Follow

Keep in contact through the following social networks or via RSS feed:

  • Follow on Facebook
  • Join Facebook Group
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Follow on GoodReads
  • Follow on Google+
Newsletter
Newsletter
Category: Naked Man on Main Street

AND HERE I THOUGHT DOWNHILL WOULD BE EASIER....

Catching up on a few days here. Will try to add pictures at the end. Many are on my phone but I’ve got some on my iPad I can post.

Two days ago I slept in after arriving very late to Bourg St.Pierre, was a good decision. I had originally planned too much walking for that day and it would have killed my plans to walk those cute St.Bernards…Luckily I didn’t do that b/c it would have been 4 tough hours uphill at high altitude only to get there and walk the very route back down for 75 minutes with the dogs and then back up again! I’d have killed myself!
Instead I boarded a bus, which was an experience in itself. Only a 20 minute ride but along precarious roads, with each turn the bus would overhang the escarpment, giving me near heart failure. Don’t know how the guy drives the bus! Crazier still, I looked up at one point and saw a man climbing out of his construction equipment onto an escarpment with 100 foot drop below, completely nonchalant and flicking his cigarette butt as he jumped out. Oy vey. I sure wondered how many buses plummet off cliffs up here!

As I said that walk with the dogs was along the Via Francigena. Only going down the mountain it was a very rocky path, with 175-pound dogs pulling at you, not so easy. Hard to keep your footing. The dogs were adorable: Bunti, Wenda (pronounced Venda), Justin and Ranna. Most adorable. If you can’t tell I have a thing for St. Bernards. My (grown) kids are lucky I haven’t a millimeter of space in my backpack or I’d have brought them back cute but useless St. Bernard stuffed animals. (yes, I know they just purged all those stuffed animals!). Two other families were on the walk, several kids, who made much better timing than did I. Oh well! I was savoring my St. Bernard time…

Was great fun w/ the dogs, they’re sweet as can be and precious, though the one boy (Justin, pronounced in the french way) kept going after the girl I was walking and sometimes he’d start barking a little too aggressively for my tastes — happened w/ one of the kids right there. Of course these dogs are well-trained so I don’t doubt they’d not do anything, but still…I think old Justin had love on the mind…

After that I just walked in the town for a few minutes (“town” is an exaggeration — it’s the hospice, which is a building housing a church and chapels and housing facilities, a hotel across the street with a bar, and a smaller bar down the street that sells tchotchkes. And the kennels. I went to the smaller bar in search of hot chocolate — it’s COLD up here! Especially at the top. When we walked I got warm and could have taken off my long-sleeved top but no chance with dogs on the go. But up top it’s very blustery.

The day was beautiful but chilly at the top but after sunset a shroud of fog descended on the place — was very haunting. Dinner was served promptly at 7:15, just me and about 25 strangers, none of whom spoke much English (or French or Italian for that matter). Met two young men from Czech Republic who are walking across Europe searching for work. Not, perhaps, the most efficient manner in which to search for jobs, but they seemed nice and I felt badly for them that no one will hire them. I dined with a Swiss doctor from Lausanne who was wearing a Jawbone bracelet (it quantifies everything you short of motive) and I pointed out my son has a Fitbit now and quantifies it all. He laughed and said, “Yes, I think it was Shakespeare who said ‘I think, therefore I am.’ But now it is I measure, therefore I am.” So true…The guy walks the steps (15 flights) at the hospital at which he works. A modern day esthete I suppose (who voluntarily goes off to Monasteries for holiday!). The food was what you’d expect in a religious hospice. The place was very clean, which was nice. I cannot begin to tell you how cold it was. I’d been avoiding taking my backpack out b/c it is so nicely packed and I knew it would be a struggle to get it back in this tiny sack. Finally I sucked it up and used it, and owe my daughter Kendall much gratitude for her lending it to me. I almost cried to be warm! The simple pleasures do become amplified when things get boiled down to more basics. It was quite the grudge match getting that sleeping bag put away though…

We were awoken by music — the monks’ way of telling us to leave? Had a quick breakfast of stale bread and was off.

So onto today’s walk. The walk. The walk!
Okay, first off. I have a newfound respect for the Family Von Trapp. How they trekked through the mountains of Austria to escape the Nazis with all of those children and no hiking gear is beyond me.
Let me tell you, they don’t call it the Alps for nothing (whatever that means!). I was operating under the delusion that I was on the downhill and thus it would be much easier. I was wrong. The weather was spectacular — could not have been better. Started out crisp and cool but a few minutes hiking took care of the cool. The path was steep and rocky so it took a great deal of concentration. I’m still wondering where all those meadows are that I’d expected. The scenery was stunning. I passed lots of cows with those musical bells — must make them insane, though, clanging away all day long. And deaf! But it is lovely to hear in the distance, before you even see the cattle. I laughed at the passivity of cows around here — the only thing that keeps them from straying to land not theirs is usually a small rope strung across a path. Perhaps they’re just so happy where they are.

Much of the way was steep and rocky with very little between me and certain death if I lost my footing. Humbling. I have bonded with my walking sticks (though lost the tip of one on my first day, darn it). The trail was well-marked at first, but after I stopped for lunch in St. Rhemy and returned to the trail with the intent of walking to Etroubles, I ended up on a nasty trail that got the better of me. Much of the time it was a barely discernible path through dense overgrowth. Loads of crickets leaping about. I saw a sign for St. Oyen, the next town, which claimed to be 50 minutes away, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that was in dog years. Speaking of dogs–where’s a St. Bernard when you need one? I’d have loved to have one rescue me by about 3 pm, when my trail led me to an enormous construction site where I had to climb over piles of rebar and cement blocks just to get out of the woods. Crazily I wasn’t lost but it sure felt like it. At that point I decided my best plan was to hop a bus to Aosta so that I could still catch a train to Fidenza tomorrow, my plan being to pick up the Via Francigena around there (near Parma) and climb through the Cisa Pass, part of the Italian Appenines, which is supposed to be beautiful. Debating whether to divert first to Florence or afterward. Will see how my legs are holding out in the morning as to whether I hope a series of trains to Fidenza or Firenza ;-).

I met a lovely woman and her mother while waiting for a bus in St. Oyen. As she described her job and had a hard time translating it, I realized she is an urban planner, which is what Kyle’s in graduate school for, so that was a small world. She and her mother were delightful, fluent in english. Her mother was lovely and wanted to bring me home to Torino and feed me her specialty — spaghetti. I was sorely tempted, though Torino is nowhere near my planned itinerary. She also wanted to show me her duck cross-stitch — her daughter said she was terribly obsessed with it (as a quilter of past I can relate!)

I washed a bunch of clothes and hope they’re dried by the time I leave in the morning. Went out to a great meal of tagliatelle al sugo (duck confit and pasta, yummm) and semifreddo di fruitti di foret (I’m no doubt spelling that wrong). Was perfect. Now I’m going to head off to bed, but let me add some pictures!

Ciao!

20130830-002303.jpg

20130830-002333.jpg

20130830-002350.jpg

20130830-002414.jpg

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

AND SO IT BEGINS

I’m going to have to make this quick as I’m absolutely beat, but wanted to post the start of my journey.

Let’s just say packing was mildly amusing. I am the one who throws in the extra kitchen sink, after packing the main sink. Me and a pack ostensibly meant to hold 15 pounds is just a contrary concept. I tried, truly I did. But all those darned little things added up, not to mention the mere weight of the iPad I brought along, amongst other things.

Suffice it to say, when I start walking tomorrow, I expect tears. I will spew vulgarities about what a stupid git I am for having even fantasized about packing a blow dryer (yes, I admit, I pondered it in the far recesses of my mind, but no, I didn’t pack one. It was the first item on the “no way in hell” list).

It was hard to bid farewell to my family. Moms are conflicted about just bailing on the family, aren’t they? Even though the kids are off doing their own thing, there’s just this feeling that you need to be there just in case. And leaving Scott for a month — that’s a really long time and i will miss him! i must also say how grateful i am that he has enabled me to undertake this journey — his support has been invaluable. But everyone assured me I wasn’t being a self-indulgent self-indulger, so I’ll take it at face value.

So I headed off on my adventure relatively guilt-free but suddenly feeling quite anxious (no doubt mostly b/c of newly-anticipated need for a Sherpa). There’s just so much STUFF you need/want to pack for a month. Particularly when you figure you’ll be roughing it a bit, you want to toss in those little somethings that’ll make you feel mildly indulged (the foot lotion, the soothing arnica oil for muscle aches). Though in reality you should’ve tossed those in the “no” pile right behind that darned blow dryer!

Ah well, it is what it is. I expect I’m going to pull a Hansel and Gretel and leave a trail of divine-smelling toiletries with each kilometer trekked. I’ll keep you posted.

My flight was surprisingly quick and uneventful, though in the small world department, my daughters roommates father was my pilot! He did a fine job! I then met up with an e-friend I’ve “known” online for years, who I learned last week lives near Geneva. What a lovely day we had — we went to her beautiful home and I was able to make myself at home to reconnoiter (boy did I need that), shower (ditto) and enjoy a lovely lunch and great company. Topped off with a visit to her gorgeous horse. I navigated several trains from there to grt to Orsieres, wishing I’d had time to explore the area before departing — very picturesque villages along what I think was Lake Lausanne — stunningly beautiful. The town of Nyon (FIFA headquarters to you soccer fans) was exceptionally so. arrived around 5:30, settled into my hotel & went in search of food.

While wandering through the village trying to find an open restaurant, a man backing out of a parking space pulled over and started telling me in french about the local cheeses, unsolicited. I had years of french growing up but do you think I could converse in the language? Hell no. I hadn’t expected the first few days of my trip to be in french-speaking Switzerland, so I hadn’t brushed up on my french and instead have been blending French from the deepest regions of my brain with butchered Italian that I have been brushing up on — probably all the more confusing for the locals. Ah, well, merde…I was also corrected by a construction worker on my bonjours vs. bonsoirs — didn’t need it as I remembered it as I uttered the wrong word last evening. I think by the time I hit Italy I’ll then be speaking comprehendible French and then really trash my Italian. Thank goodness more Europeans speak English than Americans do foreign languages…Bonsoir mes amies!

(By the way I being my journey walking from Orsieres, Switzerland to Bourg-Saint-Pierre, Switzerland. Wish me bonne chance!)