How Three Weeks Turned into Eight Months

Sunset over Lake Zurich

My plan was to return to the US around mid-last October (2018!). But, as John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” I returned just four weeks ago. That was eight months instead of three weeks away!

The plan was to visit my son and daughter at their university towns. Robert is in Holland and Julia is in England. I got that far. Afterwards, I was going to fly for a few days to Zurich to visit friends and also have my annual checkup at the University Hospital of Zurich for my past leukemia.

Het Plein, The Hague’s main square

Seeing my kids in their university settings was great. They took time with me, although their semesters were already underway. Both showed me around their campuses and the towns. We had nice meals out. But, already at the start of my trip and increasing with each day, I was tiring out – not “sleepy tired” but “out of breath tired”.  At the end, in England, even small up-hills were exhausting me and I would have to stop and rest. Just the spring before, I walked across England from coast to coast (and wrote about it on this blog). I couldn’t understand what was happening.

Bristol Cathedral, Bristol, England

England was my second stop. On my third overnight there, I couldn’t sleep laying down. My lungs were so congested that the noise of my breathing was keeping me awake. I tried to sleep upright at the desk in my hotel room. It didn’t work. I called the front desk and asked them to order me a taxi to a nearby hospital.

In the emergency ward, they diagnosed a lung infection and took blood. The results of the blood tests were something that no former leukemia sufferer ever wants to get. “Mr. Riopelle, all of your blood counts are low.” Although it would only be diagnosed positively after I got to Zurich, I knew on the spot that my leukemia was back.

View from my Room at the University Hospital of Zurich.

I was at Southmead Hospital outside of Bristol. I wanted to get to Zurich as soon as I could. I was treated the first time for leukemia at the University Hospital of Zurich and that was, anyway, where I was heading after England for my annual checkup. The doctors at Southmead wanted to bring down my lung infection before releasing me, especially to take a flight. It was a difficult 5-day wait. I had to demonstrate before I was finally released that I could walk the halls and climb stairs without distress. As soon as I was allowed to leave, I flew to Zurich and headed straight to the university hospital.

My leukemia had, in fact, returned. The Zurich doctors agreed that I would receive a second stem cell transplant. That was a relief for me. They could have also decided that my leukemia was too aggressive for another transplant, or that I was not healthy enough to go through all of the therapies again. But, a stem cell transplant is the only chance for a complete cure. Obviously, I had a very bad type of leukemia. The chances of it returning after 3 years of full remission were small, but it happened.

I began seven months of treatments and therapies. Once again, a very close donor match was found, which is a huge advantage for a successful transplant, and, after four months, I had the second stem cell transplant of my life. The transplant itself is not a usual type of transplant. You don’t get cut open. The new stem cells drip in through an IV bag, and it is over in about 40 minutes. All has gone well so far, and I have been in full remission since January. I hope it holds this time.

Lake Zurich with the Alps in the Background – My daily Walk in Männedorf

Between my hospital rounds, my tremendous friends, Martin and Bodil, took me in. They have a beautiful apartment with a view onto Lake Zurich. They never made me feel like I was imposing. I stayed with them for about 5 weeks around the Christmas holidays and almost 2 weeks at the very end, after a short-term lease on a furnished apartment I rented was up and before my flight home. I went for walks most days along Lake Zurich. With the mountains in the background, it was a great place to be to exercise and feel as good as I could under the circumstances. My sister Jennifer and cousin Liz visited me for a week during the period between my hospital rounds.

My Great Friends, Martin and Bodil

In order to transplant new stem cells into me, they needed to destroy as far as possible the old stem cells, which then includes the blood system and the immune system. This is done through chemotherapy. It also makes room in the bone marrow for the new stem cells to burrow in. After the transplant, I needed to stay in the hospital until my new immune system took hold and could provide basic protections. However, then they stopped it from growing stronger, on purpose! They suppressed my new immune system through strong medications. The risk is that the new immune system attacks tissues in my body, which they would perceive as foreign. The body could also reject and attack the new cells. This is called Graft-versus-Host or Host-versus-Graft reactions. Only slowly is the new system brought up. There is always a risk of rejection if the system is brought up too quickly. Actually, there is a general risk of rejection, no matter what.

My Daily Walk on Lake Zurich in Männedorf

On the other hand, with a weak immune system, the world becomes a dangerous place. For 100 days after the transplant, I had to take a large number of precautions to reduce the risk that I would catch an infection from my environment. I was not allowed to go into buildings, or use the public transportation system, be in crowds, come in contact with anyone who was sick, eat certain foods that might have live bacteria in them, and so forth. Jennifer decided she would come back to Zurich for 2 ½ months to help me. She would shop, cook, clean, and do whatever she could to make this quasi-isolation period successful for me. She also came to keep me company. Between great friends and great family, and an angel of a sister, I survived these 100 days with only a few issues, which passed. The doctors are very satisfied with my recovery so far.

A View of the Zwingli Church in Zurich – The River is the Limmat which flows out of Lake Zurich

For these 100 days of quasi-isolation, I rented a furnished apartment in the heart of Zurich. Now, Zurich is one of the most expensive places on Earth to live, so it was a considerable pain in the pocketbook to spend this time there, especially renting a place in the center of Zurich. But, I had no car and was not permitted to take public transportation. I chose an apartment that was near shopping and within walking distance from the hospital, where I had to go twice a week. Additionally, I wanted to be central for Jennifer, so that she could also enjoy Zurich while she was there. The weather was fantastic the whole time, and I believe she missed – we both missed – a real ‘lulu’ of a winter back in Michigan!

One of our two main walks, along Lake Zurich in Zurich – the Zurich Opera House is in the center.

Mainly, we went for walks. We had two main routes. We walked along Lake Zurich and we walked the streets of the old city of Zurich. In the apartment, we both started colored pencil drawings. It was basically a new medium for both of us, so we watched a video course on the techniques of colored pencil drawing, then tried our hand.

A View over the Zurich’s Old City – another regular Walk
Pencil Drawings – Jennifer’s Bird and my Barn

My friend Roman drove Jennifer and me into the mountains, near a town called Engelberg. I was glad that she was able to get into the mountains during her stay, and I am very thankful to my friend, who made it possible.

Jennifer and Roman – Jennifer and I, in the Mountains near Engelberg

Near the end of my stay in Switzerland and, unfortunately, after Jennifer left, Roman also took me to his old farmhouse and “Rustica” in Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland. A “Rustica” is an ancient stone barn. Roman is renovating both, but the Rustica will be turned into a living space first.

We were in Valle Maggia, a beautiful valley in Ticino. While there, I made my first more ambitious hike, climbing up a mountainside to an old chapel. I was, not surprisingly, still weak from my ordeal, and a little wobbly, but I was still happy with my accomplishment. I will be back hiking in full force before long! We also had dinner in Ascona, a pretty town on the shore of Lago Maggiore. I will put some photos up here.

On my First Hike since the Bone Marrow Transplant – Then, on the Waterfront in Ascona in Ticino
First, me with Roman’s Farmhouse to the left and his ‘Rustica’ to the right – Then, Roman with his View up Valle Maggia in the Background

Philosophers Walk – A Long Walk

Naturally, all of what happened in the past months had an impact on my walking plans. In my previous posting, long ago, I announced my plan to walk the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. Well, I have tabled those plans for the time-being.

Philosophenweg – “Pliosophers Walk” in Heidelberg

For the more philosophical of you out there, you may look at my illness and path to recovery as a kind of long walk in itself. It has that feel to me, at least.

However, a blog titled “A Long Walk” should really be about a long walk. I need to rethink my next walk and when I can take it. It will likely not be an extreme hike, but, then, my last one wasn’t either. Perhaps, looked at through the filter of my illness, even a less strenous walk could be followed with interest. If you are interested, you can sign up for this blog. Email notifications of postings will then be sent to you.

Meanwhile, I am on a Philosophers Walk!

And Now?

About four weeks ago, I returned to the US. My immune system was brought up to a level where travel was again possible without high risk. I have a number of plans for the summer, foremost being regaining my fitness. I have gone on a couple of walks and did about an eight mile bike ride already. Slowly, I will get back to “long walk” fitness!

My Friend Sophie in Front of the Storchen, a Restaurant where we had Dinner

Spending 8 months in Europe wasn’t my plan when I got on the airplane last fall to visit my kids at their universities. However, I suppose it is a good exercise to look for the silver lining on dark clouds. Having my leukemia return was monsterously bad luck. However, I did have a chance to see my kids several times during the past year. I was also able to walk my dog a few times. I became closer to a set of unbelievably great friends. Another friend, I haven’t mentioned yet, was Sophie, who checked in on me frequently. Christmas, I spent with former neighbors of mine, while my hosts were off into the mountains skiing.

I don’t know what the future holds for me in terms of this illness. It has been in complete remission since January. One thing is certain, though; I am confident that my current relatively good condition and prospects are owed completely to my friends and family – oh, and, of course, to a team of excellent doctors and caretakers at the University Hospital of Zurich, as well as to a generous 21-year old young man (I know nothing more about him), who signed up to be a stem cell donor, and who was genetically close enough to me to be a near perfect donor match. My sister Jennifer’s extended visit and help was incalculable. She is a saint! An old family friend helped financially to make it all happen. My sincerest thanks and love to him for what he did.

What can I say? Despite everything, I am a lucky guy!

 

Lake Zurich at Männedorf
Lake Zurich at Männedorf
Me back in Michigan doing what I do best!

 

 

Pre-Walk – Summer of Art

"Up Lazy Mountain"
My Finished Pastel “Up Lazy Mountain” for ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, MI

I am pretty sure that I posted this picture of my pastel already, but “artists” need to self-promote.  Otherwise, not much happens on its own.  That’s the way of the art world.

(I will get to my next long walk in a minute, but first I need to plug my ArtPrize piece again.)

My venue at ArtPrize is right downtown in Grand Rapids, in the reception area of the Holiday Inn Downtown Grand Rapids.  You can visit my page on the ArtPrize site:  http://www.artprize.org/67362

If you get to ArtPrize, from September 19 to October 7, you can vote for artwork.  Since you will likely not see anything better than my piece, you might as well vote for me (Vote Code: 67362).  My brother-in-law Joe will have a large outdoor metal sculpture in front of the Courtyard Marriott not far from me.  (Okay, okay…  He will also be a worthy alternative for your vote.)  But, you have to be in Grand Rapids to vote.  The voter registration system there actually picks up on your presence in Grand Rapids, in order to validate your voting rights.  The public voting prize is $250,000, and I can use the cash, so bring friends – actually, bring lots of friends!

Ann Arbor Art Fair
My Sister Jennifer in her Tent Booth at the Ann Arbor Art Fair

Another chapter of my art summer was helping my sister Jennifer with her glass and metal work tent at the Ann Arbor Art Fair.  Man, that was a tough four days!  We sold well, but the behind the scenes work was intense, especially set-up and tear-down.  And, that comes after making all of the product in the first place! (I wasn’t involved in that.)

Me on a Break
Me on a Work Break with the University of Michigan and the Art Fair in the Background

My buddy Tim came to the Art Fair and we took a walk about.  I was staying at his house during the fair.  It is, I think, one of the largest art fairs in the country, maybe even the largest.  It is always nice to be in Ann Arbor.  I lived several years there and have two degrees from the University of Michigan.  There is a plaque on the Modern Language Building commemorating my contributions to German literature made during my studies there.  Disappointingly, I couldn’t locate it.

The video above was made at the Ann Arbor Art Fair.  It is on my YouTube Channel, which now has 2 videos and 2 subscribers and about 18 or 20 views (views of my first video posting)!  I am well on my way to YouTube celebrity, fame and fortune.  Actually, this video here is not really such a successful video posting. My next challenge really is to figure out “vlogging”  (=video+blogging), which will really be a game-changer for my blog.  Can’t wait!  But, meanwhile, enjoy a little Ann Arbor street jazz in my humble early attempt at going multi-media with my blog.  You will also not want to miss Tim’s cameo appearance toward the end.

Mystery Sunset
I don’t remember taking this photo, but it is in my photos from 2008!

Okay, now a word about my next long walk:  I have received feedback on my walking plans from my subscribers, who are still actually following this blog.  The main message back to me is that I should do the Spanish part of the Camino de Santiago, the part that takes you to the end of the pilgrimageSymbol of the Way of St James to the shrine of the apostle Saint James in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.  The big argument in favor of doing the end of the pilgrimage is that you can earn your pilgrim’s merit badge for making it.  The part through Switzerland and other earlier stretches of the pilgrimage don’t get you the recognition, the compostela, i.e. the certificate of accomplishment given to pilgrims on completing “the Way.”  I really have to get that compostela certificate.  I have also been told that the first part of the walk in the Pyrenees has a lot of snow, which may force the start date of the walk to be later than I intended, so I don’t get hit by an avalanche.

Consulting Wikipedia, I learned that one of the great proponents of the St. James pilgrimage in the 12th century was Pope Callixtus II, who started the Compostelan Holy Years. The official pilgrimage guide in those times was the Codex Calixtinus. Published around 1140, the 5th book of the Codex is still considered the definitive source for many modern guidebooks.

So, here is a excerpt from the Codex Calistinus:

“The pilgrim route is a very good thing, but it is narrow. For the road which leads us to life is narrow; on the other hand, the road which leads to death is broad and spacious. The pilgrim route is for those who are good: it is the lack of vices, the thwarting of the body, the increase of virtues, pardon for sins, sorrow for the penitent, the road of the righteous, love of the saints, faith in the resurrection and the reward of the blessed, a separation from hell, the protection of the heavens. It takes us away from luscious foods, it makes gluttonous fatness vanish, it restrains voluptuousness, constrains the appetites of the flesh which attack the fortress of the soul, cleanses the spirit, leads us to contemplation, humbles the haughty, raises up the lowly, loves poverty. It hates the reproach of those fuelled by greed. It loves, on the other hand, the person who gives to the poor. It rewards those who live simply and do good works; And, on the other hand, it does not pluck those who are stingy and wicked from the claws of sin.”

Yikes, that is all a bit scary!

I will write another post soon.  I have some summer and fall plans that may give me some interesting topics and photos, I hope.  Maybe a Long Walk can be more than just a long walk.  I hope so, because there is still some time before I can start the Camino de Santiago.

Wild Flowers - Oil on Canvas
Wild Flowers – Oil on Canvas

 

 

 

 

 

A Pre-Walk Post!

Old Farmhouse near Le Roy
Old Farmhouse near Le Roy

First, I have my fancy camera back from repair!

Halfway through my England walk, the automatic lens cover stopped closing. I had to keep the camera in its pouch between uses and wipe off the lens before taking every picture.  But, I am happy anyway. It is the first thing I ever bought that broke down while still in warranty! I have an extended warranty of 2 years on it, which means it normally would have broken down on me 2 years and 12 hours after time of purchase. It’s now back and I went down a couple of nearby country backroads looking for exactly what I found to take a couple of pictures – old farmhouses and barns!

Old Barn - Textured!
Old Barn – Textured!
Same Old Barn
Same Old Barn

So, now, I am reading a book about blogging.

One firm rule is that, if you have any ambitions at all about your blog, you must write a post 1 to 2 times per week, at a minimum!

I haven’t done that since the walk.  Maybe, my blog is finished, just like my walk across England is finished.  But, this did get me to thinking.  I still have – believe it or not – numbness in two toes from the walk (the two toes I dropped the pickle jar on before even starting the walk!).  But, everything else is returning to normal.  Right now, though, I have better luck on a bike ride than jogging or taking a longer walk, which use some of the same muscle groups as on the long walk. They become sore quickly.

So, I miss my long walk across England – now that the pain of it has diminished! To remedy this loss, I have decided to take another long walk!

Le Camino Frances
Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James)- The French Route through Spain
Jakobsweg - Schweiz
Jakobsweg (Way of St. James) through Switzerland

By the above maps, you will get an idea of where my thinking is going for this next walk – the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James.

Now, tradition has it that St. James’s remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain, and then carried to and buried in what is now the town of Santiago.  Starting over a 1000 years ago, pilgrims began making their way to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which supposedly houses the reinterred remains of St. James.

The pilgrimage never stopped from the time of the discovery of St. James’s remains in 812 AD and their redepositing in Santiago up to today, though there have been years of slower traffic, like during the World Wars.  The Black Death, as well as Moorish occupation of Spain, also reduced the number of pilgrims at different times.  But, today, it is more popular than ever.  In  October 1987, the route was actually declared the first “European Cultural Route” by the European Council; and also named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites – the whole route!

Pilgrims actually travelled to Santiago over many routes through the centuries, depending on where they started.  My top map above shows the route through Spain from France, which is also the most popular route, called Camino Francés, or “The French Way.”  Technically, you only need to walk the last 100 Kilometers of the route in Spain on foot, in order to earn the St. James pilgrimage certificate, or merit badge, or whatever it is.  But, first, you get a document called the credencial, purchased for a few euros from a Spanish tourist agency, a church or parish house on the route, a refugio, etc.  The credencial is a pass which gives you access to inexpensive, sometimes free, overnight accommodation in refugios along the trail. It is also known as the “pilgrim’s passport.” The credencial is stamped with the official St. James stamp of each town or refugio, at which the pilgrim has stayed. It provides a record of where you ate or slept along the way, and is your proof to the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago that the journey was accomplished according to an official route. Then, you get your merit badge – I just read that it is called a compostela (certificate of completion of the pilgrimage)!

The idea for me would be, again, to walk across a country from one side to the other – here east to west.  Santiago is just about on the west coast of Spain.  This is longer than my England walk, but the main route is not as hilly.  What is attractive is that, once again, there are agencies that will book overnight accommodations for you across Spain on the route.  Many overnights have been used for centuries by pilgrims.  These companies will also transport a bag of luggage between stops.  This model worked well for Joel’s and my England walk.

Wetland Near Le Roy, MI
Wetland Near Le Roy, MI

The second map, above, is another walk option, and shows the main route taken by pilgrims trekking across Switzerland on their way to Spain, and finally to Santiago.  The route follows the northern edge of the Alps, so not up and down mountains directly, but more like skirting along the northern edge of the Alps, and I know a lot of these areas already from many years of hiking in Switzerland.  It also goes from the eastern border to the western border, across the whole country.

Okay, that’s all for now about my walk.  I will pick one of these two routes. They are longer walks, but, especially the one in Spain, they are not designed to go over every hill in sight, like how Alfred Wainwright designed his Coast to Coast Walk in England.  Pilgrims didn’t want to go over mountains if they could avoid it!

"Up Lazy Mountain"
My Finished Pastel “Up Lazy Mountain” for ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, MI

The  blog will now cover my “journey” to my next walk, and then the walk itself.  My target would be to do it next spring, before the weather gets too hot.  Spring and fall are the best times, according to what I have read.

I can’t manage it this fall, because I will have my pastel at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan, from September 19 to October 7.  After that, I have to travel to my annual medical “check-ups” in Zurich, Switzerland, after which I hope to visit my kids at their universities.  My son Robert is going to a unviersity in the Netherlands, and my daughter Julia will be at a university in the UK, so that is a lot of bouncing around Europe this coming fall.

Bond Falls
Bond Falls, Michigan Upper Peninsula

I will write about my preparations, which will run the gamut from direct preparations for the walk to other activities which mentally, physically and “spiritually” get me ready for the walk.  This summer, I plan to get to San Francisco to see Joel, so that we can reminisce about our England walk together, and also visit my friend Matt.  Hopefully, also, I can see some family I have north of San Francisco.  I hope still to get up north to the Michigan UP with my buddy Tim, like I did last year.  So, I believe that the path to Santiago will be paved with a number of mini-adventures!

It is, after all, a “pilgrimage”!

Cadillac and Back
My Turn-Around Point on my Cadillac and Back Bike Rides

London to Home – After the Walk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhHg6v1_PiI

Something that I failed to do on the walk was upload a video.  I tried.  It just didn’t work. So, now that I have had a few hours at home to fuss around with it, I am trying it in two different ways.  The first is a direct upload, which, during the walk, kept blowing up on me for file-size reasons.  I got around it now – it’s complicated, though. Then, I created a ‘YouTube Channel’ for myself.  Both methods are included above.  I want to see which works better.  What looks better to you?  – It is certain now that YouTube stardom awaits me!

Because of my problems posting it during the walk, this is the only video that I shot on the trip.  I wanted to “vlog” on one evening in a pub, but I had to give up this ambition for the afore-mentioned technical reasons.  Anyway, I shot the above video while we were walking along this valley, which I am guessing is Ullswater Valley (I somehow lost track of where we were).  You will see and, especially, hear the chorus of sheep baaing, reverberating as if the whole valley were an amplifier.

I am home in Le Roy now.  Actually, it has been almost a week.  It is good and a little sad, at the same time, to be home.  I have several projects and plans for the summer, but I am feeling an emptiness.  Planning the walk, walking the walk, writing my posts about the walk, it all stopped all at once, and now I feel a little disorientated.

Brown to Green
While I was Gone – Brown to Green Out Back

In London, I did some of my favorite “London things.”  I went to the British Museum, I went to a play, I went to a favorite restaurant, I met an old friend for dinner, and we established that we hadn’t seen each other for about 12 years, though we email and Facetime fairly regularly.

Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus

I could spend weeks at the British Museum, but I only had a few hours this trip.  My feet were still incredibly sore from the walk, so part of my time there was seeking out benches and plopping myself down on them.  I decided to hit some of my British Museum highlights (to be honest, I am not unique in my highlights – they belong to the Museum’s greatest treasures) – i.e. the Sutton Hoo Helmet (7th century), the Isle of Lewis Chessmen (12th century), the Rosetta Stone (196 BC), and a few other amazing objects.

British Museum
British Museum
Sutton Hoo Helmet
Sutton Hoo Helmet
Isle of Lewis Chessmen
Isle of Lewis Chessmen
Rosetta Stone
Rosetta Stone

The Sutton Hoo treasure was found on the eve of World War II in 1939, and was left in the ground to protect it.  It was then escavated and displayed in 1946.  The collection of 263 objects included weapons, silver cutlery, gold buckles, coins, and a distinctive full-face helmet, of a kind never before found in Britain. Examining the artifacts, they concluded that the burial was not Viking, as first assumed, but Anglo-Saxon.  One theory is that the burial belonged to Rædwald, King of East Anglia, who died in 624, and whose reign coincides with the dates of the Sutton Hoo treasure.

The Lewis chessmen are a group of 12th-century chess pieces, along with other gaming pieces, most of which are carved from walrus ivory, discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.  They are some of the very few complete, surviving medieval chess pieces. Being a chess player, I particularly like this display in the Museum.  When found, the hoard contained 93 artifacts: 78 chess pieces, 14 other gaming pieces, and one belt buckle (thrown in for good measue, I guess). Today, 82 pieces are owned and exhibited at the British Museum, and the remaining 11 are at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.  I would like to buy a replica set of these pieces.  I will need to think about it.  I don’t know where to display it.

The Rosetta Stone was found in 1799, inscribed with three versions of a royal decree issued in Memphis, Egypt (not Tennessee), in 196 BC . The top and middle texts are in Ancient Egyptian using hieroglyphics and Demotic script, while the bottom is in Ancient Greek, which was able to be read at the time of discovery, and this held the key to the first-time deciphering of Eygptian hieroglyphics.  It still took 20 years to crack it.

What I didn’t realize was that it was rediscovered there in July 1799 by the French during the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt, but then the British defeated the French there in 1802, so they took the Stone! It is, now, likely the most visited item in the British Museum – rather than, almost, the Louvre.  A Frenchman, though, cracked the hieroglyphic code around 1822.

Car in London
In London, you can see something every day that you just don’t see every day!

The play I saw was “An Ideal Husband” by Oscar Wilde, who may be as funny today as he was during his own time.  Two of the main actors were a famous real-life father and son team, playing a father and son in the play – Freddie Fox as Lord Goring and Edward Fox as the father, the Earl of Caversham.

Beforehand, I had dinner at the Wellington Pub on the Strand, an Edwardian gem, not far from the theatre (notice my spelling just got British!).

The Wellington
The Wellington – Traditional pub with original Edwardian ceilings and wooden bar.
Vaudville Theatre
The Vaudeville Theatre before the Performance

On another night, my dinner out was at an old favorite restaurant of mine in Shepherd Market, Mayfair – Le Boudin Blanc.  It was good, as I remembered it was.  However, when the check came, I also remembered that this was a favorite restaurant at a time when I was gainfully employed.  Oh well!  Sometimes, you just have to grin and bear it, and also still enjoy it.  So, I did.

Shepherd Market
Shepherd Market

I started writing this post on Friday, but I kept getting interrupted, or, rather, I would Interrupt myself.  I put together a Barbecue. Why do they put customers through this? Why don’t things come assembled anymore?  I also went through emails and paid bills.  I looked at my rooms and thought hard about maybe straightening them up sometime.

Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain

Then, I had an upset.  I heard that Anthony Bourdain had died, apparently by suicide.  I have to write about it here. It was a surprisingly hard hit for me, I was a big fan.  I thought what a life he lived, what adventures he had – and he earned a good living doing it and he was famous for doing it.  But, it was mainly the way he experienced the people and places he  visited that moved me.  I thought, I would like his life.  His entrée into people’s lives and culture was often through the food they ate, because that was his background, but, of course, he observed and discovered far more.  He reported about people and cultures with such honesty.  When I think more of the episodes in his “Parts Unknown,” I believe, yes, in fact, it was a very heavy honesty.   He saw and felt things deeply. Bourdain, himself, admitted that he was restless, that he couldn’t stop.  I read that he was on the road 250 days a year.  When I think of this, I get a picture of  a glass that can’t be filled, no matter how much is poured into it.  Maybe, I was hit hard by the news, because I have sometimes this restlessness, too.

The stats for suicide are scary.  Since 1999, the overall US suicide rate has increased by 25%!  But, depression can be treated and does in the vast majority of cases pass. I wish that Anthony Bourdain had found the help he needed.  He knew so many amazing people. How did his illness go so unchecked?

Okay, I don’t mean to end my post on such a sad note.  But, it is 1:30 AM and I want to “publish” this finally, so maybe I will have to end this way. Sorry. – I do plan to post again, but I would like to think first about what I will do next.  Most logical would be another walk.  After all, my site is called “A Long Walk.” But, maybe, I will have another idea. I will sign off for now.

Walking the C2C
Walking the C2C

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post Walk – York & London – Some Reflections

York - Waterfront
York – Waterfront

To say that my fitness to do this walk was inadequate would not be true. I did it, and I did it on the planned schedule.

However, it also could have been better.  When I changed my cross-country walk from Switzerland to England, I pictured, instead of going up and down Alps, a long stroll through a kind of Henry Fielding Cotswolds countryside – gentle, green, rolling, picturesque.  So, I was surprised at what the good Alfred Wainwright threw at us in his Coast-to-Coast Walk.  Joel has hiked frequently in the US West, and I have hiked extensively in Switzerland.  But, we both agreed that there were miles on this walk that were harder than we have ever done before.

River Ouse
River Ouse

Joel was more fit.  He is a bit younger and hasn’t been ill, but I don’t want to diminish his credit.  He has exercised regularly his whole life.  In fact, on the trail, I was a bit slow.  It seemed as if most people were passing me up.  I guess, I wouldn’t have seen the slower ones because they didn’t pass me up!  This was discouraging at first, but then I remembered, or thought of, two things that encouraged me rather than discouraged me.

The first is that I have come a long way since my illness.  I was diagnosed with my leukemia a little over 3 years ago, and then spent 9 months basically on my back.  All of my muscles disappeared.  I have brought myself back to a point, where I have accomplished something that most of the population couldn’t, especially at 60+ years old.

In longer conversations with fellow Coast-to-Coasters, I told them about my past and why making this walk was important to me.  Everyone was incredibly encouraging. A surprising number of them had stories about friends and loved ones who had had leukemia. Many of those stories did not have happy endings.  At the end of the walk, in Robin Hood’s Bay, one woman, from Leeds, England, started tearing up. She had lost someone close to her to a related illness that also required a stem cell transplant.  I said I was so sorry, that I didn’t mean to upset her.  She said, no, she was emotional because she was so happy for me, and that I survived and that I made this walk.

The second thing that was encouraging to me – I will say even inspiring – was the number of older people – in their 50s, 60s and 70s (maybe some older) –  who were hiking across England, and who were powerful walkers!  Talking with them, I would learn that this year they were doing the Coast-to-Coast, last year it was the Pennine Way, before that the tour around Mount Blanc, then the Camino de Santiago, then the climb up Kilimanjaro.  These were truly exceptional older people, a rarified group, who – once, I learned their stories – inspired me rather than discouraged me.  I want to be like them!

There was Bob from Washington D.C., who booked his B&Bs for this walk last summer, before flying to Nepal to hike there.  He is hiking from Grindelwald to the Matterhorn this fall.  He looked possibly between 65 and even 75, who knows, but he walked as if he were a very fit 20.  Jim – also in retirement – from Australia, walking with his son, would cruise past us every day.  Joel may have kept up with many of these walkers, but he was a bit tied to me. But, I was not unhappy.  I was still in the top percentage of people my age, because I could do this.  To see and meet these other exceptional hikers and people was just plain inspiring.

Of course, there were a number of young people on the trail, as well.  I admired them for doing this walk.  In a fast-moving, technically-overrun world, that has been their world for their whole lives, these young people chose to see England at a walking pace, step for step.  The ones I talked to were equally remarkable to me, they were articulate, self-assured and appreciative of the landscapes and of what they were doing.  The people  I met became a big part of this walk for me.  Toward the end, I began handing out my blogsite address to many of them.  They may tune in some time and see pictures of where they have also been.  My heart-felt “Greetings” to all of them visiting here!

Me
Me On a Sort of Paved Trail
Me
The Dot in the Picture is Me
Along Wain Stones
Skirting alongside Wain Stones before descending to Clay Bank Top

I had one main rule for the walk.  We had to walk across England in an unbroken line – no cheating, not even for a foot!  Joel was completely on Bord with this rule.  There were 3 B&Bs enough off the trail that we were supposed to call them for a pick-up, which we did.  However, they had to drive us back the next morning to the exact point, where they picked us up.  These off the trail B&Bs were unavoidable, and everyone using B&Bs had to book some like this.  They turned out to be a couple of our nicest B&Bs, though, so it worked out well.  The villages we passed through were often too small to have more than even one place to stay.  We booked our B&Bs early enough to have almost all of our B&Bs on the trail, or a short distance off of it.  At Clay Bank Top, there was nothing – just a road that intersected the trail.  At a place called Wain Stones, we picked up a cellular signal and were able to arrange our pick up when we reached Clay Bank Top.

Another, let’s call it, “rule” was that I was going to keep my blogposts up to date, and not slip.  I wanted to bring everyone along, day by day.  I missed this rule twice.  The first time, I warned about in advance – we had our hilliest day and our longest day, back to back.  As I suspected, all I could do was get to the B&B, shower, eat dinner and go to bed.  After these two days, we had our rest day, so I caught up both missed days, and Joel wrote the rest-day entry.  The other time I was late a day was when I fell asleep sitting upright at my iPad!  When I woke up, I couldn’t get my brain to work, so I put it aside and went back to sleep. I caught that post up the next day.

All of you reading the posts gave me the energy to keep current.  I have over a hundred subscribers, and a large number of others, who just tuned in regularly.  I know this from comments I received and from Joel telling me about who was following among his friends. I received comments on the site, but also on FaceBook and on LinkedIn.  In fact, my first blog post on LinkedIn received – get this! – over 7,500 views!  Each subsequent post had views in the 100s.  That was also good, because views of my professional profile shot up into the 100s during these past 3 weeks, as well!  I enjoyed writing the posts, particularly knowing that they were being read.  I don’t really want to stop now, but I am not sure yet how to continue.  I am not keen on keeping a blog reporting on “days in the life of Jeff”!  I will make some thoughts about this.  I may need to plan a new adventure!

Old House in York
This Old House in York has a Name, but I Fogot to Note it Down

We ended the walk on an English bank holiday weekend, the sun was still shining, and the coast was packed. We wanted to extend our stay in Robin Hood’s Bay for a night and just decompress the whole next day.  Additionally, some Coast-to-Coasters we met were intending to meet the following night at the Wainwright Pub.  But, there wasn’t a room to be had anywhere, so we decided to head to a place, where there would be a straight train-shot to London.  Joel’s flight was on Wednesday.  We checked around and found a hotel in York with a vacancy, right on the river, near the center of town.  So, we headed there the next day.

Shambles - York
An Ancient Part of York
Diagon Alley
For you Wizards, Diagon Alley – For you Muggles, The Shambles
Shambles
Shambles

We arrived in York in the afternoon.  Fortunately, Joel and I had been several times in York over the years, once also together, on our trip in 1981.  Therefore, we did not need to walk the city wall or visit York Cathedral or do other obligatory visitor things in the town.  We went to an old pub by the riverfront and had a beer, then returned to the hotel for a nap before dinner.  We wanted to find a good pub menu in or near The Shambles, which is an ancient street in York, where every building is leaning one way or another.  J. K. Rowling has family in York, and The Shambles was her inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books. When they made the Harry Potter movies, set designers even went to York to take detailed measurements of the street.

We found a 16th century pub, called the White Swan, which ticked off all of our boxes for dinner, just off the Shambles.

The White Swan
The White Swan – Dinner in York
Joel at the White Swan
Joel at the White Swan
Diagon Alley
Wizards Gathering in Diagon Alley

Joel and I carried on the next day, which was Tuesday, to London. We found a pub next to King’s Cross Station, where we came in.  Joel was heading to a hotel in Paddington, next to the rail station with the Heathrow Express he would take the next morning for his flight.  I headed to Marylebone, just a block off Baker Street, where my friends live.  It is a beautiful area of London.  My friends are having an unexpectedly crazy work week, but are – and have always been – so gracious and welcoming to me. Fantastic friends!  I am hoping for some quality time with them on the weekend.  My flight back to Michigan departs next Monday.

I look forward to seeing family and friends back in Michigan, and I have some other projects in the works there, so I believe I will not have too much time to dwell on my Coast-to-Coast Walk being over.  It was a great walk, Joel was a great walking companion, and our names are in the logbook at the Wainwright Pub in Robin Hood’s Bay. We are official Coast-to-Coasters, which is – by all measures – a high and well-earned honor!

(I will write periodically, especially when I conceive my next adventure, so you can subscribe on the site and received email alerts.)

Marylebone
View from my Friends’ Great Apartment in Marylebone, London

 

 

Day 17 – Egton Bridge to Robin Hood’s Bay – North Sea – Made it!

North Sea
The North Sea!

We made it!  We walked coast to coast across England.

I will start with our stats today –

Total Miles walked: 203.38

Ascents: 27,648

Descents: 27, 648

I am not completely sure how tall Mount Everest is, but I think it is around 29,000 feet.  So, we nearly climbed Mount Everest from sea level to the summit AND back down again.

Leaving B&B
Leaving our B&B in Egton Bridge
Grosmont
Starting a near 800 foot climb on steep roads in Grosmont

Today, again, Wainwright threw everything at us on this final day of his Coast-to-Coast Walk – steep climbs, woods, meadows, bogs and coastline (and very long, just short of 18 miles).

Rat & Mole Man
How do you decide to get into this line of work?
Hermitage
A hermit actually chiseled this cave out of natural rock in 1792!

I think my legs and feet were timed to do this final day, and then give out.  The two toes that I dropped a pickle jar on before the walk (see the pre-walk post on it) began stinging like crazy.  I probably walked across England with two broken toes.

Actually, everything hurts right now, except my pride, which is, admittedly, elevated.  Three years ago, I was in a hospital with leukemia, and now I have just walked across England in an unbroken line.  And, it wasn’t the easiest way across either – Alfred Wainwright, that old devil, made sure of that, throwing hills and mud at us until the very end.

North Sea
First sight of the North Sea, the town is Whitby
Coastal Path
Arrived at the coastal path to Robin Hood’s Bay, but still a few miles to go
Robin Hood’s Bay
Robin Hood’s Bay
Main Street
Main Street Down to the Water in Robin Hood’s Bay

Finally reaching Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea, there were some ceremonies to perform. Entering the town, which was bustling with English tourists because it was a bank holiday weekend, we walked down the steep picturesque main street of the village to the shore.  On the west coast at St. Bees, right at the start, we dipped our boots into the Irish Sea and picked up a pebble. Now, of course, we had to dip our boots into the North Sea and toss our pebble in.  All of the Coast-to-Coasters do this.  In a thousand years, geologists will be confused about why they are finding Irish Sea pebbles in the North Sea.

After the water ceremonies are carried out, you have to go to the Bay Hotel on the water, to the Wainwright Bar.  There, you register completing the walk in a log book.  Nothing happens when you do this, but it needs to be done to confirm your walk as, indeed, completed.  After that, you order a pint of Wainwright beer. The day was sunny and almost too hot. We took our beer outside.  There we found a table with three pairs of Coast-to-Coast walkers, whom we have seen along the whole way.  We sat down with them and talked about our common experience.  All had just completed the walk that day.  We were comrades, veterans of the walk, part of an exclusive society – the C2Cers.  The tourists and residents of the town recognized us by our packs and walking sticks and boots, and they were in awe of us!  We were a cut above. We were in Robin Hood’s Bay, because we walked across England to be there

Joel
Joel putting his boot into the water.
Boot in Water
Me doing the same
Pebble
Joel tossing his pebble
Pebble Toss
Me doing the same

So, now what?  Joel will fly back to San Francisco on Wednesday.  I am staying with friends in London until, I think, Sunday (I guess I should check that).So, then what?  In London, I will do a longer entry, when I have more time.  All of the short evenings on the walk did not give me much opportunity to write more thoughtful posts.  I will try to write a summary or retrospective of the walk.  So, this is the end of the walk, but expect another post from me in the next days.

It’s 1 AM now. Good night!

C2Cers
Coast-to-Coasters
Bay Hotel and Wainwright Bar
The Bay Hotel with the Wainwright Bar
2 New C2Cers
Two New Coast-to-Coasters

 

Day 16 – Blakey Ridge to Egton Bridge

Out the Window
Out my Window at the B&B, Feversham Arms

Tomorrow, it is the North Sea, or bust!  To reduce my chances of busting, I will need to finish this post quickly and sleep.  We are leaving early. It is supposed to be a hard and long day – our second longest day walk, about 18 miles.  There is also a steep straight up of 700 or 800 feet near the start.

Joel
Joel in our B&B Last Night
Coast-to-Coasters
Two Australian Coast-to-Coasters, whom we have met at numerous places along the way.
Lion Pub
The The Lion B&B, where we stoppe yesterday and started today.

Today, we walked about 12 miles through the moors.  Because England has a bank holiday weekend, we could not get all the way to the suggested stop for the day, Grosmont. We stopped about 2 miles short in a pretty village called Egton Bridge.  Grosmont was booked out of rooms. I guess it is a hot spot for bank holiday tourists.  Well, that adds 2 miles to our walk tomorrow.

The Fat Lady
This is a boundary marker with a cross on top, known as the Fat Lady. You are supposed to leave food there and take food. I was going to leave a bag of potato chips, but there was no food to take, so I kept my chips.
Millennial Stone
The Millennial Stone – It marked a left turn for us.
Moor Landscape
The moors stretching out before us

 

As you can see in the pictures, the walk was fairly flat today.  Our guidebook of the trail promised views of the North Sea, but the horizon stayed hazy and, so, we didn‘t see our goal.

Glaisedale
If I understand my map correctly, this valley is Glaisedale
Sheep
Our friends, the sheep
River Esk
Off the moor, over the bridge and into the woods.
Worn Stones
I don‘t know when these stones were put there, but look how worn they are!

Our B&B this evening is called the Old Mill.  We went nearby for dinner, at a place called The Horseshoe. To get between the two, we crossed two old rows of stepping stones in the river.  I will paste the rest of the photos below and try to sleep for the big day tomorrow!

Updated Stats:

Distance walked so far: 185.54 miles

Ascents: 25,148 feet

Descents: 24,700 feet

The Horseshoe
The Horseshoe, our Dinner Pub
The Old Mill
The Old Mill, our B&B
The Mill Stream
The Mill Stream
Stepping Stones
The first of two sets of the famous Stepping Stones, crossing the river

Day 15 – Clay Bank Top to Blakey Ridge

Start of Day
Start of Day – C2C as It is Supposed to Be – Overcast and Rainy

I would fail as a photo journalist.  Our B&B yesterday was very old and charming, but, since it was 3 miles off the route, they picked us up in the late afternoon and ran us back up to the trail in the morning.  So, I didn’t get a picture of it!  A loss.  Oh, well… some things in life you will just have a memory of and not a photo.

Today, the C2C was as it is advertised to be – cold, overcast, rainy and foggy.  We have had outstanding weather so far (in fact, abnormally good), but today gave us a taste of what probably more than 50% of everybody‘s walk across the country is like, a side-ways blowing wind, blasting hail-rain at about 50 mph into our side. It was pretty miserable.

Fog
I put a Sign Post in the Picture, Just to Give it a Focal Point
Joel in Fog
Before the Freezing Rain
No Views
There are Views out There Somewhere

But, it is a kind of weather which suits the moors well, a bit of gloom and mystery.  It was attractive in that way, but the attraction got old fast, once the hail hit – sideways.  Fortunately, the day was a relatively short walk of 9 miles on relatively flat trails.

Me and Burial Mound
Me Next to Another Ancient Burial Mound
Boundary Stone
These Old Standing Stones Marked Boundries Ages Ago – Abbeys and Feudal Estates
Face
Boundary Stone with Face

Our guide book said that, after we saw a stone with a face carved into it, we were to start looking for a path  to left, which would take us to the Lion‘s Inn, a 17th century pub and inn.

Tarn in Fog
Tarn on the Moors in Fog
Sheep
We Heard Today that Most of the Sheep in These Parts of England Belong to the English Heritage Foundation. They are Under Historical Protection!
Sheep
Sheep and More Sheep

Not used to the normal bad weather of the trail, and spoiled by the great weather we have been having so far, we were looking hard for the Lion‘s Inn.  There, we could call our B&B, also miles off the trail, to pick us up.  We met fellow travelers, whom we meet time and again on the route, all of us moving in the same direction. The report is that the weather will improve tomorrow. It should also be relatively flat tomorrow, but a bit longer, 14 miles.  But, where was the Lion‘s Inn?  Suddenly, through the fog…!

(It is late evening and I am writing this in the pub of our B&B, the Feversham Inn, actually built as an inn in 1835.  There is quite a loud, funny, local crowd here. I can hardly understand a word that they are saying! They are telling jokes now.)

Lion‘s Inn
Suddenly, the Lion‘s Inn!

Day 14 – Ingleby Arncliffe to Clay Bank Top

C2C and Cleveland Way
Coast to Coast and Cleveland Way Paths Cross

Today, our walk was beautiful. We entered the North York Moors, the last National Park on our route.  But, it was a tough day – steep ups and downs all day. As soon as we gained elevation, the path dropped steeply again, and that happened over and over again.  My feet are timed barely to make it to the North Sea, and then they will expire. I will have to pamper them for a couple of weeks before they will be useable again.

North York Moors
Entering the North York Moors – the Acorn marks the Cleveland Way
Before the Moor
Climbing up to the First Moor
Before the Moor
Before the Moor

Joel and I hiked the North York Moors together in 1981, so we were excited to be at this point, once again entering the moors.  I can‘t do the math about how many years later it is now – too late in the evening for higher math.

heather Moor
The Largest Heather Moor in England – In August Everything is Blooming Purple
C2C and Cleveland Way
Today, The Coast to Coast and the Cleveland Way Follow the Same Path
Sheep Skull
Former Moor Inhabitant

The moors look primal, but they are a man-made landscape.  One or two thousand years ago, there were woods covering the landscape.  The trees were cut for wood, and sheep grazing kept the vegetation down.  Now, the North York Moors are the largest heather moors in England.  The heather blooms in August.  When Joel and I were last here, it was August (1981) and everything was purple.Signs of human occupation go back thousands of years here.  We passed a 4000 year old Bronze Age burial mound, just next to the path.

Burial Mound
Bronze Age Burial Mound – 4000 Years Old!
Description
Description of The Mound

We were supposed to catch a glimpse of the North Sea today, but low clouds hung over the coast, and I think our first glance now may be on the last day.  We have 3 more days of walking.

Our Path
Our Path – Up and Down and Up and Down – I Think 5 Times
Löw Clouds
Löw Clouds Blocking our View of the North Sea
Our Route
We are Crossing All of the Hills as Far as You Can See here

I never have enough time to write proper posts in the evening.  I am sitting by myself in the hotel restaurant.  The owner, Wolfgang, from Heidelberg, showed me how to turn the lights off and then he left.  I don‘t think I remember what he said to do.  Joel is sleeping already and I am jealous.  I think I am going to sign off.  There are no B&Bs at Clay Bank Top, where we stopped for the day.  We were told to call the hotel from the Wain Stones, shown in the last photo below. We needed to climb down and the hotel would pick us up – it is not on the route.  Tomorrow, we start the day with a steep climb back up! – Good night!

Updated Stats:

Miles walked: 164.16

Ascents: 23,742 ft.

Descents: 22,577 ft.

Wain Stones
Wain Stones

Day 13 – Danby Wiske to Ingleby Arncliffe

Flat
Flat All Day, but Good on the Feet

Well, I needed to do 2 days of posts this evening and I am getting sleepy.  I just posted Day 12, a day late, and now I am going to rush through Day 13, because I am tired and it was uneventful, anyway.

However, TOMORROW may be one of our prettier days.  As usual, with our pretty days, we will have lots of climbs and descents.  We are entering the North York Moors National Park tomorrow.  We may even catch our first glimpse of the North Sea!

Moors in Distance
In the Distance, You Can See the Hills of the North York Moors!

We have about a 50 miles to go now. Without any wrong turns, the overall length of our walk at the end should be between 200 and 210 miles. Joel will give me closer numbers in the next day or two.  However, we can say with certainty that we are now 3/4 of the way there!

So, although it could be a short evening tomorrow – it is a long day with a lot of ups and downs – I should have nice pictures from tomorrow’s walk.

Funny Farm
A Farm with a Sense of Humor
Satanic Farm
Satanic Farm on the Route

We arrived fairly early at our B&B, a very nice one, in Ingleby Ancliffe.  Now, I need to sleep for tomorrow.  To finish up, I will post a picture of me at the welcome sign for the village and another of Joel at our B&B.

Ingleby Arncliffe
Entering Ingleby Anrcliffe
B&B
Infront of the B&B