Friday, October 30, 2009

Y'all Take Care, Now!

Greetings from the American Midwest, where y'all say howdy to your pard in the yard.

Wednesday we arose at 1 am for more than 24 hours travelling to Nashville. By the time Jane and Lorenzo met us there, we had driven and flown many thousands of kilometres, but had also managed to walk 7 kms round the airports of Toulouse, Munich, Charlotte and Nashville.

Thursday, after waking at a Best Western, we drove to the Loveless Cafe for breakfast accompanied by the twangy sounds of Nashville. Then the drive through Tennessee and Kentucky to Indiana. Only a couple of kms walked that day.

Today we were up before the larks for a walk in the park before the exteme weather, which has been sweeping across America, arrives. In the West it has dumped considerable amounts of snow along with strong winds. Here we are expecting just the winds and lots of rain, possibly floods.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Knees Up

I have been having a quiet few days, walking-wise. The persistent knee injury which stopped me running has come back to haunt me while walking. Not for the first time. It flares up every now and then. Normally a couple of days rest will settle it down, but I can not afford to do that too many times during VBW, when I will be walking 200 kms or thereabouts every week for 10 weeks.

So I had Saturday and Sunday off, walked 11 kms Monday and 6 kms today. We leave home at 0200 tomorrow morning for a drive to Toulouse followed by flights to Munich, Charlotte then Nashville. Walking will be fairly restrained by circumstances during our 2 weeks in USA, but by the time we come back I expect to have walked 4,000 kms in 2009.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

An Evening With Vic Heaney?

Sounds a bit over the top, doesn't it? As if I think I am a star - one of those people on the television - "An audience with ... Billy Connolly, Dame Edna, Neil Diamond, et cetera"

But it is happening. It's not my idea. Chris, a donor to Pancreatic Cancer research through my JustGiving page this week, has a guesthouse in a lovely location in this lovely area. He is brimming with ideas for raising my fund raising profile.

One of his ideas is the above "Evening With ...". With my approval he is going ahead with it. He is putting this up as a special offer on his guest house's website. After VBW, and as the tourist season tails off here, guests can come to stay at his place, where they will have an evening meal, with some other invited (and paying) guests from the area. I will give them a talk on my experiences during VBW - incidents and accidents, highs and lows, people encountered, anecdotes about things which I witnessed or which impacted on me along the way.

The guest house will subtract only its costs, the ingredients of the meal, the cost of cleaning the rooms. All other proceeds (including cheques written on the spot) will go to Pancreatic Cancer research. It will happen in September 2010.

This is an excellent idea. Futher plans are being developed for talks to other groups in the area and maybe beyond. Have talk, will travel, that's me. Stand by your wallets!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Plunging For A Battlebus

Despite the horrendous expense, we have taken the plunge and bought a motor caravan or camper, our "battlebus". It is a McLouis Steel 563. This will be our home and base during Vic's Big Walk. Gay will drive it on 30 kms each day while I am walking.

It will be our home, transport and office, bedroom, kitchen, dining room and maproom.

We collect it when we come back from New Zealand at the end of March. By then or soon after, it will be covered with a glorious pattern which will be produced by the design team at Columbia Sportswear, my major sponsor. This will proclaim Vic's Big Walk, the logo thereof, Pancreatic Cancer Research, blog address, fundraising address, and details of all the sponsors. It will all be in the best possible taste.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Muskrat Ramble

We went for a walk this morning which, before climbing to more than 700 metres, passed by the village lake, where a couple of days ago I photographed the critter which I then displayed on my blog (by the way, if you click the pic it will enlarge). By this morning, in fact by the afternoon of Tuesday, it had gone (somebody taken it away to identify it, or stuff it - or eat it?)

But what was it? Jackie and Bob Parry, on the Isle of Skye, sent this: "Saw the picture, and have been studying our books on the subject. It is either a Coypu or a Muskrat. Both are about 12" long. However, the Muskrat is now extinct in Britain; but could be established in France. Anyone else come forward with ideas?."

I think they are right. Further research reveals that the muskrat was reintroduced into France in the last century and is now regarded as a pest in some parts. You can read more about that here:

The above picture is of a muskrat swimming in the Marne river. It certainly looks like our little friend in Puivert.

"Muskrat Ramble" was an old record, by the way. Jazz, I think.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Having run out of excuses, I was out for a walk this morning. I saw this dead critter down by the village lake. Presumably it had been hit by a car. But what is it? European beaver? Coypu? Having called up pictures of both via Google, it looks more like the former, but not as big as either are described. A young one? It didn't have a flat tail, but then European beavers apparently have a tail nowhere near as flat as their Colonial cousins.

I would love to know the answer.

Monday, October 19, 2009

... And More Of The Same

I have a really good excuse today. We were up before six today for a trip to the eye hospital in Tolouse. Or rather one of the eye hospitals in Toulouse because I now find there is at least another one.

After spending all morning being tested by a series of interns and moved from one waiting room and one lab to another, I eventually got in to see the professor. He took one look into my eyes with one of his gadgets, and shouted "Paul!" Paul was one of the interns who had previously gazed into my eyes. The professor said something to him very quickly so that neither Gay or I could catch it. Then Paul took me away for some more gazing and bright lights before he announced that I needed to go to the other teaching hospital in the same city.

He had made an appointment for November 3, he announced. I announced that on November 3 we would be in the United States. So, when you get home, please ring this other hospital and change the new appointment, says he. We have don so - the second hospital knows nothing of this appointment. They eye hospital reception at the first hospital is now closed for the day (Toulouse is at least 2 hours drive from here, even on a good day, which today was not).

So I am no further forward. And I am left wondering what is so wrong with my right eye (this is in addition to the cataracts on both eyes) that the professor surgeon, to whom the first surgeion sent me, can not deal with it.

Not to mention that, due to our trip to New Zealand January-March next year, and Vic's Big Walk, May-July next year, I have just two periods of 6 weeks available between now and next August for what seems to be more examinations followed by several operations.

So, the walking point is - no time for actually "going for a walk" today, amongst that lot. But strangely, we did manage to clock up 6 kms in the huge hospital complex!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Excuses, Excuses! ...

Having already used plenty of excuses to explain my limited kilometrage this week, I thought I would stick in a few more.

This morning there was the market in Esperaza. We always go there and then I walk home, but today there was also the Apple Fair in Mirepoix, so we had to come home and have an early lunch so we could go there. Gay was going to drop me off in Camon for the walk home, which would be about 19 kms.

But then I realised why I had been limping this morning. Yesterday I walked into a solid oak table which is at knee height. Gave myself a good whack, which I soon forgot, except for the limping. Best to rest it awhile, then.

So this has been a week of 63 kms only. Not bad, but far less than usual.

If you want to keep up with me on the excuses front, here is a website which will provide you with a choice of 900 excuses to get you out of everything imaginable:

Friday, October 16, 2009


What I was trying to say yesterday, in my stumbling way, is that it is strange that I feel stiff in the legs not when I am walking long distances every day, but when I have a day or two off. Got to keep those legs moving.

Which is not something I am doing very well this week. For one reason or another, this is going to be a low kilometrage week. First we had rare and valued visitors, with accompanying reluctance to waste hours of the few they were here. Yesterday I was wrestling with our new Internet radio, trying to get it to connect to our router - can't do it, although I have just proved it will connect to Ang and Paul's router next door. Most of the wasted time was spent trying to make a call to the modem supplier's support number without finding an engaged tone. No luck there.

Today the morning was disrupted because we were expecting a plasterer who is coming to repair one of our bedroom walls where a builder accidentally broke through from next door. The plasterer could have come early, so this meant we could not do the usual thing of going to Lavelanet market so I could walk back. I went for another, shorter walk from home only to return to a message that the plaster is coming on Saturday afternoon instead.

I will be lucky to clock up 70 kms this week. That seems paltry, but it is actually the 10 kms average per day which is my ongoing target for this year.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Achy Flakey Legs

I am reminded this morning of one of the reasons I like to keep on the move - apart, that is, from the posse always on my tail.

My legs are stiff. I walked 18 kms yesterday, with a 300 metre climb built in. So what, you say, you do that all the time, sometimes much more. But yesterday's walk came after a few days of not doing much exercise because we had some rare visitors.

It's an age thing, I suppose.

On the other hand, one thing that can cause achey legs is salt deficiency. And, although I was carrying plenty of water yesterday (reinforced with salt as per the instructions from my hydration correspondent), because it was cool I did not drink a drop. Bad move, perhaps.

There is, of course, the possibility that I have finally succumbed to the cold which Gay has been throwing at me for the last week or so, with some assistance from Jim, who arrived here last Friday complete with his own cold. This would explain some other symptoms I am exhibiting, such as a suspect throat. Oh dear. Never mind, could be worse - each day's mail and news is always there to remind me of that.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sign Of The Times

We took Margaret and Jim back to Toulouse aiport yesterday - a journey we shall be making frequently for a while. The Eye Hospital is next to the airport - I have to be there next Monday and will then probably have to go several more times if the rumour of operations on my eyes is true. Then on 28th October we fly to USA for a couple of weeks, again from Toulouse.

Margaret and Jim, after a few days in UK, will be returning to Alberta, Canada, where they already have snow. They will not see the last of that until May next year.

Their departure means I can return to some serious walking so this morning I set off from Quillan at 7 degrees to walk home, knowing that with the big climb and the rising sun, things would soon be much warmer. Impossible to get it right with the clothing. I choose to wear shorts and shiver a bit, knowing that I quickly generate a lot of heat.

The signpost above is on the trail up from Quillan to the Col du Portel.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Wet Day, No Walk But Still Mirepoix

My normal Monday morning activity is to drive to Mirepoix, have breakfast, then walk 34 kms home while Gay shops around the market then drives the car home.

Today, which is the last day of a very short visit from our Canadian friends Margaret and Jim, there is no walk. But we still went to Mirepoix, a must for visitors to the area. A shame it was raining, but I was quietly pleased not to be walking for five and half hours in it.

Of course, within one minute of us being back in the house, the sun was making its first efforts of the day to break through the cloud and rain.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Back To Earth

Sharp contrast after the peace described in my last posting. After arriving home and cleaning up, Gay and I drove to Toulouse to collect our friends Margaret and Jim Gregson, from Canada, who are with us for a few days. So it was straight from empty roads and mediaeval silence to city traffic and jams. Horrid.

I shall not be doing much walking while Margaret and Jim are here - it has taken too long to lure them. so it will be just a bit of pottering about. I should still clock up not far short of 100 kms for this week and over 3700 kms for the year.

This morning we shall be going to the market in Esperaza as usual, but instead of me walking home, we shall then be going on to the stunning complete mediaeval walled city of Carcassonne, as seen above.

Friday, October 9, 2009

As It Was In The Beginning - Almost

I pause on top of the hill above Rivel. Altitude 540 metres. I have just walked 20 kms from Lavelanet - 4 kms to go until I arrive home - I have descended from this same height at Lavelanet to under 400, then climbed again.

The walk uses mainly the old railway track, with the last 7 kms on quiet roads. I have paused because it has just struck me exactly how quiet this road is. I can hear nothing. There is no wind, so no sussuration in the leaves. Just occasionally in the distance there is the sound of a crow. There are no sounds of modern civilisation, and yet I am 3 kilometres from my home.

I am walking on asphalt and in the distance a single power line crosses the road. It is several minutes since a car passed me. Otherwise, this is just as it must have been in the middle ages, or any time stretching back from about 100 years ago into the mists of time.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Profitable Walking

Walking is turning out to be a profitable business for me. I will soon be able to open a secondhand shop.

Previously I have found a dog whistle, a bicycle pump, a bicycle mudguard, a walking stick (actually a broom handle but just as fit for purpose). Yesterday, while walking from Quillan, I found this magnificent spanner - or is it a wrench> - in almost exactly the same spot where I found the stick.

What next?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Erratum - Just The Usual 'Flu

Bit of a correction to a recent posting on this blog.

That was not a swine 'flu vaccination I had last week. Apparently it was the "seasonal" 'flu jab which Mr Sarkozy kindly sends me each year. It is a bit early this year, presumably so they can clear the decks on that one and get down to the swine flu innoculations.

Thought I had better correct that in case people various, living in France, are thinking "where the hell is my swine 'flu jab if they are being sent out.

Panic not - preumably it will be here soon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Team Columbia on the Voie Verte

I was trundling along the Voie Verte, as usual seeing very few people.

I came to a point where the track crosses the road at St Colombe sur l'Hers. A woman was walking her dog. Her husband was supervising from the car. As I passed, he said to me "You are Mark Cavendish!" "Of course!" I said, realising that he was pointing at my Columbia cycling shirt.

We then had a short conversation about why I was walking, where I was walking to, Vic's Grande Marche (Le GM de V, doesn't quite have the ring of VBW), he did that wrist wiggling thing the French do to express amazement, and we parted the best of friends.

Monday, October 5, 2009

It's Turned Out Nice Again!

That was a catch phrase of George Formby, also one of his songs. He was Britain's most popular comedian/film star/singer in the 30s and 40s. I used to pass his home on the way to school every day.

He could well be singing it here. I have just walked 34 kms from Mirepoix. When I started out the temperature was about 10 degrees. After the clouds had burned away, the sun was casting a spell of 27 degrees around me. It is forecast to be hotter in the next few days.

This is October! And yes, I live in the South of France, but this is the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is south of the Equator, and I live in the foothills of the Pyrenees, near Andorra, which is a ski centre.

Where will it all end?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Swine 'Flu and Dressing Down

Even having missed my long walk on Monday, I have still managed to clock up 103 kms in this week's glorious weather. When I say glorious, I am ignoring the fact that there is a bit of a dilemma about what to wear when the day starts out at 5 degrees, as this morning did, then ramps up into the mid-20s well before the sun is over the yardarm.

That would not be so bad if I was straight out of the house into walking, but when the first hour or two is spent trolling round the market, shorts and a cycling shirt are not quite good enough. Although there is one man we see at the market who wears running shorts even in the coldest weather. We saw him this morning and he was wearing the trademark shorts and a singlet. His other trademark is big walking boots with hefty socks spilling over them, like an old-time hiker. What's that all about? There is no evidence that he actually does any walking. Or dressing.

Most of my walks this week have been a bit tired, but I put that down to the fact that I had the inoculation for Grippe A - as swine flu is known in France - the other day. The nurse said not to eat any pork (not too difficult for a vegetarian) and not to drink alcohol for 4 days. We read the leaflet which came with the inoculation and neither of those things was mentioned, but it did say that fatigue could be an outcome.

My total for the week was 103 kms, 3610 kms for the year so far, not too far from my target of 4,000 kms for the whole 12 months.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Change Of Course

I have mentioned that my whole walking route through France has been under review because of my experienced danger of walking even on quiet roads. Here is the new version of my course. GRs are the long distance walking tracks of which there is a huge network in France (80,000 kms and almost as many again with slightly different designations!).

Vic’s Big Walking Route

France Section

Start Puivert track to:
Mirepoix roads to:
Lisle sur Tarn, pick up GR46
Rocamadour, switch to GR6
Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil, switch to GR36
Brantome, switch to GR 654
Rochechouart, switch to GR48
Saumur, switch to GR36
Le Lude
Pass East of Le Mans
Pass West of Alencon

English Section

Debark Ferry at Porstmouth, then:

Solent Way to Brockhampton SU 798 058
Wayfarers Walk to near Abbotstone SU 569 334
Oxdrove Way to Bradley SU 634 416
Three Castles Path to Ellisfield SU639 458
Thames Valley Circular to Goring SU594 807
Thames Path National Trail to Oxford
To Oxford 130miles (208KM) miles from Portsmouth

From Oxford

Oxford Canal to Braunston, then Hawkesbury Junction.
Coventry Canal to Fazely Junction, then Fradley Junction
Trent and Mersey Canal to Stone, Kidsgrove, Middlewich, Northwich, Preston Brook.
Bridgewater Canal to Leigh
Leigh Branch of Leeds and Liverpool, then Rufford Branch of L&L to Tarleton
Douglas/Ribble to Preston.
Roads to Blackpool.