Monthly Archives: September 2018

Equipment Notes 2018

This is my seventh year walking the Way of St James across Europe (hard to believe, I know – who would have thought this in the beginning?). So I have had lots of practice refining my equipment kit.

Pack. 38 liters is quite enough unless you need to carry extensive rain or cold-weather gear. I used an Osprey Exos 38 (last year’s model) which saved at least 225g (8 oz) over the Exos 48 liter model, which had been my trusty companion for many years (being itself nearly a kilo lighter than the Kestrel 48 model). It really pays to attend to the weight of the empty pack itself. The 48 is still more comfortable and gives extra space; the 38 is a tight fit but sufficient.

Poles. Pacer poles forever!

Sleeping. In anticipation of more seasonal autumn temperatures I carried my half-kilo down bag, which was comfortable but overkill. A silk sack would have been sufficient (but confining – I hate that!).

Footwear. Heeding the experience of through-Hikers on the Appalachian Trail, I opted for fabric trail runners rather than my trusty leather Lowa Renegades that had served me so well. The Altra Lone Peak 3.0 shoes (combined with my prescription orthotics) worked quite well. Their lighter weight was noticeable especially at the end of a long day, and with the orthotic they were stiff enough for the occasional stony sections. This type is especially recommended for road-walking, which is the majority of this route. I used a lighter sock also, the Darn Tough Light Hiker. No blisters or foot problems of any sort.

Headwear. In past years I used a Tilley LT6; it’s good in light Rain but hot in the sun. So this year I used a wide-brimmed raffia hat from Operations Research. It is much cooler and I’m very happy with it. Although the tag says “100% paper”, it held up well to repeated crushing (in transit) and dousing (horse troughs on hot days) without complaint.

18 Sep 2018: Begin the Return

Transit connections. 91F. 32C

I’ve made the decision to depart the route and return home. Since I have both personal friends and also pilgrim planners reading this, let me explain my reasons to both.

For friends: The heat (mid-80’s plus) in little to no shade – with prospect of more of the same throughout the coming week, plus the frustrations of poor route marking and difficulty arranging lodging, have just done me in. And we haven’t even started the big climb up to Le Puy yet. This town (Clonas RN7) has access to transit; the next town with access is Le Puy in another week. Absent the obnoxious heat, I would have walked the 10 km to Chavanay today, and taken a rest day. Or two. Chavanay is supposed to be a very nice town, right on the Rhône. In fact that would be my usual plan: to take a rest day at the one-week point.

For fellow pilgrims planning this route: I had hoped the heat of summer would moderate by the middle of September; I was wrong. Better to start around the first of October- however then there are the 2-week school holidays in France, with dates changing every year. Also the fact that the Amis guide indicates a transit connection in a certain town does not necessarily make it so; check the SNCF app to see whether there is actually transit.

Madame my host at the hotel organizes a taxi for me; €15 to the station in Peáge-de-Roussillon, which offers sporadic connections northbound and southbound by train and by bus. What you get depends on your timing. Two blocks from the station is a main square with bank and grocery. Remember, “Casino” is a chain of markets and not a gambling establishment.

Our “train” to Lyon is a bus. This is my first experience on the long-haul buses in France; it was a pleasant and relatively timely experience. We were only 15 min late leaving. SNCF, the French national railway system, has gone to using buses on the lighter runs.

I recall from previous visits the wonderful sandwiches at the Lyon train station, so I grab a portable lunch there before embarking the tram to my hotel. This is a ham sandwich with an interesting condiment: tomato pesto. Think homemade (ie, chunky) ketchup made by the spaghetti sauce ladies. It was quite tasty and worth finding a recipe. (Foodie alert!!)

To accompany it is a rhubarb tart.

Dinner is at Les Vieux Garçons, a locovore bistro recommended by the hotel. I just love sitting outside.

Starter is a Salad Lyonnaise.

The main course is a local specialty, Pike Quenelle. I was expecting small ones, like a long meatball but they do things differently here.

The cream sauce was terrific- the whole thing was not too far from a (very light) biscuit-in-gravy.

Cheese course was a local goat cheese, quite young and loose and sweet, just past butter.

Lodging: Quality Inn Confluence, which might be my new best favorite in Lyon.

17 Sep 2018: Bellegarde-Poussieu to Clonasu

Less than 17 km. 86F

Monsieur sketches for me the shortcut from his house to regain the route, which walking from town center to town center along the marked route, would be 17 km. However, I am 1-2 km past the town center, and I am Road-walking along the D134, which “splits the difference” between the main route and the marked variant. So I am shaving off some distance.

Getting an early start while the morning is still cool is vital. Roads offer gentle grades; shade and traffic vary with time of day. A few morning commuters pass me, maybe a half-dozen in 45 min, which is more than one sees on the route by-ways, but certainly not a problem for me.

After 45 min I arrive at Chappell-Sur-Surieu which has lodging, a restaurant, a bus stop.

After another 45 min I arrive at Saint-Romain-de-Surieu and regain the Route. Several hours later I pass the outskirts of Assieu, which is alleged to have services but none are visible. Then it is across cornfields and scrub along farm tracks to Clonas. Route markings are quite intermittent, leaving me in suspense for uncomfortably long intervals.

This is apple harvest time; I see quite a few orchards of these espaliered apple trees, their bird netting held aloft lest they become apple-pie trees.

This afternoon heat is a killer! Even though I carried – and consumed – 3 liters of water, it was another liter plus at the hotel, before I felt halfway normal.

The hotel has a campground adjacent; both are about a km south of the roundabout. Usually I opt for campgrounds but I really needed to escape the heat. This is a two-star establishment (indicates the placard), of the sort we usually describe as “mom-and-pop”. “Pop” seems to be not in evidence however. Madame is the sort of bottle-blonde, lifelong smoker, barkeep who often saves the day in noir detective stories.

Dinner is decent and acceptable but mundane: pasta salad, medallions of pork tenderloin with potato cakes, ice cream for dessert.

Lodging: Hotel Des Nations, Clonas (RN7). The room is clean and decently appointed; Wi-Fi has an intermittent connection.

16 Sep 2018: Revel- Tourdon to Bellegarde-Poussieu

10 km 81F

Between the weekend, and the spacing of towns, and the warmer weather, I decided to make today a shorter day. It’s Sunday after all.

After more multi-lingual discussions over breakfast, I set out just as the local market was beginning to set up. The cheese lady was first. Shortly I passed a goat dairy (why else would you have a herd of goats?) which might have been hers.

The route is mostly paved this morning, and makes some unexpected turns, which are marked if you look carefully. The first bench is by a Gîte and two walkers are just departing; I have a nice chat with the two young Bavarians. They invite me to walk with them, but I know their pace will be twice my own. They report two French and one Austrian in addition to themselves last night. Our parties continue to bump into each other over the course of the morning as we wend our way up the hill in the increasingly hot and humid day. At midday, shortly after the water tower (always at the crest of the hill), the route forks. The north route is shorter but the southern route has more and nearer towns. There is also a large picnic shelter, with a water supply across the way. From there it is all downhill to Bellegarde-Poussieu.

Sort of. At the entry to town, there is some mistake with the markings and I end up quite misdirected, with the result of an extra hour slog. (NB: ignore the double-X route markings, follow the sign towards the “Restaurant-Bar”.

Fortunately the Restaurant is open, and offers a redemptive experience. The first course was escargots on a bed of spinach topped with garlic cream sauce (and then the lot run under the broiler).

The main course called itself a filet of trout in mustard sauce, but either they ran out of Plan A and substituted salmon or else it was steelhead trout. Served with a vegetable sauté that was almost a ratatouille (mustard instead of tomatoes). Entirely exquisite.

Dessert (it’s Sunday dinner after all) is a tart. Pink. Perhaps nuts or praline; certainly not berry.

Alas, two hours is really as long as one can stretch a lunch break, even for Sunday dinner. So I set out once more and after more than an hour of road-hoofing, finally arrived at my lodging. The bad route markings had added 5-6 km to what had been planned as a short day. All told it was a 4-liters of water day, leaving me just done in.

Because of the paucity of lodgings on the Geneva route, the pilgrim association has organized private homes as a supplement. These have been available all along the route, but I have not used them before. Since everything else in the vicinity was fully booked, though, I gave them a try. Everyone’s private home is different of course, but this particular experience did not leave me inclined to repeat. Your mileage may vary, as we say.

16 Sep 2018: Faramans to Revel-Tournon

12.5 km. 74F

Madame warned at breakfast that Pommiers, the next town, was celebrating Heritage Day this weekend, so everything would be closed (except the church and the chateau). So it is just as well I had not planned to overnight here.

The route from Faramans is flat and totally unedifying farm roads for the first hour. Then, just as the route was turning into a shady lane, things got more exciting. Yesterday I had noticed a wayside placard warning walkers to wear their orange safety vests, due to hunting season. Today is Saturday, and the guys, their gun dogs and their guns were out. Fortunately they spotted me and held their fire until I was well past.

Pommiers is a hill town. So one must climb the hill; some stretches are shady but not all. It might be an unpleasant surprise at the end of a long day from Côte-St-Andre.

As you enter town, there is a low retaining wall, making the first bench of the day. It offers a fine view, with prospects of the surrounding ridges and countryside. And a cooling breeze, which is very welcome.

Another hundred meters brings us to the actual crest of the hill, with its Romanesque church. Nearby are public WC, Mairie and post. No other services.

Outside the church I meet three Swiss women from Neuchatel, who are walking the route in one-week stages due to ongoing family commitments. They are moving more quickly than I (25 km/day) and today is their last day walking.

The afternoon is a farm road along the ridge line so there is a breeze and often shade. I see the first field of sunflowers this trip, with the Central Massif in the hazy distance.

The route through Revel-Tourdon is a bit circuitous, looping around several blocks before swinging past the church and depositing me at the Auberge. The church still has an altar and an important grave (legend indistinguishable), but no seating so I doubt it is still in active use. However, the stained glass windows are modern and stunning.

The Auberge is a small (6 rooms) country inn with a bar and restaurant. Friendly staff and very comfortable.

It’s a lively dinner table, with a Canadian couple from Montreal (first timers, no credential) and a couple from Venice (they did the Via Francigenia from Canterbury to Rome), none of whom had yet been successful in making reservations for the next night. Around about the cheese course we solved that problem. This is a simple inn, so the meal was simple but well-prepared. Tossed salad, pan-fried cod with carrots and potato croquettes, cheese.

Lodging: Auberge-Restaurant L’Escapade, Revel-Tourdon

15 Sep 2018: Saint-Hilaire-de-la-Côte to Faranans

14.5 km. 78F

After a plentiful breakfast, I set out fairly early to take advantage of the morning cool. There had been a brief shower overnight so temperatures were returning to their seasonal normals.

The route today, as was the case yesterday, is a half-half mix of unpaved farm roads and paved but very lightly traveled country byways. Many stretches have shade (much appreciated!); others are pasture or corn.

About a half hour in, approaching Gillonnay, is the intersection with the route to Arles. This runs south along the length of the Rhône valley. From Arles the route turns west towards Santiago, making one of the four great pilgrim routes through France (the others being Vezelay and Paris). Everything meets up at St-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the Spanish border, just before crossing the Pyrenees.

Another half hour and one arrives at the parish church of St Maurice in the hamlet of Valeniers, which has a credential stamp, public WC, shady benches with views of the valley, and lovely modern design stained glass windows.

A half hour yet again brings one to Côte-St-Andre, which ranks as a small city. This ancient place had a chain of water-driven mills and was the birthplace of Hector Berlioz. Entering from the east, there is a tiny pilgrim rest with info placard and bench.

It takes a half hour to traverse the town. Be attentive to the markings as you are routed downhill via a series of staircases, ending at a large market shelter just across from the Mairie. The Mairie has a WC if you ask at the Accuiel desk. (Mairie generally do a good job of looking after pilgrims.) Leaving town there is a five-way intersection where you must again be attentive to the route markings.

After awhile one comes to the foot of a very old way – the depth of erosion is well above my head – that leads swervingly uphill.

Shortly after you come out, there is a bus shelter with full-length bench. Perhaps another 200m brings you to Balbins-Ornacieux. The church has a covered bench on the approach side; on the further side the Bibliotheque has a public WC and an unsheltered bench.

The rest of the afternoon is a bit of an agricultural slog, until nearly at Faramans. There is a quite lovely county park, with WC, lake and picnic tables. Also a parcours if you happen to have some spare energy. Crossing several footbridges can be disorienting so mind the route markings. Soon you are on the main drag into town.

My lodging is in a “farm Gîte”. That means chickens, with their fresh eggs for breakfast. Also roosters – no one sleeps in around here. Madame and Monsieur are cheerful hosts. She is busy making quince preserves while calling for my upcoming reservations. Dinner is a simple, homey meal of tomatoes fresh from the garden, sautéed carrots with onions, beef medallions au jus. Cheese of course. Prefaced by Eau de Noix she made herself, and followed by Chartreuse, the locality liqueur. Oh and quite a bit of conversation!

Lodging: Gîte á la ferme, Faramans Run by a lively older couple.

14 Sep 2018 Le-Grand-Lemps to St-Hillaire

8.5 km. 88F

It’s warm and muggy this morning (think Washington DC in August). The Lyonnaise are dressed for the weather though: many young adults wearing very dressy shorts, in costumes that would be entirely appropriate in an office. Older women are in capris, and I see only a few men in suits. Scooters outnumber bicycles among the train commuters; I suppose their light weight and compact size win the day.

To reach Le-Grand-Lemps from Lyon takes metro, tram, and two train segments. The apps from Lyon Metro and SNCF are invaluable for planning these connections. While the entire country is not as well-served by transit as Switzerland is, there are large zones around the major cities that do have good service. So about 2 hours by train, in zones surrounding Geneva, Lyon and Paris. This is helpful as the Via Gebennensis (GR65 from Geneva to Le Puy) passes southeast of Lyon. My connections this morning take several hours.

The countryside is in corn, some of which is still standing in the field, well-browned by the heat waves of this summer. Some has been harvested already, leaving behind flat and dusty bare earth.

The town center has a church, post, bank, Boulangerie and a bar. Madame the baker had lovely sandwiches on multi-grain baguettes she baked herself. One was made with duck; I adopted it for lunch later on. The small rail station at Le-Grand-Lemps is on the south side of town. The pilgrim route lies along the north side. So I elected to take the county road D73 out of Le-Grand-Lemps, because Pythagoras. After thirty minutes we joined the pilgrim route and all was well.

The route is well marked in this area, using both the red/white GR scheme and the blue/yellow scallop (not necessarily on the same tree).

The plan for today was abbreviated due to the late start and the heat; but it was a good decision.

My lodging is a Gîte in an old farmhouse, complete with chickens and sheep (who are busily mowing the lawn). It’s just immediately up the hill from the church plaza, perhaps 20m off the route.

The church was locked tight, but across the church plaza is a pilgrim picnic shelter with public WC. No other services here; the town business district is down the hill.

Madame, the owner’s daughter, is catering for me. She speaks a little English, and I speak a little French. We limp along just fine, between us. This farmhouse is actually her father’s, and she is responsible while he is away on vacation. For dinner, she took me to her house for a home-cooked meal with her family. Tomatoes and zucchini from her garden, grilled steak, fresh figs, a cheese course, and a bit of flan to top it off. Just delightful to share in a family setting.

Gite La Ceriseraie, Saint-Hiliare-de-la-Côte