Day 18 to 21: the summary of Reims to Brienne-le-Chateau

Number of kilometres today: 31.48

Total kilometres walked from Canterbury: 537.03

Total steps since Canterbury:  760,985

I am now in Brienne-le-Chateau.  Since I last posted, I have walked from Reims to Conde-sur-Marne to Chalons-en-Champagne to le-Meix-Tiercelin to here and have clocked more than 500 kilometres.  I have written individual blog posts for each day but haven't posted them as I have been staying in places that don't have internet connection; a gite, a youth hostel, a home for people with disabilities and now here in this hebergement pelerins where I have a room with two hospital beds and a mattress on the floor.  My life is stripped down to the bare necessities; shelter, food and some clothes on my back.

I had intended to post everyday.  It is important to me to share my journey with you.  Sometimes we have to let go of what we planned and that is the case now.  I may post what I wrote when I eventually stay somewhere with wifi, or I may not.  Sometimes upon reflection not everything is as relevant as we once thought it was. I'm tapping into my global roaming account to post this now because I want everyone to know, especially my family that I am still okay andl walking, just offline.

The last four days have had their challenges, particularly the weather conditions.  I am at its mercy, often walking through exposed areas and all I can do is cover-up or strip off, put my head down and keep walking.  Conde-sur-Marne was my lowest day so far. I walked through the hilly vineyards of Champagne and was awed by how extensive they are; miles and miles and miles of vineyards. However, the weather kept changing hourly. I was battered by the rain and wind, wet and cold then having to strip off because it was too hot only to have to put the cold and wet weather gear back on again.  

With the rain comes mud and wet grass.  My boots and feet were wet for two days straight.  I tried the feet in plastic bags trick before it rained.  I had already taken them off by the time it started raining hours later.  Fortunately, Zamberlan are sending me a pair of replacement boots as they shouldn't be leaking as they are.

I have trudged miles through mud. There's no way to do it that isn't messy. My pants constantly have mud stuck to them.  And I just really hate the feeling of mud stuck to my boots. I scraped it off with a stick whenever I thought I was past the mud, eg back on gravel, but there would always be more mud somewhere further along the way.

Yesterday, as I walked the Roman Road, the sun came back although it had wind to keep it company, a strong fresh wind which would be why there are so many wind farms in that area.  Then today, it was just sun.  Soft, filtered, misty sun this morning then full blown summer back in the afternoon. And now it is nighttime, the temperature is dropping to somewhere around 6 degrees and most places have not yet turned on their heating.  When I stop walking, my body seems to go into shock and I get very, very cold even with all my layers on.  I have been filling my fold up platypus drink bottle with hot water to keep me warm.

I knew coming into this that the walking would be physically challenging and whilst I knew the weather would be getting cooler and there would probably be rain, I had no idea that it would be quite like this. I love the sun so walking on sunny days is much easier for me to find the blessings in the day. I haven't been able to do that in the moments I am being pelted by rain and whipped by wind.

Three of the last four days have been 30 plus kilometres and tomorrow should be just on thirty.  My body is coping well by day except for my feet. My left foot in particular has some kind of tendon and ball of foot issue that shoots pain into my third and fourth toes.  The area around the base of both heels constantly hurts. The most painful times are when I have stopped walking and have to start again after breaks during the day, when I get out of bed in the morning and after I have rested them at night. Then there is the throbbing and aching in my body from the waist down to my feet that wakes me in the middle of the night every night. It's not as bad as the first two weeks but it is still challenging.

Despite all of this, I never wake in the morning thinking that I don't want to walk. The last two days walking the Roman Road, I have experienced such beauty in the world and in my own solitude.  I realised that I walk to touch what is sacred and by experiencing it without so I experience it within. 

Although I walk alone, I am never really alone even when there is no one to be seen for miles and miles.  Yellow butterflies, white butterflies , dragonflies constantly flutter by my side.  Grasshoppers jump before my feet. Crows scatter like black confetti.  The sparrows soar and dart merrily.  There are beetles that hitch a lift, often inside my sunglasses. The giant pigeons that fly shrieking from the shrubs in fright that frighten me.  And today there were the deer that pranced through the open fields, over the hill and out of sight.  And even if there weren't all these creatures, there is the ever-changing amazing sky that has a presence of its own.

I'm not always alone, especially when approaching or walking through villages (although some appear deserted.) From time to time there are joggers, walkers, cyclists, men fishing in the canal, people gardening or leaving their homes; we always pass each other by with a Bonjour and often more.  I no longer tell people, "Je ne parlais pas Francais."  Instead I tell them, "Je parlais un petit Francais."  I tell them who I am and where I am going. They always wish me "Bon journee." And I walk on a little less tired and a little lighter of foot buoyed by the kindness of others.

Hopefully I can share some photos soon when I get some wi-fi (pronounce wee-fee) connection.