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Category: memoir

HITTING THE TRAIL

The weather started out perfect this morning, the clouds gentle tufts of lambs wool against a bluebird sky.

Too bad I chose the morning to get my collective merde together,which means I got a very late start, again trying to figure out my gps (dear garmin: you SUCK). Thank goodness for pocket earth, a fabulous app that has been helpful in keeping me on track so far.

Oh well, weather was great at first, but as I got further in elevation in the Alps it sure did rain. But it was almost like being in the tropics, minus the cloying heat — rain, stop, rain stop. I was most grateful I finally pulled the trigger and bought a large poncho, something the guy at REI said he never bothered with. I’d have been drenched without it. The poncho was great, albeit a bit stifling, heat-wise, at times. I did, however, look like a giant green Oompa Loompa. But that didn’t matter, as I saw exactly no one for most of my hike (nine miles, 99% uphill). Saw a few folks here and there at the beginning, and midway as the path crossed through villages, but that was it.

I did find I talked to myself after a while of no one with whom to converse. I am such a chatterbox, so it’s weird not having someone to talk to. At home I definitely talk to the pets all day long when no one is around. Hmmm…

But with my huge green Kermit the Frog poncho on, traveling through wooded forest all alone, I kept remembering my lines from a place we did in French class when I was in elementary school. Why I still remember that is beyond me. i just hoped no wolves were around the bend waiting to lurch at me… “Bonjour, je m’appelle le petit chaperon rouge!” Only I was the grand chaperon vert, this giant green blog (what with my very large pack on my back, to which is attached a sleeping bag and my down coat, stuffed into a small sack. Last night I was most grateful I packed the down coat, which was under great debate for a while. It was FREEZING and I used it as another layer of pajamas.

But back to walking, I mooched a few raspberries while passing through a small village–they were amazingly good. Wish I could’ve cleared the bush. I never ate my bread and fromage til about 6 pm — my walk took longer than I’d planned as I stopped a lot to take pictures and write things before I forgot them. will get around to posting pictures soon, just no time to do so now. Well, I might post one at the end…

I noticed a few hours into my hike I was beginning to smell like the german lesbian couple who are biking La Via Francigen & who I met in orsieres at lunchtime — at the time I backed away at their ripe aroma, assuming they’d been camping, thus not showering. Now I realize it doesn’t even matter if you showered — after a few miles uphill it gets a big much. Good thing I was alone! Before I left Charlottesville, I saw a vagrant toting a backpack (& a mean dog), with seriously matted hair, his skin a few shades darker from dirt. I joked to my family “lets hope that’s not me in a month” but now I think it could well be!

Kept pondering as I walked: To Advil or not to Advil: that is the question. Still trying to avoid it, though when I finally got to Bourg-Saint-Pierre last night I was sorely tempted to. I stretched a ton and mercifully the hotel at which I finally stayed had a clean (!) bathtub, so I soaked for a while — most therapeutic.

With all this wlking I just hope I don’t end up with calves you could land a jumbo jet on…

About 1/3 of the way into my hike, the path got very narrow with unforgiving steep precipice on my left. I kept telling myself the trees would stop my fall (but maybe not in a good way). At one point I had to unload my pack to slip through the narrow confines of a few downed trees blocking the path — even without my pack I could barely make it through. The steep Alpine hills (and occasional meadows) were like something out of Heidi or The Sound of Music — so beautiful. I felt I should start yodeling.

My pop culture-polluted brain kept playing the song from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (or is it Santa Claus is Coming to Town?)–put one foot in front of the other…Yeah that played on an endless loop for too long.

I kept wondering how in the world did Seguric the Serious do this trek 1000 years ago with no one to mark the trails for 2600 km? I suspect his true path was like a drunk soldier–weaving & circling. He must’ve been serious–seriously crazy! Though I’m sure he had porters lugging his stuff for him. He should’ve been called Seguric the Effing Lucky since he got there in one piece — at one point on a very narrow path with a cliff to my left, I planted the tip of my walking stick in what I thought was solid earth but turned out to be like quicksand on steep step cliffside.
For hours cow dung aroma hunh in air but where were the cows? If they were smart, on terra more firma. I heard their bells, finally saw a few way up on a hill.

On the 2nd half of the hike the trail led through beautiful forests. I felt sorry for the towering pines: they grow & grow & grow then they snap. A metaphor for life perhaps? For a long time I could hear roar of rushing water but the river was completely obscured from my view by lush growth. Finally I could see it and respectfully kept my distance — it was beautiful but deadly if you slipped in.

At the start of the last climb yesterday I happened upon a lovely outdoor stone chapel, circular in shape with stone benches running along the inside of the rounded walls. It had a prayer in French, I think it was praying for the safekeeping of those climbing to the Great Saint Bernard Pass. As I continued uphill on a fairly steep incline, I totally understood why they had that chapel there. Though they could’ve installed one halfway up just to give a tired hiker a breather…

I arrived in the evening to the place at which I planned to stay and found out that Fondation Barry was encamped there with a group of older teens, I program, if I understood it correctly, that served the type of purpose that a ropes course would, team-building, confidence-building, etc. Fondation Barry is the charitable organization that maintains the presence of St. Bernards at the St. Bernard pass, made famous by the dogs with casks of brandy at their necks, sent out to rescue stranded wanderers.Theyre no longer used for rescue missions, but are used for publicity and such things as these outreach programs. At first i didn’t realize there were actual St. Bernards there, but then i saw several VERY large dog bowls outside, so I asked if I could see the dogs, and I got taken into a room (FAR nicer than the room in which I was supposed to stay!) and greeted by four gorgeous teddy bear-like ENORMOUS Saint Bernards. The cutest things you ever did see — was such a treat for a dog-lover like me. They were adorable, and Urs (aka Andrew), the kind man with the Barry Foundation, indulged me by allowing a good 20 minutes with the pooches. Great ending to an exhilarating but exhausting day.

Attention Kmart shoppers: this hike could kick my ass into the next century if I let it, but I won’t.

image

To Roma with Love (and probably some creaky bones!)


Apologies for the lack of details; they’ll be forthcoming soon. I’ve been crazy busy preparing for a journey I’ll be undertaking at the end of August: I’m going to be walking from the Great Saint Bernard Pass in the Swiss Alps to Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy.

Details will follow, but I wanted to get this basic information posted for those who are interested in linking to the donation site I’ve set up. I am following an ancient Pilgrimage route known as the Via Francigena that extends from Canterbury, England to Rome. I’ll walk for a month, and hope to cover about 500 miles in that time period, hoping my legs will carry me about 16 miles a day. I’ll circumvent a bit of the Via Francigena along the Po River Valley in Italy, because it’s along busy roads with no safe shoulders on which to walk, and transects mile upon mile of rice paddies along with more unwanted mosquitoes than you can successfully swat at. Plus I had to cut out part of the journey to get to Rome in time, so this seemed to be the most logical section to avoid.


I decided to select a charity and try to raise money while I undertake this long walk, and loved the idea of helping out the Charlottesville site of the International Rescue Committee, which helps many people who have undertaken their own lengthy journeys to flee from war, famine, political persecution, natural disaster and the like. Having recently attended Monticello’s July Fourth Naturalization ceremony, I learned of the plight of several of those who earned their citizenship that day, and none were able to achieve it without the extensive help of the IRC, which helps people to find housing, work, language training, and provides a vital support network. I hope you’ll consider donating to this organization, and you can do so here.

If you’d like to learn more about the Via Francigena, this website that is full of information.

Thanks for your interest and please stop back as I post information. I leave on August 25 and plan to blog along the way!

Juice Schmuice

I bailed.

Yep, I’m a weenie. Either that, or acutely wise to the ways of my body, which clearly does not tolerate vegetables, particularly in a most vile liquid form…

I couldn’t last a wimp-ish 12 hours. My gag reflex was failing me. With each 3-hour “meal” of yet more veggie juice it became worse. I knew when I was attempting to ingest what was euphemistically dubbed “gazpacho” juice, which tasted more like swamp mud, I was in trouble. After attempting to infuse more fruit in an earlier batch to mask the inevitable verdancy of my juice, only to realize it only made the concoction more visually murky (even less appetizing to observe), and completely failed to enhance the flavor, I was downright giddy when we stumbled upon the gazpacho recipe. I could handle cold vegetable soup! The main ingredient was tomatoes! My fruity friend of the veggie world!

But ugh, the end result of my tomato, carrot, parsley (2 cups!!!), celery, pepper, and red onion juice surprise was that the joke was on me. As I attempted my first sip, my son standing just two feet from me, I paused, juice settling in my mouth like an unwelcome houseguest that won’t leave. I proactively plugged my nose in an unsuccessful attempt to mask the rank odor. I knew then and there if I didn’t employ an Oscar-worthy effort of mind over matter, I would soon spew the intestinal-discharge-colored liquid all over my wonderful child.

I had to keep it together for the sake of dignity (not to mention common courtesy). But I also knew that I could no longer pretend I’d get used to this. Rather I found vindication in admitting it was getting worse. Instead of drinking veggie juice as part of this collaborative family juice fast, I’d simply not eat rather than attempt any more adventuresome juice combos. After trying five different variations, I felt like I gave it the old college try.

By dinnertime, I was certain a cement truck had rumbled down my gullet and set up a construction project in my stomach, every now and then launching that rolling barrel belly just to remind me of my digestive misery, as if the lump of death piling up in there wasn’t enough of a constant reminder. Constipation has nothing on complete arrestation of forward motility that seemed to plague me. I can only imagine an H-bomb of toxic gases was building up in my stomach, with no solid food to propel whatever I was ingesting through the digestive process. One would have thought liquid-in equalled liquid-out. Clearly it’s a more complex math computation when it comes to veggie juice.

To make matters worse, I fear I can never drink a Bloody Mary the rest of my life, what with it’s V8-like ingredient list being too comparable to the near-spewn gazpacho.

By nightfall, the mere smell of juicing was sending me to another room, the aroma so reminiscent of the flavor I couldn’t bear to inhale it. But with an open floor plan in my house, escape was impossible. Our enthusiastically-commenced compost pile — now a trash can probably weighing about 50 pounds with the spoils of juicing — wafts its putrid contents throughout the kitchen at all hours. About that weighty compost pile: it sure is staggering what fiber weighs! No wonder I’m so heavy! No doubt it’s all that fiber I usually ingest…heh…

I admit to almost being a bit jealous of our dogs’ excitement toward dinner on Saturday night: their meal was probably far more delectable than was mine. You know things suck when dog food sounds good.

And that headache I’d been nursing since midday in the fast? By Saturday night it felt as if The Massey Corporation was fracking for natural gas in my brain.

I admit a flood of relief washed over me when I awoke in the middle of the night and realized I wasn’t doomed to face a 24/7 veggie juice fast the next day (or the subsequent 8 that would have followed). Lame of me, I know. But I was elated. While on the juice fast, everything I was ingesting was earthen, and I discovered how much a fan of earthen flavoring I am not. Beets in juice taste like dirt (which admittedly is at least better than the vomitrocious flavor they impart intact). Greens tasted like, well, pastures. And not in a good way. A lot of veggies simply tasted of compost. Not like I’ve ever eaten compost, but I’ve smelled it, and believe me there is a direct correlation. Veggie juice tastes as if you are munching your way through Tarzan’s jungle. Minus the munching action.

Of course now I’m left with the guilt of failing my daughter. And the disappointment of my family for not hanging in, not to mention the shame of not being able to tough it out for even a full 24 hours.

In deference to those who can tough it out around here, I’m left to sneak around the kitchen at mealtimes like a junky slinking around dark alleys and crack houses in search of the next fix. I gingerly open and close the microwave door so as to not betray my food betrayal, willing the inevitable timer beep to shut the ever living fuck up. I prep food quietly and in solitude. Last night I ate in the butlers pantry (since I have no butler, at least I’m making use of the space). I hang my head in shame (while actually cloaked in a blanket of sheer relief) as I prepare my morning cappuccino.

Concessions? I really wanted to whip up a Sunday morning omelet, and I actually craved the aroma of frying bacon yesterday, but in deference to my family’s sacrifices and my sheer, unadulterated loser status, I couldn’t reward myself with that breakfast prize. Maybe I’ll work my way through the fruit stockpile assembled for juicing — I have a large share of responsibility to the farm’s worth of veggies sitting in my garage; after all it was my idea to undertake this solidarity juice fast in the first place.

The bummer is I’m now finding that fruits I once loved are completely repulsive, instead only harkening back to the flavor of them combined with juiced kale. Blech.

Yeah, I feel like I let everyone down, to a certain extent. But like a friend said to me, “Juicing’s not for everyone.” Indeed, I can attest to that.

I’m reminded of an old Lays potato chip commercial “I tried, but I couldn’t do it”…

Perhaps had it been a potato chip diet I’d have had a fighting chance (with french onion dip, natch).