Posts Tagged With: adventure

The Way of St. Francis: Which Way Do We Go?

We’re always a little unsure of finding our way when we begin a distance trail. With so many trails converging from La Verna (where we began) and leading to Assisi, markers can be a little confusing…

Armed with our guidebook, and for the first time, a satellite trail map to follow with Galileo Pro, we set off with a fair measure of confidence, on the lookout for the red and white stripes.

Exactly one week ago, we stepped through this rickety gate, passing the first trail marker which would lead us along The Way of St. Francis.

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The Way of St. Francis: Packed and Ready to Go

Ready or not, we’re off to Italy where we’ll begin The Way of St. Francis, a pilgrimage that traces the pathway traveled by St. Francis of Assisi in the early 13th century.

Our journey begins in the eastern portion of central Tuscany in Chiusi Della Verna, a small community located below Santaurio (Sanctuary) Della Verna. It was in this area that St. Francis is said to have received the stigmata. We’ve allowed two nights here to explore the history and beauty of the region…and to catch our breath after what promises to be two pretty hectic travel days.

Then we start walking, traveling mostly southward, with a goal of reaching Vatican City (not quite 300 miles away) by mid-May.

Many thanks to Sandy Brown for allowing me to use the above map, his incredibly detailed trekking guide, the links and foolproof instructions for downloading the GPX tracks onto my phone app and for hosting the Way of St Francis (Official Group) Facebook page. The information is invaluable!

As always, we will post on our blog when we’re able, so feel free to follow along on our journey as we walk The Way of St. Francis.

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The Way of Saint Francis: Training Begins

I stopped for a quick photo this morning as Reg and I neared the top of the 500 foot climb behind our home.

With our upcoming Italian pilgrimage (The Way of Saint Francis) just around the corner, today seemed like a good day to reacquaint ourselves with our backpacks. If the weather cooperates, we should have a couple months to work out any kinks!

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Blazing some new trails on wheels

image2I have finally made the leap into road cycling and few will be able to miss seeing the lime-green streak around the Jackson County foothills and bikeways. I have ridden Sue’s dad’s hybrid bike for three years and it was a great two-wheeler, but not so good on hills, especially with an old man in the saddle. Lots of Siskiyou Velo Club riders have encouraged me to make the change. So, why now? A book and an author. Free Country, by George Mahood, an Englishman who rode the length of Britain in a most unusual way. Find it on Amazon. Also, I have to thank one of Ashland’s finest gentlemen, Phil Gagnon, for getting me to try the bike club and road cycling.

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Quit is not in this trekker’s vocabulary

What takes 13 pairs of shoes, 6,000 calories day, 252 days while losing 25 pounds?

Check this out.

 

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A California diversion leads to secret World War II radar station

Radar Station 71 is preserved as a National Historic site.

The buildings are perched on a cliff above the Pacific Ocean.

Fake dormers were added to make the buildings look like farm structures.

 

A narrow, one-way dirt road near the mouth of the Klamath River in California's Del Norte County led us to an important World War II site today, perched above the Pacific Ocean.

Disguised as farm buildings, the early warning system housed radar to watch for Japanese submarines and planes.

Radar Station 71 is the last preserved coastal outpost that was part of a string of such defensive sites. Fifty-caliber anti-aircraft guns stood guard. American military watched, ready to summon help from San Francisco if a Japanese attack was imminent.

We couldn't help but imagine what it was like at this outpost more than 70 years ago when our nation's security depended on the people at this place.

 

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Smith Rock State Park – A Commanding Presence

We chose the Misery Ridge Loop Trail, opting to begin along the banks of Crooked River.

We packed our lunch with us, which turned out to be a good decision. Lots of water is also a must when temperatures soar.

Bursting from the high desert floor, Smith Rock State Park offers outdoor enthusiasts 650 acres of breathtaking recreational opportunities.

With its towering rock formations, Smith Rock, 25 miles north of Bend, Oregon, has become a popular destination for rock climbers of all abilities, attracting enthusiasts from around the world.

For those of you who, like us, prefer to keep both feet firmly planted on the ground, there are miles of hiking trails around and through the park.

Smith Rock State Park is another example of how volcanic activity shaped the Oregon landscape.

As we approached Monkey Face, our trail took a steep turn uphill...and the misery began.

Climbers are dwarfed as they climb towards the top of Monkey Face.

At an elevation of 3289 feet, we found a shady lunch spot at the summit of Misery Ridge Loop Trail.

 

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Tour du Mont Blanc: Worth every step

The Alps (Mont Blanc on the right) rose like the sun each time we approached the top of the cols, or mountain passes.

Some accommodations required trekkers to stow shoes and boots downstairs.

The Tour du Mont Blanc is complete. As we sit in our Chamonix hotel lobby directly below western Europe’s tallest peak, some reflections:

We knew the weather in the Alps was unpredictable, so we packed rain gear, a warm jacket and lightweight clothing designed for layering. We had two days of overcast and some rain at the beginning, then five days of brilliant sunshine with highs in the 60s, 70s and into the low 80s. Cool nights the entire time.

There was a snowstorm (yes, in mid-July) at one of the passes the day before we went through. Later, we had several days of clouds and some rain, but very little precipitation while we were walking. The last couple of days were clear until late afternoon, when rain, thunder and lightning entertained.

Bookings. We booked our tour through an Irish company (Follow the Camino) and asked for a mix of refuges (hostels) and hotels. We wanted to stay in some remote locations where refuges are the only option. We got private rooms, rather than shoulder-to-shoulder dorms, in the five refuges.

Refuges are rustic, noisier, and not as relaxing as the hotels. They also have shared baths. But, they are great places to meet people. We have met lots of people on this trek and often run into them for several days afterward. Generally, the refuges get quiet by 10 p.m. or so.

The hotels on the Tour are nicer and less expensive than chain hotels in the U.S. Both hotels and refuges have bars and restaurants. They are places to hang out after a long day on the trail. The hotels on the Tour du Mont Blanc have character and the staffs have been very welcoming. All our accommodations included breakfast and eight included dinner. The dinners have been very good, some superb.

The Mont Blanc refuge in Trient was packed with at least 70 trekkers, but we met some great people there.

Le Dahu Hotel in Argentiere had the best bathroom and a great breakfast.

What about clean clothes? We use moisture-wicking athletic wear that dries quickly. We often do some laundry in the bathroom sink, wring it out in a bath towel, and it is dry by morning. In Courmayeur, Italy, the hotel did our laundry for 2€!

What’s for breakfast? Always bread, butter, jam, coffee, tea and juice. Wonderful fresh croissants almost everywhere. Most places had cereal, yogurt, meat and cheese. Two hotels had eggs and most had fruit.

Lunch was usually a picnic on the trail. The usual fare was fresh bread, cheese and fruit, capped with chocolate. We had lunch at some spectacular settings in the Alps. Hotels and refuges offer packed lunches, but we usually shopped for our own.

The cost of the Tour du Mont Blanc is much less than most other European travel, but far more expensive than the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Luggage transfer: the routine was to have our small orange-and-black bags at reception by 8 a.m. When we arrived at our next accommodation, we would check in and (voila!) the bags were waiting for us. We carried small Osprey day packs with water bladders during the day. One exception: our bags skipped ahead a day when we stayed at the very remote Refugio Elisabetta. We have carried our own packs on prior treks. We figured the elevation change would make it too tough and we were right.

We had climbed about 2,000 feet before having coffee at Refuge Elena, below. We were part of the way to the col when Sue took this photo. This was one of the toughest days, but led us to 360-degree views from the Swiss-Italian border.

We splurged for lunch at a ski lodge a few days ago. Skiing facilities were plentiful around the Tour.

We have not found language to be a major problem. French is dominant, but most of the time people know at least some English. Sue’s study of French this past year has helped.

Many people are doing part of the Tour du Mont Blanc rather than the whole thing at one time. There are quite a few day hikers, especially when the weather is good.

Most go counterclockwise around Mont Blanc, but a significant number go the other way. Hikers usually start in Les Houches, but we met many who started in other places. We started in Chamonix, France, a beautiful and popular resort at the foot of Mont Blanc.

Trekkers readily engage strangers on the Tour. Friendships form quickly, much like the Camino.

Mont Blanc trekkers come from all over world. Europeans dominate, but there are some Americans, Canadians, Asians, and people from other parts of the world. Many travel in groups, some with guides. We are among the older trekkers here. Many seem to be experienced mountaineers and we have seen a number of people running (yes, running!) the trail. They are likely training for the annual Mont Blanc run in August, when some do the entire 110 miles in between 20-plus and thirty hours. There are also a fair number of mountain bikers. We have seen some who push and carry their bikes up several thousand steep feet and then ride down. There are a small number of campers as well.

Almost all refuges allow picnics, especially if you buy a beverage.

Champex, a quaint lakeside village at 5,000 feet, was one of our rest days. Like much of the Swiss part of our trek, places were strangely deserted. Our hotel owner told us the euro's decline has hurt Swiss tourism. It is much cheaper to travel in France, Italy and other countries, she said.

Most people use trekking poles. Sue and I can’t imagine not having them, for many reasons. But, we have seen people doing the trek in running shoes and even sandals. Go figure! Few people on this trek wear hats.

Safety. If you are careful and have proper gear, this trek is safe. There are steep drop offs and the ascents and descents are steeper than we expected. Much of the time, each step must be measured on the often rocky and root-covered paths, which takes a lot of concentration and is exhausting. Some of the water crossings have been challenging, but doable. Some trekkers use crampons over snowy passings. Neither of us fell during the trek, but there were a few close calls.

Not much politics, but we have heard a strong dislike of Donald Trump here. Many have expressed concern and have talked about similar movements in their countries. A Danish high school student asked me during dinner about Trump. “Why do you ask?” I questioned. “Because the U.S. President is the most powerful person in the world and Trump scares me.”

Most of all, the astounding views and the chance to meet so many interesting people were worth every step.

As Reg looked up at the snow, he wondered if we had gotten into more adventure than we expected. This was near the beginning of our trek.

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Tour du Mont Blanc: Downhill all the way

What a treat it was to enjoy a leisurely breakfast this morning, knowing that we had only a short walk back to Chamonix, the starting and finishing point of our Tour du Mont Blanc. Plenty of time for a second cup of coffee!

We chose the path along the River L'Arve for our final 5 1/2 mile walk.

This looked like a tiny strawberry growing alongside the trail.

Clouds prevented us from seeing Mont Blanc in Chamonix when we began our trek. Clear skies today allowed the mountain to dominate. We have yet to tire of this view.

We arrived in Chamonix just in time for lunch, where we enjoyed a Mozza Salad at a little sidewalk cafe.

 

 

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Tour du Mont Blanc: The final climb

The Auguilles Verte and Drus on the left help frame the dome of Mont Blanc in Sue's photo from Col de Balme.

 

It was our final ascent of the Tour du Mont Blanc, which we began July 13. The thick clouds and rain of Saturday afternoon had cleared Sunday when we completed nearly 33,000 feet of climbing and an equal amount of descent over 10 trekking days.

As we reached the Col de Balme, Mont Blanc's greeting was more powerful than any camera can capture. We looked at the peaks from the Switzerland-France border and were struck by the fact that our feet had carried us 110 miles around the Massif du Mont Blanc and through three countries.

“Every step was worth it,” I said to a Bay Area family we had gotten to know the past few days. We all gazed at the 15,770-foot peak that we had not seen since day six. Meanwhile, we had become acquainted with many other mountains in the Massif.

We had gotten much stronger as the trek progressed and will miss the feeling that we can climb like we have never before. Unfortunately, this will pass when we return to our less strenuous lives in Oregon.

As we complete the circuit tomorrow with a relatively short walk to Chamonix, we will be looking up at Mont Blanc. She and this experience will provide vivid memories forever.

 

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