Monthly Archives: October 2023

Dreams, maps and reality – hiking in France, 2023…

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The kind of path we often had to negotiate on the GR 70, here on the second day’s hike…

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For months now I’ve been planning for and dreaming about this year’s overseas travel adventure: A 15-day, 150-mile hike on the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail, in the Cévennes mountains of south-central France. (Described in Stevenson’s 1879 book, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.) That process of planning and dreaming only ended when I finally flew into Paris last Sunday, September 10. Then it was time to start matching dreams and plans with reality.

I also planned for and dreamed about visiting Paris again, for the third time since 1979. And that’s not to mention heading from there down to Lyon, where I’ve never been. And where I planned to sample some Beaujolais nouveau (wine) for which the city is famous.

From there I’d take the train-and-bus to Le Puy en Velay and meet up with my brother Tom and his wife Carol, this year’s hiking companions. (Coming up from two weeks in Spain.) We’d spend Saturday, September 16, getting good and ready, then start our 150-mile hike the day after that. The ultimate goal was St. Jean du Gard, where Stevenson ended his hike in 1878. We’d arrive 15 hiking days later, mostly following the path Stevenson hiked. We’d arrive there – if all went according to plan – on October 3, 145 years to the day from when he arrived. (With two days off from hiking for us, at Brugeyrolles, east of Langogne, and Pont de Montvert.)

Tom had reserved each night’s lodging months before. (A lesson he learned back in 2017, from our first hike on the Camino Francais.) To help with navigation, he and Carol both had French phone coverage, which included online maps. For myself, I had no French phone coverage and no online maps. I chose to rely on their phone maps, along with “free” French WiFi. (Which I thought would be available in most cafes, and the places we’d stop at night.)

As for Paris and Lyon – when I was on my own – I printed out paper maps to guide me in finding my lodging, and some places to visit in each city. Like the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris, along with the Père Lachaise Cemetery. And the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière in Lyon. The towers of both basilicas were said to offer spectacular views of each city.

Then came the process of “matching maps and dreams to reality.” Or as John Steinbeck once said, you don’t take a trip, a trip takes you. Which turned out to be at least partly true.

In hindsight the trip was mostly “fun,” though not according to everyone’s definition. The French food was tantalizing, even if you didn’t always know what you were getting when you ordered. But the hike itself was certainly challenging, in many ways. Mostly every day, in the form of miles and miles of rock-strewn paths. (Which we had to hike and sometimes climb over, often at the dazzling speed of 1.2 miles an hour.) That daily “challenging” led some back-home friends and family to wonder, “Why on earth would you ever do such a thing?” (“Especially now that you’re over the hill, at age 72?”) Or as I put it in An update:

The food was great [in southern France], as were the many spectacular views from the tops of all those hills in the Cevennes. Which is another way of saying I’m still looking for an answer for people who ask, “Why would anyone want to do that?

Aside from the many spectacular views and wonderful French cuisine, I had another good reason to put up with the “bunts and blunders” of hiking miles and miles over rock-strewn paths. I plan to write a book on this latest adventure, just like Stevenson did. And who knows? Maybe I can get some fame and fortune from this and other adventure books, just like he did.

All of which is a big reason why I write blog-posts. I plan to put them together at a later date – keeping in mind the need for that unity and coherence stuff – and make more eBooks out of them. And speaking of travel-ventures, I’ve had many in the past 10 years: Eight days canoeing 12 miles off the coast of Mississippi. Hiking the Camino de Santiago, three times, on various parts. Or the Chilkoot Trail, the “meanest 33 miles in history.”

Which brings up yet another good reason. I love long walks and always have. I do some great thinking on such long walks, especially “walking” five or six hours a day, with a 20-pound pack on my back. On the Stevenson Trail I spent a lot of time framing what I’d write on Facebook, hopefully later that same day. Then using those posts as notes when I got back home, to use in framing these blog-posts, and ultimately putting them together in an ebook.

But in the end, Stevenson may have said it best:

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.” (Emphasis added.)

And there was plenty of “globe granite underfoot,” on paths which often felt strewn with cutting flints. On that note, for much of the hike I kept reminding myself, “If you do fall, fall backwards. The pack will cushion you.” Much to my credit I didn’t fall at all… Until the last day, when I may have been in a hurry to get to the end, but that’s a story for later. Which I can also say about exploring Paris and Lyon, on my own, before even starting the hike. “That’s a story for the next post.” But first a foretaste of that “heavenly banquet of hiking,” from the second day’s hike:

…we now have two hiking days under our belts, with me only developing one big blister yesterday, on the ball of my left foot. Thanks in large part to hiking over slippery-rock trails like this, from yesterday. And today, tip-toeing – not through the tulips – but trying to NOT step down hard on that one blister-foot.

You saw what I’m talking about at the top of the page. And both that picture and the quote came from my Facebook post that day. (After a beerless night in Le Monastier-sur-Gazelle. It was Sunday, when everything shuts down in rural France. I had no WiFi that night either.) That second day – Monday, September 18 – we hiked 11.5 miles from “Le Monastier” to Bargettes. (A town so small and unknown that you get “baguettes” on a Google search.)

So much for the foretaste of “heavenly hiking.” (Irony or sarcasm?) It’s time to finish this post and start on the next, on exploring Paris and Lyon, on my own, “before even starting the hike.” Where I 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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Lyon-Part-Dieu: From here I tried to match a memorized Google Map” to reality…

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I took the upper-image picture.

Re: The 2017 hike on the French Way. I met Tom in Pamplona, 450 miles from Santiago de Compostela. See “Hola! Buen Camino!” – Revisited, and “Buen Camino!” – The Good Parts. In 2019 we three hiked from Porto, Portugal, back up to Santiago, and in 2021 we hiked from St. Jean Pied-de-Port over the Pyrenees, the part I missed in 2017. See Hiking over the Pyrenees, in 2021 – finally!

Re: Steinbeck on trips. The actual quote is “people don’t take trips. Trips take people.” John Steinbeck – Travel Quote of the Week – Authentic Traveling.

Re: “Bunts and blunders” of hiking. (For example.) See Practical Mysticism, by Evelyn Underhill, Ariel Press (1914), at page 177. True, it is said of the Shepherd that he carries the lambs in his bosom; but the sheep are expected to walk, and to put up with the bunts and blunders of the flock. It is to vigor rather than comfort that you are called.See also Evelyn Underhill – Wikipedia.

About that “unity and coherence.” See On George Will’s “Happy Eye.” There I noted Will’s saying a columnist needs three seductive skills, with the third being, “be gifted at changing the subject frequently.’” I said I’d “learned to change the subject so frequently that my family says my writing ‘goes all over the place.’” And that I would try to “improve my column-writing Unity and Coherence.” 

Re: Thinking while walking. See The Science of Why You Do Your Best Thinking While Walking, How Walking Enhances Cognitive Performance | Psychology Today, and Why The Greatest Minds Take Long Walks – Canva: “Why everyone from Beethoven, Goethe, Dickens, Darwin to Steve Jobs took long walks and why you should too.”

Re: The “travel for travel’s sake” quote. See Quote by Robert Louis Stevenson: “For my part…”

The lower image is courtesy of Lyon Part Dieu Train Station – Image Results.

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