Driven by never-ending goals in our nine-to-five lives, all too often the things we dream of achieving in our free time get relegated to bucket lists of wishful thinking. Five years ago, I visited Marrakesh on a mini break and was entranced by the distant white peaks of the Atlas Mountains. From the roof terrace of my riad, I vowed to explore them one day. But once back home, doubts crept in and the dream became as distant as the snowy mountain peaks. But this year something changed.
A chance meeting in Waitrose was to be my epiphany. Escaping the monotony of the check-out queue, a wily, white-haired gent suddenly struck up conversation. Predictably our small talk started with work and once he’d told me he was a retired banker, conversation petered out quickly.
But just as I was unloading my oranges, he suddenly sprang into life. With a spark in his eye, he regaled me with tales of his trip across Russia on the Trans-Siberian railway – vividly describing the shady characters and dramatic scenery he’d experienced along the way. Absorbed in his tales, I suddenly wondered what experiences would I have to relate in the supermarket queue in my dotage? It’s always later than we think and sadly not living our dreams is cited as being one of the top five regrets of the dying. With five years having already slipped past since I first dreamed of my Atlas Mountain trek, I decided it was now or never.
So what have I signed up to? My group trek will involve five days battling through plunging valleys and craggy peaks, culminating in a dawn scramble up Mount Toubkal – North Africa’s highest mountain at an altitude of 4167 metres. (For experienced hikers this trek can also be done over a long weekend.) Leaving civilisation far behind, we’ll pass through remote Berber villages where daily life has remained unchanged for centuries and dine in the shade of ancient olive groves. By night, we’ll sleep in basic mountain accommodation where the communal living arrangements terrify me as much as the craggy peaks. As one who loves her fluffy towels and whirlpool baths, this will be a major plunge out of my comfort zone.
In preparation, I will be taking on Snowdon (a mere 1085 metre foothill) in May and the Lake District in July before setting off for the Atlas Mountains in late September. Meanwhile at work, I’m seeking ever inventive ways to get quick bursts of exercise in between e-mails. This now extends to daily lunch break ascents of eleven flights of stairs. After work, I’ve set myself the goal of running three times a week through the parks and woodlands of London’s suburbia. I will also be fitting in more days hikes from London in the coming months which will feature on this blog. (You can follow my Atlas Mountain trek training schedule on my Facebook page.)
While concerns ranging from communal living to altitude sickness and physical fitness creep into my mind all the time, a larger part of me is so excited to be fulfilling my Atlas Mountain trek challenge at long last.
Have you trekked the Atlas Mountains? Do you have any tips or advice for me on what training I should do?