g r a n d • s t • b e r n a r d

 "As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life." - Siddhartha Gautama

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I am writing from L’Hospitalet in Gd. St. Bernard! Below you can see the path I took from Bourg St. Pierre.

I am writing from L’Hospitalet in Gd. St. Bernard! Below you can see the path I took from Bourg St. Pierre.

You know it’s going to be a good day when the second word you pause to translate into English after “col du montagne” (mountain pass) is “synchronicité” (synchronicity).

You know it’s going to be a good day when the second word you pause to translate into English after “col du montagne” (mountain pass) is “synchronicité” (synchronicity).

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But how do you divide a day? Hours? (6) Kilometers? (12) Elevation gained? (1100m) The passsing of the tree line? The passing of a lake? Towns ticked off the tail markers? Breakfast, lunch and dinner? 

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This day was all of these! 

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I discovered new music from the friends I made where I stayed in Bourg St. Pierre! And also learned it is okay to drink the white water if you are above the cows.

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So I drank from a mountain stream! As luck, Providence, or synchronicity would have it, I trailed behind another pilgrim for the day who captured it on video, and lent an extra water bottle when I forgot mine!

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It was a beautiful day and I felt a part of the whole thing! 

b o u r g • s t • p i e r r e

“Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve” - J.K. Rowling 

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I am writing this from Bourg St. Pierre, just a short way to Italy. The welcome sign to the city was one affirmative greeting when I arrived. The shop sign in Italian advertising a special sale on Lindt chocolate was even more! I am just at the Swiss edge of Italy now.

Yesterday’s climb was very short. I am making the steep parts in very conservative efforts of 15-20km days. I feel some of the adjustments that comes with this drastically different terrain- the strong sun, the altitude, and the trail which requires a lot more careful footing and upward energy.

I left Orsières in a bit of a dream. I felt I could almost stay there forever, or at least to see the snow come! Maybe that’s why it took me a cappuccino, a chocolate bar and 2 wrong turns to make it out of the city limits. 

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I stopped at workshop to look at things being made out of the abundant wood in the area.

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I took my first wrong turn after the river, and used my compass to scramble back up on to the southeast trail through hiking a small mountain stream and a field with a promising 5 stair steps built into the top.

When I finally saw this sign I knew I was made.  

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So I continued on, with very few stops before reaching Bourg St. Pierre.

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Well, except the admire the beautiful little chalets and yards. 

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And stops to enjoy the sounds of whitewater on my feet on a bridge.

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I felt the erratic splashes of air and water as I reached out to touch the cold stream.

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I stopped for a closer look at the animal and plant life all around.

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I lost the trail markings just coming into Bourg St Pierre so I cut through a steep grassy pasture. It was barely walkable in the direction I needed to go, so I stopped again and took my favorite picture of the day. 

 

m a r t i g n y - o r s i è r e s

“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world” - John Muir

   I am writing now from Orsières, which, I’m told is just thirty minutes to the Italian border by car and definitely a new world for me.  Yesterday saw 26km. It was the most challenging terrain so far, but the mountains gave me so much energy I didn’t want the trail to end. 

 

I am writing now from Orsières, which, I’m told is just thirty minutes to the Italian border by car and definitely a new world for me.

Yesterday saw 26km. It was the most challenging terrain so far, but the mountains gave me so much energy I didn’t want the trail to end. 

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I started at midday, anticipating a short distance. The sun was hot. It felt good to sweat sunscreen and huff and puff and carefully fit the rubber tracts of my shoes into roots and rocks.

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As I passed the towns on the winding trail, I realized the distance was longer than my short estimate, but I was enjoying every moment.

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I refilled my water bottle in public fountains that are aesthetic and practical. The water tasted so fresh. 

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I started listening to music. At first the songs that came on randomly, until I heard “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury. I listened to this for almost the whole climb, and when my battery ran low, I sang the simple words as I walked.

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I stopped in one town with the remote charm of a mountain village. A brother and sister made up a game in the narrow street I took to walk out of town. Their words echoed through the street, pure nonsense to my ears, but I imagined what it would be like to grow up in this part of the world.

 

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A fork came in the road, and I took the lower path to trace in peace the steps of Napoleon his army.

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I found a cool mountain stream soon into this road and imagined Napoleon’s horse stopping to drink. 

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I saw a very attentive black bull with white horns and stopped taking pictures when it pawed the ground without breaking eye contact. 

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Orsières came into sight from the road, but I continued to follow the winding trails.

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A gospel story was carved in wood over 10 panels spread along the last part of the trail instead of the usual red and white markers.  Each panel had a roof designed for snow like the houses here.

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At last, the trail emptied into the town. I carefully zig-zagged down the last steep road. The sun was almost setting, but the life of the village was apparent in the soccer game happening in the stadium of mountains.

 

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I crossed a bridge with vibrant flower boxes on either side. 

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I found the pilgrim accommodation at the parish behind the church, simply decorated with quotes from the saints on construction paper, designs by volunteers, and a photo of Mother Theresa at age 8.

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I decided to eat quickly before the cafe closed. I felt a little lonely eating by myself. I used my chair to twist and stretch. I felt a prick on my finger that stung like a splinter. I looked for a shard of fiberglass in my skin or rough edge of the chair in explanation, before realizing I had put my hand on a wasp!   

I explained with my hands to man tending the restaurant. Soon a conversation opened between everyone. Between German, Portueguese, Spanish and English and French, no one shared a wide vocabulary with each other. But we all saw the wasp buzzing around and understood.

It turned out everyone sitting there was a foreigner or traveler of sorts, wanting to communicate, however clumsily, and relate. So between google translate, zero regard for grammar, and attempt in five languages at a time, we made small talk for thirty minutes. It was awkward and wonderful.

I realized brushing my teeth this morning, I said about as much in that conversation as any small talk conversation about the weather or traffic I’ve had English/English. Maybe you say nothing so profound or poetic or important, but you give people the light of your attention for a moment, and it’s a really nice thing. 

a i g l e - m a r t i g n y

 “If I’m free, it’s because I’m always running” Jimi Hendrix

Yesterday saw 32km along the Rhone river from Aigle to Martigny.

The walk was 30km with the Alps in view at all times. 

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I found a resting place along the way on a  vine covered wall. 

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I finally caught a lizard after thousands of attempts on the trail. 

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I stopped for a snack in Bex and chatted with the owner there who completed the Via Francigena by bike last year from Aosta to Rome.

I saw a group of hikers pass while I sat there. I thought I would not catch up to them, but the owner of the cafe pointed out a shortcut and a friendly Bonjour revealed they were English speakers  and pilgrims too from England and New Zealand.

At lunch, we parted, but exchanged contact to maybe pass the mountains together. 

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I saw a baby sheep in the field. It looked nervously at me but waited for it’s mother’s signal to run. 

I saw airplanes doing acrobatics between the mountain peaks. 

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I met some dogs that lived near Martigny and walked with their owners approaching the city. 

I snacked on apricots from a tree by the trail. 

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I thought of the Great Saint Bernard Passage to come and how far it had been already, but mostly thought, I can’t believe that everywhere you look are these mountains and I am walking through the Alps right now.

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v i l l e n e u v e - a i g l e

The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.

 W.B. Yeats

 

yesterday saw a very rainy walk from villeneuve to aigle.

   After almost an entire summer without rain, it was a change to walk in heavy downpours, puddles, wet socks and leggings, but beautiful nonetheless. I thought of all the days I was dry inside, I’ve never been happier. 

 

After almost an entire summer without rain, it was a change to walk in heavy downpours, puddles, wet socks and leggings, but beautiful nonetheless. I thought of all the days I was dry inside, I’ve never been happier. 

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I walked past wet garbage at a recycling center.  

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And drops of rain hanging from Queen Ann’a lace.  

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I found a snail.

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And an Art Deco church among the vineyards. 

 

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I stopped in Aigle to watch France defeat Uruguay.

It was a good day. 

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o r b e - l a u s a n n e

“Your days are numbered. Use them to throw  open the windows of your soul to the sun”.

- Marcus Aurelius  

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This is a short post because I got the hook up booking the church basement in Lausanne but couldn’t figure out the WiFi! Maybe a reminder to stay in the present moment...

I feel pretty hyped after today, the first full day of walking in Switzerland, over 30km, with energy to keep going! I went to sleep with a head full of worries about my aching back, but I woke up in the morning with a song in my head - “arise and walk on through, the world outside that door is calling out to you”. I listened to this song, “Yes I’m Changing” by Tame Impala, while I cut the weight of my backpack again.

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Once I got going again I was good! And even better, after such a hard time yesterday, walking comfortably today, even for 7 hours, felt great!  

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I think it will take just a week or so to reach the Great St. Bernand Pass, following the footsteps of the Saints and Napoleon and Hannibal and all those elephants.

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In the mean time, I am enjoying Switzerland! My walk was mostly flat and varied. There are plenty of places to walk and run between the Via Francigena and all the pedestrian paths you find getting lost! It’s also very easy to find coffee and things to eat everywhere, although the bread in France is truly in a class of its own! 

I passed through Chavornay, Etagnieres, Morrens and Cugny, before finding the parish where I stayed just before central Lausanne, in the Bellevaux suburb.

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In a fun twist, I found a tiny patch of WiFi at a bus stop and saw on google maps a hotel/restaurant was 30 minutes away from my location in Cugny at about 5:00PM.  During this WiFi break, I also saw a reminder from my dad to watch the Switzerland/Sweden match.

By this time I had walked almost 30km and was ready to quit for the day and find my accommodation, so I walked the remaining 30 minutes the hotel on the map. When I got there, it was not only open, but so packed with people watching the soccer match I couldn’t get through to see the front desk. So I gave up the intention that brought me there, sat down and watched the rest of the game like my Dad suggested. 

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The mood was tense, even the children with Swiss flags painted on their cheeks were wincing, and the adults with beer were explaining the score to me like I understood any of it. 

At the sobering conclusion, the crowd cleared and I got to the bar to ask about a hotel room.  

« finished » the bartender told me, with the curt tone of any Swiss person who had just watched the game.

There was no hotel after all, it had closed and the hotel/restaurant was now just a restaurant, just a good spot in the area to watch a game. 

So I found a place to call the number of the church parish I had on a post-it note, not a sure thing, but worth a try. It required a good bit of back and forth on the phone with the church secretary (who spoke a French from Togo to my American version), bus directions, and asking to use other people’s phones, but it worked! The tiny room in the church basement was free for the night, and for the modest sum of 5 Swiss Francs left in a church envelope in the mailbox this morning, I had a place to stay. 

I was very grateful!  

 

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