Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

June 6

June 6th, 2016

June 6
Wassen to Hospenthal

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Today I guess should go in the long-distance hikers hall of shame. I think I probably only walked about 7km. The trail up above Wassen is still washed out from spring floods and also blocked by some construction projects, so I first walked 5km to the next town to catch the cograil train to Andermat. From there the hike to to top of Gotthard pass was clear. On arriving in Andermat, I checked my room reservation, only to discover that the cheap bunk I had found was not at the top, but instead was in Hospenthal, a pretty town but only about 3km more. My walking day finished at noon, and tomorrow will be more difficult than planned, but I’m in no rush to finish. I enjoyed the first clear sunny day wandering about the town. Hospenthal is set on a steep slope with cobbled streets and old timber and/or stone buildings with a church and old castle tower occupying the same knoll which looms up over the rest of the town. It is, like the other towns I have passed, at the intersection of several of the many transportation routes through the Gotthard area which includes some high trains to the Matterhorn, glaciers, and other sights, but also the several highways and train lines that populate the pass, each continuing to function even as they are displaced by new and faster forms. Just three days ago, the new Gotthard tunnel opened. At 35 km it is the longest tunnel ever built, and will, I imagine, slow the pace of life in the high villages I am passing through as it runs many meters down from these heights, carrying people from Zurich to Milano in record times. The trail today and yesterday was along a seriously rushing river and through fields blooming with wildflowers. I sat on a bench to eat some salami and cheese washed down by red wine and watched the river flow, thinking about how many times in the last year I have done the same– just sitting on a rock next to a stream, or crossing a field in full bloom. Then I thought how rare an occurrence that is in the regular work world for most people. To see such things requires planning and transport, not something that is part of daily movement. I am filled with gratitude to have had the chance to see so much but also puzzled as to why we have made it so difficult for such simple, quiet, moments to occur. The human turn to indoor labor, away from the weather, is a sad and troubling event.

T. Hugh Crawford

June 5

June 5th, 2016

June 5
Altdorf (Eggeberge) to Wassen 27 km

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Although the walk up the river valley today was glorious, it was hard to cast off a melancholic pall. It was difficult to say goodbye to Bennett. After breakfast (his last Swiss buffet of cold meat, cheese and bread) we rode the gondola down together, parting at the street where he turned back north to his train station and I turned south to work my way back to the trail and then on to Wassen. Much to think about–how my youngest son has become an adult and a friend. At the same time, I kept thinking about the relatively sudden death of an old hometown friend, Ricky Wilkins. Ricky was diagnosed with lung cancer which progressed rapidly, and he died yesterday. He was my brother’s age, so he was two years older than I am, but he always was a character in my youth. Growing up in a very conservative, rural community in the middle of the Vietnam war, it was difficult to get a clear understanding of world politics– particularly one that fit what we were learning as true American values. The news did not seem to line up with the ideal. Ricky was a musician but also was someone with a strong political conscience– something that was difficult to formulate and hold in that time in the Shenandoah valley. I remember well the universal condemnation there of Muhammed Ali (then Cassius Clay) when he refused draft induction. It is telling that they died on the same day. I learned from Ricky as a young man what was at stake when you took a view contrary to the political consensus, even if it was clearly the correct one from any moral stance. I left Woodstock Virginia in 1974, pretty much never to return, and so lost track of Ricky and his musical peregrinations which included a long stint in Nashville. We reconnected a few years ago through social media where I found he was still fighting the good fight against social injustice and bigotry, and he was still a musician, bringing people together through a medium that has the real strength to do that. In the summer of 2012, when Bennett and I were hiking the Virginia section of the Appalachian Trail, Ricky and I were in contact trying to see if we could coordinate a time for us to come off the trail to hear him and Amanda perform. It is hard to project times well when you are hiking distance and, by the time we got to Shenandoah county, he was playing elsewhere, so I missed my chance for that reunion. Now it seems I’ve missed it completely. My thoughts are with Amanda and their children today.

T. Hugh Crawford

June 4

June 4th, 2016

June 4
Emmetten to Altdorf

 

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Today was Bennett’s last day hiking and we did a little bit of everything–some rain, some sun, some roads, some paths, a lot of up and down, towns and forests, boat and funicular. The walk out of Emmetten was initially on the Swiss Camino as we crossed a ridge to get back on the Trans-Swiss. In many ways that part was the best hike we’ve had the entire trip as it went through an old, managed forest with many paths, but also great stands of trees, mostly beech, shaggy with moss which flowed down onto the rocks. The road thinned to a rocky path–the kind that makes you happy to be walking. Late morning we found ourselves descending to a village on a cliff looking over Lake d’Uri, then following the ridge line finally descending to water level at Bauen. There we stopped for an early afternoon pint on a deck overlooking the lake, basking in the sun until it turned into an intense shower. We withdrew to an awning and watched as the ferry boat came it. Moment of decision–walk the last 5 km on a level and not particularly interesting road in a heavy downpour, or run and catch the boat. Good sense prevailed over a misplaced need to walk every foot of this trail. The bartender capped our bottles, requesting we leave them with the woman who runs the kiosk by the landing, and soon we were climbing the gangplank on our way to Fluelen, the town next to our destination. Arrival brought some confusion– I had booked a cheap room in a lodge in Altdorf, but the address just brought us to a gondola lift station. We then learned that the cheap room in Altdorf was actually on top of the mountain in Eggberge, and our transport was via cable gondola. The steep ride up first afforded views of our afternoon journey, but with altitude we could soon see back over most of the day’s walk. The clouds cleared a little and the views were as you would imagine. Tomorrow Bennett catches the train to Zurich and the plane to Atlanta while I resume solitary hiking probably to the end of the Trans-Swiss, which is either in Lugano or Chiasso, depending on which guide you read. It has been a good two week trek, renewing our dual hiking rhythm honed over three summers of the Appalachian Trail and the last bit of the Pacific Crest. Just like when I saw Charlie in Tanzania, it’s been remarkable to reconnect with a son after my long absence. In many ways, we picked up just where we had left off, but at the same time, we’ve both gained different perspectives over the last nine months and exploring those shifts was enlightening. I know tomorrow I’ll feel that emptiness, returning to the solitude that has characterized most of this year-long walkabout, but I’ll also have memories of all the talk, the walk, the laughs we had together.

T. Hugh Crawford

June 3

June 3rd, 2016

June 3
Flueli-Ranft to Emmetten 25 km

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We could not find a place to stay in Beckenried (very expensive lakefront town) so we had to catch a bus from there to Emmetton. It will take some maneuvering to get back on the trail tomorrow, but that’s always part of the walk. An uneventful but pleasant day as the trail worked its way down a valley connecting a series of lakes. Instead of walking the valley floor, we stayed up on a low ridge, crossing pine forests and more pastures. On days where the hiking conditions are less than optimum–it rained most of the time–there are sometimes moments that surprise and remind you that’s why you are out walking to begin with. Often it’s a particular view–trees, rocks, cliffs, waterfalls, wildflowers, moss–but sometimes it’s just happenstance good fortune. One difficult part of trekking in Switzerland is that simple quick food is often hard to find. Towns have restaurants with full meals and table cloths, not a place for a wet muddy hiker who just wants a bocadillo and a pint. Today, walking through Stans, we passed places that seemed too nice for our manure-laden shoes. Then we passed an unassuming pasta shop, stopped and went in. The young cook spoke some English, welcomed us to the wooden picnic tables, served up big bowls of pasta with asparagus, olive oil, and sundried tomatoes washed down by a home-brewed beer from Kern (a village just down the road). All the tastes were perfect, and we cherished every bite and every swallow. Those are the moments walking creates.

T. Hugh Crawford

June 2

June 2nd, 2016

June 2

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Sorenberg to Flueli-Ranft 25 km
Some strange geology here. From having seen the alps in different places–sheer solid rock walls–I expected most of the higher elevations to be the same, but most of what we have been walking through is puddingstone– small to medium rounded rocks in a grey sediment that resembles concrete. The rounded stones look like (and must be) river rocks so all this was some sort of hydraulic system uplifted by the pressure from the African plate. Yesterday we walked through a small tunnel that had been blasted by locals for a road, and the puddingstone sides seemed about to crumble in on us. Given that all of Europe is experiencing monsoon flooding, our primary surface condition remains mud– slick, fall-on-your-ass mud throughout. The rain poured all night, but became a dense mist for the morning, so we walked as if in a cloud, up and up. Some sections were hilly pasture without path, so we had to find marker posts in the mist, cause for some care and the occasional missed path. One moment near the top of a ridge, the clouds parted partly, briefly, and the sun illuminated an upland green field wedged against a sheer rock wall that rose to infinity.

T. Hugh Crawford

June 1

June 1st, 2016

June 1

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Eggiwil to Sorenberg 32km
Whenever we find ourselves on a steep climb in some woods that appears to be heading to some wild peak, Bennett always says we are about to cross a field. He is usually right. This area has been long settled, so the steep wooded area remain, but any possibility of flat land, no matter the height, invariably becomes farm. Although apples and pears do not seem to be a major crop in this region, most of the farm plots have an old orchard, reminding me of the American settling of the Midwest which required setting orchards as part of the establishment of the farm. I’m guessing these orchards were not part of a land deal, but rather functioned like the kitchen gardens that still fill the plots just next to the houses (and are always full of columbines for some reason). But clearly dairy is the primary industry here — we have been walking through the emmental region for several days. This morning we crossed many high pastures full of young heifers, not yet producing milk. They seemed to have all been turned to the upland fields to gain weight and mature. They lurked around the gates and would follow us from one side of the field to the other. I was reminded of my childhood best friend, Chip French, whose family owned much of Shenandoah county, including a number of farms. I would go out to their farm for the weekend to play as young children did, but on Saturday morning, over breakfast, Chip’s father would produce a small black notebook from his shirt pocket and tell Warren (he was the only one who called Chip by his real name) what chores needed doing. Sometimes it was sorting potatoes in the cellar, or maybe digging thistles in the pasture (this was before Round-Up), but often it was moving cattle from one field to the next. We’d all run as fast as we could to head them in the proper direction while Chip’s father would call to the cattle, “hey hum-āy” and they would follow. This morning, with the cattle streaming behind me, I felt like the pied piper or maybe just like Chip’s father. We climbed all day, so by mid afternoon, even though it was very cloudy, we could look down on valleys that resembled model train sets. The last part was though a high pass into the next valley. We knew behind the clouds were huge, snow-capped mountains, but we could only glimpse and imagine their size. The descent into Sorenberg was steep, and we soon found our lodging. I went to the local store where the bread was just coming out of the oven. Nothing like a cold drink and hot, fresh bread with butter probably made from the milk of cows jingling just up the hill.

T. Hugh Crawford

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