Today I’m interviewing a woman from Vermont who set out on an adventure to walk the entire GR5 trail stretching 1,400 miles from The Netherlands to France.
When Kathy Elkind was 57, she and her husband, Jim, moved from Massachusetts to Vermont. But, before jumping into their new community, they wanted to take a year off to tackle an item from their bucket list. As outdoor people who enjoy traveling, the couple opted to go hiking.
Yet, they did not want to carry a heavy pack, which is required to complete other hikes, like the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail. In asking for advice, the couple encountered a man from France who recommended the Grande Randonnée, or Great Trek, also commonly known as the GR5 trail.
National Geographic refers to the GR5 as Europe’s most beautiful hiking trail. Starting in the southern Netherlands, it crosses Belgium, Luxembourg, eastern France and western Switzerland before ending near the southern shore of Nice, France. It took the couple three months to complete the trip from the cold North Sea to the warm Mediterranean.
What made the adventure different from other hikes is that the couple stayed in hotels along the way, rather than in tiny tents. When hotels weren’t available, they stayed in huts; however, the huts along the trail sometimes came with a three-course meal plus a glass of wine or beer.
Before starting the next season of her life, Kathy wanted to take a “gap year,” similar to what high school students do before they start college or enter the workforce. She wanted to figure out what to do going forward.
Kathy had been a stay at home mom for much of her life, but also owned a business as an eating psychology coach helping women with eating problems.
Kathy talked about learning to be happy with the way she looked, even with post-menopausal padding. She noted it was a waste of energy not to be happy and to dwell on her changing appearance.
She admitted it was challenging to walk 1,400 miles during long days over three months. But, she and her husband were comfortable not walking side-by-side all the time, but staying within close proximity of each other. That allowed both of them to zone out and meditate in order to soak in the experience.
European meals were challenging because they often last more than two hours. After spending time on the trail all day, Kathy and her husband were sometimes all talked out by the time they sat down for dinner. It took some getting used to, but Kathy eventually enjoyed that compassionate silence.
The couple discovered they actually became more united as the trip progressed and had fewer disagreements than they did at home. At the same time, being on the trail was a rather spiritual moment for them, especially when walking through abandoned castles and old cathedrals.
Upon returning to Vermont, Kathy tried to jumpstart her business again, but it didn’t go as well as she hoped. After a while, she opted to write a book about her hiking experience. Doing so, kept her on the trail by reliving memories and reviewing journals both Kathy and her husband maintained along the way.
Kathy titled her finished memoir “To Walk It Is To See It: One Couple, 98 Days, 1400 Miles on Europe’s GR5.” The book is available on Amazon and in other bookstores.
Kathy is also doing some public speaking about the magic of long-distance walking. She says to walk a country is to see a country, which makes perfect sense to me.
To people over 50 who are contemplating their next steps, Kathy encourages them to discover what creates a spark within them, and to examine all the possibilities without imposing limitations on their thinking or beliefs.
People can connect with Kathy by visiting www.kathyelkind.com.
That’s all I have for this week’s show. If you’d like help in identifying a purpose for your life or to get help planning your next steps, I’m offering a complimentary brainstorming session to members of the Forward From 50 Facebook community. For details, connect with me on Facebook or visit www.forwardfrom50.com.
I’ll have another inspirational interview on the next episode of the Forward From 50 podcast. Thanks for listening. If you like this show, please consider leaving a review wherever you download the episodes.
After closing his business and enduring several painful years of uncertainty regarding what to do with his life, Greg founded Forward From 50 to help men and women over 50 to live more purposeful lives by pursuing things they are passionate about. A Wisconsin native, Greg currently lives in Arizona.