My experiences with thru-hiking


Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on June 24, 2009


Jun 23 2009

June 23 2009

This summer, while Tom Hanks is running around Europe looking dapper than ever in his new blockbuster, chasing Angels & Demons, fighting off men in robes, staying at fancy hotels, eating at five-star restaurants, deciphering even more clues…I am laboring up some hill like a mule, grunting and sweating like a pig. Or should I say a “pule” or a “mig”?

Of course, I’m seeing my share of castles and ruins too, as I walk by a fairy-tale looking castle called Haute-Koenigbourg that was unfortunately overrun by tourists, and saw the Chateau de Haute-Ribeaupierre and two other ruined castles, before heading down into the town of Ribeauville, where I found myself a campsite and finally (and I mean finally) threw my stinky clothes into a washing machine.

And how does Tom Hanks always manage to find some beautiful woman to be his sidekick? I have no clue.


Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on June 24, 2009


Jun 22 2009

June 22 2009

Now that I’m in the Vosges mountain range, my recovery time takes longer. I wake up still sore from yesterday’s walk.

Today, the trail took me up to the summit of Ungersberg. Unfortunately, it was such a cloudy day I didn’t see any nice views of the valley below. Went past the Ortenburg ruin and headed for the town of Chatenois. The guide said it was going to be a long day without any stops in towns, so luckily I still had half a baguette with me from Le Hohwald, where I also picked a small jar of local apricot jam and a tin of pate foie. So I had some jam for breakfast and gobbled up a sandwich of pate foie while I sat at a bench in the forest.

When I reached Chatenois, I got myself a room at the gite d’etape. It’s like a hostel. Now that I’m in France, I have the choice of staying at refuges, gites d’etape or campsites. Of course, there’s always the option of wild camping too.

I bumped into Ruth at the gite d’etape in Chatenois. She’s walking the GR5 trail too. She’s already done the part from Lac Leman to Menton (near Nice), and is currently taken a month off to do the Vosges and Juras. She is from Cincinnati, and is currently living in Evian, France. She and her husband are planning to move back to the States soon, so she’s trying to complete as much of the GR5 as she can.

We went into town and grabbed some dinner and the conversation was interesting, because here’s a person I’m meeting for the first time, but there was a familiarity we shared as we talked about the little towns we’ve walked through on the GR5 trail.

Ruth is a big believer of ultra-lightweight backpacking, often referring to Ray Jardine, a guru of lightweight backpacking. Ruth has actually made her own backpack and reduces her load by tearing off sections of her guide (once she’s done with that section) and mailing it home. She’s given me a lot of pointers that I’ll need to use when I start the Alps section of this trail.

I think I’ll be seeing more of her on the trail. She finishes her section at Nyon in Switzerland, where I’m heading. That’s where I’ll catch a train to Lausanne to hang out with my friend Romeer. But that’s three weeks away!

Half Way There

Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on June 24, 2009


Jun 21 2009

June 21 2009

There were lots and lots of people on the trail today. There’s an outdoor club called Club Vosgien that takes care of the trails in this part of France and there are many trails crisscrossing each other. There are day-hikers doing local trails, people on mountain bikes whizzing by, other backpackers heading some other direction, people on road bikes slowing down cars, so I’m keeping my eye on the map so I don’t get lost with all this distraction.

The trail climbs to the convent of Mont Sainte-Odile. It’s a religious center and shrine for the Alsace people who live in this part of France. I ate an ice cream in honor of Alsace’s patron saint.

Got back on the trail and reached Barr, where I grabbed a sandwich and headed for Andalau. The English guide says that Barr is the half way mark on the GR5 trail. Woo-hoo!

The French guide says there’s no campsite in Andalau, but that there’s a refuge an hour away on the trail. The refuge is run by Les Amis De La Nature, which means friends of nature. I was hoping that they were friends of people too and let me stay the night. After walking up the hill for an hour and a half, brutal after a long day of walking, I reached the refuge. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a nice place with showers and comfy beds. There were a bunch of people playing cards and drinking beer, and one of them showed me to my room and immediately showed me where the showers were. I’m sure I was really stinking up the place.

It was nice to finally fall asleep in a nice, cozy bed.


Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on June 24, 2009


Jun 20 2009

June 20 2009

This morning an elderly couple camping next to me in their caravan invited me over for a cup of coffee and shared some croissants with me too. After breakfast, I tried to catch a bus to Schirmeck, but couldn’t find one, so I walked the three kilometers back to the GR5 trail. The trail immediately headed up, and pretty much went up and up for the next three hours.

I reached Struthof, a Nazi death camp back in the 1940s to which prisoners from all over Europe were brought to. Between 1941 and 1944, they exterminated over 30,000 prisoners. Yes, the guide used the word “exterminated”. Today, there were a group of teenagers taking a tour, and there’s a big memorial on the grounds. I passed Struthof and kept walking up.

It was a Saturday, so it was nice to see other people on the trail enjoying the spectacular views. After reaching Champ De Feu, the trail headed back down and that was worse on my feet and knees. By the time I reached Le Hohwald, I wanted to tear my boots off, and I did. Saw some people playing Bocce ball at the campsite, and it made me smile. It’s such a peculiar game. Pitched my tent and headed to the center of the town to grab something to eat. Got myself a Quiche Lorraine.


Henk and Henk

Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on June 19, 2009


Jun 19 2009

June 19 2009

I’m switching topo-guides now, and one says there’s no camping in Schirmeck, while the next topo-guide says there’s a campsite. When I get to Schirmeck, there are no campsites, but apparently there’s a refuge, and head in that direction, but can’t find it. I finally end up in another town called Rothau, where there’s a campsite. It’s like three kilometers away from the GR5 trail in Schirmeck! Yikes.

It’s cold and rainy, and I manage to put my tent up. It’s still noon, so I decided to catch a train to Strasbourg, where I’ll get some Wi-Fi access and upload some stuff to the blog.

Tomorrow, I plan to catch a bus back to Schirmeck to the trail and head out to Le Hohwald, where, apparently, there’s a campsite. Let’s see.

To Mom & Dad:

Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on June 19, 2009


Jun 18 2009

June 18 2009

The two guys on motorcycles from Holland invited me to have tea with them this morning. They are retired police officers and are touring around Europe. They tell me that both their names are Henk, spelled with an “e”. We are Henk and Henk says one of them to me.

Last night I managed to find a Tabac in town, where I bought a phone card to call my parents and wish them a Happy Anniversary. I haven’t called them since I left the US, so it was about time. But they’ve been reading the blog, so that’s good.

As I get to the mountains, I think Wi-Fi access is going to be pretty slim, so the updates are going to be every ten days or so.

After my call, I started my hike – up hill most of the way. I reached the summit of Donon around four in the afternoon. It was a tough climb and had to do some scrambling at the top. I got to the bottom with any problems, and after getting on the road to Plate Du Donon, I tripped over the sidewalk and fell flat on my back. An old couple driving their car past me, looked at me like I was freak.

I was a beetle on it’s back flailing my arms and legs. Man, it’s tough to get up with backpack on. Anyway, I messed up my right knee, scraping it bad, and had to crawl to a bench to disinfect it and put a band-aid on it. Oh, well.

Walked over to the only restaurant and hotel in town and had myself a nice dinner, and kept on walking, looking for a place to pitch my tent.


Speaking Of Peaks

Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on June 19, 2009


Jun 17 2009

June 17 2009

Today Harry and Ronald headed out to the bus stop. They’ve finished their one-week on the trail and are on their way back home. I say my goodbyes and start packing too, because I’m still on the trail, heading now to Abreschviller.

On my way there, I catch a boulangerie van in the next town and grab some food for the way.

For some odd reason, and thanks to the fast-pace I endured with Harry and Ronald from the other day, I’m making good time on my walk to Abreschviller, and I get there in the afternoon. And I don’t feel so lost anymore, because after a few pointers from Ronald, I’m keeping my eyes glued to the map, and making sure I’m heading in the right direction.

I get to the campsite and walk around the town of Abreschviller. It’s not a big place, and I was hoping to get some Wi-Fi connection, but fat chance. It’s a quaint town, so I was a little surprised to see the risqué painting of the witch near an old age home.

Two guys on motorcycles showed up at the campsite and I chatted with one of the guys briefly. He was from Holland and his English was pretty good.

Went to sleep early. This was my last stop in the Lorraine part of France. From here, I could see the mountains. France has three mountain ranges: Vosges, Juras and the Alps.

Tomorrow is day one in the Vosges, and the hike takes me to a summit, so it’s going to be a real test. There aren’t the hills anymore. I look around and if I squint my eyes and ignore the language around me, I could be in Colorado.

Let’s see how things go.

Speed Walking It

Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on June 19, 2009


Jun 16 2009

June 16 2009

Got up to a wet morning, and it was tough packing the tent. A wet tent is a heavier tent. But I knew I was headed to a campsite in Gondrexange, where I could hopefully dry things out if the sun decided to show up.

While I was walking by a lake, a deer stepped out of the woods right in front of me and sat down on the trail and peered out over the lake. I seem to be running into all kinds of animals, and they never seem to hear me until I’m like ten feet away. I had to actually clap my hands to startle the deer, so I could continue on the trail. I didn’t want to get too close.

Got into the woods and found that I was walking in the wrong the direction, so I turned around to get back on the trail when I bumped into Harry and Ronald. They probably had a late start and had already caught up with me.

So the three of us set out for Gondrexange, and it was really tough trying to keep up with them. I mean, they are dead serious when the hike. I did keep pace with them for a little while, and found myself slipping back and trailing behind them by 20 meters. I think they stopped once in a while to let me catch up with them. They’re nice guys like that.

While we crossed the first town, we saw a van that doubles up as a boulangerie, and we stopped it to get something to eat. There’s a bunch of these vans riding around the small towns, and it’s nice when you chance upon them. I had no idea that they carried food, until Harry pointed it out.

Got to Gondrexane in good time, thanks to Ronald and Harry’s aggressive walk. Ronald took a few minutes to show me how to read the topo-guide maps, because he was worried about me getting lost all the time, especially since they saw me in action today. Ronald and Harry have been buddies since they started competing in triathlons together. Ronald also loves to scuba dive, and is an instructor. After this hike, he plans to go diving with his wife in Zeeland.

At the campsite in Gondrexange, we bumped into some Australians who were riding Bike Fridays, folding bicycles from Portland, Oregon that are made-to-order.

We also bumped into a couple from New Zealand. The only restaurant in town was closed, so we bought some food from the local store and had dinner, polishing off a bottle of Rose.

Went to sleep nice and dry.

Rain Rain Go Away

Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on June 19, 2009


Jun 15 2009

June 15 2009

Got up late and saw that Harry and Ronald already were putting their backpacks on. It didn’t look like a good day with the dark clouds rolling in. By the time I got ready, it already began to rain, so I pretty much had to set out in the drizzle. I picked up some food from the boulangerie and began my walk to Assenoncourt, where I’d have to wild camp it.

Pretty much had to walk it in the rain the whole day. The boots got mucky and the worst part is walking in cut grass, because it gets stuck under your boots too. It looks like you’ve got a piece of carpet stuck under you as you walk. It slows you down a bit.

Got to Assenoncourt, a small village with only a handful of houses. I saw the sign for the chamber d’hote and gathered that my new friends on the trail were resting nice and cozy inside. I walked on until I found a good spot and pitched my tent. It rained all night. Tomorrow morning is going to suck big time.


Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on June 19, 2009


Jun 14 2009

June 14 2009

Didn’t really get up this morning, because I was pretty much up all night. So, I was already packed and ready to go by six am. Got to Vic-Sur-Seille around noon and had a nice shower and rinsed out my muddy clothes. The campsite was about a kilometer away from the center of the town, so I walked over there and bumped into Harry and Ronald who just got in. They were surprised to see me there early, all refreshed and relaxed, and I told them about yesterday’s lost episode.

While they headed out to the campsite, I tried to get a Wi-Fi connection, but had no luck – so I walked back to the campsite.

Sat with Harry and Ronald at the campsite that was overrun by kids. The place had a swimming pool and there were a lot of families there for the day. Harry and Ronald bought me a couple of beers, so there I was sipping on some Kronenbourg. Still need to acquire a taste for beer though.

We headed back into town to grab some dinner and found out that everything was closed. There was no place we could find to grab a bite. We ended up at a bar where I switched back to Coke Light, and Harry and Ronald had a few beers. The bar didn’t even have snacks or appetizers.

We headed back to the campsite on an empty stomach, but slept really well. Not sure if it was the lack of sleep from yesterday or if it was the beer.