Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Now It's Vic's Big Walk to New York!

An otherwise fairly accurate article about Vic's Big Walk in the English-language French newspaper Connexion, has me walking 70 kms a day for 70 days. This would give a total of 4,900 kms, which would get me to New York.

I think most of that would involve swimming, not walking. And it's not the sharks that bother me, it's the fish - what would a vegetarian eat in all that time?

I first crossed the atlantic by sea when I was 17 but this new way would be a novelty - there is always something to learn.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Satellite Guidance for Vic's Big Walk

I do not have a great deal of experience with navigation and I will be walking, in VBW, in many places with which I am unfamiliar. I have all the maps I need, but not very good eyes - in fact they are currently waiting for an operation each.

So I have been considering, for some time, the acquisition of a GPS navigation device. I have read a lot about them. I particularly read the reviews by people who have already used them. The consensus seems to be, with most, that the hardware is good but the actual maps are not up to much - particularly when we are talking about walking tracks rather than roads.

John Sparshatt at the Long Distance Walkers' Association told me a while ago about the Active 10 Plus, which provides mapping and navigation of a superior quality. It is the only one, I believe, which has a series of insertable cards to give great detail of where you want to be. There are separate cards for each region in France and one for each county in Britain. All this makes it a very expensive option for somebody wanting to walk through many of those regions and many of those counties.

Satmap, the makers of the Active 10, have come good on my behalf. They have given me a special deal on the hardware and will provide me with the map cards free - in fact they are going to make some special map cards to cover the whole of my route.

I am really looking forward to receiving this gadget and trying it out.

Find out more about Active 10 Plus here:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Travelling Man

We arrived home from England late yesterday evening.

In the past week we have spent only one full day at home and four actually travelling. I had expected the whole week to be a write-off as far as walking is concerned so I am very pleased to report that I actually managed to salvage a full 65 kms from the week, bringing the total for the year to date over 3500 kms.

This week should be a little more normal, although I have got off to a bad start. This morning's scheduled 34 kms from Mirepoix had to be abandoned because of other commitments.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Prang In Puivert

I was up early yesterday and walking in the dark, so that I could fit in a hike before we went off to Toulouse for the flight to UK. Just a short 7 kms out on the plain near the village. Not on the plane, you understand, although if I had done the same walk a couple of weeks before, I may have had a bit of a surprise.

Our lovely neighbour Ange was out for a walk with a friend in the same area when she came upon an aircraft in a field. There several bent bits, the wings were being removed and the fuselage was being loaded onto a truck.

This was the aircraft which tows gliders up from the Puivert airstrip. It seems that the pilot is 80 years old and has been performing this role for 50 years. To save fuel, he cuts the engine on the way down and reignites it for the landing. Presumably this does not always work, which accounts for an amended aircraft in the wrong place.

Our own flight later in the day was less dramatic, although not entirely without incident. But we did get here in the end.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Columbia Give Me The Sack

My sponsors Columbia Sportswear have sent me quite a lot of gear lately - clothes and shoes. Also for Gay.

Yesterday they sent me a new rucksack. I knew it was coming but I was unprepared for it. It is stunningly light and of a revolutionary new design.

I have been reading quite a bit lately about the new breed of ultralight backpacks. They came about because people trying to follow the wise advice of making your (loaded) backpack as light as possible were finding that this was a bit difficult when they started with an empty sack of up to 7 kgs.

One snag with the ultralights is that they are necessarily made of lightweight and therefore vulnerable material. One of Columbia's answers to this is to give the sack an outer frame, like a modern tent. This not only holds the pack open while you are loading it or otherwise furtling inside, but it protects the material.

The backpack is called Mobex. It will not be in the shops until Spring 2010 so I guess I will be a bit of a guinea pig regarding its use. I understand it comes in various sizes and colours. There are many other excellent points about the design, which you can see if you watch the following short video:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Again as predicted, very little walking done today because we drove from Le Rouret home. In fact I only walked 2 kms today. Tomorrow I hope to get in a decent walk of over 20 kms, but that will be it for this week. We have a plane to catch on Friday, Saturday we want to see as much as possible of my two daughters who live in UK because they are both about to leave to live on other continents. Sunday we have a flight back. Monday I hope to return to normal life for a while.

I mentioned yesterday that we met, by arrangement, with Mike, a friend who has become so through my blog. I was thinking during today's long drive about how many people have already contacted me through my blog with messages of support. I hope to meet as many of them as possible (some live along the route of VBW) and I expect many of them to become friends. This is one outcome of VBW which I had not given a thought to when planning the walk. But it is a very welcome bonus.

The friends we stayed with in Le Rouret came about through other means, of course, but they are being very supportive of me an my walking plans.

The family Scriven are American and this morning 10 year-old Julia got up early especially to make us all pancakes for breakfast, which we enjoyed American-style, slathered in peanut butter, maple syrup, bananas, Nutella, and lots more, and lots of combinations of all these. Thank you, Julia. It was Julia, only 9 at the time, who showed us last year how to make peanut butter in one minute.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


As predicted, not many miles are being walked this week. A measly 2 kms yesterday, but we do have the excuse that we drove 700 kms, from Rome to Le Rouret, in the hills above Nice. Normally, when visiting Italy, we either fly back and forth or, if we have goods to transport to or from Nicola, we take the car on the ferry from Barcelona to Civitavecchia, which gives us a total of 400 kms driving each way instead of the 1400 kms each way if we drove round the coast.

This time, we ferried to Italy but we have driven back because we wanted to visit the lovely Scriven family - Jonathan, Kerri, Julia, Patrick and Henry. They are from Washington DC but are spending several years in France, where Jonathan is a teacher. We had them as neighbours for two months in summer 2008 and became firm friends. They are as nice as we remembered.

By an amazing coincidence we had an e-mail the other day from Mike, who has been following my blog for some time and who recently made a kind donation to Pancreatic Cancer UK through the blog. Mike asked if, on our way back from Italy, we would by any chance be passing anywhere near his home because he would love to meet. As I said above, it is very unusual for us to drive home this way but this time we are doing so. The amazing coincidence is that Mike lives only 10 minutes away from Le Rouret and we met him this morning for a couple of coffees and a couple of hours of chat and bonhomie.

By the way, as this is a blog about walking, I should perhaps mention that we did manage to clock up about 8 kms this week, but I continue to think that this week will be more or less a write-off. For instance, tomorrow we shall be driving another 700 kms, which does not allow much room for walking.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Letter From Italy

As predicted, because we are travelling, because we are spending time with our Italian family, who we see very little of, kilometres will be down this week, even more so next week. I don't have my diary with me, but it will be about 80 kms for the week ending today, bringing me to about 3445 kms for the year so far. Next week I will be lucky to take the year total over 3500. A few weeks of normality after that, before we go to USA.

Not too worried about having to cut the distance down. I have piled plenty of training in the past twelve months, a bit of a lull must be good, now and then.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

From Here To There

Although I have not fully defined the route through France, it will mainly involve the GR36. I could join this at Carcassonne, and walk it all the way to Ouistreham and the ferry. But it has a huge loop to the west and I shall bypass that by using the GR46 for some of the way. Also, it may make sense for me to strike directly north from Puivert and to join the GR36 at a different start point, rather than Carcassonne.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mapping Out My Future

I mentioned some time ago that I was rethinking the whole idea of walking through France mainly on roads. After a year of experimenting with walks on the public highways, I have definitely abandoned the idea, in the interests of my continued survival as a member of the human race. There are too many nutters out there - too much possibility that I may meet one of them on a blind corner, with no means of escape.

Now I will walk from Puivert to Caen/Ouistreham on the Grandes Randonnees. It will be further, it will take me longer, but it will be more likely that my ferry ticket will not be wasted.

I have scores of maps and it will take me some time to refine the exact route. This may be easier once my eyes are fixed.

Once in England I will, as before, walk from Portsmouth to Oxford on various long-distance tracks, then from Oxford into Lancashire on canal towpaths.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Eye, Eye, What's This?

I didn't get a big walk in yesterday. Instead I got a bit of a shock.

I went to an opthalmologist, expecting to get a prescription for some new spectacles. Instead I came away with an order to go to see a professor surgeion at Toulouse Hospital, and to expect that he will operate on both my eyes!

I suppose a positive side of this is that I could end up actually being able to see the scores of maps I now have waiting to guide me through VBW.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Happy Wanderer And My Backpack.

I mentioned the other day that I had acquired the Columbia cycling shirt for a good reason - I hoped the double "skin" of the back pocket would prevent the abrasions to my back which I have been experiencing, presumably because I am wearing a rucksack every day.

"Happy Wanderer" kindly left a comment, saying that the photograph showed that I was wearing the rucksack incorrectly. Just that. No indication of exactly how I am wearing it wrongly, or what I should do to correct the matter. I would like to know.

I should just point out that I am aware that it is riding higher than normal. This is because I have hauled it higher and higher up my back in an attempt to obviate the damage, which occurs at waist level.

As that seemed to make no difference, I have released the straps so that the bag now hangs much lower than in the picture. I am not sure I have made any progress, because that is where I started.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kilometre Accumulation

Small walk today, 8 kms. Big walk tomorrow, 34 kms.

Up all night partying with those shoes, they don't know when to lay down, even after retirement. A bit like myself.

114 kms this week. 3365 kms this year so far. A few countries to get through in the next several weeks, so I expect the rate of kilometre accumulation to slow down a bit.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hanging Up My Rock and Roll Shoes

In 1958 Chuck Willis wrote, recorded and released a song called "Ain't gonna hang up my rock'n'roll shoes". His words proved to be negatively phrophetic because while the record was climbing the charts he died from peritonitis. Even more amazing, the B side was called "What am I living for?"

Despite this ominous precedent I am today retiring the shoes which you see hanging above. They will rock'n'roll no more because today they have achieved their second millennium. This morning's 14 kilometre walk took them to exactly 2,000 kms, which is more than enough for any shoe. I would be very interested to see just how much further they could go, but although the tops are perfect and there is still some life in the sole, the midsole must be impacted and not affording as much protection to my valuable (to me) feet and knees.

The Columbia Trailmeister is, at least for my feet, a wonderful combination of practicality and comfort. In case you are tempted to say "Well, you would say that, with Columbia as your sponsor", I insist that the opposite is the truth. I do not laud Columbia products because they are backing me - it is the other way round - they are backing me because they know that I am so enthusiastic about their product, especially their shoes, of which I have a great deal of experience. They are the most comfortable shoes I have ever owned. Fortunately, I have several more pairs of Trailmeisters stacked up, ready to be used in training and during VBW.

The reason I kept a record of the distance covered by this particular pair of shoes was so that I would know how many pairs I would need for the whole walk next year. It would seem that I could expect to cover the distance with just one pair of this particular type of shoe, but it is always sensible to alternate shoes from day to day, so will take at least two pairs with me.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Walker's Best Friend is A Cycling Shirt

Most walkers, like most runners, will probably tell you that their best friend, or most essential piece of equipment, is a tub of petroleum jelly. I would agree with them, despite the fact that my father used to make us put it on our hair. But to prevent rubbing and blistering it takes some beating. I wouldn't be without it. They don't seem to sell it in France - we had to import some specially.

But it has not proved to be the complete answer to my back problem, or rather one of my back problems - the one caused by wearing a rucksack for long distances every day. Despite the fact I can see no projections or rough bits on the rucksack, despite copious application of vaseline to the afflicted parts before I set out on my walk, I regularly have abrasions.

I had a brainwave, and asked Pascale Graffman, European marketing manager of Columbia Sportswear, it is was possible for her to get hold of some of the cycling tops used by the Columbia team in the Tour de France and other cycling races. She sent me one by return of post.

This is most excellent, because not only does it allow me to brazenly exhibit the name of my sponsors, but the pockets at the back give a double skin in exactly the place where I am being damaged. Result - an immediate improvement in the situation. I have considered your sensibilities by not exhibiting a picture of my back. But isn't the shirt lovely? And look at that six-pack!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Walk Now, Book Later

I have mentioned more than once that I intend to write a book about Vic's Big Walk. It is one thing to write a book and another to get it published. In the current economic climate that is even more difficult than usual. Apparently even books which have been commissioned and contracted are not making it through to printing stage.

Clearly I can not write the whole of my book until after the walk, but it would be good to know if I am on the correct lines with what I have written so far. I sent an outline of my book, and the first few chapters, to a literary consultancy. They have made some very encouraging noises - "a fantastic - inspiring - project" - "you can write well and I enjoyed reading most of what you have supplied so far" - "it is a book with a lot of potential".

There are other, more critical, but helpful things said, all designed to assist me in producing a better book.

But the main recommendation, and one which I half expected, is that it would be very difficult to get a publisher to commit to this type of book before it is finished. Most of the material will emerge during the walk itself.

So the book is on the back burner for now. I will continue to work on it and of course during the 70 days of the walk I shall be adding to it every day, ready to get it to a publisher soon after I reach the target house.

Who knows, with all the publicity the walk may provoke, publishers and agents may be queuing at my door. In the meantime, I will of course keep the list of all those who have asked to be kept informed of the book's progress. And if you want to be on that list, please e-mail me at:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Bird's Eye View

The buzzard soars high over the plain that once was a lake, until it decided to move from here and drown Mirepoix. Hshe casts an eye to the east, where a small aircraft is lifting off from the tiny Puivert airstrip. Invading hir space, but no threat to this creature which can shift hir position up, down or sideways in mere seconds.

Below, the wheat fields are already harvested and ploughed, the corn is readying itself for its job as cattle food, and the sunflowers are blackened, looking moribund, but the massive seed heads are ripening for their own harvest, and their position in the food chain.

Far below, a small figure marches briskly along the dusty track. Big Walker – actually small but perfectly formed – is nearing home. Only 5 kms to go, 13 kms and a 310 metre climb behind him. No sign of him stumbling, falling and becoming useful to a buzzard.

But what is this? Only in France could it happen.. As Big Walker passes the churning and vaporous sewage farm at Nebias, he thinks he hears, above the sound of the thrashing paddles, the strains of music. As he leaves one noise behind, the notes increase in volume.

Big Walker and the buzzard can both see a vehicle parked in a field which has probably never seen anything motorised except a tractor or combine harvester. Standing next to the van is a man, of hippy appearance, with a beard and longish hair. He is playing lustily on an accordion, that most French of instruments. What is this all about? Is he not allowed to practice at home? Do hippies have homes, or people who will not allow them to indulge their hobbies? Answers on a postcard, please.

Big Walker shakes his head in disbelief. The buzzard, without moving a muscle, it seems, slips sideways and is soon two kilometres away from this strange scene.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Traffic Avoidance

Well, it was a record, but only just. 34 kms instead of 33 kms the more dangerous way.

When I set off from Mirepoix the temperature was 8 degrees. The forecast was for 27 degrees later in the day. What should a feller wear? I settled for the Columbia zip-off trousers - the ones which become shorts in a trice. Excellent choice. Before I had been walking an hour, the mercury had climbed to nearly 20 and high twenties followed quite quickly.

The Voie Verte was as deserted as usual. 14.14 kms before I saw anybody, and that was a man walking his dog. Or rather he had parked his car where a minor road crosses the track and he was standing about while the dog sniffed about. I was almost at Chalabre (21 kms) before I saw any actual users of the track - a bunch of several cyclists. Yet again I wondered why whichever body spent money renovating the old railway line, and which pays more money to keep it in good order, does not spend just a little more money putting some signs up on the roads, so that people will know the Voie Verte exists.

It was hard work walking this far, after a few weeks at lesser distances because of the canicule, but I was very pleased with the amendment to the route. The roads used this way are very minor and I did not feel threatened once by the traffic.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A New Record Coming Up?

Another fairly modest walking week of 87 kms, but in keeping with the plan. 3251 kms so far this year. One would think I am heading for about 5,000 kms this year, but there is quite a bit of travelling coming up, with interrupted walking, so I will be quite happy to hop over the 4,000 kms mark.

The really hot weather seems to have gone away. The mornings are certainly cooler - it was 10 degrees when we set off for the market this morning. Tomorrow I may slip back into doing at least one walk of over 30 kms. I have amended my route from Mirepoix to make it safer. This keeps me on the Voie Verte (the old railway track) until after Chalabre and I exit at the same point where I leave the VV when coming the other way, from Lavelanet. The route back to Puivert from there, although almost all on roads, is much quieter than the road from Chalabre to Puivert. It is also further - I am not sure how much until I try it, but I think the total walk may now be 35 kms, which is the most I have ever walked.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Logo Of The Walk

We have had much talk of The Walk, the Book of the Walk, even the Film of the Walk, if you go back to last winter. Now, at last, we have the Logo of The Walk.

What do you think? It was kindly designed for me by a good friend, Peter Labrow, who is a designer of many things, including websites. It will be used in letterhead form when communicating with sponsors and others connected with the walk. Peter has suggested that it could be used on the front of a t-shirt, with the footprints continuing as a trail across the back.

Peter's website can be found here:

Thursday, September 3, 2009


This picture is to remind you (and me) what Vic's Big Walk is all about.

And it gives me an excuse to say if you shift your eyes to the left, you will inescapably see the JustGiving donation button, where you can put your money where my feet are, so to speak. Or where the words "Pancreatic Cancer UK" are on my chest.

The picture can also be used to induce gossip about the relative states of the t-shirts - Gay's is ironed to a crisp and mine is crumpled and straight out of the packet. What sort of a place is this?

The whole thing could be just a ruse to avoid the mention of walking - just as my body seems today to have avoided the actuality of walking. I blame a trip to Carcassonne and lunch out, followed by a feeling of itstoolateness when we arrived home.

Many thanks to 007 for taking the piccies.

p.s. After consulations with, and a dash of the smoothing iron by, management, a new photoshoot was hastily arranged. Resulting in change of picture above these words. No creases, no pack drill. Phew!

The picture can be enlarged, and viewed in all its glory, by double-clicking upon either Gay's countenance or mine own poor substitute.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Time, Like Vic, Is Marching On

A little over 8 months until VBW starts, on May 15th, 2010. It sounds a long time, but when I first conceived the project, there were over 2 years to go. That 16 or 17 months has flown by, while I have walked 5,000-6,000 kms.

Physically, I am ready to go now. I just need to maintain my fitness. From now until May I will be travelling quite a lot. In September Gay and I will be going to Italy and UK. In October we are off to the United States, returning November. In January we travel to UK, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and UK again before returning home with about 6 weeks to go to the start line.

In most of those places I hope to at least maintain the current 100 kms or so per week. In New Zealand I expect to step this up to more like 200 kms per week before easing off slightly to gather strength for the big effort.

And I am aware of what a big effort it will be. I shall be walking something like 1800 kms in 70 days.