The Best Laid Plans – Guest Post!

 

This week’s blog is brought to you by our daughter Millie – she has a hankering for adventure, as you may know, and her latest story is certainly interesting enough to share! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did…

The idea of doing long journeys under my own steam is something that has always really appealed to me, and some of you may remember my blog post in 2016 when I sailed with some friends down the coast of France from the UK. Since then, I’ve always had a longing to hike along the Pyrenees, high up where the paths lead from one horizon to another and you camp in a tent or a hut each night. The obvious time to do this is this summer as I’m now an adult (scary times lie ahead) and heading off to university this autumn. However, such a strenuous undertaking requires some preparation beforehand, and so this half-term I thought a quick 3-day training hike around the Île de Ré would be a good idea. The island is a bit of the Charente Maritime that lies a bridge away to the west of La Rochelle and I thought the planned 3-day adventure and would be simple – 75 kilometres on flat land with a campsite each night?  Easy. 

As it turns out, I was hilariously wrong. Here’s what happened…

I thought that the walk (based on cycling maps) would be a great opportunity to test out some gear and get a feel for the whole ‘walking-with-your-home-on-your-back’ thing. I had a shiny new backpack to load, hiking boots I’d barely broken in, and a teeny tent that I’d only ever put up twice. There was also a minuscule camping stove that would be in serious use each night. Since it was spring break I was able to recruit both little (but taller) sister Hetty, and dad (who joined us on his folding bike) for the journey. We set a tentative date, did our best to pack as few unnecessary items as possible, and set off one rainy Sunday morning this past weekend. 

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(Above: Hetty pre-hike, still in high spirits. Looking very adorable)

9.00am was obviously a slightly ambitious time to head to the island, as we ended up leaving two hours late – amongst various mishaps there was also a certain ‘someone’ who insisted on bringing a bicycle pump that had been misplaced in the garage — it had to be found before we could set off (I won’t mention any names but as there was only one person on a bike you can guess who this was). Another hinderance proved to be a necessary stop for lunch supplies, as despite our careful food planning (which had extended to precise measurements of couscous for the evenings and exact amounts of snacks per person per day), we somehow neglected to pack anything for the first day’s lunch. Daddy blamed me, I blamed Daddy, and Hetty blamed us both. As a result, we knew we would have to stop and get something along the way. 

Of course, since this was a Sunday, it all ended up being a rather critical mistake, as every shop and supermarket tends to close at 12.30pm on Sundays. Hetty stared mournfully at the closed entrance of a non-Sunday-opening Carrefour as we passed by on our anxious way to the bridge and we all eyed the glowering clouds overhead as rain started to fall on the windscreen. This diversion cost us 20 minutes as this particular Carrefour lies in a commercial retail area and I made us take the wrong turn-off; as we were also without a GPS in the car we managed to get lost twice amongst the superstores, including five minutes circling a shuttered Feux Vert store, trapped by bollards as we tried to work out where the exit was. 

Thankfully, the clouds receded slightly as we got back on the road, and we crossed over the bridge to the island in beautiful sunshine. After a frantic search on my phone, we found a small supermarket at 12.25pm and rushed inside to buy some bread, water and sandwich ingredients before heading to a parking spot to have a pre-walk picnic and discuss plans. In such pretty surroundings, and with full stomachs, it was easy to believe that we were going to have a delicate afternoon stroll. 

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Hetty and I waved goodbye to dad (who as he had the bike was going for a little pedal to photograph some insects before catching up), shouldered our backpacks, and set off along the coastal path. I must admit, my morale started to falter only a few steps in. My backpack containing tent, stove, food, far too much iced-tea, and all of my clothes, seemed a tad heavy, but I said nothing and we plodded onwards. The first hour passed relatively well, despite me accidentally sending us along the wrong road around the first village. I may need to brush up on my navigation.

At this point, our problems began. First of all, Hetty, who had bravely still decided to come despite a massive blister, started limping slightly — the heat from a now blistering (pardon the pun) afternoon did not help. My own hiking boots (which were really overkill for walking on flat paths) were pinching my feet a little too, but we turned on music on my phone and walked along to that for a while. A little later, my phone, which was our only navigation device and also our only way of reaching our father, then decided to turn itself off, despite having been charged that morning. Slightly bereft, Hetty and I decided to sit down for an impromptu break on the edge of the cycle path, panicking about being lost forever on the island.

We worried for a while, and then thankfully my phone decided to turn itself back on. Hurriedly I relayed our location to Daddy, and we continued on walking for another hour, Hetty now limping considerably. She was just saying that she’d decided hiking wasn’t her thing when Daddy pulled up in the car, having correctly anticipated our trajectory and probable failure, and we discussed what to do. He had a look at Hetty’s foot in a rather blood-stained sock and decided it was going to be best to cut our first day short (it was 4.30pm or so) and head straight to our campsite for the evening in Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré. 

HALFTIME SCORE: Feet 0   Path 2

“It’s alright,” I thought to myself, “tomorrow we’ll wake up really early and walk all of the ground we should have done today.”

At the campground, a cheerful woman directed us to the area for tents, which was an island of close cropped turf and stones surrounded by camper vans and people in rented cabins. Nobody else had a tent, and an audience quickly grew to watch us set up our two bivouacs. Guy lines tightened and fly-sheets zipped up, we headed down to a nearby beach to recuperate from the day’s efforts. Along the way we came across a pizza-vending machine, a most astonishing discovery that almost had us reaching for some coins! Dad guessed (probably correctly) that the pizzas were pre-cooked and it was basically a giant microwave machine so we left it for another time. Hoping for an uneventful night, we fell asleep early after hot couscous and tomato sauce from my little stove as our fellow campers conversed loudly over their suppers – close by, traffic passed along the road noisily but I fell asleep easily, worn out by five hours on the road with a heavy pack. 

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(Above: a defeated Hetty, reluctant to emerge from her warm sleeping bag, wondering when we can go home.)

Alas, the day dawned with unhappy news. 

As I dressed, a slight pain I’d felt along one shoulder the night before revealed itself to be – on closer inspection – a case of severe sunburn, meaning that wearing my backpack would be impossible. Hobbling to the stove to boil water, I then realised my new boots had left me with quite stunning blisters. Daddy emerged from the other tent, wincing in great pain — it turned out his sleeping mattress had deflated during the night and various stones had shut off blood supplies to assorted parts of his anatomy. He remarked he needed a hip transplant and a new neck. 

“Oh,” remarked Hetty, “I wondered what that hissing noise I heard was.” 

After a breakfast of very squished croissants from the bottom of my pack (note to self – croissants need to go on top), we started to put away the tents only to be interrupted by a cry of alarm from Hetty and Dad. When I rushed across to them, the cause of their distress became evident: the tent had been parked under a tall tree, and it was obviously a popular roost for various birds. These delightful feathered friends had passed a typical night in their roost and as a result the tent was covered in bird poo. Daddy muttered that he’d woken in the night at some point to what he thought was a fellow camper tripping over the guy lines and thudding into the tent; the disturbance now made sense – it had been avian artillery at work. 

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(Father anxiously trying to scrape some of the bird poo off the tent — we’d borrowed it from our neighbours. Of course, this scenario elicited much mirth from our fellow campers having breakfast in the porches of their little cabins)

At this point, Dad then realised my ear was also sunburnt and swelling considerably – so much so that he became quite worried and after a quick conference we decided to abandon the walk.

FULLTME RESULT: Feet 0   Path 8

Both Hetty’s and my feet were in a poor state, and there was no way I was going to be able to carry my backpack – instead, we decided to spend a day seeing a bit of the island we had never got to before and then we’d head home in the afternoon. 

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Our first port of call on the re-arranged schedule was the magnificent Phare des Baleines (Lighthouse of the Whales) located on the westernmost point of the island. The lighthouse was built in the 1800s to help ships navigate around the treacherous coastal reefs of the island, and we counted 267 steps on the long (tiring) climb up the spiralling staircase.

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At the top, breathtaking views stretched for miles in every direction — once again the weather was on our side, and beautiful blue waves and rolling green fields made for great photos. 

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After descending, Daddy decided that he was in need of a coffee, and we set off in search of caffeine on a route that took us past wildflowers, the salt marshes, and down the winding whitewashed alleyways of Portes-en-Ré on the most northerly tip of the island.

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Eventually, we found a tiny café sitting above the oyster beds that stretched out from a pretty bay.

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Many people were out on a low tide collecting their lunch in buckets, and deciding that we too were feeling slightly peckish, we went to find a spot to eat.

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Heading back south on our picnic-location-hunt Daddy suddenly took a right turn up a dirt track and we ended up stumbling upon the nature reserve and beach of Plage de Couny – it turned out to be on miles of practically deserted coastline. There were beautiful protected sand dunes, and surf rolling in that would have appealed to any surfer. 

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We parked the car under the trees and I put the little stove to work again as Dad walked around with his camera, trying to find more insects – he actually found a little spider that seemed to have spent much of its life in a crack of the car’s boot.

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Feeling slightly better about our failure to even walk a quarter of the way around the island, we packed up after eating, and headed home to nurse our injuries. I have made a long list of what I need to do differently – and father has said he will come along for another trial expedition as long as we find a new mattress.

Of course, something had to to make up for our harrowing defeat on the paths of the Île de Ré, and yesterday something wonderful happened to become the high point of the half-term! On the way back from a tennis tournament, Mum and Gigi spotted a team of cyclists climbing the hill into our village — and realised with some excitement that they had Union Jacks on their jerseys. As they continued past the cyclists they realised that they were some sort of British cycling team in the middle of a London to Africa tour. Mum phoned ahead to the house and Daddy was just in time to run across the road as they passed and invite them in for a drink and a break in some shade. The offer was very gratefully received and soon we had a dozen or so bikes littering the gateway.  

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Five minutes later we’d found out that they were a group of people cycling to raise money for the charity Regenerate, which aims to broaden the horizons of disillusioned youth from inner city areas and help young British people get out and do projects to help others. It’s a great cause (you can find out more about it and donate here: http://www.regenerateuk.co.uk ). We produced some cold beers, several jugs of very cold water and some snacks, and an exceedingly interesting hour passed by as we got to know all the riders.  After they left, Jack and I then sat outside the gate to offer water to a second group of cyclists who came through half an hour later; I was most surprised to discover that amidst them was a YouTube film-maker whom I’ve followed for years! I’d say that getting to meet and talk to them (and especially him) more than made up for our catastrophic walk.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our disastrous adventure as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about it! Hopefully you’ll be hearing from me again. Until next time… xxx

62 thoughts on “The Best Laid Plans – Guest Post!

  • Millie, What a delightful recounting of your (mis)adventure! Your writing is wonderful. I enjoyed every word of your descriptions of the highs and lows as well as the terrific photos to accompany. The lessons that you learned from this effort are ones that all of us need to be reminded about. I think, the most important is that before you undertake something massive (the Pyrenees!), try a test hike closer to home first. Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Anne, glad to hear that you enjoyed my post! Yeah, the walk definitely taught me a lot haha, I will have to plan another hike with better shoes and perhaps some suncream too! Thanks for reading xx

    • Hi Catherine, thanks for reading! I do plan on doing a walk, albeit with slightly more planning next time… Hopefully it’ll be as blog-worthy as the last one. Xx

  • Millie, you have certainly inherited your mother’s way with words. What an adventure! I do remember your last post about your sailing adventure. Best of luck as you go off to university and keep us posted on (some of) the adventures you get up to while there!

    • Ah thank you! It was fun to write about. I’m sure I’ll get up to all sorts of mischief at uni, maybe I’ll be allowed to recount some of my adventures from there. Thanks for reading xxx

  • Millie, thankyou! What a wonderfully written and descriptive story … I felt as though I was there with you, sharing your blistery pain and your sunburn ! I loved the squashed croissants and that you’re Dad needed a coffee! Also what a lucky group of cyclists to be invited into your wonderful home! I wish I was there with them!
    Keep up your fabulous writing and good luck for your next adventure! Xox

    • Aww I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I’m still having difficulty from the blisters, going to have to break the shoes in so that I have a slightly less disastrous story to write about when I go across the Pyrenees! Meeting the cyclists was amazing, they were all really really nice. Thanks for reading! Xx

  • Yep, it is like planning to relocate to a foreign country – the need to research, research, research then plan, plan, plan. So many potential expats fail to do the barest of any research or planning so that they are doomed to failure at best or disaster at worst. Success at any venture, especially one that is new and untried, begins at home. Resolving all the foreseeable problems in the comfort of home is the most painless way of undertaking any exploration or new venture.

    Better luck next time which should already be in the planning stage.

    • I think perhaps ayanowman you have overreacted, I am quite sure that this was written to make us laugh, and that we all did, I don’t think she wrote this to be criticized and compared to a failure d expat. It seems to me that this is one family who have made the most marvelous success out of life in a new country with now bilingual children. I rarely say anything negative but I do feel your comment was most uncalled for.

      • Hi Shari, thanks for reading and commenting! Yes, my post was most definitely intended to make people laugh, glad to see that I did haha. Our adventure certainly made us laugh and which it didn’t go quite to plan it was still a success — we had great fun, which was the main goal. Thank you for your kind words regarding our family. Much love, Millie. Xxx

    • Thanks for reading ayabowman, funnily enough I’ve been planning this for months, things just seemed to go wrong haha. The weather wasn’t forecast to be sunny so I thoughtlessly didn’t bring suncream, and time was just slightly against us. The whole point of the hike was to see what would work and what wouldn’t — I learnt what I needed to learn from it! The next walk is definitely already in the planning stages, yes. Thanks for reading, again. Millie

    • Thanks Peggy, I’m going to be studying outdoor activities (think, mountaineering) and environmental conservation, so I do plan to maybe blog a little and write about my experiences! Thanks for reading xxx

  • I have followed these cyclists and their journey online, such a fabulous thing to do. How incredible and how lucky that you met them and how British that you invited them in. Well done all of you.

    • Hi Amanda, thanks for reading. Yeah, I’d seen about the cyclists too, what are the chances that they’d come through our little village!!! Absolutely incredible, I thoroughly enjoyed it haha. What they’re doing is amazing, should be cool to keep following their journey. Xxx

  • Mistakes and re-dos’ are the best teachers. If everything had gone perfectly, what would you have learned? And mishaps make much better stories than “everything went just like I’d planned”.

    • Hi Patricia, thanks for reading! I totally agree, the whole point of the walk anyway was to test out every thing for my Pyrenees walk — I learnt a lot, and our little catastrophes made us all laugh. Xxx

  • What an adventure! It’s why I prefer hotels or B&B’s! I do love a medium kind of hike, preferably without sunburn and/or blisters. Beautiful sight seeing though, and a happy ending surrounded by lovely people from the UK.😀

    • Thanks for reading! Yes, hotels and B&Bs are certainly more comfortable than the tent — it seemed that every time I needed to roll over, my body woke me up to do it instead of doing it automatically! A real pain but the adventure was great fun! Xxx

  • Mille, I enjoyed this post as much as your last. Perhaps your mom might have you guest post more often so that we can hear all about the next adventure. Although there were mishaps it was a great lesson learned and you had time with your sister and dad.

    Looking forward to hearing more about the next trip.

    • Aww I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I have a couple of fun things planned for this summer (such as a trip to Paris and walking across part of the Pyrenees), so I might be able to write a fun post about it all! There were indeed mishaps but they were all part of the fun. Thanks for reading xxx

  • Millie, you are a delightful writer. I felt like I was right there with you, experiencing your highs and lows. You have a wonderful attitude, and like your mother, always try to find the bright side. I hope everyone is on the mend and gathering strength for new adventures.

    • Hi Rebecca, thank you so much! I really enjoy writing and hopefully get to do more of it in the future. Perhaps it didn’t go to plan but it was all jolly good fun! Great memories were made. Thanks for reading xxxxx

  • You are a little doll with a great sense of adventure and a very loving Dad. You are truly blessed with the gift of sharing your experiences in such a beautiful way. Keep going! You will be a success.

    • Hi Theresa, thank you so so much! My dad and I are both people who are very good at laughing about our mistakes and moving — it was amazing getting to spend those two days with him on our little adventure. I do plan to write more and everyone seems to want me to, so I suppose you should all keep an eye out for another post this summer! Thanks for reading xxxx

  • Well done Millie, such a great post! Another writer in the family along with your mum, and beautiful photos too. Sorry it didn’t all go according to plan, but you’ll look back at the trip with a smile, (once all your blisters have healed that is!). And re the photo of the spider, I’m sure I’ll be fine after a lie down!!
    best of luck at university too, I’m sure you’ll have a great time, especially with your adventurous spirit, I’ll look forward to hearing about it in another post of yours. X

    • Hi Janet, thank you so much! I really enjoy writing so plan on doing another guest post in the near future! The trip was great despite what went wrong, and absolutely hilarious in retrospect! My blisters have not QUITE healed yet, I’m still limping a little haha. Thanks for reading (and sorry about the spider pic 😉 ) xxxx

  • So thankful it was only a dry run and that your Dad was along. Your summer hike sounds wonderful but less forgiving. It’s always good to learn from our mistakes on the front end. I’ll be excited to hear about your future journeys.

    • Hi Debbie, glad you enjoyed it! Yeah, the Pyrenees will certainly be more remote, luckily I’ll have a friend along with me but I’m already deep in the planning stages and this little walk taught me a lot about my gear and how to not get blisters haha. Should be fun! Xxx

  • Oh bless your hearts! What an adventure you had!!!
    Glad you kept your spirits up-next time will be better! Can’t wait to hear.
    I feel your pain! Sometimes I have grand ideas that don’t go like I planned in my mind.

    • Hi Sherry, thanks for reading! It certainly was a grand adventure, I think I got some of the kinks ironed out and it was really fun. It certainly didn’t go to plan, but we have some funny stories now! Xxxx

  • Millie, that was a delightful read and I’m grateful. I walked El Camino de Santiago from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain in 2014 and 2015 and had several of the same problems, though I thought I was well prepared. My pack was about 5 lbs too heavy, so at every hostel I jettisoned a few more pieces of clothing or equipment. Blisters and sunburn and not enough water… all part of the learning curve! In June I’ll return and walk from Porto, Portugal to Santiago. Thanks again for sharing your story and good luck with the Pyrenees hike!

    • Hi, I’m so glad you enjoyed my post! Your walk sounds amazing, daddy and I actually plan to do the Camino at some point in the distant future, it seems there’s always a steep learning curve no matter what sort of hike you set out on. I definitely need to lighten my load and work on some better sun protection! Good luck for your walk from Porto and enjoy it! Xxxx

  • “Avian artillery”………Bwahaha 🙂 Love your style of writing, Millie. I enjoyed reading about your adventures, but your description of the foot problems really made me wince. I was as relieved as you must have been when your dad arrived to rescue you with the car. What a great story about the cyclists stopping off for refreshments. Never a dull moment. 🙂

    • Hi, thanks for reading! Yes, the bird poo on the tent made me laugh too (much to their annoyance…). One of my feet is still not quite functioning correctly, but I’m on the mend. Glad you enjoyed the post! Xxx

  • Millie, that’s one of those adventures that is horrible at the time, but makes for good stories once you’ve recovered from it. To wit, your post here. 🙂 I’m glad you did get to see some beautiful places and I’m sure next time will go much better.

    janet

    • Hi Janet, thanks for reading! It’s true that it was slightly painful at parts, but we laughed even when the bad bits were happening! As they say, humour is the best medicine. Next time should go much better I believe. Glad you enjoyed the post xxx

  • Millie what an adventure, I love your writing and your obvious love of life. It was a real pleasure to read about your adventures and mishaps today

    • Hi Shari, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I do have a certain taste for adventure haha, you just have to laugh when things go wrong! Thanks for reading xxx

    • Hi, thanks for reading! Deciding to stop wasn’t very hard, our injuries made continuing very difficult anyhow! Next time is already in the planning stages, should go better hopefully! Xxx

  • Millie, a great post–very effective writing and great photos! I wince when I think of those blisters and sunburn. Hope your next adventure is much fun, and your first year at university is wonderful!

    • Hi Judy, I’m so glad you enjoyed my post! Thankfully the blisters and the sunburn are both going away (frustratingly slowly…). I have a couple of things in the works that I might be able to make a post about, so I’d keep an eye out for that! University is slightly terrifying but I’m sure it’ll also be fantastic — another big adventure! Thanks for reading xxxx

  • I am so glad you had family along! You made my feet hurt just reading about your blisters. Ouch! Maybe you didn’t complete your original hike, but sounds as though you had a lovely adventure. Thank you for taking us along!

  • I think Millie is a clever and amusing writer. The story captures the reader’s sense of adventure and enables the reader to empathize with the “three musketeers”!!

  • Hi Millie. Terrific blog post which made me smile. I love the Ile de Ré. My observation would be that packs are always too heavy, and only trial and error teaches you what your weight limit is. You learn to be quite ruthless about what you can live without 🙂 Obviously now you’ve figured out that a small tube of sunscreen never goes astray (you need to apply it before setting out for the day for it to be worth it though :-)) I would also suggest you go the pharmacy and ask for blister plasters. They are gel filled and really stick. They are designed to protect your blister and let it heal itself. Seriously — they are invaluable if you are hiking.

  • Oh Millie, what an absolutely delightful post. I commend you from the very beginning when things went astray that you, Hetty and your Dad did not “throw the towel” in completely! Life Lessins usually bring with it some “pain” (squished 🥐) but think about what you would have lost (moments and memories) if you turned back after the first “misstep.”
    Great pictures, also!
    BTW for the “record” you do have some Awesome Parents! ❤️

  • Marvelous marvelous marvelous in every way. I started laughing before you even left home. Well told, thoroughly enjoyable – the adventure AND more importantly, the writing.

  • Millie, I am looking forward to more of your musings. You have your mothers way with words and your father’s quirky sense of humour….a wonderful combination.
    Ali xx

  • an exciting experience and the most important is the realisation that you can only learn from mistakes. Enjoy your
    next trip where ever you will go

  • Dear Millie,
    You have written a wonderfully descriptive story about your adventure. I loved reading it.
    I am so glad your Dad was there to rescue you and your sister, that’s what fathers are for.

    Now that you have learned a bit about hiking, you can try again. But make sure you take your backup team with you agin. Please e, Keep us all informed about your next adventure.
    Regards, Patty

  • Ah Millie, I’ve only just had time to read this post. It had me chuckling and ooh-ing and ouch-ing on yours and Hetty’s behalf!! It was a splendid idea, even the best mountaineers have to practice and get all the blisters, broken legs and silly mistakes out of the way before the real thing! Think what you learned on that short adventure! To pack blister plasters (& to wear in your footwear first!), not to camp under trees, to apply serious sunscreen before setting off, however cloudy it is and to make sure Dad wears one of those padded Sumo wrestler costumes before going to sleep!! Recently, we watched a programme about the Camino Way, which I’d never heard of. It was about some celebrities who walked to Santiago de Compostello. Although they didn’t walk the entire route, it was very interesting to learn about this walk, which can be started at any number of places. From France I believe the Pyrenees come into it and then into Spain. Yesterday, we also watched a film called The Way, with Martin Sheen, where he walks the Camino Way in honour of his departed son. I think I would love to have attempted this walk, or parts of it, had I known about it when I was younger. It’s called a Pilgrimage as it’s the route the original poor Pilgrims took centuries ago, and everyone seems to do it for a different reason. An amazing experience. So good luck Millie in whatever you decide to do – but do be super-organised and prepared!! A great story, thank you for sharing it.

  • Millie, this was an incredible read, and we could all feel your pain!! You a such a talented writer- as I believe we all felt like we were with you and could experience this hike through your feet and burnt shoulders! Wonderful to “see” more sights as well, and the cyclists – what a treat that you very much deserved after your adventure!
    Please write again soon!!!!!!!!

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