The phone rang. My sister was on the other end of the line.
After the traditional exchange of formalities, I let a complaint escape: “life is pretty much a boring routine at the moment. I wake up, go to the office, come back, walk, go to sleep. Every single day”.
My sister suggested that I break this routine with a physical challenge. She proposed I cycle along the river, from one city to another. I wasn’t too excited about riding a bike. But walking sounded nice.
I went to look for the type of walk I could do. I didn’t want it to be too long, nor too difficult. The idea to walk along the entire Belgian coastline emerged in my mind.
I checked the length of the coastline: about 65 km. I figured I could walk that in three days.
I started looking for hotels every 20 km, but there weren’t any. Hotels were only opened in the big cities. Who the hell was staying at the Belgian coast during a pandemic in February? No one, for sure.
As I was thinking about how I was going to divide the trip, another problem came up: I didn’t want to do it alone. I would have to ask one of my friends to come with me, which meant we couldn’t take more than a weekend because all my friends have jobs.
So I decided to do it in 2 days. I called a friend of mine, expecting to have to do a lot of heavy lifting to convince him…but he said yes right away.
I booked the hotel that same night and five days later, we took the train and reached the Western end of the coastline for our adventure.
We had no clue what awaited us.
The First Day of Walk
Somehow, I expected the entire coastline to be fortified by a walkable dike like in coastal cities.
It was not.
So my friend and I decided to walk on the sand, close to the water so it wouldn’t be too soft.
The first 15 km were a cakewalk. The sky was blue, the wind (against which we walked) was not too strong, and the temperature was reasonable.
We stopped halfway to buy lunch and ate it as we walked.
The second part of the walk was not as easy. My friend’s knee started to hurt, and my right foot and the top of my thighs grew tired.
In order to break the physical movement we had been making for 6 hours, we decided to run the last 1.5 km or so. It was “harder”, but the change felt good.
We eventually reached the hotel, exhausted, and limping. It had taken us 6h20 to reach our destination.
As I laid on my bed, I checked my pedometer and started massaging my legs. We had walked 32.5 km. The first day was supposed to be the easiest but my legs hurt like crazy. That was annoying. We’d have to walk 35 km the next day.
There was no way I was going to make it.
As my friend was massaging his knee, I told him that we were unlikely to succeed tomorrow. I thought about moving the target closer, to Blankenberg, a city 20 km away from we were.
And even that sounded like a whole lot of walking.
The Second Day of Walk
I woke up at 9h30 after sleeping for 5 or 6 hours. I never sleep well the first night in a new bed.
I opened the curtain, looked outside, and realized I had made a terrible mistake.
When I prepared for the walk, I had looked at the weather. While Saturday was supposed to be a nice day, the weatherman had said that it would snow on Sunday.
“Yeah, sure, snow at the beach…I thought as I was packing my bags. There won’t be any snow. It doesn’t snow at the beach in Belgium.”
The spectacle in front of my eyes was 5 cm of snow everywhere. I wasn’t prepared for these conditions.
We got breakfast, a shower, and went on our way.
My legs felt a bit better, but I started the day with pain. My friend also felt better, even if the top of his right foot started to hurt.
We got onto the beach because it was the easiest part to walk. The feeling of walking on snow laying on the frozen sand was unlike anything I had ever felt.
In my mind, the beach had always been associated with summer and swimsuits. What we saw was such a contrast that it hardly made any sense.
Like on the first day, we were still walking against the wind, unless this time, it was strong. And freezing.
If we hoped to make it to the end of the coastline, we’d have to take breaks. We decided to stop every 10 km.
There was just one problem. No bars, shops, or restaurants were open because of the virus.
Resting meant resting outside, in the freezing cold.
We took our first 20-minute break sitting at the bottom of a staircase that led to a private basement. At least the wind couldn’t get us there.
My friend asked me if I wanted to wear his emergency sweater and I said yes. I was freezing. We drank a bit, ate one or two ham slices, and went on our way.
We had a hard time finding out a balance between resting and freezing.
Whichever option we chose, we paid a huge price.
We got back on the beach and the wind was stronger than ever. It pierced the 4 layers of clothes that were protected me, attacked my hands and ears, and sought any way possible to penetrate my body.
3 km later, I gave up. I told my friend we’d leave the beach and go walk on the road instead, behind the dunes. While the path on the beach would certainly make the walk shorter, I had to protect my ears at all cost.
We eventually arrived in Blankenberg and took a second break. Since everything was closed, we got into the hall of an apartment building.
The absence of wind and the warmness of the hall was enough to make us feel like we were in a 5-star hotel.
But we couldn’t stay there too long because there were cameras. We probably had 20 minutes top before getting kicked out.
Too cold to care, I asked my friend for his pair of emergency pants and put them under my own. We ate, drank, and quickly left before security arrived.
We were still 10 km away from Knokke, our final destination. My friend’s foot really hurt. My own pain grew at each additional step. The weather was getting colder, and the sun was going down.
As we were each detailing how painful this adventure had become, I burst into laughter. My initial motivation for this trip had been fueled by its difficulty. I wanted it hard, and I wanted to triumph over the obstacles.
As painful as the walk was, I was enjoying it. The reality was that I didn’t want to walk 65 km. I wanted to suffer – and triumph. The harder it got, the happier I felt.
I kept on smiling and laughing.
We reached Zeebrugge and took a 5-minute break inside an empty room with a vending machine.
From there on, we only had 5 km left to walk. There were the hardest. We were exhausted and in pain. I suggested we run them, to which my friend answered he was going to “lose his leg” if we did.
We were now both limping, unable to walk straight, and had lost all notion of time.
I was checking Google Maps every 5 minutes. 4 km left. 3.8km. 2.2km.
We were going to make it. I couldn’t believe it. We were going to reach Knokke’s train station.
We arrived at 19h30 at the train station, which was opened, and heated. Exhausted, we collapsed on the benches. I had a hard time believing it was over. I checked the pedometer. 36.5 km.
We had made it. We had walked 69 km in 2 days.
The train arrived. We got inside, took each 4 seats for ourselves, and entered a profound state of contemplation.
All I could think about was that while it was hard, it hadn’t been impossible.
All we had done was “just” putting one foot ahead of the other.
This adventure taught me two main lessons.
First, nothing is ever as difficult as I thought it will be. It was hard, and we suffered, but at the end of the day, the walk wasn’t that difficult. It was long. It was painful. But not difficult.
The second lesson is about mindset. We made it to the end because my friend supported me when I wanted to give up, and I supported him when he wanted to give up.
This experience was the empirical proof I needed that as long as you keep going, anything is possible. The real failure is giving up.
Yes, walking hurt. Yes, we were cold. Yes, we were tired. But despite all of that, we had made it. We had a goal, and we did what we had to fulfill it.
How You Can Succeed at These Types of Challenges Too
Step 1: take action. Nothing will happen if you stay on the couch watching Netflix.
Step 2: Set an end-goal. You need to know where you are going, and what you want to achieve.
Step 3: Start.
Step 4: Forget about the end-goal. Focus on the next step.
Step 5: Don’t give up.
Congratulations, you have made it!
The Bottom Line
Many self-help books will tirelessly repeat to their readers to “be confident” and “believe”.
Such a statement, though, is putting the cart before the horses.
Confidence is not established through positive thinking, but action and empirical results.
Beliefs and confidence are drawn out of one’s experience. If you have never done nor succeeded at anything, how could you be confident in your abilities to do it?
You can’t. It’s okay not to believe in yourself. If there are no particular signs or experiences that should entice you to be confident, it is perfectly normal not to be so.
However…this is no reason to give up. If you’re not confident now, no one said you couldn’t be confident later. No one said you couldn’t be curious.
When you say you “can’t do it” before trying, you’re actually talking about something you have no clue about.
When you switch this mindset and become curious instead, asking “can I do this?”, you’re leaving a door open to success…under the condition that you take action to find out.
Confidence is established when you try and succeed. The truth about success is that few ever succeed on the first try. Many fail before.
As such, if you hope to acquire confidence at some point in your life, you have to be willing to go through a period of trial and error, fail a couple of times, until you succeed.
Confidence is the result you get out of succeeding. And success, unfortunately, usually arises out of failure.
On the road to confidence, I like to see failure as a stop-over.
Do you stop your trip when you get to a stop-over? No. It’s just a momentary place for you to stay. You quickly get back on the road, on your way to your destination.
This trip taught me I could do and learn pretty much anything I wanted as long as I was willing to put in the effort. It showed me that I still had resources to continue even when I wanted to give up.
It opened many new doors and changed my mindset.
And I hope you got a little bit of that too.