While walking along a stretch of highway in France we were stopped by the police. They did not understand why we were walking on the highway. (I’m not sure we did). Trying to explain that we were walking to Africa only made us look even more ridiculous. Our hair was matted and we hadn’t shaved for two days which made matters worse. No French of course. We were English lads and a Scot oh and Alan of course, the Aussie. We were driven back 10 kilometers from where we had started that morning. We had no choice but to thank them for the kind lift, and begin again, this time keeping an eye out for the police and holding a note written by a local explaining what we were doing.
5 kilometers into the walk the Police stopped us again, the same police car. They read the note and insisted they helped out by giving us a lift! We had no choice but to get into the police car and were driven to the next destination. On arrival we thanked them again, and hitch hiked back. (We had no idea where our back-up team had gone with our lovely land rover).
We finally got back to where we had started. We waited for night fall. (This was on the suggestion of our SAS man Brian. Yes Brian was in the SAS for real) and began again for the third time. We did look at alternatives, but it would have taken us on a site seeing tour of eastern France and guess what, the map was in the back-up vehicle. Could it get worse!
Walking across the Alps in the middle of winter, temperatures would drop to -20c. My first job in the morning was to de-frost my contact lenses by putting them under my arm pit or down my pants. Both options worked well. Walking for up to 10-12 hours a day resulted in icicles constantly forming on our eyelashes, making the eyes feel really heavy. As an experiment I once let the icicles form to see how bad it would get. After an hour I couldn’t open my left eye. This may seem an odd way to pass the time, but after three or four hours walking in the middle of the alps and knowing there were seven hours to go, it was amazing how easy it was to retreat into your own little world. I mean how many mountains can you look at!
The cold was nothing to the boredom that we had to endure. At night we would remove our boots and examine each other’s feet to see how much white skin was left like jelly at the bottom of our boots. Mine were always worse, as I insisted on wearing trainers! I had to. I was being sponsored. Alan and Pete of course had been driving all day. “Damn it was tough in that heated land rover today” Pete would remark. Brian usually shut him up by demanding his supper, he was irritatingly rational a times.
Dinner big deal; bread, cheese, and sausage. We were lucky to get that sometimes. Occasionally we wouldn’t see them for hours after we had finished for the day. Sitting by the roadside surrounded by Swiss hamlets or monstrously huge mountains and temperatures dropping well below freezing we would huddle together like solders on the Eastern Front. It was a scene out of Stalingrad. Why, because they had managed to get lost, and of course in those days no mobiles. We had some interesting discussions when they finally turned up.
With the Alps behind us and while travelling through Verona, we met a group of women that invited us back to their house. With no where to stay and still bitterly cold we gladly accepted (as if we needed persuading). When we arrived at their house all we wanted to do was crash out. Well have a few drinks and crash out, maybe…. Then it started. It was Brian that noticed something peculiar about one of the women. Their hands were mighty big and actually a little hairy, and their necks quite thick. Alarm bells began to ring as Andy was almost on the verge of kissing one of the other “women” (He was chatting girls up everywhere)”Christ they are men” Brian shouted. One of the “girls” turned round to me and said “You want kissy kissy as well”.
I’m sure they were completely harmless, but we got out of there like someone had stuck a red hot poker up our backsides. As I was the team leader, it was my duty to ensure they were out of the house first. (Actually they got out before I had even left the sofa). I walked backwards, smiling and apologising until I was clear. The land rover had already been started and like a military retreat, we piled in and sped off, driving sideways with a front wheel lock, due to the icy road, my legs dangling from the rear door as I was being hauled in by my comrades.
Looking back we were so naive. I’m sure we could have stayed there quite happily, but the herd instinct got the better of us. We had to smile in the morning after a freezing night in the tent, as the night before we had stayed with Benedictine monks in a remote mountain monastery where they obeyed an absolute order of silence. Every day we had a mini adventure.
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