The Camino Frances inspired Sue and me to backpack four more European distance treks, each with a unique personality. A closed sign greeted us at an ancient aqueduct as we left Spoleto, Italy on the Way of St. Francis in 2018. Part of the official path, the aqueduct was closed after a 2016 earthquake, forcing us to turn around and walk a lengthy detour. How many stairs are there on England’s South West Coast Path? We climbed and descended many of the 30,000 steps in 2019. Glaciers on the Mont Blanc massif frame our favorite accommodation on the Tour du Mont Blanc, Rifugio Elisabetta, in 2016. An ingenious drying rack was a godsend at the Lander Bed and Breakfast in Drymen on the West Highland Way in 2014. Our adventures on the four treks are featured in my second book, coming soon.
On the Camino de Santiago, the world’s most-traveled long-distance trek, pilgrims like to say, “Everyone walks their own Camino.”
In Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Mexico to Canada, Bruce Wilson describes how he inserted a “flip” in his 2,650-mile endurance test. He began at the Mexican border in April and arrived in the Southern Sierra Nevada early, with dangerously high snow levels ahead. He got rides to Ashland, Oregon, where he flipped his PCT and walked back to the southern Sierra, where he left off. He still faced snow and snowmelt-fed waterways, but his PCT was safer, more passable. To complete his flip, he got rides back to Ashland and resumed his trek.
Nelson’s book brings home the challenges of backpacking for months on difficult terrain that reaches more than 13,000 feet. I am addicted to experiencing the PCT through hikers’ books and YouTube posts and, like many I have followed, Nelson paints a vivid picture of the beauty and the problems he faced. A retired smokejumper from Alaska, he preferred walking on his own, but accompanied others for stretches. There are days that sound just like other days and I yearned for more about his personal journey, but, in the end, I was drawn to turn the pages by an appreciation of his strength, physical and mental.
A backpacker’s dream or nightmare? Nearly 30,000 stairs, wind that can blow off a toupee and–a high dive? That is what I thought I would see at the end of this straightway near Boscastle, England, on the South West Coast Path. But it was just another steep plunge on the 630-mile trail.
Has your backpack ever become your pillow? In the Tuscan countryside, while walking the Way of St. Francis, a tough hill and warm sun put me on my back for a restorative nap. My 260-mile trek to the Vatican will be one of four European distance walks featured in my second book, coming soon.