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Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 10:31 GMT
Seven years in the footsteps of early man
Louise and James, Footsteps of Man photo
Epic trek: Louise, of Brighton, and James, of Oxford
Shortly after they wed, Louise Hoole and James Tremayne set off on an epic walk crossing four continents. Here, Louise tells how after a year's break for injuries, the pair are about to resume their trek.

Years ago James thought of making a journey on foot from South Africa to the tip of South America, following in the footsteps of our earliest ancestors - a journey that would take seven years to complete.

Footsteps of Man photo
Their gear is carried on specially-made carts
Last May we set off from the Cape of Good Hope, and spent much of the time limping because James injured his ankle early on.

After eight months and 2,000 km on the road, we came back to England to get it checked out, only to find that walking on it had made it worse and worse. So we've had to take a year out while he recovers from surgery.

Next week we fly back to South Africa to pick up where we left off. It's in the middle of the Karoo, which is semi-desert - very hot, very arid, very depopulated.

There's very little room for luxuries when you're walking, and when we go back we're taking even less as we want to go super-light weight.


My father's death was pivotal in my decision to do this

We'll just carry a couple of changes of clothing, camping gear, food and water - absolutely no luxuries, not even a book. That's what I'll find really hard.

But it's actually good to look scruffy and dirty because we don't want to look like rich pickings.

How far we walk each day depends on the heat and our injuries - after James's accident we managed 10 km a day; at the end we were walking 50 km a day.

We've established a routine now. We get up at 4am, brew a cup of tea - how very English of us - pack up our gear, eat a few nuts and feel bitter about being up so early.

Footsteps of Man photo
Sometimes the effort is just too much
We usually start walking at 5am, an hour before dawn. This is to avoid the heat of the day, and also because the dawns are so, so beautiful.

We walk for several hours, have another food stop and rest our feet, then walk until 11am when it gets too hot to carry on. We try and find some shade - pretty difficult in such a barren area - so we usually put up a tarpaulin and just slump exhausted.

At about 4pm, we walk on and try to find a place to stay for the night. Much of the land is fenced off, so we can't just stroll on and put up a tent. And there are wild animals, so we try to put ourselves under the protection of someone.

Life change

My life is very different now to when I was living in London. Then I was writing a novel and working as a nurse. I certainly wasn't an outdoor type - I'd only ever gone camping twice in my life.

Louise Hoole
The break gave Louise the chance to finish her novel
When James set off to do a training walk in Scotland, I'd just started an MA in medieval studies. We were reading Beowulf, this great story of dragons and monsters, and I decided I didn't want to just read about adventures.

About the same time, my father died and that too was pivotal to my decision. He was a very cautious person and I'd always had his voice in my head warning me to be careful when I went climbing with James, or hitching lifts on yachts.

From left, Dave Thompson, Louise Hoole, James Tremayne
At first there were three: Dave, Louise and James
So when he died on a safe walk in the Lake District, I realised there was no need to be so cautious.

My friends do think that it must be boring, trekking along a road all day, but it's not.

We're putting ourselves out into the world and seeing what happens. We meet such amazing people and have such odd encounters that it's really fulfilling.


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