Saturday, July 23, 2016

Via Gebenennsis August 2016

The Via Gebennensis (The Geneva Route)
Unlike the other pilgrim roads through France which have followed more or less fixed itineraries for several hundreds of years, the Via Gebennensis is a "designer route," set up in the mid 1990s by the Association Rhône–Alpes des Amis de Saint–Jacques as a continuation of the GR 65 to enable pilgrims coming from Switzerland, Germany and Central Europe to walk to Le Puy in order to continue on to Santiago from there. It is therefore not a historic route but a bridging service between two points, a means of walking from Geneva to Le Puy–en–Velay on quiet, waymarked forest tracks, old lanes,footpaths and minor roads.
The Route, 350 km long, starts in Geneva and passes through innumerable very small hamlets, some villages large enough to have banks, post offices, restaurants and shops, but no place of any size between its starting and finishing points.It is rather solitary route where you are not likely to meet many other pilgrims at present though people living along the way report seeing at least one every day in the period April–September.



Off again!
I know, I know, I just got back from walking in Portugal and Spain, but I am incorrigible and I have decided to accompany my dear friend Traudl from Germany, whom I first met on my pilgrimage through Switzerland in 2013 when my cancer struck and raised it's nasty little head. I remember clearly getting this sudden onset of symptoms in Interlaken.
Since then Traudl, who is exactly my age has gone through a breast cancer diagnosis/treatment cycle and is still struggling with exhaustion and fatigue. Nonetheless she is determined to continue on her path to Santiago de Compostella and I offered to join her for the first section through France.
How far she will be able to walk each day and overall is anybody's guess. We will have to wait and see where the journey will lead us.
I have walked this route before in 2010, when I then continued onto the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail through the Cevennes.
We are both grateful to be setting off together later on in August.
Traudl's work is sensitive in nature and she has strictly instructed me not to post photos on her on my blog or facebook. A shadow picture may be allowed?

21 August 2016. 
After a horrific stomach bug, a few days before leaving New Zealand, still feeling sick on the plane I had a couple of days of relaxing with my friend Ulrike near Zurich, where I also caught up with friends from Australia and a pilgrim friend from Rapperswill. On Sunday the 21st of August I caught the train to Geneva, set to go.


Day 1. Geneva to Beaumont 26 km ( should have been 16.5)
It all got off to a good start. Left Geneva at 1 pm after getting my pilgrims passport stamped at the beautiful little Notre Dame church and lighting a candle.
Spent my last 9 Swiss Francs on a mini pizza and headed off through the wonderful historic part of the city on a warm and sunny late summer afternoon. Out into the countryside and suddenly in the middle of a village the signage disappeared, I took a wrong turn which cost me 2 km. The path was pretty so no big deal.
Admittedly after a recent anaesthetic, gastric infection and long flight I felt wobbly on my feet, nearly fell over a few times and felt incredibly disorientated as to the direction I should take.
When I arrived at a point where I had to cross the motorway I totally missed the little footbridge and thinking I followed the map ended up doing an 8 km detour via a paddock where a large group of bullocks took a keen interest in me and followed my unnervingly closely. No chance of escape across a high fence. Safely through the paddock I encountered a creepy low and London dark tunnel used to move stock from one side of the motorway to the other. Well I can't go over it, I can't go under it, I have to go through it.
Out the other side a beautiful glade with multiple tracks up hill. Which one to take? The first 3 led to more paddocks and the 4th on to a Nordic walking trail. I encountered a lone walker who as I discovered pointed me in the wrong direction and I finished up in a little village St Julien with a large car repair yard inhabited by shady looking young men.
No one knew how to get to Beaumont. An old woman explained she was deaf and fetched her husband who's brain appeared to freeze when I posed the question, but after 3 minutes of silence he began to give me complicated directions. It was 5.30 pm already and I had at least 2 more hours ahead of me. My morale was rock bottom or so I thought.
Off I went, back along the Nordic walking trail, where I met 2 young students from Lausanne.
They knew exactly which way I had to go! Back through the tunnel and across the paddock. My heart sank. The boys were out for a walk anyway they said and spontaneously offered to escort me back to the pilgrims trail. My gratitude was immense.
I finally arrived at the gite LA Fromagerie at 7.45 pm to find it was closed as the owner was on holiday. I had called several days earlier to confirm my reservation. I was close to tears. The hamlet had no facilities and the locals were tucked up in their homes.
15 minutes later a woman walking her dog passed and called a family in a neighboring village who takes in pilgrims. " Bien Sur" said kind woman at the other end and came to pick me up. I was saved. A shower and a plate of pasta later I sank into bed aching all over but thankful for the generosity I encountered throughout this somewhat challenging day.
Much later on it turned out that on this very first day I had in fact sustained an incomplete transverse fracture of the second metatarsal of my R foot and a Lisfranc Ligament Sprain. On top of that I lost 4 toenails. All thanks to ill fitting orthotics that put so much pressure on my poor mid foot from underneath, that it broke...beware of sports podiatrists!
But I did not know until long after I got back to New Zealand...
















Day 2 
August 22 2016
Day 2. Beaumont to Chaumont 26 km.
Met my companion Traudl as arranged in front of the closed gite Fromagerie, where her husband dropped her off en route to his holiday in Spain. We set off at 9 am.
My felt were killing me already. The orthotic insoles I recently acquired resulted in seriously squashed toes and I fear for a couple of toenails. Shooting pains across the bridge of my right foot. Luckily I brought the original soles, but the damage is done. It was wonderful seeing Traudl again, both of post cancer treatments and grateful to be back on the trail.
We talked throughout most of our long walk in hot sun, relentless ups and downs admiring the beauty of the countryside, still fresh and green. Snow covered Mont Blanc clearly visible.
We were decidedly in need of a coffee, but no cafes on the trail.
The family I stayed with only drank herb tea and as the husband stopped drinking alcohol 10 years ago I had missed out on my post hiking ritual of a glass of cold brew.
It was not having coffee though that troubled us and by 2 pm the caffeine deprivation headache set in.
We arrived at our destination at 6 pm. I have never walked so slowly in my life.
Comfortable night and delicious dinner with a retired couple who run a small bed and breakfast enterprise out of their family home, alongside intense family commitments.











By the way, France is so different from Portugal and Spain. No cafes, bars en route, no WiFi anywhere except for tourist offices. Blogging will be patchy.
Payoff, much less road walking and lots of untouched nature. Beautiful.

Day 3
August 23 2016
Day 3 Chaumont to Seyssel 19 km.
The caffeine withdrawal headache woke me up several times during the night. Not pleasant.
After breakfast we headed off. Another super sunny and hot day with multiple ascents and descents. We stopped for coffee in Frangy which was so strong that it gave me palpitations. Not great when you are trying to climb steep hills in the heat. I had forgotten how much of a challenge the paths pose. Steep and covered in loose hard rocks, which roll off under foot. Each step has to be taken carefully to prevent falling over.
Again it seemed to take all day to reach our destination and we finally arrived in Seyssel at 5 pm after a day of glorious summer weather, too hot for our liking with temperatures in the mid 30's.
We stopped for a well earned beer at a small bar. Shocked by the price of 5.40 Euro per glass we decided not to make a habit of it.
We are a day ahead of schedule and decided to take a rest day as we are both foot and body sore. We are staying in a former Capucin Convent and have the luxury of a lovingly equipped and tastefully decorated little apartment with a magical garden overlooking the Rhone in exchange for a donation.
Our hostess Christine is delightful albeit somewhat handicapped as she broke her ankle walking along a rocky trail.









Day 4
August 25 2016
Seyssel to Chanaz 21.5 km
We so enjoyed our rest day in Seyssel, so much so that we spent most of the day lazing in the beautiful garden overlooking the steady flow of the Rhone and the old town and hills beyond.
Unfortunately the rest did not really help the muscle aches and pains, but worse my right foot is so sore I can barely walk in spite of anti inflammatories and Panadol.
The lovely village of Chanaz is too small to have a physio, but I hold out hope for one tomorrow in Yenne, if I ever make it. I might have to resort to a taxi which is unheard of for me. My big fear is that I have a stress fracture which would put an end to my adventures.
The walk today was mainly flat along the river Rhone. Mainly shade except for the last hour.
The weather continues to be a scorcher.
We rewarded ourselves with a delicious plate of fritture du Lac, tiny deep fried fish and a large green salad. The beer is still expensive, but we couldn't resist.
Checked in at Gite El Camino with 2 nice young swiss girls. Lovely little gite with only 4 beds.







Day 5
August 26 2016
Chanaz to Yenne 16.5 km
No go with walking. Got a ride with a couple who were off to do their errands after watching my unsuccessful hitch hiking attempts.
Managed to see Dr., a very dishy man my age who looked 10 years younger. He had just been to NZ on holiday.
Verdict: Fracture unlikely, but inflammation +.
Anti-inflammatory compresses and antinflammatories. Waiting to see osteopath this pm. Traudl walked and I am having a small beer and panini ( not very french) in the central square in Yenne. Very pretty and very french.
Suddenly there are quite a few pilgrims and I am glad I booked as people were turned away last night.
Tonight we stay in a former Convent used for seminars in the main. Decent rooms and decent price, although overall things are rather more expensive than in 2010




Day 6
August 27 2016
Yenne to St Maurice de Rotherens 16.5 km.
750 meters elevation gain and some descents.
I was sick of my invalid status so I headed off on foot.
Agonizing but made it albeit slowly.
The heat is still extreme, but there was lots of shade. Fantastic countryside.
Tonight we are staying in a fabulous accueil jacquaire with a father and stepson. Lots of laughter and jovial conversation.
Marc was such a wonderful host. He and his wife have restored their converted barn for the second time as after the first time the roof was struck by lighting and the entire interior destroyed by fire. It took 45 mins for the fire brigade to arrive. This happened 3 years ago.
Their younger children were home alone and the couple got a call from the neighbor saying there was smoke coming from the roof. Imagine the fear. It took them 30 mins to get home to find the children had gone out.
Marc had tears in his eyes when he told us the story.
His step son Clemons is learning to be a chef. A very talented and bright young person.












Day 7
August 28 2016
 St Maurice de Rotherens to Le Verou 20 km.
Oh boy. The heat wave is getting to us.
I decided to carry on walking, but after 17 or so km my right foot was so painful I could barely walk. Most of today was in relentless sunshine with Temps peaking at 36 degrees. A woman stopped her car, handed me water and an orange and asked where I was going. Camping Le Coin Tranquillity I said and she immediately offered to take me there. She had observed me limping along and decided I needed help. I was deeply grateful as the last 4 km seemed endless and still lacking shade.
Not sure what to do tomorrow. My foot is swollen and I can't roll when walking. Totally annoying.
Had a great pizza with goat cheese and honey washed down with a satisfying glass or 2 of country red. Life is not all bad.
The camp site won a major award and one can see why. As campsites go it is brilliant and the affordable restaurant is gourmet.





Day 8
August 29 2016
 Le Verou to Le Pin. 18.5 km.
I hobbled to Les Abrets to catch the bus only to find out the bloody thing doesn't run during school holidays. After 2 coffees and a croissant followed by antinflammatories things started to look up and I decided to make my way out of town to a point where I could hitch hike. Well the foot felt better for quite a while and since there were no cars I carried on. It was a little cooler too. Arrived at a lovely accueil st Jacques around 4 pm. We had a beautiful little apartment and a delicious dinner of salad, chicken and rice, superb cheeses and a huge ice cream sundae with pastis, wine and Chartreuse Liqueur.
Slept soundly. My foot was swollen but not too bad.
The accueil st Jacques accommodations are peculiar to this part of the route. There is limited accommodation for pilgrims and parliament decided that private persons could offer accommodation and food in exchange for a donation. It is a wonderful and interesting way to see the country.









Day 9 
August 30 2016
Le Pin to Cote St Andre 24 km.
I managed to walk 19 km and got a ride for 4 km.
The summer heat was back and when I arrived ahead of Traudl at Montgontier where I had booked it was obvious we could not stay. The most depressing run down former catholic boarding school, now kind of abandoned in the middle of nowhere with terrible vibes. We would have been there all alone and the place gave me the creeps. I waited for Traudl and we carried on 4 km to the next town, the birth place of Berlioz.
We checked into a hotel at 6.30 pm. I have never taken this long to get anywhere. This foot thing is annoying me as I can't work out what to do. It is worse when I rest, gets better when I walk over uneven ground and up hills and worse on flats...












Day 10
August 31 2016
 La Cote St Andre to Revel Tourdan 21.5 km.
Traudl left at 6 am to avoid the heat. For me things are looking up. I managed to get an appt with an osteopath and fortunately our host for tonight is coming into La Cote to make some errands, so he is picking me up! What a relief as there are no buses and a taxi is more than 40 Euros...
I spent the afternoon resting in the garden of Mr Pinget's historic home complete with tower. The stairs were a challenge with my sore and swollen foot, aggravated by osteopathic poking and crunching.
We had a late dinner and breakfast at 6 am, to get on the road again.







Day 11
September 1 2016
 Revel Tourdan Assieu 21.5 km
Somehow I managed to get there in spite of the foot which is truly annoying.
We arrived just after 2 pm. Again like every day so far there were considerable ups and downs, on average about 1000 meters in elevation differences, often short and sharp, but commonly nasty steep descents on washed out paths with large round rolling pebbles. Very dangerous and every step affords massive concentration. A pilgrim recently broke her shoulder on one of these stretches. Not pleasant especially in the heat.
Had the weirdest evening in a gite on a farm. Could have been a scene in a film and the set totally matched what went on. More of this over dinner one day. Traudl and I cracked up big time.








Day 12 September 2 2016
Assieu to Chavanay 16 km
Footsore as usual, but after a rest things improved. Traudl has acquired a sore tendon on her shin, so we are both hobbling along now. Arrived in Chavanay just after 12 and checked into the gite communal. 
So far we are alone and have done our ablutions and laundry after a large refreshing glass of beer.
It is still very hot, Temps in the 30's and so far no rain at all.













Day 13 September 3 2016
Chavanay to Croix St Blandine 16 km
Sounds like a doddle, but by golly far from it. 800 height meters up and 400 down. 32 degrees in the shade and steep tracks full of loose stones and twigs. Traudl ' s Tendonitis and my foot were causing issues and we finally arrived at 4 pm. The Gite was a magnificent barn conversion, our hosts a beautiful young couple who run a farm and operate on strong environmental principles. We were joined by a group of 10 retired biker friends, who were delightful and did not snore. A highlight of a meal of tomato salad with 5 varieties, incredibly light meatballs with spinach and pommel Anna. The cheese selection was huge. I only photographed one of the 2 platters.















Day 14
September 4 2016
Croix St Blandine to Bourg Argenthal 14 km
Another scorcher of a day. Stayed with an elderly couple, who also welcomed me in 2010, when I walked this route. Sadly the hosts brother had passed away a few days earlier and the host himself looked rather unwell. Still they battle on. Dinner in the courtyard. The heat continues.






Day 15 
September 5 2016
Bourg Argental to Le Setoux 16.5 km.
All uphill today 800 height meters, but good going due to a gentle gradient. Wonderful forest paths, at last fewer stones under foot.
My foot is still painful and annoyingly cramping at night and Traudl's tendonitis is just holding out. 4 more days to Le Puy, let's see what happens. Taking it day by day.
We got the first view of the volcanoes of the volcanic plateau today.
Staying at a ski hut in a small hamlet tonght and hanging out in the bar over a beer and WiFi! But look at the code...typical for France. There are about 12 other pilgrims here, so the restaurant fortunately opened up specially for us.
The temperature has dropped drastically. We are at 1200 meters above sea level and are wearing our fleeces for the first time. Still no rain.










Day 16 
September 6 2016
Les Setoux to Montfaucon en Velay 19.5 km including 3 kms of getting lost.
After a jovial evening at dinner with other pilgrims and a cooling night drizzle, the sun came back and we were treated to a glorious and not so hot day through peaceful and pretty countryside. Checked into the pristine gite communal for 11 Euros. My foot and Traudl's tendonitis continue to keep us on edge and we are still unsure whether we will make it to Le Puy. 3 more days of walking....










Day 17
September 7 2016
Montfaucon en Velay to St Jeures 20 km
Heavenly weather and heavenly nature.
Spotted a very valuable edible mushroom.
Settled into wonderful chambre d'hotes with demipension of 33 Euros, so reasonable. Full house tonight, all pilgrims, but no shared rooms.
Foot turning corner, still cramping and pain but less so. Whew. 2 days to go.
Traudl's tendonitis is more of a worry right now.



















Day 18
September 8 2016
 St Jeures to St Julien Chapteuil 18.5 km
Oh boy! After a pleasant and cool morning breeze the heat was back. 30 degrees in the shade and it took 8 hours to reach our destination. My foot is worse again and Traudl's tendonitis continues to be just about manageable. We are both doping up with Brufen and Panadol. Not ideal.
Again major ups and downs on stony slippery tracks, but the beauty of the landscape is breathtaking. In spite of the challenges this has been a fantastic experience.



















Day 19
September 9 2016
St Julien Chapteuil to Le Puy en Velay 18.5 km
Well we made it! Just! Overcast, warm and muggy, still no rain. We bumped into some of our pilgrim friends, 2 french couples with great joie de vivre who even carry a portable espresso machine. We are installed in our chambre at Logis Meymard. I have the same room I stayed in with John in 2012 when we set off to walk the Le Puy route. Fond memories. Table booked at the Cinquieme Saison restaurant where I dined with John too.
We feel like we can't walk another step. This was honestly the toughest walk I have ever done. I had forgotten how hard it was. 20 km of elevation difference. Every day we had about a 1000 meters of height difference and the tracks were treacherously steep and rocky and stony. The ups and downs were constant and progress was slow. There are stories of people falling and breaking shoulders, injuring knees etc...
With a very sore foot, my cancer issues, post cytomegalovirus and a few more kg of body weight plus 6 years older this route posed some challenges. Traudl too felt decidedly less fit than on previous pilgrimages. No wonder after her health challenges too. Much of our time was spent reflecting and trying to adjust to our change in fitness and endurance. Still we got here and had a wonderful and rich experience.
















I love Le Puy en Velay! After 2 nights in Le Puy, carefully timed to coincide with the Saturday morning market, a lovely stay at Logis Meymard and dinner at my favourite restaurant La Cinquieme Saison it was time to say good by. A la prochaine fois! 













My foot took a turn for the worse after stopping walking and now it is January 2017 and I am still walking in heavy boots, with the bone not fused and the ligament still sore...off to see the specialist at the end of the month and I hope I will not require surgery....as my next walk is already planned for July 2017....