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This is what friends do on a Sunday afternoon…

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I run. It started innocently enough this summer with the goal of getting fit for another go at the GR 10 in the Pyrenees. Sadly, a bad case of shingles and a few other setbacks forced me to set that plan aside for another time. But the running continued. It felt good. It feels good. As a flatlander, I’d never really thought much about the purpose of a hill. Here in the city there may not be a single hill more than 10m high. Before my introduction to the world of trail running this would never have posed a problem…now it does. I want to fight gravity to get to higher ground with my heart pounding and gallons of sweat pouring down my back. With each breath I want to smell the seasons changing instead of car exhaust. I want the ground below me to change with each step.

A wise person once said, “Hills are made for running up.” And that same wise person then made me watch this video.

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Hiking is nice, but so is napping.

selfie, napping, Vosges

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Dear blogosphere friends,

Tomorrow – I make my way to the trailhead of the HRP in Hendaye – where the journey begins.

For the next six weeks, I will be mostly off the grid – with the exception of a few Twitter SMS (feel free to follow me on Twitter @melissainfrance.) and texts with my LP. That means no new posts from me for a while.

Take a long walk – by yourself or with someone you love. Enjoy and appreciate the living world around you, for fossicking’s sake.

See you later.

Love,

Melissa

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I’m pleased to announce my new blog melissa takes a hike – a site dedicated to my journey on the HRP (beginning ONE WEEK FROM TODAY!!!!!).

Currently there a few articles and pages up. You can read the why and the what of it all. I’ve highlighted a few books that have helped prepare for the journey on the Ex Libris page. The My Pack page is under construction – it should be up in the next day or two and give the details on all my gear.

On the right side of the blog you can see “melissa tweets”. My intention is to keep the twitter feeds coming from the trail (via SMS when there’s service). @melissainfrance Though the blog won’t be updated from the trail – you will find twitter updates. Then sometime in November once we’ve completed the trek the plan is to make regular updates of  the people we met, our daily adventures and our struggles on the HRP.

Please go to melissa takes a hike and sign up for email updates (just above “melissa tweets”) – and if you haven’t already sign up here for fossicking updates do it.

Thanks for all your support!

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The HRP Grand Depart is in 19 days.

Preparations: for the last few days I have been focusing on creating a gear list, making stuff sacks and sorting maps. This means creating an Excel sheet that lists everything that will be going in my pack – then weighing each item on my digital kitchen scale (compass, socks, tent, toothbrush, etc.), cutting a lot of nylon (for the stuff sack), getting frustrated with my sewing machine and finding refill points along the French-Spanish border.

For the pack, I’ve got a light-ish base weight: 8 kg or so. Last Saturday I took a hike up Mont Sainte-Odile with a 9 kg pack. It was a really hot day, but I managed without any issues. It was a “test run” with the pack. I know that 20 km/600 m day in the Vosges isn’t a 20 km/1200 m day in the Pyrenees…and the next day I didn’t get up for another 20 km…but it was a test. In my opinion I did pretty well – I made the 10 km descent at over 4 km/hr.

Back to work.

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It was an early Saturday morning – by 6:30 am I was up and ready to go. In fact, I had woken up more than once during the night because I was especially excited to meander in the Vosges that afternoon with some friends.

By ten past seven, the four of us (Jonathan, Anne, John and I) were packed in the car and en route for “Monument Brun”. Finding the monument wasn’t easy – it was literally a tiny monument raised for a soldier killed during the first World War about 15 meters above the road on a trail. We parked and thus began our adventure.

Before long we were gaining a bit of altitude, admiring the forest and looking for our turnoff for the steep ascent off the forestry path towards the Lac du Ballon. We eventually found it, but there was a sign that said “SENTIER FERME” or “TRAIL CLOSED”. I really didn’t want to spend the next 12 km on a gravel and packed dirt forestry path, so I suggested that we take the closed trail. No one objected (or if they did they didn’t speak up…I think), so off we went. The switchbacks were steep and the forest carpet was dense with ferns and nettles.

After about an hour of traipsing on squelchy ground and bushwhacking our way through the ferns and nettles, we found ourselves on a trail-ish route, which ceased to be a trail at some point that wasn’t so clear. It led to blackberry brambles (not yet ripe) and wild strawberry patches (yum). Below us about 100 m in the valley was a fast flowing stream. We encountered puddles that were ankle high and brush so thick you couldn’t see the ground. The trail had obviously been closed for over a year and nature again reigned supreme – two hawks soared just above our heads and squawked as if we were threatening intruders.

There was a point when I thought – we’ve come this far (no longer on a trail, but bushwhacking) and it will be just as rough to continue on and find the cleared trail as it would be if we turned around and went back to where we started.

Finally, we reached a series of waterfalls at the bottom of the valley and then were forced to go up out of the ravine (back wasn’t really and option). John forged ahead and found the easiest route up the scree and thick layer of leaf rot. It wasn’t easy for anyone, but we all worked together. There were moments where I felt very Lewis-and-Clark-like – scrambling up rock formations and looking out across the tree tops – though we didn’t have an indigenous guide. There were moments during the over-hour-long scramble when I thought that it may be near impossible to get all four of us up and over. I managed a controlled fall and slid down the steep slope  about 2 m without any injury about halfway up.

Once we made it to the trail, we celebrated with a few high fives, but I think I preferred bushwhacking to to the actual open trail.

We walked about thirty more minutes before we reached a clearing where we could see the weather station at the top of the Grand Ballon and just below a ferme-auberge (where we stuffed our faces!).

After lunch we began our (30 minute) ascent of the Grand Ballon. The weather seemed perfect – the sun was out and to the south and east everything was clear. What we didn’t see was the weather system coming up the west side. It blew in and dropped buckets of hard, cold rain on us just as we reached the shelter of the weather station. Underneath the awning were about fifty other people all trying to keep dry. The rain lasted for about 10 minutes and then moved on to the valley below.

We thought after our ascent on the closed trail and after the cold rain had passed – the descent would be simple. It wasn’t. The leaf rot and wet sandstone made the steep walk down difficult. Each step had to be sure. About 4 km out from the car and exactly 1 km between mountain auberge, Anne fell! Her ankle was twisted. Her ankle swelled instantly.

Luckily, John carried an Ace bandage with him. I wrapped her ankle and gave her some anti-inflammatory meds. The unlucky part was that we had to figure out how to get Anne off the trail and to a car – and without someone else getting hurt. John suggested we continue down to the next auberge and then he and Jonathan would pick up the car. I sent them straight off to fetch the car and stayed with Anne to make the 1 km trek. She used two walking sticks to take the pressure off of her foot. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the auberge.

The farmer/aubergiste gave us directions for Jonathan to follow on his drive up – followed by a glass of wine and a cup tea. We waited for about an hour and a half for the car. Apparently it was an “off-road” experience with fallen trees and deep puddles. Our ride down was (according to Jonathan) much smoother than their ride up, though it caused some stress for Anne (despite her stoicism).

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