15 Jul 2017: Archamps to Charly

Distance: 19.5 km in 5 hours

Weather: Partly cloudy, afternoon high 78F, strengthening breeze as the afternoon progressed.

Route: Not only was yesterday Bastille Day, but this is the holiday weekend accompanying it. And although I had lodging reservations last night, I do not have them for tonight or tomorrow. So the usual places are full. There is a municipal  gite in Charly, so that is my objective today. This is a bit further than originally planned, so I am cutting a few corners to save the distance. This morning I walked the Road shoulder of the D18 road for the first hour, saving me 4 km. In La Forge I picked up the CSJ route again, which immediately climbed to a ridge with a nice view and a welcome breeze. A little wayside chapel – the sort I saw frequently in Germany but never in France – was erected in honor of the local men who returned from German prison camps in 1945. 
After more climbing along farm roads and occasional woods, I came to the restored monastery at Pomiers. The French name for their order is Chartreuse – and yes the monks are the makers of the liquor of the same name. In America they are known as Carthusians, and in Britain their monasteries are called Charterhouse; both are corruptions of the French. This is an order of hermits – you can get a sense of their life if you watch the film “The Grand Silence” on YouTube. The building is now in private hands and used as an event and conference center.

Yet more climbing – gentle but insistent- about 1250 ft for the day, giving wonderful panoramic views of the Alps and Jura. And then the descent to Mount Sion for lunch at Le Clef Des Champs restaurant, a splurge since I know dinner will be sparse. Once again I sat outside; I hate to dirty up these nice places with my dusty pack and sweaty clothes. The menu du jour looked good. The appetizer was a very nice cold seafood stew of mussels and shrimp in a lemon sauce. 

For the main course, local freshwater fish with summer vegetables. 

Another 30 minutes walk brought me to Charly, where, despite the housewarming party involving several dozen, I was able to find the municipal gite. The elderly lady sitting on her terrace next door was kind enough to help me get settled. This is an old (several centuries) house that has been slightly updated with a full bath and small kitchen, and a room with a couple mattresses on the floor. Basic, but clean, and the location was just what I needed. I have the place to myself.

Lodging: Relais de Chez Odette, Charly

14 Jul 2017: Geneva to Archamps

Distance: 12 km (approximately)

Weather: Partly cloudy; it warmed rapidly in the morning to a high of 81F, with the breeze waiting until mid-afternoon to develop.

I’ve been visiting pilgrim friends who live near Lake Neufchâtel, northeast of Geneva. It’s been lovely to see them again, and give myself a chance to recover from jet lag. But, just as ships were not built to stay safely moored in port, this pilgrim must set foot upon the road once again.

Route: From the Protestant cathedral Saint-Pierre, where I ended the previous section and where I got an initial stamp in my pilgrim credential, the way is well- marked as the “Route 4: Via Jacobi”, as it has been all across Switzerland. Leading along lightly-trafficked streets in this heart of the old city, I see many wrought iron balconies and flower pots in the typical French style, as well as an assortment of shops, bistros, and cafes. I was too early for lunch however. Several repurposed horse fountains are along the route, starting before the cathedral, and all are marked “eau potable” so they are safe for drinking (the spigot, not the trough). It’s a great way to wet your hat on a hot day, which this was turning into. After about 30 minutes’ walking, there is a Lidl (discount German food mart) of good size with fresh baked goods. Another 10 minutes later there is a Migros (Swiss grocery chain). These are directly on the route, and the best place for resupply I saw all day. If you are disinclined to hike through downtown and suburban Geneva, tram 12 stops one block toward the Lake from Saint-Pierre, and follows the Via Jacobi exactly for the first 45 minutes of walking, where the old town ends, the suburbs begin, and there is an end-of the-tram-line loop.

Not long after that, things became interesting. The marked route departed the sidewalk and was headed toward a lovely shaded footpath; however, the path was completely blocked by a gate and chain across the entire path, wall to wall. A sign indicated two months of construction was in progress, and a map indicated a circuitous detour that tripled the distance of the affected interval ( think three sides of a square). So I set off in an effort to follow the detour. I should mention that suburban Geneva is one of those places where you cannot go around the block and end where you started. Fortunately I still had the Swiss Mobility app loaded on my iphone, with its complete map set of the Via Jacobi route across Switzerland. And Google Maps has a setting for “walking”. The walking was a bit cross-country, along paved sidewalks through some exceptional neighborhoods (Troinex was one) with very fine homes. Occasionally I would pick up a marked regional walking route, but I kept going in the right general direction. As it happened my hotel was also not directly on the route (now labeled the Chemin St Jacques because I have crossed over into France), so it all worked out in the end. For a while though, I was worried.

Meals: Having been too early for lunch in Geneva proper, I swore to stop at the first opportunity occurring after 12 noon (the canonical hour to begin lunch). The place turned out to be the very unprepossessing Auberge Croix de Ronex, which had outdoor seating under the shady sycamore trees. Do not judge a book by its cover. The kitchen produced an entirely satisfactory cold salad plate composed of fresh ripe tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella drizzled with pesto, and some thinly sliced Parma ham, all dressed with vinaigrette. Entirely routine – and entirely delicious!

Dinner is at the hotel dining room. The salad was huge; a nice assortment of chilled vegetables as well as some couscous atop a bed of local greens vinaigrette.

As well as a main plate of cheeseburger and green beans, which disappeared before the photographer noticed, I’m afraid.

Hotel: Ibis Hotel, 23 Rue Ada Byron, Archamps France. This business hotel is near the Chemin, and as it is Bastille Day here in France, I did not want to leave the lodging to chance. Clean, spacious, all the mod cons and free wifi. Available through Booking.com.

Packed and Ready 2017

It’s been a challenging two years. My plan to walk last year was scotched by a back injury sustained while carrying a rowing shell, and since then my physical therapist and I have become very well acquainted. But now I am all mended, and I have been training for several months. So I’m ready to get my foot in the road again!

What’s different in the pack this year? This is the first time I’m hiking in summer; usually I’ve been walking in May or September. So I have left behind the Ferrino Trekker raincoat with gaiters, taking instead a lightweight Helium II jacket from Outdoor Research. Rather than the sleeping bag, I’m taking only the silk sleeping bag liner. Also no long underwear, or insulated jacket. And the good news is that the dry load (no food or water) weight is only 13.5 lbs (6.1 kg)! I’m liking this a lot!

The remaining gap for me is between Geneva, where I stopped in 2015, and Le Puy en Velay where I began in 2010. (Blogs for the earlier sections are listed at the right.) However, at more than four weeks of walking, that is too long for me to be away from home these days. So I will do the first half, ending near Lyon. There are actually two routes available: one going directly from Geneva to Lyon, and the other passing south of Lyon on a more direct line to Le Puy, which is the one I will take. You can see maps and an elevation profile here: http://www.gr-infos.com/en/gr65a.htm.

The main guide for this route is published by the Amis-St Jacques (Friends of Saint James) Association (http://chemins.amis-st-jacques.org/?page_id=6) in bilingual French and German, and includes lodging information. The same association publishes guides for the related routes: to Lyon, connecting to Arles, and connecting from Vezelay.  FFR, the French hiking association, has a topo-guide available in French:  https://boutique.ffrandonnee.fr/topoguides?gr=216 .

Since this is a far more lightly-traveled route than the section from Le Puy onwards, there is not a lot of lodging infrastructure. Many nights I will be staying in private homes – the homes of Amis members. The contact phones are listed in the Amis guide. I have been working on my French ability (thanks to the Michel Thomas and Duolingo apps), but we will see if it is up to the task.

After so many years of walking, why do I still do this? Walking pilgrimage routes is many things: an amazing adventure, a spiritual retreat, and – in the week an old friend passed at far too young an age – a celebration of the sweetness of life.

Iona: Reflections

There  is something, subtle yet undeniable, about this place. It is often described as a ‘thin place’, where the boundary between Earth and Heaven is less concrete. But it is certainly a place where there is no boundary at all between Creation and the Sacred. Ican clearly sense that here, and I hope to carry it with me as I travel onward. 

Iona is a Quiet Place as well: physically quiet, with the absence of traffic, crowds, advertisements and television. Yet also a quiet place in relationships: people are respectful, compassionate, and considerate — rather than demanding, judgemental, and selfish. 

Iona is a place of Peace. Even though nature seems ready to reclaim the entire island at every turn, and the wind ruckuses, the snow swirls, and the surf pounds. The rocks, the 2 billion year old basalt and the softer green marble, still stand along the steadfast stones of the ruins. The determined hairy cows, the blithe sheep, and the endlessly playful lambs are all at home here.

There is something to be said for that: a place of Home. A place of Safety. Not necessarily a place to return to,but surely a place that prepares one to depart on the onward journey. A place of foundation. A place of new beginnings.

Iona: (Dis) Comforts

iona is a small island, 1 mile by 3 miles, in the Inner Hebrides off the northwest coast of Scotland. There is nothing between Iona and the North Atlantic. There is nothing between Iona and the Norh Pole, either.

Tuesday the wind blew, all day long and all night long, in excess of 32 mph. There were whitecaps on the sound from one side to the other. The ferry, a converted Landing Craft (Tank), wallowed from side to side in the swell, with its flat bottom. I felt for the craft master in his Sisyphean task.

We attend a service of Silent Prayer before breakfast each day, in a chapel at the Abbey. This, too, is U heated. We can see the fog of our breath, if our eyes are open. Even with the door closed, the wind howls over the roof.

The sheep, and their many lambs, know how to find shelter from this onslaught. They find safe places, in the uneven terrain of the pastures, and in the lee of stony ruins.

The daffodils, those sturdy souls, bend a little but their sunny faces remain upright, despite the flattening gusts, constant in their optimism.

Your heaviest fleece is not too heavy. Too many layers are not too many. Rain pants are not superfluous. Neither hat, not gloves, nor scarf is extraneous.

Iona: Arrival

For me, the essence of pilgrimage is struggle; it may be internal or external — or some combination thereof — but there is some difficulty undertaken.

Even with modern conveniences of travel, the journey to Iona is a lengthy one. From Glasgow, it is three hours by occasional train up to Oban. Then an hour by large ferry across to the Isle of Mull, an hour by bus across Mull, and ten minutes by small ferry over to Iona. From the ferry landing it is a quarter mile walk up to our hotel (St. Columba). I am chilled to the bone — with temperatures in the mid-40’s and winds above 25 mph — and the warmth of the hotel is immensely comforting.

Our group of pilgrims on retreat assembles: out of 26, there are 3 Canadians, 1 Australian, 1 Brit, and the rest Americans. North Carolina is well represented, as is the Pacific Northwest, but there are others also. Several are making repeat visits.

We gather and commence introductions: who, whence, why. I struggle with formulating a response to why? Others offer responses that have some resonance for me but don’t quite touch the center. Finally I settle on, “Needing to learn how to listen to the Sacred.” Then we conclude the day with Evening Prayer, incorporating this chant, and I am pierced.

Let me hear, let me hear

The words that You speak

When I turn to you in my heart

En Route to Iona, Scotland 

Travel is a privilege and a blessing. These are the months of travail for refugees fleeing the horrors of war in Syria. We heard, in Sunday’s sermon, of the equally horrific plight of youth in El Salvador, where one is forced into sex-slavery or soldiering on pain of death by the drug gangs. So to travel in safety is a great privilege.

When I walk the Jakobswege in Europe, it is the intentional unknown that makes me vulnerable, that opens a crack for encounter with the Divine. This year’s journey is different- offering community, which can be vulnerability of a different kind. But for me intentional vulnerability is still a key for the Divine.

On the flight over, I watched the film The Martian and I was struck by the forms and strength of community this astronaut experienced. In the initial disaster, of course the astronaut feels his loneliness and the loss of community. But his crew mates also feel the diminishment of community, as does the NASA staff — in fact the whole world mourns. With each step of re-established communication, the sense of community connection is restored a little bit more. Until, in the final measure, he is physically retrieved and fully restored to community. We are shown that communication leads to connection, and connection leads to community. But that is not the only element. There is also a mutual sense of belonging; this particular individual belongs to this ship’s crew, this organization’s staff, this planet’s people. He feels it, and they feel it. And each feels a mutual accountability; this makes a bond they all feel.