Lessons Learned from the Oxfam Trailwalker

By 20 September 2021 Non classé No Comments
Oxfam Trailwalker

If you’re curious about the full story behind this week’s video, here it is!

As you probably know, reading stories is a great way to improve your vocabulary, and it’s fun because you want to know what happens next!

But I’ll also give you a vocabulary challenge to boost your English too:

How many phrasal verbs can you identify in this story? There are sooooo many!!!

(You can share your number in the comments!)


My Oxfam Trailwalker Story

Walking 100km for 29 hours straight with 2000 meters of positive altitude gain was literally the hardest thing I’ve done in my life!

Our team was #118. Les Pangolins Pimpants. And with my teammates Aude, Clément and Youssef, it really happened.

It all started off lovely enough… not too hot, not too much sun, and a fabulous surprise, the emcee giving me a personal shout out in front of the entire crowd, in English (because my friend & fellow teacher Michelle Onofrey is his teacher and she knew I was going to do the walk! I felt like a huge star and that was a huge boost to show us off the starting line!


20 minutes into the hike… RAIN!

And of course, the weather had forecasted cloudy but no rain, so we’d all left our rain gear with our team of supporters who couldn’t meet us until the 1st checkpoint.

So we start off with 10km in wet clothes, over the most technical terrain of the whole event: a single track path up, down, and over rocks and roots.

This is gonna be long…


Checkpoint 1: A change of clothes and some good advice

Our team of supporters (Aude’s parents) save our lives by bringing us dry clothes, and hot tea. They will be our lifesavers all along the way. We could not have done this without our supporters!

We fill our special Oxfam snack boxes, pick up our lunch, have a few bites, and pack away the rest to head back to the trail.

At the 20km mark, we’re feeling good, and a bit proud that we Grenoblois crush it in the uphill parts (because uphill terrain is pretty much all we have around where we live!)

A photo shoot with the official Oxfam photographer after a long uphill walk and we’re on our way. His words of wisdom to us: “Take the time to stop and admire the scenery around you. Stop when you eat your energy bars and look around. Don’t try to plow through it and miss all this natural beauty. Enjoy it.”

We’ll take that advice for the hike, and it sounds like good life advice too!


Checkpoint 2: River foot baths & backward walking

At 25 kilometers, we’re starting to feel it, and a quick foot bath in a cold river is a welcome relief.

Again, our supporters are there to bring us a change of socks & shoes, some massage oil for our feet, and we sprawl out on the grass for a short break.

But not for too long, because we still have 75 km to go!

Over the fields and through the woods we go (this time with some lovely sun!) for the longest leg of the walk: 16km between checkpoint 2 & 3.

At some point, Youssef and I end up a bit ahead of our teammates Aude & Clément, but that’s normal, because over the course of 100km, we’ll space out, regroup, break off into pairs, regroup again.

Repeat repeat repeat.

To slow ourselves down, Youssef and I walk backwards downhill to change up the muscles being used. We’re getting more tired, but still having fun!

And when Aude & Clément catch up to us, we find a roadside barrier to throw our feet up on and let the blood flow back down. This will be one of our break strategies all along the way!


Checkpoint 3: Don’t look, just keep going

We’re 40km into the race. Don’t know how long we’ve been walking, and don’t know what time it is.

That’s another strategy : don’t look at times, don’t calculate cumulative distances or how far we have left to go. “Just keep going until the next checkpoint. That’s how far you have to go. And it’s not so far away.”

No clue of the actual time, but it’s getting dark.

So our supporters bring us our warm clothes, reflective vests, and headlamps so we can make it through the night, which we expect will be the hardest part (because I’m usually in bed at 10:30pm, and who in their right mind is out hiking at 3am in the morning? Oh wait… Us!)

We head off into the night and meet a local guy on the road as we leave Checkpoint 3, heading east.

“Where y’all going?” he asks.
“Avallon,” we respond.
“Ooh la la… this isn’t the shortest route. You should cut through the forest, then pass the cemetery, and you’ll find a more direct route.”

We kinda laugh inside.

“Umm, We have to follow the little yellow flags, it’s for a walking event.”
“For how long?” he asks.
“Around 30 hours or so,” we say.

He’s impressed. “Whoaaaaa. I’m just gonna continue my evening stroll then. Bon courage !”

And the night continues to fall until the sky is so dark that it’s filled with more stars than I’ve ever seen. Wow. Wow. Wow.

We turn off our headlights so we can admire the view. And walk in the darkness for a while.

And then Youssef gets a phone call.

“Are you all ok?”

It’s the organizers.

With the GPS we have to carry on us, they see on their computer that the 2 groups ahead of us took a wrong turn. But they can’t be reached.

So the organizers ask Youssef if he can call after them and direct them back to the right path.

It’s not about getting to the finish line first, it’s about making sure we all make it. And Youssef is happy to oblige.

We continue uphill, through mud and darkness.

Clément starts feeling the fatigue, physical and mental. It’s been about 55km now, and we’re about to attack a 4-kilometer constant uphill climb.

At the summit… dinner!!!

That’s enough to motivate me to keep going! (But I need a cereal bar first, if I’m gonna make it to the top!)


Checkpoint 4: Massages, a meal, and some bad news…

We spend nearly 2 hours at Checkpoint 4. Dinner. Massages. A tiny bit of fake sleep on the floor.

And a check-up with an osteopath for Clement. “Looks like tendonitis under your foot. You should be able to finish, but you need to see a doctor as soon as you get home.”

We head out anyway, because we have to keep going. But a bit slower now.

Forests. Night. Hills. Fatigue.

We go on, but almost in silence. We try playing some music to boost our spirits, but it’s not happening.

We just keep going. One foot in front of the other.

It’s long.

But somehow we end up at Checkpoint 5.


Checkpoint 5: And then there were 3

We plop down in a little neon-lit room, where other walkers are trying to soothe their blisters, their sore muscles. You can see they’re suffering.

And so are we.

I offer to go get crêpes for the team. And when I return…

“I’m stopping here.”

Clement can’t go on and makes the wise–but tough–decision to drop out.

But our assistance team is back at the accommodation. And it’s in a zone where there’s no cell phone coverage.

Fortunately, the assistance team of another group of walkers offers to drive Clement back, so he can get some rest, and we can continue.

We snap a final photo of the whole team, then go our separate ways.

More dark, but again, we cut the headlights and are still amazed by the sparkling night sky.

And turn them back on before we lay down on the side of the road for some rest. Safety first! But at this odd hour, the only headlights in sight are those of the team just behind us.

We crawl up off the ground and keep going.

At some point the stars fade and the first rays of the sun start over the horizon.

We’re making it through the night!

Time check: 6am or so.
Quick calculation.
We still have another 9 hours of walking.

I mentally shut down. But keep walking.

Despite the sun rising, it’s the darkest moment of the walk for me.
But we keep walking…


Checkpoint 6: We welcome a new member into our team 🙂

Just before Checkpoint 6, we stop to take pics in front of the sunrise.

And another walker asks if we can take pics of her team in front of the sunrise.

“Sure!” we say, with as much enthusiasm as you can have at sunrise after walking 20 hours.

“And can I join your team? My 3 teammates are stopping here,” she asks.

(In the Oxfam Trailwalker, you have to have minimum 3 people on a team in order to continue. But if your teammates quit and you want to continue, you can join another team who has lost a member.)

“Sure!” (We’re more enthusiastic this time in our response!)

And since we had a free spot… Camille from Paris joined our team!

What a boost!

New teammate, new energy, and we are now confident that we’re coming into the final stretch… which still means 25km left to go.


Checkpoint 7: Up, down, up, down. More hills?? Really?!

The sun’s getting hotter, and there’s an annoying downhill slope followed by an uphill climb again, and a long walk in the sun.

Keep walking. One foot in front of the other. And more laying in the street, feet propped up on a wall.

Get up. Keep going. Breakfast is waiting at Checkpoint 7.

But before we get there, we keep a lookout for the sign that says “90km”, because we know then that we’ll have 10 measly kilometers left.

Piece of cake, right?


Checkpoint 8: “The Happiness Choo-Choo”

Note: “Choo-choo” is a children’s word for “a train” in English

We reach our final Checkpoint before the last stretch of the hike. And along the way, we pick up people who join us in the final stride to the finish line.

Our good friend Julie and her son, who were in the area for the weekend and managed to find us!
Camille’s boyfriend (who brings some festive 70s music, and invites the people we pass to “jump on the happiness tchoo-tchoo!” I loved that expression!

Then Camille’s mom too, who dropped out at Checkpoint 6.

And Clement too! (with his foot all taped up by the doctor)

And we are plowing through those final kilometers, ready to cross that finish line!


The Finish Line: We made it!!

At 2:30 in the afternoon, we dance into Avallon and the end of the hike!
Somehow we found a fresh burst of energy to sing and celebrate, and savor the moment.

29 hours and 10 minutes. That’s how long we walked. We can’t believe that we just walked 100 kilometers. Wow.

We all agreed that it would have been impossible to do this alone, without each other’s support to get through all of those dark, difficult moments. And there were plenty of them.

But there was also so much joy, and pride in what we accomplished. Not just the hike, but also raising 1500€ to donate to Oxfam, to help them fight poverty around the world.

Together, we really are stronger.

Maybe it was not the shortest or the easiest route, but it was definitely the best one. And we did it together.


Take the next step: Improve your English in the comments

The best way to become more confident using Business English is to practice!
Here’s your weekly challenge:

  1. In the comments, share with us a story of something you did, and that you are proud of.
  2. It doesn’t have to be a big exploit! We celebrate all victories!

Maybe it was something as “small” as making a phone call in English. But when you’re learning English, that can be a big victory!

Whatever it is that you’re proud of, let’s celebrate together in the comments!

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