By the end, Pascal Bourquin will be 75 years old. It will take him 25 years to achieve his goal of walking every Swiss hiking trail, the equivalent of circling the earth twice.
GENEVA — Pascal Bourquin’s Mount Everest isn't a mountain at all. It's many mountains, whose walking trails are marked with yellow signs and have fascinated him for years. The Radio Télévision Suisse journalist stops, contorts himself, takes a picture. A couple of hundred meters further, he repeats the process and takes a second snapshot. They remind him with every step about the challenge he undertook in December 2013: to explore every single one of Switzerland's walking trails.
Bourquin and his Japanese sneakers still have a long way to go to fulfill his dream of what he calls his "life in yellow," walking the 65,000 kilometers (40,400 miles) of the country's hiking trails. That staggering figure, though, is actually an underestimation. Bourquin has noticed that despite his careful planning, he will have to walk some paths more than once to complete the titanic challenge.
In terms of kilometers, he intends to cover a distance roughly equivalent to walking around the Earth twice. To map his goal, the man whose parents once thought he would become a scientist simply used a calculator. “I divided the distance by the number of weeks in the next 25 years,” he explains. Which means that every weekend Bourquin must cover at least 45 "new" kilometers (28 miles). His employer agreed to give him an extra day off every week, Mondays, so he has more time to walk. "What I didn't foresee was that most mountain inns are closed that day," he says smiling.
For this language and photo lover, “This project must come together in harmony. My only chance of seeing it to the end is to be well in my body and in my mind.” He has the full support of his wife Marie-Claire, he says. But don’t tell him it’s a mid-life crisis that pushed the now-49-year-old to this extreme goal.
His strength and stamina were shaped by sports competitions when he was younger. But his mother’s early passing in 2012 may have helped trigger this new challenge. Bourquin now wants to live something exceptional.
Not his first rodeo
Of course, the mountain-climber and journalist has reached many summits in his career and knows the dangers they entail. Among his accomplishments is the ultra marathon la Petite Trotte à Léon, a grueling six-day mountain race. The PTL, as it's more commonly known, has demonstrated that Pascal was, and is, not invincible. He failed twice, forced to stop after giant blisters formed on his feet. But he was persistent. Last September, he finished the race after 135 hours of pain and exertion.
Photo: Pascal Bourquin
His sports partner Fabio Bernasconi believes Bourquin’s strength lies in his analytical mind. “For example, we forced ourselves to sleep or rest, and that way we were able to keep high vertical and horizontal speeds," he says. "He had prepared everything on paper and had perfect knowledge of the ground.” This old friend is confident Bourquin can succeed “because if a pitfall occurs, he would lay everything flat on the table. He’s capable of stopping to restart better. He’s not the sort of person who would lose it.”
But for this lone wolf, motivation remains a constant challenge. Every weekend, Bourquin hops on a train and heads for a new region, because he has already walked all the paths in his canton of Jura. On the day we’re traveling with him, the "life in yellow" turns to white. "I didn't really take into account the hazards of winter," he admits.
Painfully, as far as we’re concerned at least, we walk, kilometer after kilometer, and as the wind rages, Bourquin sees enough beauty in a twisted tree covered in snow to make his day. He walks towards it, stops, then takes a picture. Another time, it’s a ray of sunshine between two clouds or three deer behind a rock that propel him onward.
Photo: Pascal Bourquin
Taking photographs is his way of sharing his adventure. He publishes the pictures of each stage on Facebook and on his website, where the number of followers grows every month. At lunchtime, in a cafe in Lamboing, near Bern, he takes out his smartphone to check his social network profiles. “I love photos, but I do that without pretension. That said, I notice it creates a connection with people who themselves become sources of support, especially when my motivation wanes,” he says.
In the evening, he updates his statistics. This week, he reached the 5% mark. “You have to know that it’s a bit like wealth distribution: 90% of hikers use 10% of the trails, so this is my way of showing them other, more remote parts of the country,” he says.
Photo: Pascal Bourquin
He has already published one book with his best photographs, and he has signed a partnership with PostBus Switzerland. He’s now in talks with the hiking association Suisse Rando. And Bourquin is confident that other sponsors will follow.
But he’s in no hurry. He plans to reach the virtual finish line in front of the federal palace in Bern, for the 750th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation's establishment, in 2041. He will be 75 years old.