Thursday, September 27, 2007

Stage 72 -- Sospel to Peillon

<reminder: photos now available at:

Thursday, Sept 27th, 2007

It rained all day yesterday; lucky it was a free day :-). Today dawned clear and sunny, but clouds quickly gathered and it became a game of dodge the rain. For most of about 5 hours there were either thunderstorms or showers visible somewhere ahead, but the only time it rained more than a couple of drops on us was when we were standing chatting with a couple of English tourists outside our hotel in Peillon. So we went in.

Some tricky trails today. For a change we didn't hike along the path of a Grande Randonnee (long distance hiking trail), but instead took secondary trails. They were marked on my map as hiking trails, and there were in fact signposts and trail-marks from time to time, but the overall quality of the navigational aids was pretty poor. Despite this we went astray only once, however, and were fortunate to immediately be caught trespassing and thus sent straight back to the right path!

The vegetation is getting more aggressive as we get closer to the Mediterranean: it seems as if every plant or bush we pass has thorns or spikes. This is the first day I have arrived with bloody scratches on my legs.

We passed through Peille -- a lovely medieval perched village -- around 2PM and stopped for cups of hot chocolate at a cafe: even though we didn't get wet from the rain, it was still quite cold, around 4-8C, I'd guess. Unusual for this area at this time of the year: we are only a few km from the coast, and the highest point on the hike was only around 1000m. There was snow visible on the some of the higher peaks around us: good thing we aren't crossing high passes now!

Our hotel, l'Auberge de la Madone in Peillon, another beautiful medieval perched village, seems exceptionally nice: an old inn with large rooms, and, at least according to the Michelin Guide, which gave it a star, an excellent kitchen. The only problem: dinner is at 8PM. I ate my last Snickers bar about two hours ago and am by now (7:20) starving, as is typical by this time of the day when we hike.

If you hear reports of earthquakes on the Cote-d'Azur, don't worry: it's only my stomach.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The reports keep coming... Urs Ruefli remains hot on the trail of those mysterious sightings in the Alps!


Strange Things in the Alps (for Dummies)
by Urs Ruefli, Alpine Alien Agency, Lausanne

Today I interviewed Prof. Dr. Bruno Kirchgraber, an expert on stochastic and probability theory. I gave him all the known facts about Porkie and asked for his explanations. He put all the information into his computer network and ran a number of simulations and what-if-analysis scenarios. Here is the interview.

AAA: Prof. Dr. Kirchgraber, you have studied all the data about Porkie. Where is he, who is he, and what is his intention?

PDK: Let me answer your questions one by one. There are now 100s of people looking out for Porkie. But he seems to behave like a quantum particle. Either his location or his time are always hidden.

AAA: I'm sure you are right, but what do you mean by that?

PDK: Well, when someone can tell about his location, then he is already gone, when the location gets checked. It seems he is moving incredibly fast. If someone knows when he is, then he cannot specify the location. This is the typical behaviour of a quantum particle.

AAA: Right, I guess. Do you want to suggest that he is not human?

PDK: That is already the 2nd question. I cannot exclude that he is human, but if he is human, than of a completely inhuman kind. You have to remember that he must have walked through the mountains now for more than 40 days. That is no typical human behaviour.

AAA: Agreed. But what is his intention?

PDK: This is the most difficult question to answer. What motivates Porkie besides pork? Why is he taking all this pain and effort on him? To understand this, we have to look at the group as a whole.

AAA: Right, I guess you refer to this red guy and the other person that walks in between, right? What is your take on them?

PDK: The red guy is obviously their fearless leader. It is reported that he never looks back. I believe he is the one with the mission. So, I focused more on him in my simulations. And I found out surprising things.

AAA: Like what?

PDK: One of our simulations told us that this group constantly followed the route with the most terrible weather in a 300 km radius. That sounds interesting, but there is much more behind it. It is extremely difficult to predict the weather in the mountains even for short period of time. Our best computers can do this only for about 3 hours. It would take all the computers in the world, to make such accurate predictions.

AAA: What does that mean? What could a person with such capabilities do? Is he dangerous?

PDK: Well, he could predict anything. He could make a fortune with the stock market. He would know what people are thinking. He would know whether Porkie walks behind him or not. That's why he never has to turn around.

AAA: Amazing. But why would he seek the most terrible weather? Sounds like an inhuman idea, doesn't it?

PDK: There are various options. He might energize himself from lightning. He might want to make sure that all their trails are washed away. Or, for whatever strange reason, he might want to punish his followers.

AAA: Could he be a kind of vampire?

PDK: Not in the classical sense. This is all a mystery. We have still too little data about his strange group. But I will start my own explorations now…

Stage 71 -- Col de Turini to Sospel

<reminder: photos now available at:

Tuesday, Sept 25th, 2007

Whereas the previous stage was mostly uphill, this one had over 2100m of descent. Knowing this, Sally tried to book a taxi to take her from the village of Moulinet, at about the halfway point, to Sospel, but without success. It turns out that although there are in theory taxi services in Moulinet and Sospel, in practice you have to book them a few days ahead of time if you want to have a chance of actually using them.

So instead she opted to walk along the road after Moulinet -- a distance of about 12km that took her 2.25 hours, but which saved her a good 750 meters of additional ascent and descent, including some very steep downhills which would have done a number on her shin-splints.

Russell, however, was feeling his oats, and decided to accompany me on the (exceedingly scenic) trails. Interestingly, although he said at one point that he thought it would be a day to ice his injured knee, at the end of the day I think that I was significantly more tired than he was. I'm not quite sure why -- one possibility is that I stress my legs more because I descend faster than he does, but maybe I just had an off-day.

I'll tell you one thing, though: even though I am still enjoying every day we hike, I'm sure looking forward to those four or five days off in Monaco.

Stage 70 -- Belvedere to Col de Turini

<reminder: photos now available at:

Monday, Sept 24th, 2007

We spent a nice relaxed rest-day with Mum. She got to see how we spend our time when we are not hiking (which largely consists of doing nothing, interspersed with a few chores and errands), as well as to see how we spend our nights (in the company of strangers, as two other hikers showed up during the rest day, checked in, and in the wee hours proceeded to snore, not loudly, but annoyingly creatively). She very much enjoyed the day, but I think the night left her unenthused about any such future experiences!

The following morning, after saying our goodbyes, we hiked off via La Bollene-Vesubie, another charming perched village, to the hamlet of Col de Turini. It was another beautiful day, warm, but not overly so, and we all found the hike fairly easy, in spite of the 1450m of climbing that it entailed. In the meantime, I think, we are in such good condition that we take pretty much any amount of uphill in stride. Downhill is, however, another matter, as the counterpart to condition seems to be wear and tear, and there is much more of the latter when descending.

Both Belvedere and La Bollene appeared to be prosperous and bustling, which is good to see given how close they came to being depopulated during the first half of the last century. However, the madcap antics of the local children leave one a little less optimistic about the future: in Belvedere we saw one pair, a boy of about 7 and a girl of maybe 5, zip by on their little bikes down a steep road, then turn sharply onto an upslope (the girl in particular wobbling scarily as she fought to keep control) directly into the path of an oncoming car. Which stopped, thankfully, just in time.

On the other hand, thinking back to my own experiences on bikes as a child, and later, maybe it is a wonder that any of us reaches adulthood!

Col de Turini is a funny little place -- a group of a half-dozen or so hotels at a low pass in the middle of nowhere. There is obe one rusting tow lift, but it is not skiing that provides the place with its raison-d'etre. As far as I can tell, the only reason people go there is because it is the end-point of one of the most famous rallies in the world: the Monaco to Col de Turini race, which is held each year in winter.

The race is both historic and extremely challenging, not least because the spectators like to dump snow and ice on the curves to make things a bit more interesting. After reading about this in our very pleasant hotel, which was filled with rally memorabilia (in addition to the main race itself, there are apparently many other events held along the same course throughout the year), I think I understand those kids in Belvedere a little better: they are just continuing the local tradition in their own way!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Stage 69 -- Saint-Dalmas-Valdeblore to Belvedere
<reminder: photos now available at:

Saturday, Sept 22nd, 2007

A big day in a couple of ways. To begin with, this is the three month anniversary of the start of the H2H. Three months... that means we have been hiking for a quarter of a year! And the longest break I have taken has been two and a half days in Montreux: no wonder I sometimes feel tired!

Second there was a fair amount of "hidden" altitude in today's hike: i.e., ups and downs that weren't visible on the map. As a result despite the fact that we by now walk much faster than the estimates assume, the hiking time was almost 7 hours, and by the end of it everyone was flagging. Russ's knee was acting up again. Sally's shin-splints ditto, and her feet were aching My partially ingrown toenail was a significant irritation, and having run out of water about an hour and a half before the end of the hike didn't help things either.

It was a hot day and when this parched trio arrived at Belvedere we headed straight for a cafe and ordered a total of seven drinks plus a large bottle of mineral water, much to the amusement of the owner.

A nice little village, Belvedere, but with way too many cars parked on its few navigable streets and an astoundingly loud church bell tolling the hours. The French habit of ringing the bell for a second time two minutes after the hour (perhaps in case you lost count the first time?) was not appreciated.

After rehydrating we set off to try to find our Gite. The fellow I spoke with when making the reservation had said that he would be away and that he'd leave the door open, so when we arrived at a place named "Gite Communal" and with the reception closed we thought we had arrived. It was only after entering the building and wandering through an appartment whose door happened to be open that it sunk in that this couldn't be the place. Luckily the owners weren't around.

One phone call, and a follow up question and answer session with a couple of women on the street, later and we arrived at the correct Gite... to find our mother there waiting for us. She, apparently, had had less trouble finding the place than us. So much for my supposed French language competence :-).

The Gite leaves me, thus far, with contradictory impressions. On the one hand I have to duck to go through most of the doors as well as in the bunkroom, and it smells a little of mildew, breakfast is not offered, and the toilets are outside and have no seats.

On the other hand there is outdoor seating, a couple of additional rooms for us to use, cooking facilities, and very pleasant and welcoming owners. On balance I guess that it is a good way of showing our mother how we have been living for much of the past three months.

This is, by the way (I worked it out during my middle of the night wakeful period) the 28th Gite / Refuge that we have stayed so far on the H2H. I believe that I am not misrepresenting Sally's sentiments when I say that for her this is around 27 too many.

Dinner was in a charming little pizza restaurant perched on the edge of a cliff in the fortunately thoroughly sanitized, premises of a former abattoir Unfortunately it will be closed Sunday night, and there is nowhere else to eat in Belvedere, so we are lucky that with Mum's car we are mobile and can go down to the valley town of Roquebilliere to have dinner.

Four days more hiking to Monaco!!