One Step At A Time
After a 7 hour train journey from my home in Provence to Evian-les-Bains on the shore of Lake Geneva, I find myself standing on the side of a road, surrounded by beautiful alpine scenery on one side and the clear waters of the lake on the other. I am holding a piece of cardboard salvaged from the local épicerie régionale. On it, I have carefully and legibly written “Saint Gingolph”, the name of today’s final destination, and where my new adventure will begin. I am hoping for one of the rare drivers at this time of the day to stop to give me a lift to this nearby place, where the Swiss/French border had the strange idea to run through the middle of a village.
I am not coming to Saint Gingolph to challenge the whereabout of the border, nor debate with the locals to find out which side pays less tax, or if the cheese fondue is better in France or in Switzerland. None of these. Today, I am making my way to Saint Gingolph because the village is the starting point of the ‘GR5’, the name of an epic walking trail well-known among enthusiastic hikers. GR5 is a ‘sentier de grande randonnée’, the formal name given to the main French major hiking routes, usually well marked and supposedly offering some of the best views in the areas visited. This particular GR crosses the Alps and connects lake Geneva to the Mediterranean sea.
The path is 620 km long with 60 mountain passes along the way, with an overall altitude gain more than 3 times Everest. Such figures can easily give vertigo to whomever leaves Saint Gingolph on foot to head south. The trek has the particularity of crossing four natural parks along the way, each of them offering beautiful, unique and well-preserved landscapes, specific local cultures as well as rich flora and a great number of wild animals.
On my last trip, I traveled nearer home in Provence and discovered some amazing out-of-the-way routes and roads. I also managed to meet many friendly people in beautiful and yet remote villages with my bike as my only mean of locomotion.
This time, this journey will be even more elementary : I will walk.
Planning a trek does not (in theory) require much more than a detailed map, some good shoes, a tent, a well organized and comfortable backpack and most importantly, your legs. The exercise could not be more simple. I will only need to put one foot after the other (roughly 1.24 million times in the coming month) and retain my balance.
Crossing the Alps on foot is also more than just drawing a line on a paper map or posting selfies on social media (I will stick to the map drawing activity). It is a real experience of freedom, a way of learning to slow down and disconnect from the hyperactive society around us. It is the moment to face isolation, silence and let ourself daydream. This ‘retreat’ will give me the opportunity to appreciate simple things such as the smell of wild flowers and the beauty of the landscapes, or just enjoy the flavor of a frugal homemade dish after a long day trekking. The simple pleasures that await me are my motivation.
The horn of the car now standing next to me makes me jump and gets me out of my reverie. A friendly French guy on his way to work in Switzerland just stopped and is offering me a lift to Saint Gingolph. I only have time to say thank you, throw my 15kg backpack on the backseat and off we are, driving towards the unknown and not realizing that in just few minutes, I will say Au-revoir to civilization… and my captivating and enriching adventure in the Alps will begin.
Thanks to his hiking boots and his bike paniers, his maps and his sense of adventure, Michael’s sense of curiosity is as un-locked-down as ever. Email him here to see how he’s getting along.