Over the past couple of months, I've been going on at length (or maybe ad nauseam?) about 'Great Adventures', and one of the big items on my bucket list - trekking one of the world's 'Great Hikes'. I listed the candidates in a couple of earlier blogs; hikes that qualified as a 'Great Hike' and that were also actually doable by Marcie and me.
There were a number of potential issues to resolve before we'd be reasonably convinced which, if any, of the candidates that two old, clumsy specimens like us could manage. If you've been following our blogs, it does appear that we can, indeed, still hike reasonable distances each day for days or weeks at a time while carrying full packs, and it also looks like we can manage to sleep on the ground with no long term impairments – perhaps with just a little tweaking of our gear.
Now there's no more research to be done and no more issues to resolve. In the immortal words of Paul Simon in Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover, “it's time to decide, Clyde”. (Or not, as I just discovered after looking up the lyrics. It most certainly is in my own shower version, however. Paul, feel free to add it...). So, which of the 'Great Hikes' will we be doing next year?
It was easy to eliminate some of the contenders. A few, like the Canadian Great Trail at 14,913 miles and the American Discovery Trail which is about 5,000 miles long were much too long to be serious candidates. Also, we discovered this past summer that we have problems at altitudes higher than about 11,000 feet which ruled out a few more. Deciding on just one of the remaining treks was a tough call – any one of them would be an unforgettable experience. After much contemplation, I've decided on the following:
The Te Araroa which runs 1,900 miles from the northern tip of New Zealand's North Island to the bottom of the South Island. We spent about 18 months in New Zealand and sailed almost the entire coast, loving every minute – except for the occasional storm and those man-eating black flies on the south island. On the other hand, we've already spent 18 months there and there's a lot more world we haven't seen.
The 2,849 mile Hokkaido Nature Trail in Japan would be an exotic new adventure with great scenery and a new culture to experience. On the downside, the language is difficult and the trail is rather long.
The Via Dinarica, the 1,240 mile trek through the Baltics, passing through eight different countries. The scenery is spectacular, and it is one of the lesser known and traveled treks on the list. Its biggest negative is that there are eight different countries, each with different languages and possibly visa and immigration issues.
The Appalachian Trail. The AT has to be on most everyone's short list of 'Great Hikes'. There's lots of information on logistics and re-supplying, as well as a host of planning and route guides available. The biggest drawback is its popularity. Millions walk at least part of the trail annually, and more than a thousand complete it each year.
And the Winner:
The Via Francigena (pronounced VEE-ah fran-CHEE-gin-ah). We enjoyed the Thames Path immensely, and the Via Francigena is like its big brother. It's a 1,056 mile pilgrimage from Canterbury in southeast England, through France, Switzerland and Italy, ending in Rome. The pilgrim has the option of camping, inexpensive hotels and hostels and/or free lodging at dozens of monasteries and churches. While the pilgrims that traverse the much more famous Camino de Santiago each year number in the hundreds of thousands, only a few dozen complete the Via Francigena in its entirety. Most of the pilgrimage passes through small villages and farmland in France and then through the Swiss and Italian Alps. How cool is that!
Now that the decision is made, it's time to start putting together a plan. Marcie is going to start brushing up on her French and will be looking for an online class in Italian, while I start gathering info on the Via Francigena itself. There are a few guides as well as quite a lot of online information available. We’re planning on a spring departure, and there is a whole host of questions and logistics to figure out. Should be fun - join us as we prepare for our next grand adventure.
Italian lessons next? Read more about our Via Francigena preparation.