p o n t a r l i e r - j o u n g e

“Walk on with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone” - Rodgers and Hammerstein

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At the hostel in Ponterlier, I realized I had to choose to cross to Switzerland today or stay in France one more night and cross tomorrow.

I suddenly felt unsure. Somewhere along the line in France I had developed a way of doing things that seemed to work: start walking and let things fall into place. Would it be any different in Switzerland? 

I tried something that on in my trip had abandoned: looking to google for an answer.  

It didn’t work well. Not because Google isn’t a great tool, but the question of which way to go from here can’t yet be input.

When the sun came up, there was nothing to do but go outside. On a Sunday, the tourist office was closed, so I just walked for a few minutes amid the street market, refilled my water bottle at an open cafe, and let my compass point me Southeast. 

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     I followed a sign towards Lausanne, and soon fouand Via Francigena markings along the bike path to take me to the trail.  I hiked up a wide path in the bright sun to a lookout point.  I walked along the walls of an old fortress.   I looked out to the mountains, an old castle, over a village, at the high speed trains cutting through it all.   I looked up close at a butterfly with a cracked wing, crawling with its caterpillar body across the path. I sat down and tried to help it out of the road. I was frightened when it flew in frantic little spurts and jerked away myself in instinct. I didn’t fully feel it at the time, but I sprained my own glute muscle this way.  I walked through a town called La Cluse-te-Mijoux and an very good-looking person refilled my water bottle. Or I don’t know,  maybe I was just thirsty.   I hiked up a hill to a little chapel with rows and rows of bikes outside. People standing outside and talking, children playing, car doors opening and closing, picnic baskets and baguettes carried in twos.  I walked back into the woods. I kept taking pictures of the red and white trail markings everywhere, better than castles and so valuable to showing me the way.   One part of the path along a fence was narrow and overgrown. I tried to step carefully but couldn’t avoid all the plant life.   I remember walking through fields of wheat and corn thinking how silent they were, how hard it was to see the life in rows of cornstalks. But those were domesticated plants! Here were wild plants- assertive, aggressively growing into the path with serrorated edges and thorns and leaves that stung my skin instantly. I walked carefully and looked closely at the leaves that stung so I could avoid them.   I found my way through mud and fallen trees.    When I came to fields sometimes I couldn’t see the red and white flags,  so I just opened the jaws of barbed wire and continued forward until I did.   At the end of one of field, I finally saw some red amid the green and trees.  It wasn’t a sign though, it was a woman in a pink shirt. She was sitting with one or two others on a mossy fallen tree making a picnic.   I said hello, looking for a point in the right direction. Better than that, she showed me her trail maps, introuduced me to her friends, and we all sat and had coffee, right in the middle of the woods!   Aren’t you scared to be all alone? They asked me, and I said what I felt, which was, I am not alone right now!   They invited me to walk along the rest of the trail to the town with them, and I was happy to! They pointed out the hazelnut trees and grassy ski slopes. A layer of sunburn and self-doubt had peeled off from yesterday, and I could speak french with them to communicate and understand some simple ideas!   Nutella doesn’t really have hazelnuts, fondu is a good way to put on weight, the cuisine in New York is very eclectic!   When we came to the small town, some clouds began to cover the sun. I looked into the dark woods with more trepidation at the thought of starting out alone again. I still hasn’t sorted out where I was staying for the night, so when they offered to take me to the open tourist office, I gratefully accepted.   I’ve opened more car doors than I ever expected to on this pilgrimage by foot, but I’ve also slowly began to let go of the idea that this is some kind of ultra-ultra-marathon where taking help that’s offered invalidates the whole experience.   It is what it is. I step out in faith every morning, learn something, and try to make it somewhere like home before dark. Sometimes this happens after a day of pushing it to the absolute limit, sometimes at 4pm after a nice morning hike and picnic.  And so it was something very amazing that happened. Even though all the usual places- the tourist offices, the hotel receptions, Google- that I ask my questions like -where will I stay tonight? where is best to cross the Swiss border on foot with my American passport? gave no answer that Sunday, the beautiful people I met right there in the middle of the woods helped me find all this.  Then took me from a closed tourist office to an open tourist office then to search at two hotels and then to my final place of Jounge just before the Swiss border. At last, we found a lovely gîte where the collage of photos on the wall confirmed the owners could be my grandparents. I was stumped as to how to connect to the WiFi there, and almost gave up when I couldn’t work it out myself, thinking I had the best shot out of anyone at the house. I didnt, it was Madame Godart who had the solution. She got on the on the landline, called her tech savvy neighbor, and occupied his adorable toddler with a madeline cookie while he turned on the WiFi button on the router box.  And since you’re reading this, I guess you already have figured out things couldn’t have worked out any better. 

  

I followed a sign towards Lausanne, and soon fouand Via Francigena markings along the bike path to take me to the trail.

I hiked up a wide path in the bright sun to a lookout point.

I walked along the walls of an old fortress. 

I looked out to the mountains, an old castle, over a village, at the high speed trains cutting through it all. 

I looked up close at a butterfly with a cracked wing, crawling with its caterpillar body across the path. I sat down and tried to help it out of the road. I was frightened when it flew in frantic little spurts and jerked away myself in instinct. I didn’t fully feel it at the time, but I sprained my own glute muscle this way.

I walked through a town called La Cluse-te-Mijoux and an very good-looking person refilled my water bottle. Or I don’t know,  maybe I was just thirsty. 

I hiked up a hill to a little chapel with rows and rows of bikes outside. People standing outside and talking, children playing, car doors opening and closing, picnic baskets and baguettes carried in twos.

I walked back into the woods. I kept taking pictures of the red and white trail markings everywhere, better than castles and so valuable to showing me the way. 

One part of the path along a fence was narrow and overgrown. I tried to step carefully but couldn’t avoid all the plant life. 

I remember walking through fields of wheat and corn thinking how silent they were, how hard it was to see the life in rows of cornstalks. But those were domesticated plants! Here were wild plants- assertive, aggressively growing into the path with serrorated edges and thorns and leaves that stung my skin instantly. I walked carefully and looked closely at the leaves that stung so I could avoid them. 

I found my way through mud and fallen trees.  

When I came to fields sometimes I couldn’t see the red and white flags,  so I just opened the jaws of barbed wire and continued forward until I did. 

At the end of one of field, I finally saw some red amid the green and trees.

It wasn’t a sign though, it was a woman in a pink shirt. She was sitting with one or two others on a mossy fallen tree making a picnic. 

I said hello, looking for a point in the right direction. Better than that, she showed me her trail maps, introuduced me to her friends, and we all sat and had coffee, right in the middle of the woods! 

Aren’t you scared to be all alone? They asked me, and I said what I felt, which was, I am not alone right now! 

They invited me to walk along the rest of the trail to the town with them, and I was happy to! They pointed out the hazelnut trees and grassy ski slopes. A layer of sunburn and self-doubt had peeled off from yesterday, and I could speak french with them to communicate and understand some simple ideas!

Nutella doesn’t really have hazelnuts, fondu is a good way to put on weight, the cuisine in New York is very eclectic! 

When we came to the small town, some clouds began to cover the sun. I looked into the dark woods with more trepidation at the thought of starting out alone again. I still hasn’t sorted out where I was staying for the night, so when they offered to take me to the open tourist office, I gratefully accepted. 

I’ve opened more car doors than I ever expected to on this pilgrimage by foot, but I’ve also slowly began to let go of the idea that this is some kind of ultra-ultra-marathon where taking help that’s offered invalidates the whole experience.

It is what it is. I step out in faith every morning, learn something, and try to make it somewhere like home before dark. Sometimes this happens after a day of pushing it to the absolute limit, sometimes at 4pm after a nice morning hike and picnic.

And so it was something very amazing that happened. Even though all the usual places- the tourist offices, the hotel receptions, Google- that I ask my questions like -where will I stay tonight? where is best to cross the Swiss border on foot with my American passport? gave no answer that Sunday, the beautiful people I met right there in the middle of the woods helped me find all this.

Then took me from a closed tourist office to an open tourist office then to search at two hotels and then to my final place of Jounge just before the Swiss border. At last, we found a lovely gîte where the collage of photos on the wall confirmed the owners could be my grandparents. I was stumped as to how to connect to the WiFi there, and almost gave up when I couldn’t work it out myself, thinking I had the best shot out of anyone at the house. I didnt, it was Madame Godart who had the solution. She got on the on the landline, called her tech savvy neighbor, and occupied his adorable toddler with a madeline cookie while he turned on the WiFi button on the router box.

And since you’re reading this, I guess you already have figured out things couldn’t have worked out any better. 

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l a n g r e s - l a • l i e z

 "Once you start moving in love the universe will assist you. You will be a drop of water with the ocean as your army” - Kanye 

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I am writing from La Liez, a town on the lake that sits about 4km outside of Langres. Yesterday morning, I was the last to leave Langres at the pilgrim hostel; drinking coffee and writing all morning at the small breakfast table.

Coffee turned into lunch, lunch into a quick walk around the city. I walked along the famous walls outlining the town and looked far into the distance. I saw farms like the ones I had walked through to get here, and to the east, a lake. I tried to frame my photos with the blue water.

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I walked down Diderot, the main stretch named for the encyclopedia innovator, where a few shops were open on a Sunday. I walked through the massive door to the Cathedral. I thought it was as good a place as any to ask for help phoning down the road to the next stop.

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I ended up having a very nice conversation with Christine, a woman who operates tourist information at the church.

Langres is a special city because it is the crossroads of pilgrimages to Santiago and Rome. She shared with me how interesting it was to meet the 100 or so pilgrims a year that pass through the Cathedral, hear their different reasons why, and watch them unite in friendship and continue the road together.

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She encouraged me to explore the Cathedral while she helped guests that had come in and used her own phone to reach the next accommodation on my path.

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The call did not reach the owner on the first try, after all it was a Sunday, but I was thankful for the help felt I would find my way even if this door closed.

I looked over the city walls one more time before leaving them behind. It was late in the day, 2:30PM, I would not come back to stay a second night.

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I came to the roundabout, sat down on the grass, and pulled out my map. I noticed for the first time there were symbols for hotels, restaurants, groceries and a camping ground 4km down the road along the lake. I didn’t see the signs from the roundabout towards this town, but I remembered the direction of the lake from this morning. With the walls of the city behind me, I went that way.

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I soon saw trail markings towards the lake, so I followed them. It was nice to take a relaxed pace forward after yesterday. When I got to the lake, I saw the hotel laid right beside it. They had room, so I checked in, grabbed a white towel, and went walking along the lake. Unlike Lac Du Der, it seemed like you could jump in anywhere, so I laid my things in my baseball cap at the end of the dock and did that.

As I swam, many happy memories of my life became real again. I paused to look around every few meters. I breathed in and out into the water. It felt good.

When I came back, I saw a message on my phone from the host down the road I had reached out to with Christine’s help! She had found me on Facebook- we were already friends through her involvement  in the Via Francigena and my blog as I am walking!

We made the plan for today, and after a good rest I am very much looking forward!

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t r e f c o n - s a i n t • q u e n t i n

somehow I had this feeling yesterday, when I was so well looked after and things seemed to come supernaturally easy, that it was fortifying me for days like today.

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a day like today, that I anticipated walking 15 km but instead walked 17 miles!

a day like today, where lonely country roads led to small towns with little more than yards of barking dogs. 

 (well, this good boy actually didn’t bark until i walked away, he loved the attention as I took his picture!)

(well, this good boy actually didn’t bark until i walked away, he loved the attention as I took his picture!)

and a day like today, where i am not sure if my destination city even puts me that much closer to my goal! 

to reach the next landmark of Laon is about a marathon away, 44km south.

 

i am writing from St. Quentin, one of the larger cities in the region, which, I was inspired to choose instead of continuing in a straight line from one small town to another on a weekend. The innkeeper in Trefcon warned I might risk accommodations being booked or closed on a weekend and Tergnier, my other option, is a tiny town. And actually, I just thought St. Quentin sounded like the most likely town to have a laundromat!  

today marked exactly one week of trekking on the Via Francigena. So far, I have averaged about 15 miles of walking a day, with the top day of nearly 23 miles that first day in England, and a low day of 9 miles when I took the ride to Arras.

I studied these numbers on a lonely trail today to keep myself going, breaking my own rule to use my phone and its battery strictly for directions and taking pictures on the trail.

and it’s probably for the best this way.

today, when I challenged that rule to keep myself going forward by whatever means necessary, I was midway through replying to a Facebook comment when I glimpsed a baby deer the size of a housecat on the edge of the woods! 

I couldn’t get close enough for a photo, but it was definitely enough excitement to keep myself going to the next town. 

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2 hours outside of the city, around 3pm, I also found an open café. They didn’t serve food but for a weary traveler they could make a simple sandwich of ham and butter on baguette, and I was grateful.

But I’ll admit, as I walk I often wonder what I am becoming, a machine that turns baguette into steps and photgraphs? I don’t really know, and that’s a sort of letting go for me.

 Never before seen pink poppies

Never before seen pink poppies