nature. But the truth is I have always loved the idea of walking… loved the concept of sauntering along the spine of Wales… in love with the fantasy of having enough physical freedom to leap like a prancing pony along the curves of this enchanted landscape. I’d drive in my car along the mountain roads with the vision of the land unfolding before me, taking my breath away. And I’d gasp at the delicious thought of treading each peak with the soles of my feet.
And that was as far as I got until a couple of months ago in the Midi-Pyrénées.
I was on a shamanic retreat with Elen Tompkins, author of Silver Wheel – the Lost Teachings of the Deerskin Book. Her first retreat two years prior had been the portal for The Silver Tent and I was fascinated to see what might emerge from this one. A small group of us were staying in Las Coumeilles, a Chambre d’hote with the most stunning views across the valley to mountain upon mountain as far as my eye could see. Far to the left we could see the stubby thumb of Montsegur, well known for its Cathar connections and the burning of over two hundred of these peaceful inhabitants way back in 1244. We were due to walk to its summit at the end of our retreat.
Even though Montsegur looks like a daunting prospect it’s actually not a challenging hike at all if you’re reasonably fit. But to me it looked akin to Everest, even though I had been to the top three decades earlier.
It loomed at me and I spent far too much time worrying about it. In the meantime I had the long steep climb up the driveway to the main house each morning, which was enough to stun my senses. As most of the other participants trotted happily along with nowhere near the huffing and puffing which wheezed out of my lungs I began to feel embarrassed at how very unfit I had become.
One woman, 17 years my senior, was completely unfazed by all the hiking. She gave me her typical simple sage advice,
‘You’re alive. You have the use of your legs. You’re just carrying too much weight, but you can make it. Of course you can make it!’
I became determined to make that summit of Montsegur no matter what.
With one of our hosts in front of me helping me up the highest of the steps that my short legs found so tough, and the gentle push from behind from Elen, I inched up the long incline. There were numerous opportunities to bottle out and go back down to the base, but I chose the upward path each time. It became clear that each step I took became a deliberate choice. Occasionally I felt my muscles remember when I was a child happily leaping from rock to rock across seaside pools of shrimp and seaweed. I looked forward to those rare moments of muscle memory and heartened they were present even after five decades.
Back in the UK I was astonished I didn’t ache from my clamber up Montsegur and even more astounded to discover I was walking up some hills without even noticing. I felt I had improved my fitness level in those nine days more than I had over the past nine years and I could feel my body call out to me to continue. This time instead of resisting the call I went with it. I chose to walk up hills instead of circuit around them, I chose to push myself a bit further, and as I did I sensed the most seductive of ideas whispering through my limbs – that I could indeed achieve a level of physical freedom I had not experienced for a very long time.
Together We Walk
Like that first rush of champagne this idea went to my head and before I had the chance to caution myself I had posted in The Silver Tent community, visible to over 6100 women, that I was going to walk myself fitter so I could give myself the chance to walk a Welsh pilgrimage a year or so later… maybe close to two hundred miles.
Not only did I publicly commit, I invited others in the community to join me from around the world. Together We Walk was born. A chance for every woman in The Silver Tent to choose to walk themselves fitter, whatever that means to them. No major strategy, no bootcamp, just choosing most days to push a little further, to have fun exploring what we can do, whether we’re already fit, a couch potato like me, or even if physically limited. I love this collaborative approach where we can all be each other’s champion, sharing our journey through posts, comments, videos and Facebook Lives.
At the end of the first week things are going in the right direction. My first week step average was lower than I planned, mainly because I’ve had a chest infection. I am a bit of an ‘all or nothing’ kind of a woman so to build up slowly is not in my usual remit. I will go crazy and burn out! But being unwell has meant I have had to listen to my body and I have had to think about everyone else walking too. So even though we may be hundreds or thousands of miles apart we are truly walking together.
We’ve seen Facebook lives, videos and posts from around the world… here in Wales, and further afield in the UK as well as in France, the USA, South Africa and Australia. Some of our members may only have got as far as a short bounce on a rebounder, or have managed just a few hundred steps each day, but that may be double what they’ve walked before. We have some who have doubled their average weekly step rate and come close to the fabled 10 000 each day, and we have some who are walking double that too. But it’s not the actual number that matters but who we are becoming by challenging and committing ourselves to go that extra step.
Walking together, even though this is virtual, makes all the difference in the world. We have chosen a certain level of accountability but it’s much more than that. It is inspirational to be part of a powerful movement through which we transform our bodies and lives for the better. Each one of us participating inspires another no matter how little or how much we appear to be walking.
Of course this is just the beginning. Who knows what other challenges will emerge out of this?
Have you ever joined the gym or started some fitness regime but kept it to yourself so that if you gave up you didn’t have to admit this to anyone else? Yes quite. But uh-oh, I have gone way beyond that already and I can’t get out of this now!
If you are a woman over 50 and you’re inspired to join in with our ‘together we walk’ adventure – then come and join The Silver Tent Facebook group and come and play.
If you are already a member of The Silver Tent and have somehow not seen any of the relevant posts please do a search in the group using this hashtag #togetherwewalk
It is completely free to participate.