Filed under: EUROPE, France, Germany, Switzerland | Tags: backpacking, cheese, Emmental, Emmental cheese, England, european travel, farmers, feelings of failure, France, Germany, Lucerne, Prague, sad, Switzerland, Thoreau, travel, travel stories, Walden
I’m in Lucerne, and it is totally beautiful here. The streets are leafy and the buildings old and leaning. The lake is magnificent turquoise, and seems to capture sunlight then fragment it into a million hues of awesome. Only staying overnight, and loads to sort out, then a five day march to Konstanz and Germany! I realised that it is six weeks today that I set out. Wowzer. My mileage is now 744.72.
Ok, so before I bore you with events, there are two interesting bits of news to share. Firstly, I shall be joined in Konstanz by my friend, Chloe Loftus. She seemed keen on some adventuring, and after some discussion has decided to join me for an indeterminate period of time. I think it’s very brave to come and do this so off the cuff. Me, I took months of preparation and umming and arring before I finally got my bum off the island. So if you see her in the next couple of days, wish her luck! I’m not sure how it’s going to feel having company. I’ve got so used to being on my own, barely speaking for days, cooking for one etc. But then, I guess that will be an adventure in itself, a departure from what has become my norm and routine.
Secondly, a bit of slightly crap news. I may well not make it to Prague, and there is a very distinct possibility that I will bring the finish line forward to Munich. This is for a number of reasons. For a start, I have covered about 150 miles more than I expected to at this geographical point. My body is starting to really hurt. Just outside of Geneva, I tweaked my hamstring, and a double dose of Nurofen and a hefty splodge of Deep Heat is about all that makes it bearable at the moment. I am very worried it will tear or snap or whatever it is that hamstrings do when they go wrong. Added to that, my knees are pretty bad, and Switzerland has no flat bits, so they’re taking a pounding. And I have just shaken off a horrid cold, which I walked with for the best part of a week. Moan moan winge shut up Paul, you lucky bastard. Also, financial considerations (I can’t keep borrowing from mum and dad!), and I would like to be home in time for my mum’s birthday at the end of September. I’ve decided to make a final call on it in Konstanz. Basically, if I think I can make Prague in no more than three weeks from there, then I’ll go on. If not, as long as I will hit 1000 miles by the time I get there, twill be Munich. Believe me, this will be one of the hardest decisions I ever have to make. I’m so desperate to make it all the way, to complete what I set out to do. And I don’t want to let anyone down, and there is still so far to reach my charity target (HINT: http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/paulholder) (just to recap that’s http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/paulholder). Anyway, that’s how it is.
I didn’t really get a chance to describe the hike over the Jura Mountains on the French/Swiss border last time I sent a message, and there was one particular moment I quite wanted to share. The whole four days I was up there were amazing. Grueling, but amazing. The night before I hit the highest peak (Cret de la Neige -1720m) I stayed in a refuge hut with a group of guys and a little girl (don’t worry, they were related – I think). I made a big fire outside after we had eaten, and we sat round.
One by one, they went in and I was alone beside the fire for some time, just watching its motion and the embers flitting off into the mountain night. And as I stared into it, it became hard for me to find where I stopped and it started, if that makes any sense. I found that the way I was feeling was identical to the fire. I had a moment of absolutely, utterly, beyond any doubt or refutation, knowing that everything really is ok, and happening the right way and order. And I realised that, like the fire, parts of me have been burned off in this journey. I knew then that no matter what happens to me in life, there is a line that I shall never drop below again. There is no need for me ever to feel crap again, because there is a mountain hut in a beautiful place I can escape to whenever I want, for 5euros a night (honesty box job). Anyway, that was pretty much one of the best moments I can recall. And there were shooting stars that night.
So what can I say about Switzerland. Well for one, THERE ARE NO FLAT BITS IN SWITZERLAND!!! It is all up and down, threading through valleys. But it is a spectacular place to hike. Rarely out of sight of mountains, clear lakes, forests and always Buddha cows with their jingling bells.
I wasn’t so keen on Geneva. Was full of banks and commerce and other such silly unnecessary things, and stink of money. Was glad to leave and walking along Lake Leman (known as Geneva to you uneducated foreigners) for two days was one of the highlights of my whole trip. Cannot convey how vast it is. Was so wanting to go for a swim, but time and fear of leaving my kit kept me bone dry. One night, I slept about two metres from the water, and awoke to dancing light on crystal water. Happymaking.
The path I am on is so well signposted, which is a relief after the hassle of staying on track across France. Though there have been a couple of moments, especially in Lausanne, where it took me over three hours to find the route. Weather is temperamental. It can be over 30 degrees, clear skies, then ten minutes later, blazing thunderstorm with end-of-days style clouds. But so many picturesque villages to keep me happy. Willisau especially good (will post up pictures when I get time). Had to stop in Fribourg overnight, which I didn’t plan to do, because I was so ill I had stars dancing in my vision. Lowest point so far. Couple of days where my head went completely blank, and I walked in a kind of goofy euphoria, neither feeling pain, nor thinking thought. I became the no-minded nomad, which was nice. Just to be a creature engaged in the most basic of activities is very, very fulfilling. Henry David Thoreau wrote that the cost of anything is the amount of life that has to be exchanged for it. There are times when I would give my all just to stay this way all my days. People in Switzerland are super friendly. I have had people going into shops and coming out with water for me, an old man gave me the best chunk of Emmental cheese I have ever tasted, and even the farmers generally give me a wave. I am in the German speaking region of Switzerland now, so good practice for the road ahead!
I better go and get on with finding a cheap hotel for the night and washing my filthy rags and body. Just to leave on a positive note, here’s something that happened as I lay in my tent beside Lac Leman: I had just eaten my dinner, was lying in the tent listening to the lapping water and the cicadas, when a thought popped into my head: I have never felt more at home. I probed this – did I just mean in the tent, or there beside the lake? No. I realised that I was feeling for the first time that I am at home in the world, the whole thing. Only now that I have knocked down boundaries do I feel a sense of home. I, all of us in fact, was not made so robust and capable to box myself/ourselves in. And in one of those awesome moments of pure synchronicity (there are no coincidences), I opened Thoreau’s Walden (read it) at random and this was the first passage I came across, with which I shall say farewell for now (and please donate, those of you that haven’t, it will mean so so much to me) :
“The very simplicity and nakedness of man’s life in the primitive ages imply this advantage at least, that they left him still but a sojourner in nature. When he was refreshed with food and sleep he contemplated his journey again. He dwelt, as it were, in a tent in this world, and was either threading the valleys, or crossing the plains, or climbing the mountain tops. But lo! men have become the tools of their tools. The man who independently plucked the fruits when he was hungry is become a farmer; and he who stood under a tree for shelter, a housekeeper. We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.”
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