Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Fellow Walker Across France

Best Foot ForwardBest Foot Forward by Susie Kelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was very pleased to find this book and really looked forward to reading it because I did a similar, longer journey, across France and then across much of England, on foot. I walked to raise funds for research into finding a cure for pancreatic cancer, the appalling illness from which my first wife died. It would be interesting to compare my walk with Susie's, and my book - Vic's Big Walk - with Susie's. I was not disappointed.

Soon after starting Susie’s book I was in touch with Susie and found a certain symmetry in finding that she was reading my book as I read hers.

Susie’s walk was quite a lot shorter than mine but she was a lot less well prepared physically and clearly found the effort very taxing. She was also afflicted, from day one with an enormous number of blisters. If only I could go back in time and tell her about the wonders of Vaseline – a light smearing of this over the whole foot works wonders.

There were many parallels. Like Susie, I know the difficulty of a vegetarian eating in France. And what is this – she also has a serious eye problem, although luckily hers can be treated although not, obviously, during the walk.

The first 44 days of my 70-day walk were in France. During this time, only 5 days were rain-free. Susie seems to have been much luckier in that regard – at least during the day. But she had more than her fair share of torrential rain during the nights, most of which she spent cowering in a tiny, cold, non-waterproof tent.

More than once Susie decided she could go no further. But she seems to be blessed with a disposition which lets the next little high cancel out the last few horrid lows. She pressed on to her triumphant arrival at her goal, arriving at Geneva after having walked all the way from La Rochelle. She delights in meeting many characters, not all of them French, and not all of them human, on the way – and in telling us about them.

She had survived her foot problems, a navigational ability which seems to be about equal to my own (fortunately my wife planned an excellent route for me each day or I might still be wandering in the wilderness), an attempt by a well-meaning friend’s friend to take over the walk, cold, lack of food, and worry about what was happening back home, which she had left in the hands of an incredible American who insisted on holding the fort – despite the death back in Texas of her own father – until Susie had finished the job.

Susie writes well. Her descriptions of the terrain, the flowers, the birds, the small creatures she frequently rescues from the middle of the road, are very evocative. You may not wish you were there, but you feel that you are. She is not given to clich├ęs, but to the minting of sentences like this:

“I felt like a human waterfall, with sweat running down my body and legs in a rapid stream”.

I obviously had a particular interest in reading this book but I highly recommend it to any reader.

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