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11 students, 15 days, one goal: Crossing the Pyrenees

Each year, students in 9th, 10th and 11th grade at a school in Hamburg (Winterhuder Reformschule) prepare for a 2-week challenge. A challenge that pushes students physically and mentally.

About 6 months before the challenges, the teachers consider different options. The challenges are then announced and each of the students writes an application for their preferred challenge. Once the groups for all challenges are announced, the students move into the planning phase. Once a month, they meet with their challenge group to determine logistics, equipment and plan tours.

This year, the It’s Great Out There Coalition supported a motivated group of students on their mission to cross the Pyrenees. Read about their impactful adventure as they learn to overcome challenges, while enjoying being outdoors.

Preparation: Hamburg

Summer holidays are over, the challenges come closer. We meet at school, organize cooking groups, speak about baggage, the route, sleeping opportunities. And we practice to build up tents. We also speak about expectations and fears. We are excited to go on this adventure soon!

Day 1, August 13th: Hamburg – Barcelona

The challenge is on. The group is on their way to Barcelona. First challenge: Finding cheap accommodation in a big city. Result: Building up camp in a park in the outskirts (special allowance by the police!!) after walking around for four hours, buying gas for cooking and searching for a good place to sleep. That was a tough start. Everybody is really tired. We don’t mind the ants crawling, the dogs barking in the distance and the rustling noises in the bushes near by. All we want is to sleep.

Day 2, August 14th: Barcelona – Berga – Santuari de Queralt (3km in Barcelona + 3km in Berga, steep uphill hike!!)

We get up early after an uncomfortable night in the outskirts of Barcelona. A wild boar greets us when we crawl out of our tents. Scary! We take the bus to Berga, shop for food for 3 days, then we leave he town of Berga. This is the first day of hiking to get to the starting point of the GR 107. Us awaits a steep uphill climb in the blazing Spanish sun to the Santuari de Queralt. We struggle, drinking so much water, sweating away and thinking that maybe this challenge is too hard. But we make it and find shelter next to the Santuari, a kind of monastery.

Day 3, August 15th: Santuari de Queralt – Peguera – Font del Pi (20km)

First day on the official GR 107 trail, here we go. Backpacks are heavy, some knees and feet already hurt and our minds are not fully in hiking-mood yet. #schweinehund We need a lot of motivation from our fellow adventurers, some talk, some sing, some hike in silence. We dive deep into nature now, following rougher trails, get away from society – and most important of all: we lose mobile signal. The hike is exhausting, blazing sun beating on us again. We rest and hike and rest and hike…and hike a little further than expected. We set up camp finally at Font del Pi. A lot of spiders on the meadow…but there is a river, water to drink and cook and wash ourselves. A long day.

Day 4, August 16th: Font del Pi – Gósol (18km)

We get up, get going and get inspired: we meet a woman who practices Shinrin-Yoku, so-called bathing in the woods. She is incredibly connected to nature, we are impressed. Next year, we will take a walk with her – she gives us her contacts. We move on, brilliant hot weather again. We are lucky. We take a long break by a river, take a bath. Refreshed we decide to hike all the way through to Gósol today to have a day of rest tomorrow. It is hard, so many km. We arrive in three groups. When we get there, there is Churros (Spanish sweets) and cold drinks. The Refugi, a kind of hostel, has space for us and we decide to stay for two nights. After three nights in the bush it feels like pure luxury to have a bathroom, a mattress and someone who cooks dinner. We feel great despite being exhausted.

Day 5, August 17th: Rest day in Gósol (2-3km)

Sleeping in! Well…not really, breakfast at 8 am (so good! Coffee, hot chocolate, fresh bread). But some go back to nap afterwards. We have a day off but we need to wash some stinky clothes and run some errands for the next stages of the trip. In the town of Gósol there is a Spanish (foam!) party going on. We have a lot of fun. At night we reflect on our first days. Some are a little home sick. But we had some time to relax today so at least the body does not hurt as much anymore. We get another yummy dinner and go to bed – we will start off early in the morning.

Day 6, August 18th: Gósol – Coll de Bauma – Bagà/ La Salle Natura (18 km)

Another (unexpectedly) long day of hiking. The first half of the hike is steep, we climb uphill for about 6km. But since we started early the air is still fresh and we soon leave the town and enter into a pristine landscape of alpine meadows. The sun is shining again, yey! Just in time for a lunch break we reach our summit – Coll del Torn, 1900m – at 12pm. We rest, eat and clap for some bikers who slowly climb up the path. We are in a good mood and when we reach our actual destination for today – Coll de Bauma – we decide to hike on. May we should not have…the paths leads us down the mountain, all the time downhill is exhausting. Then it happens. A girl twists her ancle, she is in severe pain and cannot walk anymore. But we are still at least 3 km away from where we want to go and there is no mobile reception. Some three hours later we have found a solution and managed to bring her down to where the rest of the group is already waiting. The Salle Natura is a refuge for groups, but nobody opens the door. We have only registered for tomorrow, we are early…so we build up our tents in the garden. We are self-sufficient. But we are especially tired today, our nerves have been tested today. Happy that nothing worse has happened but still sad for the girl who cannot accompany us any longer.

Day 7, August 19th: Rest day Bagà/ La Salle Natura (10km)

We need this day of rest. Yesterday was straining. There is the town of Bagà, 5km from La Salle Natura. This is what you must do here: walk 10km to go shopping for food. We learn to appreciate our easy lives at home. By the help of a nice car owner we transport the girl who hurt her foot to the doctor. Luckily she has family in Barcelona and her uncle can pick her up in Bagà. We say goodbye but know that we will see her again in Barcelona by the end. We spend the rest of the day dozing off, bathing in the near by pool and – of course – eating a good dinner. When we pack our bags fort he next day, the rain jacket is stored on top – it is supposed to rain tomorrow. We will see.

Day 8, August 20th: Bagà/ La Salle Natura – Refugi Sant Jordi (5km, steep uphill)

It does not rain yet when we get up. But of course when we start on our hike it starts to pour. We don’t have a long hike today, actually the shortest distance so far. A 5k only. But hell, it is steep. The landscape is spectacular but mostly we focus on our feet, trying to avoid the puddles of water. No chance – the path soon becomes a little stream. Everybody gets wet despite rain clothes and it also gets cold. Who would go out in this weather at home? We shiver but we hike on and on. Finally we hear the first group screaming: the hut, the hut!! Luckily we have a night booked in a refuge, no camping in the rain today. We are soaked and it takes some time until everybody can enter and get changed because we have to leave everything wet in the entrance. But then, there is hot chocolate, an oven and mattresses to sleep on. It is only 1pm so we can take an afternoon nap, dry our clothes and play board games. It is incredibly cozy. And dinner blows us away, we believe we found a secret Michelin-starred restaurant on 1600m. Everything tastes so good when you are exhausted from hiking in the outdoors!

Day 9, August 21st: Refugi Sant Jordi – Bellver de Cerdanya (15km)

We had a good sleep, get some good breakfast and most important of all: the sun is back again. Our clothes have dried and we know that today it is only one hour uphill and downhill afterwards. Fresh air fills our lungs when we start off, soon reaching the Coll de Pendis, our highest point for today (1781m). When arriving in Bellver de Cerdanya we are…actually ok! We feel good! There is a swimming pool in the little town and we settle onto the grass, enjoying some hours of bathing and walking into town in groups for some food shopping. Unfortunately we cannot sleep here but the mayor oft he town has an idea, he guides us to a little rest area just 1km outside of the center. We are really lucky, we meet so many helpful people! Some decide to sleep outside and do not even build up their tent. We experience the most dramatic sundown on this trip and fall asleep to the sound of nature – wind, birds, rustling in the fields surrounding us.

Day 10, August 22nd: Bellver de Cerdanya – Puigcerda (18km)

Our final long hike! From a look to the map we know already that it is going to be a little boring today. Walking 18km straight…well, let’s go then. We walk and talk and occasionally pause. It is hot, again. But we are good hikers by now so we do not complain. Puigcerda is a cute town situated on a hill. The final meters are steep, a final test whether we should really pass this challenge? On the top, in the center we take down our backpacks and hug each other – we made it!! We hiked around 140km in the past days. We feel relieved and some cry, some laugh, some do both. But the feeling of relief is short. Where do we sleep tonight? In groups the students fan out and ask around. Some police men are suspicious, they want to talk to the teachers. They have to explain our concept of the challenge and when they understand they help. A local politician shows us to a room where we can stretch out with our mats. The town is full of music tonight, another Spanish party, no foam this time though.

Day 11, August 23rd: Puigcerda <–> Bourg Madame (France) (6km)

A short hike over the Spanish-French border today. Some French air and back.

Afterwards: leisure time in Puigcerda, shopping for food and eating again. The politician allows us to sleep in the room again. We sit on the warm concrete at night and enjoy the summer vibes, we think back to what we have accomplished. And we look forward to Barcelona. And to home. We have been gone for a long time by now.

Day 12, August 24th: Puigcerda – Barcelona (by Bus) – Badalona/ el Masnou (2-3 km)

We oversleep a little in the morning and get into a rush because we have to reach the bus by 7.27am. We make it, but the bus takes its time…welcome to Spain.

On the bus, most of us fall asleep at some time. Some watch the beautiful landscape pass by, remembering the hikes and how we escaped from society for a few days.

In Barcelona the big city overwhelms us with its heat, crowdedness and noise. We walk from the bus to the train and from the train we walk to our campsite in the district of El Masnou, north of the city. The walk is exhausting, everybody in their beach clothes, they stare at us in our filthy hiking clothes.

At the campsite there is a pool, a true highlight! We build up our tents and jump right into the water, later we take another bath in the mediterranean sea. It feels like paradise. Now we really made it!

Day 13, August 25th: Rest day at the beach

…not much to say here…sun, pool, sea, sleep, eat, write reports…in the evening we meet on the beach. We speak about the challenge, about our experiences. And we take another bath in the ocean, we run into the water together, hand in hand. Students and teachers, of different ages and classes: We really have become a TEAM in these two weeks. We are proud and happy and relieved.

Day 14, August 26th: Exploring Barcelona (‚endless shopping km‘…)

It is time for some sightseeing today. Before we go home tomorrow we want to explore the city of Barcelona today. We see the Sagrada familia and some Gaudí architecture, la ciutat vella too. And we have time for shopping of course – nobody has money left though, so we just stroll through the narrow streets most oft he time. The entire group goes out for dinner today – our reward for the straining two weeks. It is Pizza and noodles and we are happy. Even happier when there is ice cream (the best in town, so good!!) for desert. We are full. When we get home it is almost dark but we need a good-bye swim. So we head to the beach and for a last time jump into the ocean together. The water is so salty that we can lie in the water, outstretched, not sinking. We are quiet for a minute, stare into the star-speckled sky and…then everybody is loud and screaming again. Because, after all, we are teenagers, we are extremely happy to be here but also to be going home tomorrow.

Day 15, August 27th: Barcelona – Hamburg

We get up early. Wake up in the middle of the night for the first time…rain?! Sky, are you crying because we are leaving?! By 6:30 we march off to the train station, take the train to the airport where we also meet the girl who hurt her foot. A big hello!!

In the plane: Turbulences shake our nerves. It is an exhausting first hour up in the air. This challenge really has not ended yet..it seems like we must really prove ourselves until the end, until we finally are back home. But everything goes well. We land safely and on time in Hamburg, everyone gets their backpack and before we step out we meet in a circle for a last time. We look at each other and assure ourselves that we can be proud and that we had a good time, despite highs and lows. And then, it is time. We step out and there are the families welcoming us, hugging and crying. There are flowers and cards and a big banner saying AVENTURA EN LOS PIRINEOS with all our names on it. We are back home.

It was a great adventure!

Go to our blog for more impressions: https://herausforderung.wixsite.com/blog

Read about the ‚challenges‘ of other groups from our school: https://www.sts-winterhude.de/herausforderungen