The Grand Ramble begins.

By: bienesrobados

Jul 17 2010

Category: Uncategorized

1 Comment

Initially we had planned to hike across the USA on a trail called the American Discovery Trail but we eventually scuttled those plans after doing more research on trail condition and thinking about having to cross the dreaded fatlands, er, flatlands of the midwest on foot.  It’s a hike that I’d still like to do some day, or at least some version thereof, but it certainly didn’t seem fitting for a honeymoon.  Instead we decided on hiking the complete GR-5, a long distance network of footpaths starting in Hoek Von Holland and ending in Nice, or alternately Menton, France after having traversed the Alps.  The GR in GR5 stands for grande randonnée which, thanks to my sophisticated command of the french language AKA 1 year of high school french, I translated as The Grand Ramble.  A more literal (ie correct) translation would be the great hike or as Google Translate puts it the “SuperWalk”.  Thanks, but I’ll stick with my mistranslation.

After several days of hiking in schizophrenic weather that alternated between sun crisping heat and sudden torrential rains, I awoke on the fourth morning with a scratch in my throat and the beginnings of a nasty head cold.  At the end of that day’s hike we arrived in a town just in time to avoid a fierce downpour by taking shelter in a Turkish restaurant.  We ordered food, Turkish beer and settled in to wait out the rain.  After a few hours the rain subsided and we considered getting a hotel but the only place in town was charging 96 euro.  We told the hotel manager we’d think about it and promptly headed out of town.  Our water supply was running low so I approached a house with a hose visible in the driveway and knocked on the door.  No one answered so I took the liberty of filling my camelback from the hose facet and we continued on our way, hiking at random down a country road, past ponds, fields, and farms.  On the road we ran into another hiker, a lone young man dressed haphazardly in shorts and flipflops with a poorly packed bag, price tag still dangling from a seam, and a wood hiking stick.  We spoke to him for a short while before parting ways.  He was hiking the Saint James Trail, an old pilgrimage route which connects with the Camino in Spain.  Storm clouds gathered on the horizon and the fading sun lit the asphalt like a gold ribbon as he disappeared down the path, walking with the stick behind his neck, his arms raised, resting on either end like Jesus on the cross.  So long, pilgrim.

That evening we camped in a field beside the road, setting up the tent as the storm swept in.  I awoke a few times in the night to howling winds and the patter of rain on the tent but by morning the sky was clear save for a few puffy clouds and the tent was dry.  It was however still extremely windy, and we carefully packed the tent, struggling to fold it as the wind caught and pulled it taut like a ship’s sail.  After packing up we backtracked a bit until we found a bike path heading towards the next town.  We spent the next 5 hours or so hiking into a strong headwind, next to a highway, across a dam, and into a dingy section of a gray and lifeless port town.  We got a coke at the only open place we could find, a grimy lunch spot next to the docks which appeared to serve only frozen then fried seafood goo sticks and “Mexican sausages” which were advertised with a hideous cartoon caricature of a big headed smiling Mexican man in a sombrero and zarape.  I felt sorry for the woman working at the counter.  She had pale, oily skin and dishwater blond hair and barely raised her eyes to take our order, her face a map of resignation.

A long, hard hike in a windstorm isn’t exactly doctor’s orders if you’ve got a cold and it came as no surprise that I was feeling pretty bad at that point.   We decided to head inland to the next town and try and find a hotel for the night.  The next town turned out to be a small touristy spot with a well preserved old town full of shops, restaurants, and cafes.  We found a relatively cheap hotel, showered and rested for a bit and then ate a massive meal of salad, spare ribs, and bread.  The next day I rested while Paige checked out the town which turned out to have an excellent cafe which had just opened two weeks ago.  It’s a cozy spot with great coffee that also sells a good selection of reasonably priced french wines, local veggies and honey, organic oils and vinegars, baguettes and sweetbreads, as well as chocolates, snacks, and sandwiches.  After a day of rest, cappuccinos, and good food I was feeling well enough to think about continuing the hike.  We checked the weather forecast and it showed three solid days of scattered to heavy showers in the towns along our route through Holland.  Hmmm, the weather in France by contrast showed three happy orange globes of fire and temperatures in the low 80s.

So, after doing a little more research we have decided to revise our initial plan, which was to spend a month or two hiking through Holland and Belgium before connecting to the GR5 trail in France and continuing on into the Alps.  Instead we will take a bus to Rotterdam and then continue on to Strasbourg, France tomorrow where we have arranged to couchsurf with a journalist there .  We will start the GR5 in Strasbourg which will still give us 3 weeks or so of conditioning before we reach the Alps.   This should position us correctly to be able to complete the Alps section which must be finished before the end of September when it becomes impassible due to winter storms.

I suspect our internet access will be scarce over the next few months but I look forward to your comments and suggestions and will post updates whenever possible.

One comment on “The Grand Ramble begins.”

  1. good intro pete. love your writing. paige’s too! mom

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