There’s something oddly comforting about seeing a waymark when out on a trail. It’s funny to think that a haphazardly piled cairn of stones (to which I’ll often add a pebble silently hoping that the whole thing doesn’t collapse), the ever-varied brushstrokes of painted markings or the directional arrows of a signpost can generate such a consistently positive internal reaction. Perhaps it is the re-assurance of knowing that I’m on track or that I chose the right path at the last junction or that I didn’t miss a turn-off somewhere while my mind was meandering off on its latest tangent. Yet, for all the affection I hold for waymarks, the best ones are the subtle ones: clearly visible, yet seamlessly blended into the natural environment so as to not disturb the overall experience of one’s surroundings.
Whenever I’ve walked a trail and seen such directional aids, I’ve often reflected on how they got there. It may just be a fleeting thought before my attention is diverted elsewhere by something around me, but the thought is always there…and in that moment, I give a silent thanks for the time, money and effort that people have invested to make the hike much more accessible for people like me. I have long promised myself that, given the opportunity, I would like to give back a little by helping to waymark trails myself.
Luckily for me, and thanks to the Culture Routes Society, I had chance to add my own inelegant red and white brushstrokes to those of my predecessors on the Lycian Way in Southern Turkey. Over the course of a few weeks, I helped cut and mark several portions of the trail. Armed with a GPS, a map, a tent, a sleeping bag, a machete and food/water, I hiked parts of one of the most fascinating trails in the world (stopping every 50 meters or so to tag a rock or chop some shrubbery). All in all, it was a brilliant experience and quite different from actually just hiking a trail.
First of all, it is a pretty messy business. Now while I’m not the neatest person in the world, I still didn’t expect to be covered in red and white paint after a couple of hours. You can imagine the alarm of the trekkers coming up the trail when they stumbled upon a disheveled guy in the woods covered in red holding a machete in his hand. Thankfully, the paint bottles and big grin on my face set their minds at ease fairly quickly.
Another thing that stands out is that waymarking takes a long time. On average, I slowed down to less than a quarter of my normal walking speed (which makes a huge difference over the course of a normal day’s walk). Still, when moving that much more slowly and stopping so often, you get quite a different perspective on the trail and things that you would have rushed by without noticing, suddenly spring out at you…so many beautiful and unexpected surprises.
Looking back on the work I did, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Having played a small role in making this trail more accessible for other trekkers is immensely satisfying. I will also always remember the smiles and the kind words I exchanged with those I encountered on the trail, whom almost without exception thanked me for my work. Finally, there is something to be said about walking in the footsteps of so many amazing civilizations that have inhabited or passed through this part of the world. Walking along and thinking about the Ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Lycians, the Selcuks and all the others who used these same paths on their way to market, battle, proselytize, etc., over the previous centuries/millennia fills one with a sense of awe. They all surely knew where they are going. For trekkers today on the Lycian Way, if you don’t, it’s probably my fault. Happy trails everyone!!!