Friday, July 31, 2009

Crossing France On Foot

This is another in my occasional series, reviewing books about other big walks.

Crossing France on Foot, One Man's Walk from Dieppe to the Pyrenees, by Olver Andrew, is of particular interest to me.

Mr Andrew walked from Dieppe to Goulier, in the Ariege department, a few years ago. He was not much over 60 at the time. The Ariege is the departement next to the Aude, where I live - in fact it starts about 5 kms from our house. We conduct most of our business in the Ariege, in fact we have been there this morning. Also I do most of my walking in that departement and about 10 kms after setting off on VBW, I shall be crossing it.

Mr Andrew walked first from Dieppe to Ouistreham, where I will be finishing the French leg of my walk. It took him 13 days to get to Ouistreham. Why he didn't start his walk there, I don't know. The total walk took him 76 days, so if we knock off the bit to Ouistreham and take into account that it took him 7 days from Mirepoix to home, whereas it will take me 1 day from home to Mirepoix, it took him 57 days to cover almost exactly the same ground that I will be walking in France. That's a bit alarming - it would leave me only 13 days to walk from Portsmouth to Blackpool.

He had to give up after 22 days because of a hip injury, then returned several times to complete the walk in stages. The book is curiously unsatisfying in its lack of detail about why and when he chose to walk on roads or use the Grandes Randonnees long-distance tracks.

Because of the similarities of our routes within France, and because he lives not too far away, I would very much like to meet Mr Andrew but have failed to find him in the 'phone book which covers Goulier.

If you see him, can you please tell him I am looking for him.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Currying Favourite

More advice from my adviser on nutrition and hydration, writer Jean Gardner in Bermuda. It includes some good news for curry lovers.

Jean herself takes more salt in her drinks than the amount she recommended for me. She needs more than most, but because different people obviously need different levels, she suggests starting small then cautiously testing your own requirements.

Bermuda's humidity is brutal and I seem to need more salt than most in my diet - others would find the amount of sodium I can tolerate to be an emetic for them! Also, the level of exercise you are currently undertaking is considered intensive and your needs in heat waves are very different to those of the average walker on an average day.

I would suggest you personally start with one eighth teaspoon first. Everyone's body has different needs and you won't know what works best for you until you have experimented. Essential salts are needed to retain the fluid we ingest and many 'power drinks' contain glucose and salts. I have come across more runners however who cannot tolerate fortified waters than those who can. Gatorade have just recently started to manufacture a lighter product which seems to be more tolerable so if that is available in France give it a try.

I am mostly vegetarian also, so to get protein which is needed for muscle building and repair, I eat lots of non-fat dairy products and of course soy in all forms. Brown rice and whole wheat pasta contain some protein but without question, the richest grain-derived protein source is quinoa which has 5g per quarter cup dry measurement. Quinoa is an ancient grain and can be used in a variety of ways from hot cereals to salads. it is also rich in carbs. Unfortunately I am unsure of its availability in France.

For those runners/walkers who are vegan, rice milk and soy milk are good bases for fruit and veggie smoothies and carbs (simple and complex) can be derived from all the abovementioned along with legumes, potatoes, oats and other grains, and fruits. Tomatoes are important for the those wishing to maintain a healthy heart and are very versatile as you know; they also contain sugar so spaghetti marinara is a good meal for the physically active. Take in a lentil or vegetable curry a couple of times each week too if you enjoy Indian food because turmeric is an anti-inflammatory and helps those over-worked joints and muscles to heal quickly.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Following my revelation that water and cameras do not mix, I have had another one.

Last night we went to our local Afghan restaurant and pizzeria. As usual, Carole, the proprietress, asked me about my walking. I told her that today I was going to walk from Quillan to home, 20 kms including 350 metres of climb. As usual, she said that it was too far to walk in the current very hot weather. For a change, I listened.

She is right. I do not need to be pushing myself like this at the moment. My objective is to stay fit, not to walk at VBW levels now. Not to obsess about packing in the 100+ kilometre weeks. The beginning of enlightenment came when I took a day off on Sunday to prevent myself turning a 130 kms week into a 150 kms one.

So, while this weather continues, I shall be doing shorter walks early in the morning, before it becomes really hot. No walk of more than 20 kms in the week, and most of them at 10 kms or less.

Simple, really. Why did I not see this before?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Despondent Buddha

Yesterday I learned what most people probably know instinctively - not to carry electronic equipment in the same bag as water. It was a costly lesson.

I have been carrying lots of liquid, following the good advice of my nutrition and hydration adviser, Jean Gardner in Bermuda. I have been using a water bladder and also another container to replenish the bladder when empty. In the small Deuter rucsack which I recommended earlier in this blog, there is a special compartment to hold the bladder upright, and a little flap for the tube to come out of the top. Recently I have been using a differnt rucsack because, in this hot weather, my back was becoming red and sore because of the constant rubbing in one place - a bit like bedsores, I suppose.

The Berghause rucsack I have switched to has a sort of arch which holds the sack away from the back, leaving a gap for air. This is good, but unfortunately it does not have a compartment for the water bladder, which is fine and upright to begin with but then sags like a despondent Buddha as it empties and its belly creases. It is also presumably jostled by the other contents of the sack.

Which probably explains why yesterday, having just started my walk from Mirepoix, I discovered that it was not raining on the back of my legs but the tube had become loose where it meets the bladder. There were several inches of water in the bottom of the sack. Among the things swimming in this water was not only the deflated Buddha, but my camera, which is now showing no signs of life.

So not only did I wreck the camera but I was left with less than a litre of water for a walk of 32 kms. The resulting wobbliness was a good reminder to get it right next time.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Below Average Day

I had a day off from walking yesterday, the first for a while.

My total kilometrage for the week was 130, without the extra 20+ that a Sunday walk would have given me. 130 is quite enough at this stage of the game. In fact I am in danger of overcooking it - I have to keep reminding myself that the objective this year is to keep fit by doing an average of 10 kms a day. That's 70 kms a week.

So far this year I have walked 2,740 kms. So I am probably more than 600 kms ahead of the game.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

One Tough Mother

One of the small perks I have received from my sponsors Columbia Sportswear is that they have sent me a copy of this book.

If I had known the book existed I would have already bought it from Amazon.

Columbia is a company whose products I have long admired. That is how our association came about - I am not promoting their products because they are backing me in Vic's Big Walk - more the other way around, they are supporting me because I am so enthusiastic about their excellent products.

One does not use Columbia gear for long before becoming aware of Gert Boyle. I did a piece about her and the company early in the life of this blog. She is a housewife who truly became a superstar. She is my heroine and I hope my connection with Columbia results in me meeting her.

Her husband died young while at the helm of a small company which was in transition from being a hat shop to becoming a sportswear company. Gert, a refugee from Hitler's Germany, was at home minding the home and family. Sportswear is a man's world. The company, heavily in debt, was expected to fold or to bring in experienced, male management.

Gert was having none of this. She took over and with the help of her son Tim, a college student at the time, took the company from below $1 million turnover to over $1 billion.

The book is a slim volume because, at 85 years of age, Ma Boyle does not have the time to write a tome. She puts in a full days work in the office, still stars, as she has for many years, in the companies advertising, and travels extensively on company business.

An inspirational book. Chairman Ma's little book should be on your shelves.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

JustGiving Website Rocks!

Time for me to eat humble pie.

It seems I have been traducing the new JustGiving website. They have had their problems, but everything seems to be OK now. The problem of donation amounts not showing, which I mentioned the other day, does not exist.

What happened was that one person, who has since admitted that his lack of technological knowhow was probably to blame, told me that he had donated but the amount was not showing on the page. I then checked and saw that the donations from several other people seemed to be blank, although the figures were included in the total raised.

I now know that, when donating, there is an option for the figure not to be shown, and that several people had ticked this option. I think the amount donated by the original self-confessed technoprat can be restored.

So, all is well, the JustGiving website, and my donations page, are up, running and ready to receive all-comers.

When we lived in Cyprus, our bank manager once said to us "spend without fear!". I now say to you "donate without fear".

Friday, July 24, 2009

Walking Pleasure

Walking in the home area is even more of a pleasure just now because the sunflowers have made their appearance. Along with maize (corn), which is grown for cattle food, sunflowers are the main crop hereabouts. We are at too high an elevation for wine grapes (or I assume so , because we have none). If we descend two or three hundred metres the vineyards are abundant, and the sunflowers even more so.

The picture was taken by our next-door neighbour, Ang Dooley, from Australia.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Just Not Giving Up

It seems that some people are still experiencing difficulties in making a donation via the new JustGiving website. Apparently there are still a few minor problems and they should be cleared up by the end of the week.

All I can ask is that you do not give up but continue to exercise patience. Try, try again. The cause - alleviation of suffering, working for early diagnosis and hopefully a cure - is more important than our own mere frustrations.

Stepping Stones

Here I am at the last birthday in my 60s. Another stepping stone through life. More significantly, one year on from today I should be arriving at my objective, having walked anything up to 2000 kms in 70 days. Then I shall have the problem of deciding what to do with the rest of my life :-)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hot, Humid? Read This

I have had the following advice on nutrition and hydration from Jean Gardner, a writer who lives in Bermuda. I am reproducing it here because it will be useful not only to runners and walkers, but to anybody losing a lot of fluid while exercising or working in the current hot and humid weather. I am very impressed with her knowledge of the subject.

I am a long distance runner and speed walker and I race in both sports. As I currently live in Bermuda where the humidity rarely falls below 70% and is more usually 80% or higher (despite what the tourism blab has to say!) and the temperature reaches 36 degrees C at times, hydration is of the utmost importance. Salt will help the body to absorb and retain the fluid you take in which in turns aids conversion of carbs to energy. France can be rather warm too! You are doing the right thing by eating bananas. The potassium is crucial to the heart especially during prolonged physical activity and there is plenty of sugar in bananas too.

My personal mix when on the road is as follows:- 1 part orange juice (I find the kind without the pulp easier to take) to 2 parts water, and I add to that total of 24 ounces (imperial - sorry we don't do litres over here) about one tenth teaspoon of salt. Over a half marathon distance (when running) in Bermuda, even in lower temps. I would take in at least three of those bottles with plenty of plain unchilled water in between. Cold water can induce vomiting when the body is hot. For walking, depending on your pace, you could probably use two of those mixes over 6 - 8 miles if really hot. If you have hypertension I suggest you ask a G.P. how to get essential salts into your body, which are of paramount importance when exercising in high temp. conditions. The sugar as well as the potassium in the OJ is helpful in boosting energy reserves and keeping the cardio vascular system working at optimum levels.

Some runners/walkers find jelly beans (a type of sweet) to be helpful and easy to get down whilst on the road. I'm fine with them too but I find carbo gels and drinks can make me feel very nauseous which is not what one needs. This is a very common problem with such products. It takes at least 20 minutes for the stomach to start the absorption process so you need to eat and drink before you feel the need. As you are walking not running, you may be able to eat soft granola bars whist in motion - get the ones with dried fruit for added sugar and complex carbos.

At night and at least one hour before you set off, eat cereals, and whole grain bread products for energy. Fruit smoothies are great and you need protein for muscle building. Eggs (whites only if you have a cholesterol issue) fish and chicken are better options than red meat which can make the muscles and digestive tract sluggish. Peanuts contain potassium and vegetable protein also. You do need iron so eat spinach salads and dried legumes - dark beans and lentils. Nuts for the oil and Vitamin E are important for your joints. A vitamin and mineral supplement is a good idea for extended events such as yours because exercise can diminish the body's resources. Take with food and plenty of fluid at your evening meal not in the morning. Iron can cause stomach cramps especially when taken directly before exercise. Your body cannot use the carbs you eat in terms of conversion to glycogen in the muscles until 18 hours after consumption, so you need to eat well at all meals and snack healthily in between.

Hope things continue to go positively for you and that you enjoy your 'big walk'. Let me know if there is anything else with which you need advice. Also, in closing, if you are prone to tendonitis and for general soreness, ice up for 15 mins after your walk and do so again before bedtime - it helps to prevent inflammation from occuring. Using an anti-fungal foot powder is another good preventative measure when exercising in the summer time too.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Good News For An Old Salt

I have been doing some research about dehydration. Been a-Googling, as you might say. The consensus seems to be that if you perspire frequently and copiously, water alone is not enough to replenish. In fact for technical reasons associated with the lining of the stomach, or was it the intestines, water alone makes dehydration worse.

Salts are needed. There are various proprietary drinks available to accomplish this, but it seems that a pinch of salt in a squash drink is all you need. Strange one, that. We are all being exhorted to eat less salt. As it happens, we do not use any in cooking, but most people still seem to have plenty, if not too much.

However, in my own case, it would seem a good thing to try.

But Mollymama, on a TotalFrance forum, has found me some information which is much more up my street. She sent me this URL

The good news contained in that little gem is that a bag of crisps, or chips as they are known in some countries, will do the trick, when consumed with water.

I love my crisps but rarely eat them because I understood that they are bad for you. This news could transform my life, especially when I get back within range of those wonderful Murphy's crisps in New Zealand.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pious Pilgrims

I had a bit of a strange experience this morning. Walking the Voie Verte from Mirepoix, I was thinking that, as usual, despite us being in the full swing of the French holiday season, I had seen hardly anybody. In fact 3 people in 15 kms.

I was just about to enter the first tunnel (the VV is an ex railway line) when I heard the sound of many voices singing in contrapuntal fashion, and the tapping of a stick. As I had just passed the Abbaye-Chateau (where we stayed a few posts ago, on June 30th), thoughts of ghostly monks leaped into my mind. Don't laugh - I can tell you all sorts of stories about weird happenings round here. In this very house, in fact.

I met the singing group in mid-tunnel. The lights, although adequate to stop one crashing into walls, are a bit dim, and my specs were still very dark from the sun. But I think it was one man, leading, and tapping his stick, followed by a group of maybe 12 young women, all carrying heavy packs and singing away in a practiced fashion.

They did not acknowledge my presence in any way (the tunnel is one track wide). Yes, I did speak to them. I assume they may have been a group of pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compestela. Doing the pious thing because somebody has told them it is a good thing, but forgetting the humanity to man which is what it is all supposed to be about.

For the week ending yesterday I clocked up 115 kms, despite spending 3 days in the steaming jungles of Rome. So for this year so far I have walked 2610 kms.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Young Septimus Severinus was worrying about my hydration. I have to say that the week he was walking with me was the hottest and, more relevantly, the most humid weather we have had in these parts since the ghastly summer of 2003. For those who don't know, the more humid the weather, the more perspiration can not evaporate to perform its normal cooling function, and the more and more you perspire. Result, dehydration.

Also, the body does compensate for regular dehydration. When I used to train for long-distance running, it was my habit to run more than 20 miles each Sunday morning. I obviously sweated more that day than others. The result was that for the next few day my weight would be up by several pounds because my body was holding water in anticipation of me doing the same distance every morning. Clever things, these bodies. On Thursday, regular as clockwork, my body would realise that either it had made a mistake or I had let it down in some way, so it would let me down by sending me to the smallest room (a late friend of mine used to say "Can you point me to the sound of running water") many times, and I would lose several pounds every Thursday, just evacuated water no longer required on voyage.

I believe that my body is aware of my current antics and is holding water in the same way, except that, because I am walking long distance almost every day, the "Thursday effect" never arrives.

This is not to say that I do not need to make special efforts to hydrate myself, because I am renowned for not drinking enough of anything. A doctor once told me that my bladder is square because it has rarely been full.

The pic above shows me doing my best to maintain hydration during a long, hot climb.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

No Time Like The Present

I am pleased to report that, one week after the launch of my donations page with a target of £7,000, a total of £723, plus £137.64 in government tax refund, has been contributed.

On behalf of Pancreatic Cancer UK, many thanks to all concerned. The money is with the charity within one week of donating.

Some people have said that they will contribute "nearer the time". But why? If you want your money to be doing some good and hopefully leading to a cure, with saved lives, why delay? The sooner the better.

Moving Pictures

It's a bit tiring, this business of walking in 40 degrees one day, 14 the next. We had such a lot of rain last night (accompanied by the electricity going off about 10 times - every time I reset all the clocks, et cetera, the power went off again). All that rain made our usual Saturday morning walking tracks up and down to Quillan quite slippy and dangerous. So I walked home from Chalabre by a circuitous route, clocking up just the 11 kms for the day.

I am asked for more photographs, so here is another one, taken at the beginning of the climb from Quillan. Next week I hope to have the facility to insert moving pictures in the blog.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Septimus Reports on My Training

A couple of days ago, Septimus left a comment on my blog. I am here promoting it into the body of the blog because:

1. I think many people do not read the comments.
2. He is the first person to share a week's VBW training with me and so gives a third-party view of what I am up to.
3. He asks if anybody has any comments on what he says, which is:

I thought I'd leave a few thoughts after our recent visit.

Pat and I realised that this particular visit may be different to others; we did not want to upset your training regime but we also wanted to socialise.

To my surprise we managed both the walking and the socialising. Although I surprised myself a little by coping O.K. with the walking regime I do confess that the early morning (early for me anyway) starts were difficult and tiring. Walking in such lovely scenery was a great help but there were times when I would have likede a Machine-Gun to encourage some drivers to behave properly. One thing that I have concluded after much thought is that, although you are undertaking a huge physical challenge (and I have no doubts that you are eminently capable of meeting that challenge), the mental challenge of walking a relentless 20 miles a day is far greater. Rather you than me mate. I did make some observations about diet and hydration and I wonder if any of your readers have any thoughts about these. After the long walks we were dehydrated despite drinking plenty of water and I wonder if you should also be using Isotonic drinks. I feel that dehydrating every day over a long period may be rather dangerous. I also wonder if you should give mare thought to your diet for that 10 weeks; you will probably need to kick off each day with more sustenance than French sticky buns . I'm off for a run now with Patch and Scrufty, sustained by porridge and a banana.

Keep up the good work (and buy that Machine-Gun).


My comment in reply was:


Thanks for your comment. You will be pleased to hear that the only days I sustain myself with French sticky buns, as you call them - buns which sustain many a French peasant through a long working day - is when I am starting from a market - an activity which was increased for the benefit of yourself and Mrs Septimus, markets being an entertainment in their own right.

My more normal breakfast is muesli and cereal, plus banana and yoghurt. Much nearer to your own porridge and banana. Sorry, can't be doing with porridge.

VH, alias BW

I wonder if anybody else has something to say about Sep's comments?

North to Alaska?

I have just had a very wet walk back home from Lavelanet (23 kms). Fortunately, the rain started after I did, otherwise it might have deterred me from setting off. I was like the proverbial drowned thing when I arrived home.

What a difference a day makes, and a flight of 1 hr 20 minutes on a Ryanair cattle truck, and a 3 hour drive home, and a four hour sleep. When we left Rome yesterday the temperature was 40 degrees Celsius. As Gay drove home from dropping me off in Lavelanet this morning, the thermometer was at 14 degrees! And we are on almost exactly the same latitude, due East, not due North or in Sarah Palin's ex-territory.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Whew! What A Scorcher!

... That would be the headline in a British newspaper if the temperature ever approached what we are experiencing here in Italy. In fact it would say that if the temperature was at or near 30 degrees. And yet here the temperature is in the mid-30s and has been there since before the end of April.

I am only glad that I was not planning on any long walks during our brief visit here. I will probably clock up 25 or so kms during the 3 days.

It has been a salutary reminder that I made the correct decision about the timing of Vic's Big Wyalk. Originall, I was due to set off from Blackpool on my birthday in July, and walk to the Pyrenees. That would have had me walking through France in August and September, possibly in the sort of temperatures we have right now in Rome.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Fifty Cent Mirror

This post comes to you from Rome, where we are on a flying visit to see my youngest daughter Nicola and her family. This is the first time we have seen them this year as they were "between houses" for so long. The person they were buying from died of a brain tumour. This immediately stopped the house purchase because of the inheritance laws in Italy (similar to those in France, which divide property up between the surviving partner and any children). Fortunately that is all now sorted out. Nicola has cleared a space amongst the boxes so that we can have somewhere to sleep while we make a quick visit.

I don't know how many of you have heard the expression "fifty shilling washtub". An old friend of mine said his mother used to refer to people this way if they were a little broad in the beam.

That is as may be, but the picture above is of a fifty cent mirror. I have been moaning for some time in this blog about the difficulties and dangers of traffic overtaking other traffic, ostensibly on the other side of the road, but behind me, on my side, and putting me in mortal peril. I have tried various ways of being able to see what is happening behind me. Last week I hit on the wheeze, with the help of Chris Goddard, of buying a mirror to mount on a walking stick. I am still waiting for that mirror to arrive, but events have overtaken it.

The one shown above was bought by me on Sunday at a vide grenier, or what is known in Britan as a car boot sale. It is lightweight, plastic backed, convex, just like a car rear view mirror. It has a clip on the back, with a ball socket connection, so it could itself be carried on a stick. But the socket folds flat and the whole thing is so light that it easily slips into my shorts pocket and, when needed, can be held in the palm of my hand so that I can clearly see the traffic behind me. I have road-tested it and, held at the right angle, it is the answer to my problem. I don't know where it came from originally, but all walkers on roadsides should have one of these.

This one cost me the princely sum of 50 cents. Not only a life saver, I hope, but at virtually no cost.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Touching and Teething

As you know, I finally got my arrangements sorted yesterday so that people can donate to Pancreatic Cancer UK. I have already had several generous donations and in one day have achieved 5% of my target of £7,000 (70 years, 70 days, should it be £70,000?.

I know of lots more donations which are on the way when people get back home to their computers. It is never too early to contribute. The donations go straight to their work of relieving suffering and into research to end this scourge. And each donation encourages others.

I am touched by the messages I have received from people who have lost loved ones - sometimes several in one family, to this dreadful illness. Let us do what we can to save others from this fate.

It seems there are still some teething problems with JustGiving's new donation website. A generous donation from our friends Joni and Les in Maryland has appeared as "Anonymous" and without their touching message about the loss of a mother and grandmother to pancreatic cancer. I am assured by JustGiving that these problems will be sorted out very soon. Please be persistent. If that isn't enough, please let me know.

And please write to everybody in your address book to ask them to contribute, and to write on to their friends, et cetera. Look what Jonathan Scriven has put on his own blog:

I walked 109 kms in the week, 2495 kms for the year so far.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Let's Nail This Serial Killer

Pancreatic cancer is the most deadly of the cancers. There is a shockingly low survival rate. And yet it is also the least known cancer. 5% of cancer deaths are from cancer of the pancreas, yet it receives only 1% of the funding. Most people are not aware of its existence.

I have a very personal reason for wanting to help in the fight against this deadly illness. My first wife Gaile died only a few short weeks after diagnosis. My daughters miss their mother dreadfully. One of my grandchildren has never seen his grandmother. The others have only dim memories because they were so young when she died.

So what can we do to help? I am going to walk 1800 kms. You can support me with a donation to Pancreatic Cancer UK, and I hope you will do so. Even if you do not live in UK, the work done will benefit people in your country, possibly somebody close to you.

Today I have inserted a “JustGiving” link at the top right of my of my blog. If you click on that it will take you to my fund-raising page on JustGiving. The procedure for donation is simple and quick.

After you have donated, I would like you to write to everybody on your address book, asking them to do the same. Also asking them next to write to everybody on their address books, and so on down the line.

We all receive enough chain letters which are nonsense, about non-existent or redundant viruses, or like the one about Starbucks refusing to send coffee to the troops in Iraq while in reality they had special arrangements in place to send coffee to the troops. Let’s start a chain letter which will actually do some good.

Please click that JustGiving link now. Then please write the letter to your friends. They will need the address of this blog, or just tell them to Google “Vic’s Big Walk”. That will bring them to the blog and the link will be staring them in the face. The link which could save lives.

Or you could go to the donation page by clicking on this link, or copying and pasting it into your browser:

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Columbia Come Good

I mentioned a few days ago that I was trying to get hold of Columbia to see whether they wanted to make any PR hay out of the fact that I had walked 1.500 kms in one pair of their excellent Trailmeister IV shoes, without any problems of the feet. I have another two pairs on the go, one of which is already a veteran of the VBW training program. At well over 100 kms a week, it doesn't take long to get through 1,500 kms, which I now take to be the norm for this type of shoe, with the action I am giving them. I have other redundant Trailmeisters and several brand new pairs waiting for a chance to strut their stuff.

It proved a little difficult to get through to the right people at Columbia, a company which produces many excellent products and which is still managed by the redoubtable Gert Boyle, now aged 85.

However, once I made contact with Pascale Graffman and Nathalie Snowden, things moved very fast. I had a teleconference with them yesterday afternoon and, not only do they want to frame my shoes and exhibit them in one of their stores, but they are backing me to the hilt in my walking project. They will supply me with whatever Columbia clothes I need, or anything from their subsidiary, Mountain Hardwear, they will have a link from the Columbia website to this blog, their PR companies will produce stories about me, and lots more. I now seem to have a major sponsor. Not only that - they are sending me a copy of the book about Gert's life story, which I am very keen to read. They are lovely people to deal with, as well.

I have had some press coverage and more is in the pipeline. I have been asked for photographs of me walking. There are not many in existence, so during our walk to Quillan and back this morning, Gay was snapping away so that we would have some to supply to the press and anybody else who wants them.

The photograph above is one of the results of this photoshoot. I am, of course, wearing Columbia shoes - always do, even in "civvies". As with all pictures on this blog, if you click on it, it will grow.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dirty Old Man's Walking Stick

Chris Goddard has come up with the goods. He is the man who spotted a walking stick with a mirror attached, while he was in Skipton.

I have been in touch with Chris. Like me, he lives in France but pops home to UK - Yorkshire in his case - occasionally.

First I thought I would see if I could find something similar to the mirror on a stick that he saw. I Googled "mirror walking stick". As usual with Google, it came up ith a lot of choices - 289,000 in this case. Top of the list was "Dirty Old Man's Walking Stick" - "comes with its own flexible mirror for looking up ladies skirts and Scotsmen's kilts (despite the name of the gadget, that unique selling point was aimed at ladies).

I decided that, if necessary, I could use the same stick for my own purposes, i.e. keeping an eye on the traffic behind me.

But Chris, when I "spoke " to him, had another suggestion. He had seen the mirror pictured above on eBay. Designed for a child, riding a bicycle, to keep an eye on the parents behind hir. Lightweight, flexible mount, and only £1.99! I ordered one and it is on its way. I will get a stick, mount the mirror on it, experiment, and report back.

Oh, one thing - it's pink!

Thanks again Chris, for your help.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Staying Alive ...

... So sang the BeeGees. Still do, occasionally.

But this is a reference to my concern, expressed in other posts on this blog from time to time, about knowing what the traffic behind me is doing. I mentioned the other day that a simple solution, at least worth trying, would be to attach a bicycle mirror to a walking stick.

In a comment on the "Bob Dylan" posting a few days ago, "Chrisgod" tells me that he has seen such a device on sale in Skipton recently. I am hoping he will get back to me so I can learn more about this (or, if he lives in Skipton, I hope he can get hold of one and send it to me - of course I will reimburse him).

In the meantime, if anybody else knows about these gadgets, I would be keen to know about them. You can find my e-mail address in the "About Me" section on the right side of this page.

"Cajensis" also left a comment saying that he had seen similar contraptions in a Hallmark store. Not too many Hallmark stores in the Pyrenees - where are they?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Rockin' All Over The World

This has been a very hard week. No sooner had I exhausted myself by watching that epic Federer/Roddick final at Wimbledon, had a late dinner and dragged myself off to bed, than I was awake de bonne heure for the drive to Mirepoix. 33 kms of walking, a lot of energy consumed eating the two big buns, and I was finished for the day.

Tuesday, a moderate day of walking, but it was very tiring to watch Lance Armstrong merely warming up for the time trial in the Tour de France. Next we were off to the two cities of Carcassonne. America has its "twin cities" of Minneapolis and St. Paul - Carcassonne has recently taken to calling itself "les deux cités". One of these is the ancient cité, a complete mediaeval walled city which is one of the major tourist attractions in France and the scene of a spectacular firework display on 14th July each year, which temporarily increases the polulation of Carcassone from about 40,000 to 700,000. The other cité is what some people refer to as "the new town", more truly the Bastide de St Louis, which is actually 800 years old.

It was to the mediaeval cité that we went, to the open air theatre within, where we were entertained, and deafened to an amazing degree, by the antics of Status Quo, a reminder of my lost youth. Why they are not all stone deaf, I do not understand.

All very debilitating. We stayed overnight and then drove to Quillan. Or rather, we drove part way to Quillan, then returned to the hotel for our coats before setting out again. I seem to remember telling a very similar story about 3 months ago, when we had to return to Dunedin when we were halfway to Oamaru.

We had a spot of breakfast in Quillan then I walked home while Gay did the marketing and returned more sensibly by car.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bob Dylan To The Rescue?

I have mentioned several times about the danger, when walking along the roadside (especially when you are on the "correct" side of the road), from vehicles which are overtaking other vehicles and therefore come dangerously close to the poor walker who is unaware of their approach.

I thought I had found the solution with the idea of a bicycle helmet mirror, to be fixed onto the peak of my walking hat instead of the bike helmet for which it is intended. I tried it, my eyes focus beyond it, so it is no good for me (but it may work for others).

Another thought I had was inspired by Bob Dylan and other buskers, who wear a contraption around their necks to hold a harmonica. Surprisingly, these things are readily available and do not have to be specially made. But they are a bit flimsy for my purposes. I imagine something similar, but with a bicycle mirror (the one which is designed to be clamped onto the handlebars) attached.

I have thought for some time that, if I could find a willing metalworker, he might make a Bob Dylan contraption for me, made of more robust tubing, hopefully in aluminium for lightness, so that the mirror could be clamped to it, giving a good rear view. Last Friday, on our trip to Brantome, we met a very nice man called Mike, who is an artisan in metal and who offered to make me such a device. The difficult bit is that I now have to draw it so he can make it.

I am sure there would be a market for this, with other walkers, as long as it is not too cumbersome. But somebody else can make a fortune from it - I just want the one. But before I put Mike to all that trouble, I need to try an experiment. I have so far resisted the idea of carrying a stick. Just something to get in the way, as far as I can see, and to prevent me swinging my arms properly. I know they have their uses, for bashing nettles down, fending off dogs, and snake charming, but they do seem a nuisance. But if I attached the bike mirror to the stick ...?

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Voice Of Ignorance

"You should be walking on this side, you fool!" said the English cyclist, once he was safely out of range. This after seeing me giving one of my best French gestures to the motorists who had just almost brushed my shoulder.

"What?" said the woman who was cycling with him.

"He was throwing up his hands in despair at the traffic! But he was on the wrong side of the road". So spake the voice of ignorance.

As I have said before, it is not always sensible to walk in the recommended position, facing the oncoming traffic. That rule is written by civil servants who have probably never walked a country road in their lives.

I was walking along the road from Chalabre to Puivert, the last 9 kms of my 32 kms walk from Mirepoix this morning. This road has a number of blind left hand turns. To walk on the left at these points would be suicide. The choice when meeting an oncoming car suddenly appearing round the bend would be to leap 15 feet in the air or to accept death. To cross to the other side of the road gives a better view and also gives a grass verge to step on to (the inside of a curve normally has a ditch and frequently a stone wall or vertical bank).

And, as it happens, Mr Know-All, I was actually walking on the grass when you saw me. That's why I was so appalled that I was still in danger, despite my precautions.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Two Million Steps For Mankind?

I don't know how far a thousand leagues is but these shoes have done 1500 kilometres. On my feet that is 1,875,000 steps.

They are the shoes I have waxed lyrical about on this blog several times - Columbia Trailmeister IV. I have several pairs and have probably walked 5,000 kms in this type of shoe during the past 12 months, with never a blister or a sore foot of any kind.

This particular pair are on the verge of retirement. As you can see, the tops are perfect. There is still some mileage in the soles, although they are a little gone in the most rearward portion of the heels. Nothing that a good cobbler could not fix, and I am inclined to keep them going, despite having several brand new pairs of the same shoe stacked up, gasping to be used.

Gay thinks I should retire them because, with our running experience, we know how the midsole becomes impacted, although I am sure that is not nearly so pronounced when walking.

I am reluctant to throw them away, possibly because I still have vivid memories of my father mending and resoling 7 pairs of shoes every Sunday morning because the family had only one pair each.

I have written to Columbia asking if they want to use my everlasting shoes for publicity purposes, and if they would like me to have the heel repaired and then take the shoes on to 2,0000, 000 steps, or even to 2,000 kms which would of course by 2.5000.000 steps.

Will I receive a reply? Watch this space.

A Sense Of Proportion

My worst walking week for months, if I just look at kilometres covered. Strange that I expected last week to be a bit thin because we had visitors, yet I had the company of Septimus Willem up hill and down dale and managed to clock up 133 kms.

This week, with lots of driving to do, our wedding anniversary, and many interruptions from the rain, thunder and lightning we seem to have had now for at least 4 days, I have walked a mere 82 kms. Today I have not walked at all - I don't mind getting wet in this warm weather, but I am very reluctant to set off climbing hills when there is so much rattling in the sky and bolts from the blue aplenty.

82 feels so disappointing, and yet it is over my stated target of 10 kms per day. Must try to keep a sense of proportion. The objective for the rest of the year is to try to keep fit, not to cover huge distances. I seem to be heading for a total of between 4,000 and 5,000 kms for the year, which should be more than satisfactory if I can manage to stay injury-free.

Year to date so far is 2386 kms.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Film Of The Walk

On our way to the Dordogne the other way for a lightning (in more ways than one) visit, we paused in Mirepoix for a spot of brekky. We sat at one cafe. As we walked out of the square, I noticed that if we had sat at the other one we sometimes choose, we would have had the above film poster staring us in the face.

How appropriate!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Walking Routes

Thanks to the Total France newsletter for asking their members to help with my walking routes. This has resulted in an immediate surge in visitations to my blog.

The route through France, on road, is carried in my posts of 20 June (two posts) and 22 June (1 post), as is the request for comments (based on local knowledge) of the quietness of the roads and any information on safe off-road alternatives which will not add to the daily distance covered.

The walking route through England was outlined on 15th June.


Just got back from a mad dash up to Brantome (yesterday) and back (today). About 900 kms in all. And I forgot that today is the first day of the French holidays and carries dire driving health warnings from the authorities.

Almost all the way there yesterday was through a succession of thunderstorms with spectacular lightning effects, thunderous sounds which eclipsed the noise from the car engine, colossal rainfall which necessitated dropping speed to town levels from motorway velocity, and crazy drivers who carried on as if nothing was happening.

Two things struck me - apart from bringing back hanging for lunatically dangerous driving offences.

One was that next year, it will take me 10 walking days, hopefully plus at least one rest day, to reach Sarlat, which is almost on a level with Brantome, instead of the 5 hours or so for the car journey.

The other was that in such Gotterdammerung weather as that, I shall definitely be taking shelter, however much time it adds to my journey.

Despite all the travelling, I still managed to walk 17 kms in the two days.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Up In The Morning, Out On The Job, ...

... Walk like the devil for my pay

Before that lucky old sun, that sun of a gun ..."

So goes the old song (except for the substitution of "walk" for "work".

As mentioned, we are off for a couple of days in the Dordogne. That, and weather which resembles that in Singapore, meant that if there was to be a walk today, it would have to be early.

So - done that, shutters down, see you in a couple of days.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Too Darn Hot To Move Over

It is very hot here. Too hot for walking. If I had to I would, but I don't have to, so I won't. I will bag enough kilometres this week even if I leave the next walk to the weekend, which I may well do. There are a number of things in the way this week, real-life things. Yesterday there was the trip to Carcassonne airport with Sep and Mrs Sep. Later in the day we went to the Abbaye-Chateau at Camon to celebrate our wedding anniversary. It's the best restaurant around here now, although we have never been before. We committed ourselves to staying overnight before we realised what it was going to cost us. A magnificent building. Have a look at this website, you will be impressed:

Tomorrow we drive up to Brantome in the Dordogne, to hand over a computer I have sold. Brantome happens to be one of our favourite places, so it is not too much of an imposition, Nevertheless, it is a 5 or 6 hour drive there and the same back on Friday, so that will snooker walking for those days. Tomorrow night we shall be eating a pizza in a cave where people lived 8000 years ago. Where the pizza oven stands is where they cooked 8000 years ago. Many of the businesses in Brantome look to be a normal shop front but when you step inside, there you are in a cave. Many of the houses as well. Google it.

The sudden tropical weather and the torpor it induces reminds me of this wonderful tale from my boyhood. We would often hear the recorded version of this on the radio, spoken in a very weary, lugubrious voice.


Carson Robison - 1948
Tex Williams & The Western Caravan - 1948

The sun comes up and the sun goes down
The hands on the clock go round and roumd
I just wake up and it's time to lay down,
Life gets tee-jus, don't it?

My shoe's untied, but shucks, I don't care
Cuz I reckon I ain't a-goin' nowhere,
I'd brush my teeth and comb my hair
Just too much wasted effort.

The water in the well gets lower and lower,
Ain't had a bath in a month or more
I've heard it said and I'm sure it's true
That too much bathin'll weaken you.

Danged ol' mule, he must be sick.
I jabbed him in the rump with a pin on a stick
He hunched his back, but he wouldn't kick
Something cock-eyed somewhere.

Hound dog's howlin' so forlorn
Laziest dawg that ever was born
He's howlin' 'cause he's sittin' on a thorn
Just too tired to move over.

Well, the cow's gone dry and the hens won't lay
And my well dried up last Saturday
My troubles keep pilin' up day by day
And now I'm gettin' dandruff.

Roof's a-leakin' and the chimney leans,
An' there's a hole in the seat of my old blue jeans
Now I've eat the last of the pork an' beans,
Just can't depend on nuthin'

Mouse is gnawin' at the pantry door
He's been at it now for a month or more
When he gets through he'll sure be sore
'Cause there ain't a dang thing in there.

Well, it's debts and taxes and pains and woes
Aches and miseries and that's how it goes
And now I'm getting a cold in my nose,
Life gets tasteless, don't it?