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November 16, 2023 – My last post talked about matching up Dreams, maps and reality, as applied to my recent hike on the Stevenson Trail in France. I also talked about “why such a fool” – especially an old fool, at 72 – would “put himself through such an ordeal.” I had some answers, but ended with a promise “next time” to talk about walking Paris and Lyon. Specifically:
…on exploring Paris and Lyon, on my own, “before even starting the hike.” Where I [will] describe things like getting drenched on arrival at the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris, and finding out that trying to memorize a Google Map route, from Lyon Part Dieu train station to the HO36 Hostel in Lyon, can make you feel lost and in despair.
That second problem concerned me trying to use a memorized Google Map to get from the “Part Dieu” train station to the HO36 Hostel on 36 rue Montesquieu. But that post is turning out to be more complicated than I thought. Both cities were eventful for me, but since I last posted almost three weeks ago, it’s time to fill in with this post, on some lessons from the past.
Like last year (2022) we hiked 150 miles on the St Francis Way A pilgrimage route. But instead of hiking as most do – from Rome to Assisi – we went the other way, from Assisi back to Rome. And I can mention one mistake I didn’t make in this most recent trip: I didn’t get a &^%#$ ticket – costing 30 Euros – for not validating my bus pass, in Assisi, down by the train station.
It happened on the ride back from visiting the Basilica of San Francis … but it wasn’t my fault. Two knuckleheads in front of me had trouble making change (or whatever). A long line started forming behind me, so the driver told us – starting with me – to “go to the back of the bus.” That’s where, supposedly, there was another machine to validate your bus ticket.
I didn’t validate the pass, mostly because I didn’t see any such machine. But when we got back to the train station in Assisi – a short walk from our lodging – an officious-looking guy magically appeared and announced the aforementioned fine for failure to validate. I protested long, hard and loud – “the driver told me to go to the back of the bus!” – but to no avail. It was all, “No comprendo,” or however they say it in Italy. As I mentioned, that was “Not a good start to what was supposed to be a pilgrimage to enlightenment.” On the other hand, part of being enlightened could be not repeating mistakes of the past. So, “One lesson learned!”
One guidebook on the Way of St. Francis said the Apennine Mountain Range is “the thick spine of the Italian peninsula.” And that because of its “challenging topography, the Way of St. Francis is a challenging walk.” The book noted that veterans of the Camino de Santiago (like us) may compare several days walking on the Way of St. Francis “to a walk over the Route [de] Napoleón that crosses the Pyrenees. A daily climb of 500 to 1000 meters is not unusual.”
So I found one big difference between last year’s hike and the latest one. The Stevenson Trail wasn’t as full of “zig-zags, switchbacks and cut-backs.” I mentioned that my 8th grade math teacher had taught us the shortest distance between two points was a straight line.
However, that rule doesn’t apply to the Way of St. Francis. And that led me to wonder, “Why did St. Francis follow this ‘path?‘” Back and forth, up and down, full of zig-zags, switchbacks and cut-backs. And why wouldn’t he take the smoother route along the valley that beckoned down below? (The smooth path that the train takes from Rome up to Assisi and back.)
So one difference: The Stevenson Trail mostly goes “straight” north to south; not as many zig-zags. Though there were plenty of slippery boulders and rock-strewn paths to negotiate, at least we didn’t have to backtrack so much – or so it seemed – and pay for the same real estate twice.
One similarity between the two hikes? Many days on both trails there were few if any places to stop for refreshment during the day. It wasn’t that unusual to go a whole day’s hike, of 10 or 12 miles or more, without any of those stops so prevalent on the Camino Frances (French Way). On the other hand, in Italy you could still always look forward to a warm bed, hot shower and a cold beer at the end of the day. And the same was true of the Stevenson Trail.
But that leaves the question: Why would an old fool “put himself through such an ordeal.” That’s a question I asked myself quite often on the Stevenson Trail, especially during the early days of the hike. One answer I came up with? The idea that on such a trek the goal is to “push beyond your limits. To ask yourself at least once a day, ‘What the heck am I doing here?'”
And then keep going…
But once we got home my brother and hiking companion found another answer. “Rucking.” I just did learn that Rucking can help you burn fat, build muscle, and stay strong as you age. And here I’ve been rucking since 2016, back on the Chilkoot Trail, and didn’t even know it.
It seems that hauling big, heavy dead animals you’ve killed – “game after hunting trips” – or just carrying heavy things in general has been around a long time. That’s a trait unique to humans, a “foundational behavior throughout [human] history.” As in traveling long distances, moving whole families and their belongings, in search of a better life, more food or just to get away from hostile tribes looking to kill you. And as it turns out, in modern times such carrying a heavy weight over distances “is a great exercise for fitness and longevity.”
Which is a thought that came to me late on the Stevenson hike.
When exercising I track aerobic minutes, minutes of aerobic exercise. But to get credit for such exercise you need to go ten minutes straight, and that presents a problem on the Trail. Carrying such a heavy weight, and especially hiking uphill (and/or climbing over and around all those stupid rocks) means you need a standing-stop break several times in ten minutes. That meant theoretically you don’t get any “aerobic credit.” But I finally figured out – on the GR-70 – that hiking hours a day with a heavy pack combines two different exercises: aerobics and weight-lifting. Which is pretty much what “rucking” is all about. Problem solved!
I’ll be writing more about rucking as a good reason for my overseas hikes in a future post. And also get to the part about exploring Paris and Lyon, this year, on my own, “before even starting the hike.” And describe things like getting drenched on arrival at the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris, and finding out that trying to memorize a Google Map route, from Lyon Part Dieu train station to the HO36 Hostel in Lyon, “can make you feel lost and in despair.” Until next time…
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The upper image is courtesy of Basilica Of Saint Francis Of Assisi – Wikipedia – Image Results.
I borrowed much of the main text here from Getting ready for Rome – and “the Way of St. Francis, from April 2022, and Some highlights – Way of St. Francis 2022, from October 2022. Other past posts include On St. Patty 2022 – and the Way of St. Francis, from March 2022, One week away from a “Roman Holiday” from August 2022, and St. Francis, his birds and my Bucket List, from October 2022.
“Pay for the real estate twice.” A quote from George Patton. See Not me. I don’t like to pay for the same real estate twice.
10-minute aerobic minimum. See Physical activity – World Health Organization (WHO), and The Aerobics Way, the 1978 book by Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper.
The lower image is courtesy of Rucking For Fitness Image – Image Results.
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