Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

Hiking is nice, but so is napping.

selfie, napping, Vosges


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Spring weather has finally made its appearance – two days in a row. Sunshine and blue skies. Pollen allergies. Vitamin D. My LP’s first priority this morning was getting hopped up on vitamin D (see photo above). His second priority was push-ups (see photo to left). He did just that at the Parc du Contades.

After my morning workout, I took to the sunshine, too.

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After brunch on Friday, we took out our friends’ canoe for its 2013 inaugural trip around Strasbourg. It’s not easy going upstream on a full stomach or when it’s only a few degrees above freezing. But we had loads of fun being heckled by bystanders along the quai (and heckling them back). My rowing skills are lacking, to say the least. Luckily, I had Ilo to keep us moving.

The short hour of sunshine did me good. I rolled up my pant legs to make sure I got an extra dose of vitamin D. Afterwards it took nearly three hours and several cups of hot tea for my body temperature to return to normal – it was so worth it.

If you look closely at the photo below, you can see us trying to turn round to go under the Barrage Vauban – just to the west of Petite France. We eventually made it after two tries, but not without seriously struggling against the current.

(Thanks to J.B. for the pictures)

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first snow

December hasn’t disappointed – we got snow!


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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.



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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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Headed to Gare Centrale at 8 a.m. to catch a train to Saales for a walk to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges.

Stefanie met up with me on the platform just in time to catch the train. It was a 1.5 hour journey through some beautiful green countryside. We arrived in Saales and quickly found our way to the trail head. This task wasn’t so difficult since there were only three streets (I may be exaggerating).

Both Stefanie and myself were suffering from Saturday morning lag and Stefanie had a cold…the previous weekend she stayed in in order to recover, but didn’t. I guess this was her attempt at curing her cold…with an extended aerobic activity – climbing the Vosges. She says it worked!

This walk was particularly difficult because of its steep inclines and descents that were never-ending (for nearly 6.5 hours). It was also a pretty long walk at 21 km. The views were beautiful – nearly half of the walk was along the ridge of three separate “mountains” (actually 870 m high hills) from there you could see the valleys on either side. The pine forest was magical – the only thing missing was a forest sprite to play a trick on us or a wild boar to come charging.

We passed several enormous ant hills along the way – just outside one was the half consumed carcass of a tiny grey mouse. It was gross, but I was fascinated with the cycle of life at that moment (and had to take a picture). Near the end, the trail joined up with a historical way-marked trail for World War I structures still standing in that area. There were old air raid shelters, observation towers and bunkers for the soldiers.

Saint-Dié was a bit of a disappointment – it could have been the treeless lots with high rise public housing or empty streets with an occasional lazy cat on the porch (I’m not sure what I was expecting, but at least the people at the café I spoke to were nice). On the train home we ate a box of brownies, a sandwich each, Powerade, carrot sticks, apple and other dried fruit…then we slept.

Here are a few highlights:

WWI iron observation tower


Post walk Coke in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges

Au revoir Lorraine

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