Friday, August 5, 2011

Making a Molehill Out of A Mountain

Two very determined hikers on the trail up Montrond
The pink pants and tiny blue hiking boots above me on the trail stepped with a sure foot over one rock after another.  “Oh the shame,” I thought, “if this 2-year old makes it up the mountain and I don’t.” 

The French are walkers and hikers.  France contains over 30,000 miles of the Grande Randonnée (GR), a series of trails throughout Europe.  Our little strip of the trail that day traversed the ridges of a mountain range that started in France, and if we walked until dark, would find us in Geneva Switzerland.  The goal of our friends and their children and grandchildren that afternoon was the top of Montrond, a 5300 ft. peak in the Jura Mts. of Burgundy.  From our vantage point we could see Mont Blanc on the border between France and Italy, a “real” mountain that rose above the clouds.

I had thought the plan was to take the ski lift up to the top of the slope by the lodge and then hike down.  After all, our group included a toddler and a 4-year old.  Right?  But that was only where the hike began.  The next time I assumed we had certainly made it to our destination we had only reached the top of Petit Montrond, so I trudged on, following the little pink behind padded with the French equivalent of Huggies Training Pants.  I stumbled over rocks every fifth step as we followed the trail around to the back of this peak so we could go down again and then start another ascent – one peak closer to our goal.
Are we there yet?
When I pick a place to travel, frequently my first question is not “What is there to see or do?” but “Where is there to walk?”  I want to know a place one step at a time.  In French, a walker might be a flaneur, someone who strolls the sidewalk looking in shop windows, stopping at the café to chat, exploring a neighborhood at a leisurely pace à pied (on foot).  Dijon is all about strolling.  It has made little effort to accommodate cars in the historic parts of town so we walk to dinner, we walk to the market, we walk to the parks and the lake, we walk in the evening after dinner to see who else is out walking.

When Brad and I bought our houses, one of the primary questions was “Where can we walk with the dogs?”  I didn’t just want a neighborhood with sidewalks; I wanted sidewalks that went someplace.  To the park.  To the store.  To the coffeehouse.  To the dentist.  We are flaneurs at heart.  And we raised two kids who know how to walk.  They’re comfortable living life à pied as well.  I watch the seasons pass at snail’s pace in the gardens of my neighbors and the trees in the park while the bicyclists and joggers whip by me.

A walker can also be a promeneur, marking the miles by a day or a week.  It’s about distance and destination. But it’s not about competition race-walking or counting off steps to lose weight.  I’m not an extreme walker.  You won’t see my name on the log of people who’ve traversed the entire Appalachian Trail.  I can’t see myself making a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  Backcountry backpacking has never been a dream of mine (ever since digging latrines in Girl Scouts I decided I like toilets).  But I like to find a trail and spend a day where my mind focuses on nothing more than finding the best footing.  It’s a kind of colonic for the brain.
We made it, although I might disagree with some of the times posted on the signs

That’s why I love Europe.  When in the Black Forest of Germany, I could walk from town to town along well-worn paths.  No car or other equipment needed.  In Scotland we didn’t need trailheads or even permission.  We could open (and close tightly) any gate we wanted and start climbing.  In France I can cross an entire region along a tabletop flat canal path or along the ridges of mountains.  Back home, it’s more about climbing a bluff for a view of the convergence of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois river or following a stream in a gully when the wildflowers are in bloom (watch out for those copperheads just coming out of hibernation!)

As I add a few years and more than a few pounds, I now measure my health by where and how long I can walk.  After all, I still haven’t made the trek to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

And so I did my best on this little afternoon promenade to keep up with the toddler and the 4-year old.  No one was going to carry me for a short bit when I sighed Je suis fatigué.  When the youngest started to be on the edge of not making it down, her ingenious father found a rare smooth spot and rolled with her down the hill until she was giggling and willing to go on.  I took my own, unintentional, roll down the hill, too.  With feet too heavy even to lift, I tripped over a rock and moved 50 ft. down the mountain more quickly than I had intended.  At least I was 50 ft. closer to the car – and my new camera was safe.

We finished the last thirty minutes of the final descent hand in hand with Fanny, the 4-year old, skipping and singing bad renditions of “Frère Jacques” and “Alouette, Gentille Alouette.”  And every few minutes she’d peep excitedly “Regardez!” (look, look!).  At what, I was never sure, but it took my mind off my feet and directed my eyes to a distant point.  Which is not a bad way to get through life.  When things get tough, just roll or sing with new friends, and always keep looking ahead instead of down.
Mont Blanc (taken with my 30x zoom from our own little mountain peak)

Where do you like to walk?  How do you make a molehill out of daily mountains? Share with us in the comment box.


Annette Gendler said...

Good for you, Julie, that you raised your kids to walk. We've done the same, and my daughter now complains that long school days keep her from using her legs. As you know, we've been hiking a lot on our road trip this summer and the kids never complain. In fact, they will complain if the hike is not "fun" enough, meaning there's not enough climbing involved.

Kristin said...

Hi Julie, love the little "huggies hikers"! Thanks for reminding me that a walker can also be a "promeneur". I always fret when setting out with the French for a hike. How high will we go? For how long will we walk? In the end, it always feels so good to arrive back (those endorphins!) and, what better way than by singing?

Julie Farrar said...

And it's the best way to see this country, too, Kristin. But I agree, these suggestions for a little "walk" after lunch breed a bit of anxiety.

Anonymous said...

OMG, what amazing photos. Are yo trying to channel The Sound of Music? You look like the Von Trapp family! Great post!

Anonymous said...

I hate to tell you this but the French would be very upset to hear you tell us that Mont Blanc is in Switzerland! Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in Europe, but it is located in France, not in Switzerland. It is located 90 kilometers from Lake Geneva, it is so high that it gives the impression that it is in Switzerland, but it is not.


Julie Farrar said...

Thanks for the geography lesson, Colette. I'll make the correction. I think the fatigue from the climb affected my memory. I know I was told it correctly, but fatigue and sore feet made me remember wrong.

Leah said...

I love that photo of you at the top of the mountain. Good for you for making it! I need to make an effort to get out and walk/hike more. Once I do it, I always feel great.

Melinda said...

I remember walking to school and all the Girl Scout hikes we took. More and more people are walking around my neighborhood and I hope to join them soon. Glad you could walk as far as a 4 year old! See ya soon!

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie,

No problem. I am getting over jet lag myself, and enjoying your blog very much because we spent six weeks in Burgundy. We rented a house at the foot of Chateauneuf-en-Auxois and although the whole month of June was very rainy, we had a wonderful time in this very special part of France. Your photos are amazing, and I loved reading about your own experiences.


Anonymous said...

Hi Julie,
Several years ago we spent two weeks cycling through Holland with our then 10 yr. old. It was a terrific way to see the country, meet people and be part of the community. I can only think that walking through the country would have enhanced the experience even more!
Additionally, my two granddaughters are so used to taking long hikes with their parents, that they are the ONLY children NOT crying for a stroller at amusement parks! I am so grateful my son has taught the girls the value of a good walk!
Fellow SheWrites Member

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