After a handful of trains and buses, we boarded a ferry the size of a cruise ship to get to Corsica.
Suddenly, Colin’s questioning the whether we should do the GR20. This is a hike that has been on his to-do list for years, and now that we’re 45 minutes away, he’s concerned it’s too ambitious, that it’ll cause us to return to Bologna too late to get good housing, that I’ll hate him for making me do it. On the other hand, will he regret not taking this opportunity when he’s 80?
I figured that if I was in, I was all in, and that I didn’t want to be involved in something he would regret for the rest of his life.
In a last-minute decision, we didn’t get on the bus bound for the southern half of the island; instead, we caught the train to Vizzavona, in the middle of the island. It cut the trip to nine days instead of fourteen, and apparently the northern half is the more beautiful, and more difficult, part of the island.
Months ago, when I first expressed doubts about doing the GR20, Colin inspired me with words like, “This is a hike some people dream about doing their whole life.” I, whose longest hikes before this were the 18 km of Half Dome and 14 km on the Great Wall, am apparently not one of those people. Mental notes (as I was too tired to write) from the first day included, “I am miserable.” “People enjoy this?” “Remember to never agree to go hiking again.” “Must tell Colin, as soon as I catch up, that I’m catching a cab back when we get to the road in three days.”
On that first day we hiked 12.6 km and gained 1200 meters in elevation. Translated to American distances: climbing for a miserably long time. It could barely be called pleasant scenery either—though we started in the woods, at one point we started up a big pile of rocks and never seemed to stop. By the time we did reach the top, the fog had rolled in and we didn’t even get a view. We even got rained on.
One plus of the GR20 is how well-developed it is. You’re expected to hike about four to eight hours each day, and at the end of each stage there is a campground with some food available, owners who would cook large pots of lentils or a few shelves of good and bad camp food. The morning after day one, I had the energy to mosey to the other side of the campground to find they had gas stoves for communal use. Hot damn! That changed our meals enormously.
Day two was miserable again, but less so, probably because my pack was less full of food. That night we stayed at a charming campground that we believe has to have their supplies flown in by helicopter. Day three was less miserable again, as it was mostly downhill. That day ended with uncharacteristically good weather, such that we were able to take a dip in the stream before setting up camp.
The fourth day was actually easy. We hadn’t been able to restock supplies, so the pack was quite light, and we were walking across flat valley floors. We even passed a magical little lake that had cows, horses, donkeys, and miniature horses grazing peacefully. Loads of hikers had stopped to lunch and pet the ponies—one gal had even lain down with a little gray one and was hugging on it like a stuffed animal.
After days of being in mostly rocky terrain, we finally dropped down into a three-star forest. Birch and pine trees and ferns replaced the scrubby shrubs, and birds joined the lizards that had been running under our feet the whole trip.
This was the campground on the road. Colin had already talked me out of quitting, but we had high hopes for a large selection of food. We climbed out of the three-star forest to a zero-star campground with food prices like those at campgrounds where food is flown in. At least I got a hot shower, but my razor broke, ensuring my leg hair would continue on to great lengths.
I don’t know if the disappointing campground was the final straw, but Colin had a change of heart that night. He didn’t love the GR20. It had been on his list for so long, and when would he have another shot, but he wasn’t having much more fun than I was. Should you do something just to do it? If it makes your loved ones unhappy? If it is physically painful? If there are white sand beaches you could be relaxing on instead? By morning it was decided: we were headed to Corte to catch a train to the coast.