Like millions of people – like you perhaps? – I grew up in the sprawling suburbs of a city. I spent my childhood with carpet and concrete underfoot, not the wild earth. But from the second I saw my first mountain at the age of fifteen the city faded into insignificance.
Trouble was, the city was where I lived, and it was a hard place to escape. In my early twenties I had little money, no qualifications for mountain work, and worse: I’d been brain-washed to follow a safe and predictable path. But I loathed the suburbs. They were crowded. Alien. Life there lacked purpose and meaning. What I craved was a life of simplicity and adventure, but such a life seemed impossible to attain.
But then, by blind luck, I fell down a mountain in Switzerland, and the fall woke me up. Nearly dying does that. Afterwards, life seemed far too precious to waste.
7,000-miles across the ‘other’ Europe
In May 1997, despite lacking adequate funds, I left my London home and traveled to Calabria, Italy. Once there, I turned north and began walking. My destination, the North Cape at the top of Norway, lay unimaginably far away.
Of course, I wasn’t hiking to reach a destination, or to follow a fixed route – I was hiking to live life to the full, and to lose myself in the wild. And I succeeded. I lost myself (often literally) in the Apennines – a fascinating mountain range that few outsiders ever know. And I lost myself in the Alps in winter, and in the dark forests of Central Europe, and in the vast northern wildernesses of Arctic Norway. I lost myself within a hidden wilderness Europe that most people miss.
And I found myself too. The journey brought hardships and struggles, pushed me to my limit, but ultimately led to unimaginable rewards. As you may know, a six-month hike can change a life. My eighteen-month hike profoundly changed mine.
A different kind of journey
Twenty-three years after finishing the journey I’ve written a book about it. Why such a long delay? Well, the hike taught me many things, and one of them was to live in the moment. After all, what is better: writing about life or going out and fully living it?
Plus, I needed distance, perspective. And that only comes with time. When finally I began I saw that I wasn’t only writing a book about a long hike, or about a continent’s hidden natural treasures, but also a book about overcoming an un-natural upbringing, about finding connection with the earth, about making choices and taking control, about living the life I most wanted to live.
I was writing a book about soaring mountains… AND soaring freedom.
The Earth Beneath My Feet
The Earth Beneath My Feet was published on June first. Of course, I don’t know if it will sell. Some folk simply don’t accept that Europe can be wild. But Chris Townsend, experienced backpacker and author of over 30 hiking books, is reading it as I write this, and he recently blogged that it is now one of his three favorite backpacking books, placing it alongside Colin Fletcher’s The Man Who Walked Through Time. But still, I don’t know if anyone else will be interested.
Are you interested? Do you love books about travel? Foreign countries? Mountains? Long hikes? Do you want to read about hidden places that few people know? Are you intrigued by the idea of giving up work, leaving everything that is safe and familiar, and striding out alone in freedom? Are you looking for a summer read that will take you on a journey?
If ‘yes’, The Earth Beneath My Feet may well be the book for you.
Thanks for reading!