Updated: Aug 31, 2019
A lot has changed in the last few legs of the trip. However, before I get into the details, nine days ago I managed to hike all the way from Saint-Quentin to Laon (see attached trail). It was physically and psychologically very challenging. I had to to keep a very steady pace the whole way, take strategic rests, be careful to ration water and food and even hike in the dark for quite a few kilometers. Laon is a very beautiful town on top a hill (actually my favorite french town so far) and I could spot its cathedral when I was 15 kilometers out, while still in the middle of the countryside. I must have got into Laon sometime between 22:00 and 23:00 and I finally thought 'alright ... I am finally here'. Well ... not really!! Google maps guided me through a brutal ascent of several hundred meters to the top of the town. I should point out that this was completely in the dark and went through a small wood which had a ridiculously steep slope. Once I got back onto the street, not far from my accommodation, I started feeling dizzy and I was about to puke my heart out. Anyway, I felt quite rewarded and proud of myself in the end as I felt I stepped into a higher hikers' league 🥳.
After Laon, I kept moving south through other french towns including Reims where I watched the mind-blowing cathedral light show just before midnight and Châlons-en-Champagne where ... well ... I might have got a bit tipsy. Nah just kidding :). I met many other lovely people along the way including a German couple with whom I engaged in conversations ranging from politics to how bad my hiking shoes actually are (according to the guy who hiked most of Europe when he was younger, quite bad 😅). He also criticized the fact that I don't have hiking walking sticks. That said I got this experienced German hiking couple very impressed when I told them how I pulled off the 50 km hike (never underestimate motivated and reckless data scientists 🤪). Switching to food, one of my french host cooked a superb dinner and always made sure my wine glass remained full ... I lost track of the wine I drank that night 😂.
So, there are two big pieces of news. The first one is that I broke my no vehicle rule once for only 12/13 km ... 😭 I hadn't taken any rest after the 50 km hike and kept hiking the following day over 28 more kilometers. I still had over 30 more kilometers to go before my next rest and I hadn't fully recovered. Moreover, I would have had to go through a deserted area with no villages under the sun for at least a couple of hours. My french host told me that temperatures were going to go up to 28 degrees during the day and insisted on giving me a lift to get through this deserted area. Hence, I decided not to commit suicide and live to see another day 😂. The experience of being on a car after a long time of hiking was quite amazing ... This kind of technology can go so fast ... 🧐
The second piece of news is that I bought a bycicle near Reims!! I will now go through the reasons of my decision. Since I kept going south after Saint-Quentin the weather has become brutally hot, sometimes even surpassing 30 degrees. Hiking for several hours with these kinds of temperatures under the sun is probably not the best idea. The water you can bring in these situations is never enough and every kilometer can feel like several times as much in normal conditions. Another reason is that I would have had to go through regions with fewer villages making hiking breaks and getting relief from the sun harder. As a result of all of this I would have probably had to plan shorter hikes, potentially take longer detours and eventually slow down my pace towards Switzerland. I really like french countryside but I have also seen a lot of it at this point and I am eager to see a change in scenery. That's one of the reasons why I am not very keen on slowing down my pace towards Switzerland 😁.
Now, the bike has some pros but definitely comes with its own set of issues and problems I need to deal with. I guess I also learned this the hard way. My payload must have increased to over 20 kg as I am now carrying a lot more water, food and medicines than I used to carry in the beginning. I am also carrying bycicle stuff like a very heavy U-lock. While I am riding on my bike I would define myself as a 'little moving house'. I figure it could actually be quite entertaining to watch. I have a basket containing a shoebox full of staff in the back and a huge backpack on my shoulders. Just try to picture it in your mind 😅. Where does the shoebox come from? Well, do you remember the German guy I talked about earlier? I guess he persuaded me to get better hiking boots when I was in Reims (not the best for cycling though 😂). I ended up sending my other shoes back to Italy after one cycling leg of the trip carried out with a big bag hanging from the handlebars on top of the above-mentioned setup. The bike can build pressure quite quickly on my hands, shoulders and lower parts ... Also, getting a hole in a tire midway would be pretty disastrous (I am quite scared about this so I might try to learn how to repair a tire with a portable kit). The first day on my bike was quite hard as I had to deal with some significant height difference and it was burning hot. Then I started following the beautiful Marne river (80 km at the time of this post) and will keep following it for many more kilometers until Langres. I sometimes had to go on countryside trails but, overall, the last couple of days have been quite alright. I sometimes met fishermen and even boats going up and down this narrow river.
I forecast things to get quite hard after Chaumont especially due to the increasing height difference during the following cycling days on the way to Besançon. After Besançon and before reaching the border with Switzerland the height difference gets pretty insane (especially considering the condition I am in and the weight I am carrying). Fortunately, my dad offered to provide me with logistical support and drive to Besançon from Italy to meet up and pick up my bike :) So, I will keep hiking towards and through Switzerland. I am in Saint-Dizier now. Wish me luck 😀