I remember my bus drive to the beginning of England’s SouthWest Coastal Path like it happened just this morning. After taking a train from London as far to the south and the west as I could travel by train, I hopped onto a bus and made my way across the rural English landscape with a handful of smiling middle aged locals. A man and woman behind me looked at me inquisitively as I struggled to fit my big orange pack on the seat beside me. I’m sure I already looked worn out before I began my first mile. My pack was at least 15 pounds too heavy and I had only backpacked 4 days consecutively in my life. I was ill-prepared and fully aware of this, but I was determined to finish what I set out to accomplish. After leaving my husband, and walking away from my marriage, there was no possible way I would give up on this journey. I had given up on everything, and this was the moment of my last fight.
I was invigorated as I began my journey. The sky was pregnant with blue. The sun rested on my face as I started up the first of many cliffs I would crest. My first night was surreal. I camped at the Sparkhayes Farm Camping Site. I felt completely alive as I set up my tent in an open field and ate my dinner and watched students file in with their packs one by one, finishing a week long camping trip together. I spoke with the owner Phil Weaver as the sun set about how he meets so many people who start the path, but never knows if they finish it. He asked me to write him to let him know how I came along. I told him confidently that he would be hearing from me after I finished the 630 mile path. After a drink at the local pub (Phil insisted that I experience as many pubs along the way as I could), I went to bed feeling confident in the days ahead. It was the blind confidence of someone who hadn’t experienced adversity yet.
Much like my experience with my marriage, I was not prepared to face adversity and to push through to the other side of the rough patch that was the following day. The next day of hiking began with walking 2 miles to shore to realize I hadn’t left early enough for low tide. Hiking 2 miles back to the campsite, I started through the town, hoping to find the ocean again. This was the first time I realized how loyal and helpful the ocean would become to me. I eventually found my way back to the trail after 6 miles of wandering. I came across a sign that redirected me back inland to an alternate route due to massive erosion. This alternate route proved to be one of the most difficult days I would hike over the next 7 weeks. As I slowly walked up a steep, unending hill, it began to rain. No, it began to pour. 16 miles later, I was completely soaked with blisters the size of grapes and bruises all over my back. A common sight among many people who decide to backpack; however, it had never been my reality. I remember watching a man in a similar orange pack slowly making his way up the hill as the wet, grassy hills opened up for about 1/2 mile thinking he must be as miserable as I was. He caught up to me quickly and smiled as he waved through his raincoat and passed by. I despised him and I despised myself for thinking that flying to England and setting out on the most cliche of adventures - solo pilgrimage along ocean view cliffs - would give me any answers.
I ditched my campsite and got a hotel. It was my second day, and I was completely defeated. I sat in my room, staring at my blistered, infected feet and cried. I cried because every inch of my body ached - but why I was really crying - why I could feel the depths of me break and then break again within itself, is because I felt I had reached the end of the very small thread of hope I had in finding my way out of my broken life. I cried because, once again, I wanted to give up.
I ended up calling Eddie that night and telling him I couldn’t do it. I felt so incredibly weak and alone. After all that we had gone through, and after leaving him a couple of months ago completely hopeless, he sat on the phone with me in patience and in complete love. He encouraged me relentlessly. Telling me that I am capable and that I am strong. That I am on this journey for a purpose and that I was going to find what I needed. We had left each other so broken, but he was still able to love me beyond all of my mistakes and weakness and see the greatness in me. He chose to call out my true self, although I could not see it or feel it at the time.
Eddie and my sister Hannah made me realize that night, as I sat on the floor in tears telling them I was quitting, that although I felt hopeless, I had a choice to make. That I was fully capable of taking control of my life and stepping towards the life for which my heart yearned.
There was a shift within me my second night on the trail. I realized that I have control over my life. That I have control over the choice to fight through the pain in my feet, go to a local pharmacy and figure out what I needed to do to get me back on my journey. I had the choice to not give up. I had the choice to look at my circumstances and decide to overcome my adversity or to succumb to it.
The choice was within me.
For so long, I viewed my relationship with Eddie and our disconnection as a reality completely out of my control. I viewed the place that we had found ourselves as inevitable, so I stepped back and allowed time and inaction to slowly destroy us. This perspective of how we do not have control over how our lives turn out is poisonous and 100% a lie.
I felt this deep flaw within me so clearly that night in Lynmouth. I understood with such clarity that I was the architect of my own failure within my marriage. And that I was sitting in a crucial moment of unlearning this lie. I had to take responsibility of my circumstances and give myself back the power to make choices and see them transform my life.
So with a newly found determination, I woke up early the next morning, found a local pharmacy and bought everything I could to get my feet in better shape, mailed some unnecessary items back to my sister in London, and set back out on my pilgrimage the next morning.
The next day proved to be the biggest breakthrough of my trip and quite possibly my life. I walked up a giant cliff for about 30 minutes and came to one of the most beautiful places my eyes and heart have witnessed - Valley of the Rocks. The earth opened up to the sky for miles as a landscape of gray and blue rocks led me along the top of the cliffs beside the beating shore. Each turn was a new discovery of untamed beauty. My heart and spirit felt so fully alive and open to the world. I had found the beauty of the trail that I had been seeking. I had found a gift, given to me straight from the sky and deep within the ground. I had finally begun down the path of rich beauty and constant joy and life that I would experience over the next 7 weeks. It was on this day, the fourth day of my hike, that I truly began to walk down the path of an overcomer. I whispered to myself as I stood on the top of a rock looking over the ocean, “Abbi, you are an overcomer. You are strong and you are capable of greatness.” I found my fight again on the Valley of the Rocks. And thus began my path of finding my true self again and my way back to my marriage.
These last three images are from the Valley of the Rocks. I wanted to remember how I felt this day, so I captured an image of myself dancing on one of the rocks. I felt more alive and free in this moment than I had in a very long time.
If you haven't already read my initial post about the heart and soul of what I learned on my pilgrimage in England, you may find it here.