Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

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

May 31

May 31st, 2016

May 31

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Lützelflüh to Eggiwil 22 km
Walking deeper into the German part of Switzerland, the architecture shifts a bit, closer to a traditional sense of Swiss structures. Today we had a chance to see up close a number of the traditional barn/houses which are incredible buildings. Built on a one-story masonry base usually containing animal stalls, the timber-frame part risesup three or more stories above. The volume is remarkable, all made possible by traditional timber-framing techniques. A bent is a single slice of a building frame made up of upright heavy timbers supporting multiple stories of other timbers ultimately tied to a set of roof rafters. Building a barn involves arranging a row of these bents, set about 16 ft apart, forming anywhere from three to six (or more) bays which are sheathed on the outside and finished on the inside for whatever purpose necessary. The Swiss barn will include two or more bays finished out to form the family living area (though the top floor might still be part of the traditional barn loft and store hay and tools). The remaining bays serve as the barn, including machine storage, animal stalls, milking parlor, and feed lofts. A model of flexible efficiency, the bents/bays can be transformed into additional living space or a workshop, more animal space, whatever. To live there requires a general disregard for the barnyard smells, but usually the family end is a model of neatness and care. We spent much of the day, which threatened rain constantly, passing from one farm and barnyard to the next. My New Zealand hike prepared me for barnyard smells, though Bennett is only just now adjusting. A farming invention of recent times, a replacement for the “turd hearse” (manure spreader) of my youth, is a pump that moves liquefied manure through a hose with a spray nozzle on the back of a circling tractor. We almost had to cross the nozzle path once which is, and is not at all, like going past a lawn sprinkler. Once again our morning hike was along a river before turning up to climb a ridge. Today the river was regularly damed with structures both old and new. Give the size of the river and the sound of the water rushing past the dam, I was regularly reminded of Burnshire’s dam on the Shenandoah River where I grew up. It’s fascinating how a particular sound–the falling of water at that rate and regularity–can trigger deep and poignant memory.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 30

May 30th, 2016

May 30

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Bern to Lützelflüh 33km
In the middle of May, 2014, Sarajevo experienced the worst flooding in more than a century. I remember standing by the Miljacka River watching the rush of water and expecting at any moment the banks to breach, flooding the old town. They held there, though there was devastation downstream. It took some ingenuity to get out of Bosnia that day, but I’ll never forget the sheer force of that river. This morning over breakfast at the B&B, a fellow guest commented on how dangerous the Aare River was. Soon Bennett and I found ourselves on the banks of that flooding river, walking on a path by the embankment wondering how high the waters would rise. Across we could see steps and handrails that in normal circumstances led people to the water, but today they were nearly submerged as the water rushed past.Today’s walk started with about 10km along that river on a well-made path that for a while ran through the zoo. We speculated about where the chamois and goats would go if the waters continued to rise, but the rain held back and decent weather prevailed. We only found one slightly over-washed stretch and emerged with barely wet shoes (nothing like the Te Araroa). The rest of the day we climbed a ridge, then crossed a river valley occasionally glimpsing through parted clouds high snow-capped mountains. Most of today though remained in the barnyard that is this region. One thing I have been struck by are the dairy herd bells. While many have what we would call traditional tin cowbells hung from their necks, many wear cast bronze (?) bells looking like 4″ diameter bells that might be rung in a church or at a recital. When a large herd of dairy cattle converge for milking, you can hear the clanging for miles. To make up for our slack yesterday, we pushed hard today, making it to the village of Lützelflüh famous for the Swiss writer Jeremias Gotthelf. A pleasant evening at Italian restaurant and resting some weary bones.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 29

May 29th, 2016

May 29
Murten to Bern via train

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Today we did a little “iron blazing”–we took the train to Bern, skipping a little over 30km of the Trans-Swiss trail. Had we walked that stretch it would have been more of the fields we’ve been doing and, because Bennett has limited time, he would have fewer days in the alps. It also gave us more time to explore Bern, one of my favourite cities though it rained most of the day, so a dry train car was a blessing. The downtown of old Bern is the perfect city to wander in the rain because the sidewalks are all arcades (vide Walter Benjamin), but after we traversed the peninsula to the hostel we had booked (but not gotten confirmation), we discovered there were no rooms to be had in Bern because an AC/DC concert (and of course no tickets for that either). The proprietor of the hostel got on the phone and found us a fairly inexpensive B&B out by the train station, so our visit was saved, though the downpour coupled with everything being closed on Sunday, made the visit a little flat. We did stop by the Pickwick Pub to watch Swiss league soccer–Zurich vs. Lugano–with an intense and a little rough looking crowd, all wearing their AC/DC merch. Had a few English pints, a welcome relief from watery German lager, then a big vat of fondue for dinner — after all, it is Switzerland– and made an early night of it. Tomorrow we start putting in the KMs.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 28

May 28th, 2016

May 28
Neufchatel to Murten 17 km (plus ferry ride across lake Neufchatel)

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When I was around 11 years old, I was given a working model steam engine. It had a horizontal nickel boiler, a whistle/release valve and a single cylinder engine. I would fill the boiler, burn some Esbit tablets (hexamine fuel) to get up the steam, open the valve and give the flywheel a spin (in whatever direction was necessary). The engine would open up, sometimes vibrating off the table. It was my first (and maybe last) introduction to thermodynamics and systems theory. There was a power-take-off belt from the main driveshaft leading to a vertical shaft which had suspended from its top a pair of metal spheres. As the engine’s rpms increased, they would spin out until almost horizontal (lesson for a child in centrifugal force). That would depress a needle valve, releasing steam and slowing the engine–a self-regulating device. From then on, I’ve always tried to understand feedback loops and overall system behavior, in whatever the context. You can imagine my delight when boarding the ferry from Neufchatel to Cudrefin and discovering it was a steam powered side wheeler. It was raining hard all morning so I anticipated a misty crossing, now it seems I was going to be in something like a JMW Turner painting (in fact, the Neufchatel bears a strong resemblance to the steamship in The Fighting Temeraire. The crossing was perfect, mist lifting from a smooth lake. Watching the engineer maneuver the boat to the dock was like watching dance, a careful choreography of levers, wheels, and valves, reversing one side wheel at precise moments, then slowly drifting to the pier. However, the walk out of Cudrefin was unpleasant, 3 km through a muddy swamp swarming with mosquitos. Then we climbed a ridge and, as the sun emerged, looked down on Lake Murtensee. Then a long slipsliding muddy rush down to another lake-end swamp which, thankfully was not swarming as the earlier one had. Arriving in Murten was a treat, with the path following the lakefront, then turning to a walled old-town with those classic Swiss arcades lining a square. We climbed the battlements, learning a bit of the political history and then relaxed in the square, satisfied with another day in the countryside.

T. Hugh Crawford

 

May 27

May 27th, 2016

May 27
St-Imier to Neufchatel 26 km

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Walking a narrow river valley, turning at a gap in the surrounding range to climb over to the next, then crossing it for the next– that’s walking in this corner of the world. Each kilometer brings something different– wheat field, yew forest, meadow with milk cows, beech forest–sometimes walking a dirt path, sometimes a paved narrow road–the greatest variety. What was supposed to be a long day was thankfully shortened by good surface and steady walking. The first day in a very long time that started off warm and just got hot. Crossing the middle valley near Chazard was in full baking sun which, because of my perpetual spring year, I have rarely dealt with. Some excitement occurred when closing a steel gate. I accidentally punctured a can of Budvar (Budweiser from the Czech Republic– had an extra one left over which I stuck into the outside of my pack). Suddenly something was foaming down my back, which we resolved by drinking it down–a substitute for our usual mid-morning break. Rounding the last ridge, we soon could see lake Neufchatel with the alps in the distance, starting to feel like the Switzerland I expected to be hiking.

T. Hugh Crawford

May 26

May 27th, 2016

May 26
Saignelégier to St-Imier 17.5 km

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The French cantons in Switzerland are known for agriculture, which seems primarily to be dairy, and watchmaking. Yesterday walking into St-Imier Bennett and I peered into a high tech lab, speculating about what they were studying with all the clean rooms and microscopes. It was a watch factory–something stunning in an era of throwaway digital chips. We needed to divide the distance to Neufchatel into two days which gave us a short day into St-Imire, which including sitting on the square for a late lunch, living at the right pace. This area does not have spectacular beauty– no rugged alps in the distance just yet, but meadows full of wildflowers, cattle, horses and rimmed with old growth forest has its own overwhelming beauty. It is a place to walk.

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