Oct 10, 2014

Blistering Heat

Thursday morning I woke up feeling well-rested shortly before 7:00 under my rain poncho tarp that I'd pitched in a campground in Villeneuve. The night had been cloudless and the air was beautifully clear - a very nice change from the hostel in Paris, where every night someone closed the windows of a fully-occupied eight person dorm room! 

I'd bought enough food at the supermarket the day before to prepare several meals. I ate some breakfast, leaving aside some bread and cheese for later in the day, and then began packing up. At this point there was enough light to check my campsite for any misplaced items‎, although the sun wouldn't clear the mountains for another two hours. I also took advantage of the camp's WiFi to upload a few photos and catch up with some social media. Pack on my back, I began striding away at 9:00, only to notice the young woman opening the nearby café. I still haven't kicked the caffeine habit, so I delayed my departure a few more minutes.

By 10:45, I'd walked far enough to get around a mountainous bluff and into the direct sunlight. I paused to take a self-portrait and kept walking. As in previous days, I was definitely feeling the heat. Based on what I'd read about conditions going over the Great St. Bernard Pass, I'd packed clothing appropriate for exertion in temperatures between 15 and -5. (To my American friends: all temperatures are Celsius unless otherwise noted.) I had checked my weather app before setting out and saw that the forecast high for Toronto was 13. That is superb walking weather, but in this part of Switzerland it hit 27. Perfect for sitting on a beach somewhere, but not at all ideal for hiking. Naturally I was wearing my lightest layer, but that meant all the winter garb was in the pack on my back.

I may yet send my jacket home and replace it with a light windbreaker. I have enough light layers to keep me warm while walking, and this thing is just overkill for anything warmer than freezing temperatures. It's a great jacket, though, and not cheap. Perhaps I should just donate it to charity here.

At any rate, I kept walking and taking rest and rehydration breaks. By early afternoon I realised that what I should do if these temperatures continue is get moving as soon as I can see the ground in front of me, and then pause once it starts getting warm. At that point, I'd be able to take my time and say my prayers, have breakfast‎ and maybe even linger over a few coffees or have a short siesta. Nothing like hindsight!

The heat was not the only thing that had been hindering my progress. I'd mentioned stopping on Wednesday to apply some moleskin to a hotspot on my foot. That particular blister was averted, but by the time I became aware of new points of friction, the blisters had already formed. I spent about an hour in an air-conditioned shopping mall, buying hydrocolloidal blister dressings, using the clean washrooms, filling my water bottle, and just generally loitering about. It finally clouded over and cooled down by 4:00 PM, at which point I was still less than halfway to where I'd hoped to spend the night‎.

Another unforeseen factor which had slowed my progress down was the need to keep checking for landmarks and turns. On the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the trail is extremely well-marked, to the point of city sidewalks having indicators embedded. Although most of my walk  ‎on Wednesday was along the waterfront path that followed the shore of Lake Geneva, there were times when the right of way was closed, forcing me away from an idiot-proof path and back into villages. By Thursday, I'd turned away from the lake, walking south along the Rhône valley. Instead of one trail, I had to navigate a rather impressive network of cycle paths, as well as some minor roads.

Once I finally left Aigle behind me, I began to move more rapidly. The cycle path followed the river, the temperature was finally in the mid-teens, and even with my blisters I was back up to my accustomed pace of 5 km/h. My walking stick is partly for balance when picking my way over rocks or tricky patches, but its main value for me is as a metronome. (It also makes a dandy tent pole, as shown in my tarp camping photo.) It ties my stride and my breathing together‎ and even helps me keep an erect posture and an open pelvis. (Any kinesiologists reading this?)

Eventually it got dark, so I put my headlamp on and switched from path to sidewalk. When it came, the drizzle was another welcome relief from the heat I was generating. All the while, I was aware that the blisters were not improving, but it was only once I was esconced in my room with shoes and socks off that I realised the damage I'd done.

Friday morning I arranged to stay another night at the Foyer Franciscaine (www.hotellerie-franciscaine.ch) and then after breakfast I hobbled over to explore the Abbey of Saint-Maurice. The current structures only go back to the 17th century, but the monastic community has maintained its presence here continuously since the year 515. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site, and next year they'll be celebrating their 1500th anniversary of the founding of the abbey. I have no idea how long the tour normally takes, but I hobbled along at my own pace, taking notes in my journal and photos with both phone and camera. (At one point Thursday, I'd given serious thought to posting my camera back home as a way of shaving weight from my pack.) It was three hours well-spent. If you're not familiar with St Maurice, the Wikipedia article is quite informative. ‎https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Maurice

So here I am! It's a cool and beautiful Friday evening in the town of Saint-Maurice, Switzerland. After I send this out, I'll see about some dinner and then uploading more photos. I may even do some more reading, but I'd really like to get an early start tomorrow. I'm aiming for Martigny, which is only 18 kms away, with a rise in elevation of only 62 m. This should allow me to ease gently back into walking before I reach the really steep bits. Next week I'll be covering short distances on the map, but I expect it to be challenging. The stage between Martigny and Orsières rises 430 m over 18 kms, between Orsières and Bourg St-Pierre rises 730 m in 13 kms, and from BS-P to the top of the pass is another 840 m over 13 kms. And then it's all downhill! :D 

Edited to add: I spent some time this afternoon pecking away at my BlackBerry Q10 to add another page to this blog where I'll be recording data about dates, places, and distances. This should be visible below the main map image as a tab (or dropdown, if you've browsed here on a mobile device). I'm using Alison Raju's excellent Via Francigena guidebook for information on this part of the journey.

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