Raina from Colorado in the USA – GR20 hiking – September 2018

Hello Raina, could you please introduce yourself ?

Hello! I’m Raina, a single mom to two girls (ages 10 & 12) living in Denver, Colorado. I’m an entrepreneur, focusing on helping people reach their health & fitness goals. I’ve had many ups and downs in my own health and was diagnosed with severe Ulcerative Colitis in 2016 leaving me with a permanent ileostomy in February 2018.

Raina at Bocca Crucetta
Raina at Bocca Crucetta

It’s been an adjustment getting back to a ‘normal’ life but I think I’m doing a pretty good job.

Have you ever gone for a hike ?

I hike often, actually. Before getting sick, I had completed a couple of ‘14ers’ in Denver (14,000ft+ mountains) and went on several hikes. I had to take a long break (two years) while I was sick prior to my final surgery. Since my surgery in February, I’ve gone on several local hikes with my kids and friends and really enjoy it. It’s been different, after taking so long of a break from fitness, but it’s felt amazing. Denver has a lot of local hikes ranging from beginner to advanced so I’ve definitely been working my way back up!

Concerning about hiking in North America, could you advise us some hikes ?

I’ve done a lot of hiking in Colorado, California, and Canada. You can’t go wrong hiking any trails in the Rocky Mountain National Forest in Colorado. I live in an area in Southwest Denver which is gorgeous also: Roxborough State Park, Waterton Canyon, Deer Creek Trails are all close to me and I really enjoy them. Be sure to check out Red Rocks and Garden of the Gods also, beautiful hikes for any level!

Beginning of the day touching clouds
Beginning of the day touching clouds

I lived in California for a couple of years and that’s where my love for hiking really started.

Potato Chip Rock is one of my favorites but Southern California has great hiking.

I don’t live in Canada but Vancouver and Banff are a couple of places I have travelled/am traveling to soon. BOTH have incredible scenery, somewhat similar to GR20.

Riviera in Corsican mountains
Riviera in Corsican Mountains

What about the GR20 : when did you go there and which way ?

I went to the GR20 in September 2018. I’ve heard it’s a great time, not too busy and the weather is perfect. I went on the hike with one other person, a friend that lives local in Paris.

GR way : red and white colors
GR way : red and white colors

We flew in to Ajaccio and started SOUTH to NORTH on the trek. We wanted to end in the North because we heard that the Northern coast was incredible and wanted to extend our trip to see more of it.

What was the context for hiking the GR20 ? How did you prepare yourself to this target?

This trip was kind of unexpected but nonetheless, incredible. I met my friend in July 2018 and was invited back that same month to do the trek in September. I’m kind of a person that just goes with the flow and this sounded like a trek of a lifetime so I was in. I booked my flight within 24 hrs. Everyone told me to prepare prepare prepare… but I’m also stubborn and my mind was convinced that I was ready, even if my body didn’t agree.

Behind the mountains - the Mediterranean sea - Raina - Corsica
Behind the mountains – the Mediterranean sea – Raina – Corsica

I do workouts from home so I made sure that I followed my program to a T and added in some small hikes in the Denver area a couple times a week. Outside of that, the biggest preparation I had to make was mentally – how am I going to fit my life in a backpack for 2 weeks ? 🙂

What about the equipment ?

For the trek, I took an 65 Osprey backpack. Again, my go with the flow personality bought this packpack two days before the trip. I was able to fit my life into the backpack and ended with a weight of about 15L. I did bring a Camelbak Water Bag which held 3L of water. I refilled it often thru the trek. As a true woman, I think I’m an over packer. So, I packed as light as I could and picked very light weight clothing. About 5 underwear/bras (which now looking back, I would have only packed 2-3 of each), I packed 5 tank tops (light weight to hike), 3 pairs of shorts (dri-fit) and 2 pairs of leggings (dri-fit). I packed one flannel, one light raincoat and one medium weight jacket for the evenings. Flip flops, tennis shoes (which stayed tied on my bag and I never used), and my trek shoes. By the end of the trek, my shoes were coming apart at the soles so I tossed them, haha !

I did purchase a solar powered charger for my phone and other devices (just brought my phone) – it strapped easily to the top of my backpack.

I brought a small toothbrush/toothpaste, some facial wipes, lotion (because I always get a tattoo when I travel), travel size febreeze (came in handy for my clothes), Kleenex, small deodorant, bar of soap, and my ileostomy supplies (which really didn’t take up much space). We did bring a tent, mattress pads, and sleeping bags. Though, on day 2, my pad got a hole in it so I tossed it. The ground isn’t THAT uncomfortable 🙂

Almost time to sleep !
Almost time to sleep !

Food wise, we packed pasta (to easily cook at the refuges), Cliff Bars, nuts, and bought bread, cheese, and sausage along the way as needed. We did always make sure to treat ourself with a beer (or cafe) at each refuge. Worth it.

Épicerie - GR20 - Corse
Épicerie – GR20 – Corse

No more snow-covered part on September, right ?

We lucked out and didn’t have any snow during September. It was about 80 degrees during the day and I would guess 40-50’s in the evening.

It seems to be the good way
It seems to be the good way

What are your positive feedbacks ?

I find myself getting a little emotional as I stop to think about my positive feedback of this trek. And without getting too ‘mushy’ I can say that it really was a life changing experience.

For myself, physically, this was a huge accomplishment. I would take a second to think about the last two years of my life and being bed ridden, hospital stays for days/weeks at a time, not having energy to play with my kids, and I’m just in awe of what the body can do. Along with that ‘awe’ came this mental strength that I never knew I had. I remember on day 3 being nearly in tears thinking that if there were a helicopter to show up right then and there, I’d get on it and never look back. Thank God that helicopter never miraculously showed up. I kept thinking, ‘maybe I’ll just turn back’ but then I remembered the mountain I just came down from that I’d have to go back up (haha).

Mentally it was a struggle but every evening when I tucked into my sleeping back, I was just eternally grateful for the ability to have this experience to prove to myself that I could do it and be an inspiration for others in my situation or similar. I remember chanting to myself as we got close to the top of Mt. Cintu, “I can do hard things… I can do hard things…” And I did.

The scenery was magnificent. Like out of a movie or a postcard. Some days I would just stop to stare (and catch my breath) in awe of what surrounded me. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, I think we got rain drops ONE day that we were there but just for a few minutes. I never used my raincoat once.

Corsica island - Lanscapes
Corsica island – Lanscapes

Being from the states, it was very fun for me to be in a place surrounded by people that MAY not know a word that I’m saying. The communication gap was huge but most days, I sat at refuges listening to people talk, knowing NOTHING that they were saying, and I loved it. Each day that went by, we’d see people from the day before and it became pretty fun to get to know them and small talk as we would take breaks and meet at refuges.

Breakfast at GR20 refuge - Corsica
Breakfast at GR20 refuge – Corsica

Everyone you’d pass on the trek would greet you with a smile and BONJOUR, even though they felt like their legs were going to fall off. Hahah! All of the refuges were amazing, friendly, always accommodating and open to sharing tips and ideas for the hikes ahead of us. I don’t think I could give much NEGATIVE feedback about this trek if I’m being honest.

Negative feedbacks ?

I mean, I’ll try – BUT, there aren’t many negatives. Maybe that some of the refuges were out of cheese? Haha, but in all honesty, anything negative, in my opinion, was part of the journey.

Not showering for days, being too tired to wash clothes, blisters on my feet, bruises on my legs, cuts on my arms, cramps in my fingers, all of it sucked but it was part of the journey and I wouldn’t change any of it.

What is your favourite feedback ? And the worst ?

If I have to pick a favorite, I would say the feeling when you finish the trek. That sense of strength, courage, accomplishment but also true exhaustion and hunger, haha! We finished the trek and went immediately for pizza and a beer.

Bread, beer and saucisson
Bread, beer and saucisson

The worst ? I don’t even have an answer.

Which was your favorite stage and your favorite shelter ?

I think 1/2 way point (ish) of the GR20 was my favorite. It was a very hard hiking day but when we got to Refuge de Petra Piana, the views during that sunset were incredible. We went to the kitchen to make pasta after setting up our tent facing south towards the mountains and the fog was rolling in and out of each one as the sun set. I have so many photos of this night… it was beautiful. Mt. Cintu was amazing also, but mores for my mindset. Thru the trek, people kept saying that they skipped this peak and it fueled me to make the move for it. And I’m so glad I did.

If you should do again this hike, what would you change ?

If I could change anything, I probably would have prepared more, haha! My bag started off a little too heavy for me causing some pain in my hips, about 1/2 way through, I tossed some unnecessary things and it made the rest of the trek so much easier. I would pace myself if I did it again and follow less of a schedule. I’d stop at EVERY refuge and soak in what it has to offer instead of trekking thru to the next one quickly.

stop at EVERY refuge and soak it in
stop at EVERY refuge and soak it in

I would pack less clothes because I think I was the only one bothered by not having a new outfit daily. 🙂 I think WHEN I do it again, I will just be a little more prepared and open to what the entire trek has to offer!

Which advices could you give to people whom are thinking to go for a GR20’s hike ?

Probably the same as above. SOAK IT IN. Unless you’re one of those people who are trying to finish it in 4 days, take it all in. REALLY soak in the scenery, the people, the entire experience and allow yourself to realize how truly amazing it is that your body is able to carry you up those mountains and down.

During one of the last days on our trek, I was battling mentally with finishing and down on myself for thinking I should be doing better, or faster, or different… and then I looked up as we were passing a 77-yr old man who has been doing the trek for years. He was by himself, just hiking up the side of the mountain that I was DYING as I went down. He was all smiles and just living life to the fullest. THAT is what it’s all about and in that moment, I woke up.

Would you like to suggest something else?

YOLO. Isn’t that what the kids are saying nowadays? 🙂 I’m kidding, I’m only 31. But in all seriousness. Climb the mountain, take the trek, get outside and LIVE while your body allows you to. It’s your MIND that is going to stop you… so don’t let it.

What a sunny and windy day !
What a sunny and windy day !

Thanks a lot Raina for your feedback !

Honestly, you can be proud of you Raina ! Fighting this severe Ulcerative Colitis, still living with the permanent ileostomy, and keep going ahead like you do everyday with entrepreneurship, family and sport, that’s amazing !

Life’s amazing as well, and you’ve shared so true advices like when you suggest « I’d stop at EVERY refuge and soak in »… Corsican mountains share lots of beautifuf things (people / environnement / food ….) when people take their time to see and get it !

We hope to see you soon back in Corsica, on GR20 or even on the sea cost with your children ! I believe a new opportunity to get one more tattoo 😉

Merry Christmas to you Raina and to your family and to everyone who is currently reading this interview as well 🙂 !

Enjoy Christmas time guys and don’t hesitate to follow Raina on Instagram.

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