Samuel: “I know everyone’s name but yours”

Me: “I’m Felice”

What follows is a super short 4 minutes conversation between the two of us. It’s one of the first weeks of the academic year and only my third training with Slopend, so I just wrote a mental note that read “Samuel seems chill” and put it with all the other mental notes from all the other 4 minutes chats I had that far. Never did I expect a random message from him a week later asking if I wanted to hike three days in the French Ardennes with a small group of Slopers. Needless to say I didn’t read it as a question, rather as a statement.

It’s about mid-October as we pull up in a parking lot in the small town of Revin, French Ardennes. It was a Friday and we only made it there around 17:00, meaning we didn’t have much daylight left. Willemijn, Samuel, Lauranne, Friso and I start climbing the 40(00) meters of the surrounding mountains (“They are not hills”), warm clothes on, no blisters yet, and groceries from Delft’s Lidl in our backpacks. Our goal was to find a nice spot close to the top of a hill and set up camp there for the night. The view of the town from up there was quite the thing, so much we decided to go back after the sun went down to admire the light pollution (already missing Delft) and a few alien ships landing on the other side of the valley. I was happy to abuse my tripod and have all of them being my guinea pigs for long exposure night photos. Once the human puzzle that Willemijn taught us was not enough to keep ourselves warm anymore we decided to head back under our tarps and into the sleeping bags, knowing that today was just a small taste of the whole experience.

The second day was time to seriously get moving and cover some distance. We headed north-east consulting the map mainly to avoid all possible civilization and often cutting straight through the forest, since roads and paths are so mainstream. Being my first time in the Ardennes I found the environment really striking. For the most part the trees are artificially planted in a grid but that didn’t ruin the “wild nature” feeling as I had expected, instead it made for an easily navigable terrain fully covered by the densest and most beautiful moss carpet that I have ever seen. The humidity of the place allowed it to grow up to tall branches and cover virtually all surfaces. Mushrooms also came in all shapes and sizes, and despite some interesting strategies by Samuel on how to test whether they were edible we remembered that this wasn’t a Super Mario game. 

Walking through the forest during autumn is always a good idea, actually, walking in any forest during any time of the year is a good idea, but in this season the trees seem to blossom again in new colors for one last time, before winter sends them to sleep under a white blanket. From the freshest green through the palest yellow and to the vividest red, it’s stunning how the forest can look so cold yet so alive, so gloomy yet so colorful. I could write for a long time about the beauty of the place, but I’ll leave this daunting task to my camera.

We weren’t there only to see the place though. As Slopers we had to carefully inspect every tree branch to ensure it was still stiff enough to hold the weight of a person (especially these high ones, they really need to be checked), accurately disregard warning signs for the hunting season and proceed dodging bullets all day long, patiently filter liters of water from one of the natural streams, and my personal favorite: hang my hammock at every break.

At night is when the fun came. Now we had enough time to select an ideal spot for our camp, right at the border of a mossy patch of trees. We divided tasks, some people set up the tarps for the night, others prepared the food and the last group cut and prepared the wood for the campfire. I’ve always been something of a pyromaniac myself so you can guess what I did. Samuel taught me how to start a fire with some fancy rocks and just like that we were eating around the campfire, warming ourselves to some good (opinions vary) red wine, listening to music and sharing small bits of our lives with each other.

That night I decided to go to sleep in the hammock, a little bit because it’s one of my favorite ways to put distance between me and the ground, and a little bit because I’m not a big fan of sore shoulders in the morning. Mother nature thought that the cold wasn’t a good enough punishment for my individualistic choice and with a bit of rain at 4am I was sent back under the tarp with the others.

The next morning was time to head back. We packed everything, said hi to the hunters that were looking for us all along and hiked our way back through a few cute little towns that were in desperate need for a better people-to-cats ratio.

I am glad you are still reading this down to the final lines, perhaps you found it entertaining or at least interesting. I’m going to steal a couple extra lines to say thank you to Samuel for his spontaneous proposal (I guess he was indeed “chill”) and to the rest of the crew for tagging along and contributing to another beautiful memory.

It was a pleasure to tell you this tale.


Things we learnt this weekend:

  • Spinach have a poor calories to volume ratio
  • If you saw wood you warm yourself twice: once when you do it and the second time when you set it on fire
  • Not all trees want their branches inspected, it’s always best to ask them
  • The Ardennes are definitely populated by numerous scary wolfs
  • I should ensure my good hiking shoes are not 4000 kilometers south of my current position
  • French brioches are a myth

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