Pilgrims prepare for the next stage

We have enjoyed several weeks of R&R at home, but the time is drawing near to get going again. Tom has enjoyed several days of fishing during the mayfly season and Julie has worked, but we’ve done very little walking. Somehow we just didn’t fancy it much! Panic set in last weekend and we had a lovely walk through woods near the IoW prisons, onto the coast path and back to Cowes. Just long enough to remind ourselves how to do it rather than regaining any lost fitness, but great views and nice to see the sunshine after a grey bank holiday weekend.

The next stage of our pilgrimage will see us resume at Bar-sur-Aube to walk on through France, over the border into Switzerland just after Pontarlier, along the eastern shores of Lake Geneva, up over the Grand St Bernard pass, and down the Aosta valley to Vercelli on the edge of the Po valley. We are aiming to get to Vercelli by late July, by which time it will be too hot to continue across the Po valley. That’s the plan. However, just as we were nearly scuppered by P&O ferries with our last Channel crossing, so we are fervently hoping not to get caught up in a rail strike for this one. Fingers and toes crossed!

Apart from dealing with a mouse infestation which has damaged both our sofas and wishing we had a cat or dog – amazing what damage just four mice can do! – we have been sorting out our kit over the last few weeks. There have been two priorities: boots and weight.

As for boots, Tom has worn down the outer edges of his boot soles and will have to send them back to Scarpa for resoling. Fortunately the soles aren’t too worn for this to be done, and he had bought a second pair of the same boots last year in case they went out of production. New boots for the next stage. Sorted.

Be glad you didn’t see the earlier version!

Julie’s boots have been more difficult to sort out. Even with plasters Julie’s wide feet, particularly the two small toes, took a hammering. So, a visit to a chiropodist plus toes socks and wider boots will hopefully be the solution.

The old boots had to be sent back to Scarpa as the rubber rand split from the leather, and the leather also split, allowing damp feet on those very wet days when the roads and tracks ran like rivers. Luckily, despite the two year delay in our walk, the boots were still within their warranty period. Sending them back has provided an excuse to look for lighter boots which still have robust Vibram soles to cope with tough alpine tracks and the inevitable road walking.

The next task is to cut down on the weight we’re carrying. Why is it that we think we need to carry more for a 5-6 weeks trip than we did for a few days, when we know there are shops in Europe, even if they are not to be found in every small village, and we have quick dry clothing?

We sent our silk sleeping bag liners back home with Rhyd as we realised we had no use for them. The Covid test kits and crocs (for use in communal showers) also went unused, so they too are out this time.

Much of the weight we are carrying is in toiletries, so the deodorants are also out. Who needs a deodorant when you’re outdoors pretty much alone all day and getting showered and changed as soon as you arrive at the evening destination? Tubes of stuff that are bigger than we need will be squeezed down to a more realistic size, like toothpaste, Savlon and shampoo. Julie liked the idea of a giant towel, but as that was hardly used it will be replaced with a smaller one for emergencies. As the advertising jingle goes, every little helps!

Then there is the clothing. We’ve been debating what weight of trousers to take. Last time we took shower proof lined trousers and mid weight quick dry ones, plus shorts which we didn’t use. The former are too hot in warm weather, though a real boon when it’s cold and wet, and even the medium weight trousers were too hot on sunny days. As we are going into summer we’re hoping the shorts will get good use this time and pondering whether to take light weight trousers instead of the thick ones. On the other hand, the mountains of the Jura and Alps could deliver cold and snow even during July, though apparently the winter snows melted early this year.

All this agonising seems very self indulgent when we recall that medieval pilgrims had no gortex or windproof gear, just linen and woollen garments which must have soaked up the rain! Our main priority has been to do all we can to keep the weight down which we reckon will have been the aim of every walking pilgrim since time immemorial.

Time to clear out the fridge and get going!

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