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Mel Wright - French Pyrenees adventure

Living life, the 365 way...

Never let anyone tell you that you can’t’. The moment someone convinces you to give up on a

dream, it becomes just that, it never becomes a reality.

Sometimes it might take some time to achieve a dream, sometimes it takes some luck, often it takes hard work and very often we must change our expectations to make something happen.

When I was at school, I dreamt of travelling the world a ’la The Beach style, before settling down and becoming a PE teacher who set the world alight with her awesome football skills. But the world is a very large place and travel can be expensive (especially when you have to travel during school holidays).

And I was never fit enough to become a professional footballer, mostly because keeping fit hurts!

I am however, extremely happy with my life. I did play football for a team with possibly the best set of girls to ever pull on boots, and although I now teach, it was art, business studies and sociology that became my main subjects – mostly through chance, and as I now see it, luck.

And I have travelled! I used to have a bit of snobbery about the term ‘tourist’ and preferred to see

myself as a ‘traveller’. I now use the term ‘guest’. I have been lucky enough to have been a guest in several countries, albeit over three decades, but each of those experiences helped me to see the world in a new way and opened my eyes to endless possibilities. Of course, I had to change my expectations because visiting other countries, no matter how prepared you think you are, is always a challenge. But challenges are one of the things that help you to grow, and we can look back on them with rose-tinted glasses which make us want to do it again (such as going through childbirth...)

My first real experience of backpacking abroad was during a 6th form school trip. We took a two-

week adventure climbing the French Pyrenees mountains. I remember thinking it would be a breeze, because I believed I was an expert at camping and mountain climbing, having done this throughout my childhood, courtesy of my dad. It was not as expected.

My boots were slightly too large (hello blisters) and there was no shelter during the day (hello

sunburn) and I distinctly remember lying on the floor under a tiny plant once, trying to get some

shade. We did find some proper shade one day and stood, as a group, under a rock with

approximately 100 sheep and their droppings to have our rest break. We also nearly got knocked

down the mountainside, when, single-file, we were navigating a path narrower than my hips around a cliff. This was the moment a farmer decided to let an entire field of sheep out of their pen and they all came running up the path we were walking along. I can still see those sheep tumbling down the slope. If it had been one of us, I don’t think we would have just jumped back up and carried on like those sheep.

My favourite night was when we were caught in an electrical storm. Lightning struck the mountain next to us and when it thundered, the grit under our feet actually jumped about. We had lost our way and had to camp on ground that was practically solid rock. People lost top sheets in the night, and we were soaked to the skin from hailstones the size of peas (which hurt!) but we spent most of the evening lying down and watching the storm move away. I have no photos of that night, but I can still see the lightening streak across the sky and feel the thunder rumble inside my entire body.

We spent a lot of the trip focussing on food – or the lack of it. We used to buy French sticks (of

course) in villages every three to four days, before heading back into the mountains and above the clouds where the sun baked our bread until it was both stale and solid. I never fully appreciated the combination of hot water and an OXO cube until that trip! We would dunk our bread into our watery gravy, until our bread was soft enough to bite. After living on noodles, stale bread and the odd tomato for two weeks, I don’t think a single person left the ferry without a gigantic Toblerone.

My most vivid memories of that trip though were the views. I had never been that high above the

clouds and didn’t realise the sky was so big or blue. Looking out over countless silent mountain tops, or jumping into glaciers so cold they literally took your breath away, or climbing up icy slopes with no pick or spikes made everyone forget their blisters, their hunger and their sore shoulders. It made us all want to do it all again.

It’s true what they say, the higher the mountain, the better the view.

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