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.