May 14: Swiss Camino Day 5

Well, the final day has come and gone, and my right butt cheek is pretty happy it’s ended, but the rest of me wishes we were walking for longer.

Today we did a shorter stretch of 16km from Rapperswil to Einsiedeln, to finish the first third of the Swiss Camino, but because there was a fair bit of uphill it took us about six hours (with stops). See here if you want a detailed description of our whole journey, written by people from the Camino.

When we walked the middle section of the Swiss Camino in 2012 we started in Einsiedeln, so it was a logical end point for this trip. We can now say we’ve walked across two-thirds of Switzerland.

Leaving Rapperswil, you walk through the city, past the marina and onto a wooden footbridge which crosses the Lake of Zürich. What a great way to start the final day, listening to all the birds nesting on the lake, which is a nature reserve. Once across, we walked along a train line for a while, and then headed up, up, up to St Meinrad, where we stopped for a quick sugary drink and then started, for me, the highlight of the trip.

This section, between St Meinrad and Einsiedeln, is the postcard vision we have in our head of what Switzerland looks like – snow capped mountains, lakes, fields, cows, little wooden houses and glorious greenery. I kept taking photos of the same section of landscape, hoping to properly capture its beauty, but, alas, no picture can portray just how awe inspiring it is. You’ll have to come see for yourself!

Another highlight was being charged by a little cow. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of that, but I would have loved a video of him bouncing in front of me, being all threatening, and me running away flailing my walking sticks in the air.

When we arrived in Einsiedeln, home of a very huge monastery, we were shocked by how many people were there, but it is a religious public holiday in Switzerland today, so maybe we shouldn’t have been too surprised! Because of this we didn’t go into the church, as we’d seen it on our previous trip.

We stopped for a much-needed late lunch and then caught the train to Bern and then the bus to Wohlen. It took just over two and a half hours to get home. While walking that 10 minute path from the bus, we felt the first spits of rain, and as I type this, at 10.30pm, it’s raining heavily. Our decision to compress the five-day walk into four days was a good one, because the weather has quickly turned from amazing to miserable.

Signing off for now. The photos once again will tell a better story than me. I think I might start a new section on this blog about walking, with the various hikes we’ve done, but need to work out if the time it takes to set it all up is worth it. Would you like to see more photos of other walks around the UK and Europe?

We haven’t slept well the previous two nights, so hopefully being in our own bed will put everything right again, including that strained butt cheek??

Wishing you a wonderful day.

May 13: Swiss Camino Day 4

Today was tougher than I care to admit, and it was the shortest of the three days we’ve walked so far. Why so tough? Because so much if it – I’m thinking about three quarters of it – was on asphalt. That stuff is a killer, especially when you can see green grass so close by. Walking on a street/sidewalk/footpath is so much tougher on the feet than a natural path and we’re both suffering because of it.

I had my phone interview at 8am which I think was ok (please be good!) and then we left the Hörnli at about 8.45am. Lots of downhill to start the day and then into Steg … and then a very long straight footpath next to a busy road for about an hour. Ugh! Reprieve came in a short grassy path but then it was back onto a narrow road which serviced some smaller villages.

We chatted with another walker in a lovely field of wildflowers and she cracked us up. The first thing she said was the Canton of Zürich, being Protestant, had terrible signs for the Jakobsweg, or Swiss Camino, which is a Catholic pilgrimage. We laughed at first but then we had to agree with her. Not only was this 24km stretch between Hörnli and Rapperswil tough (yes that is the real name of this lovely village on Lake Zürich – I always joke about it being full of rappers), but the signs were pretty non-existent. The woman we spoke with in the field had been on a very long detour thanks to bad signposting, which involved going a long way down only to have to come a long way back up again. She was livid!

Later we spoke with an old woman who ran a little cafe for walkers/pilgrims and she said a few years ago, the canton had ordered all the Jakobsweg signs to be taken down, and because they live on the path, her husband had bought a few of them at the markets and put them up again! They were very helpful, so hats off to him for his foresight!

We struggled slowly into town just after 4pm and I’d lost my sense of humor by the time we found an overpriced hotel. I had a pain shooting from my right butt cheek down my thigh and Leo was also struggling. Why do we do this? Oh that’s right, it’s fun!

We did see amazing snow-covered Alps (the photos don’t really show them so well) and an incredible storm rolling in which thankfully bypassed us, but we were both very happy for the day to hurry up and end.

Even though it’s a lovely city, Rapperswil goes on the ‘must-see next time’ list for when we have more energy. We had a quick drink on the waterfront and then pizza near the hotel, where Leo cracked me up. I took a photo of him at the table and he was surprised that the man who refuses to wear sunscreen could be so sunburnt!

It was warm again today, and our decision to make the five day trip into a four day trip seems to be a good one, because bad weather is forecast for Friday, which would have been our last day of walking. Thankfully, tomorrow is our last day and we’ll be home and comfy on the couch when the bad weather kicks in.

Hope you enjoy the photos. No surprises that I didn’t take many photos of walking along the roads and on the footpaths etc. Hardly inspiring stuff!

I’ll post descriptions when I’m home.

Wishing you a wonderful day.

May 12: Swiss Camino Day 3

Another long day with a very steep and arduous hill at the end but the view from the top is worth it!

It was pretty warm today, even I can admit that. I had sweat droplets coming down my face which hasn’t happened for a very long time! We left the accommodation in Tobel at 8.45am (we’re creatures of habit it seems) after a big breakfast talking to the owners and another couple who are walking one more day with their dog.

First came some fields with fresh hay bales, then some flat parts, then some hilly parts, then lunch in Fisherlingen, then some really beautiful forested parts and then finally some open parts which were very, very steep. Leo asked me was it just him or was I suffering on the incline too? I was suffering. We arrived in Hörnli just after 4pm and decided after 28km that was enough for one day. It was time to stop and enjoy that view.

Hope you enjoy the photos. I’ll write descriptions when I’m home.

Wishing you a wonderful day.

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May 11: Swiss Camino Day 2

We set off just before 9am after a hearty breakfast at our hotel in Constance, through the city for about half an hour and then into a lovely forest area next to a stream. After just over three hours we arrived at our intended destination, Märstetten, and thought why stop now? So we went on, for another four hours and made it to Tobel. Just over seven hours of walking and about 26km under our belts.

All up a wonderful day in the sunshine with plenty of spectacular views and animals and hay bales. We’ve had dinner and my hayfever tablet has worn off and my nose is running and I can’t stop sneezing so I’m going to keep this short!

We’re definitely going to feel our legs and feet tomorrow and are worried we may have overdone it on day one! But the weather was too good to stop. Leo has a sore part at the back of his knee and I have a blister on the back of my left heel. Not to worry! We’ll power on tomorrow (we’ll probably be up quite early as it’s 8.15pm and Leo is asleep already!) and see how far we can go.

Enjoy the small selection of photos. I’ll add descriptions when I get home.

Wishing you a wonderful day.

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Embracing Phase Three by Kate Lehmann

This is the fourth guest post in a new fitfor15in15 series designed to show the pleasant impact that feeling fit, in all its forms, can have on your life. Kate Lehmann has never shied away from a challenge and she’s grabbed her newest passion with both hands, literally. Take it away Kate!

Embracing Phase Three by Kate Lehmann (radiographer in Brisbane, Australia, and lover of outdoor adventure)

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Kate enjoying Phase Three

In 2003, I went from being a regular traveller who followed the usual path – finish uni, work for a bit, save enough cash to travel the world, ticking off “must see” places like the Eifel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Uncle Ho, Lenin and Mao, and an overland truck adventure in Africa – before embarking on what I can only describe as Phase Two of my life.

Good friends invited me to join them hiking the Overland Track in Tasmania for eight days. Unperturbed by this obvious challenge, I immediately said yes. One of these friends came up with the idea of testing out this “carrying a pack” thing. So we set out one rainy Saturday to walk and camp in the Royal National Park south of Sydney. We didn’t die, but we overcame a lot of challenges – spiders, soggy sandwiches, forgotten dinners, blisters and a lack of water to name a few. We learnt a little bit more about overnight hiking and, more importantly, how a heavy pack can be carried.

The Overland Track is one of the great walks in Australia, and the world, and I couldn’t wait to get there. I spent more time preparing the food for this trip too and thankfully didn’t go hungry again. We set off the week after a record snow dump, so day one was a detour and involved climbing over Hanson’s Peak using chains and carrying a pack that can only be described as looking like a Christmas tree, I had so many things hanging off it. Borrowed gear, a “traveller” pack (the zippered kind), a big puffy fleece and eight days of food just would not fit in.

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With her Christmas tree pack, on the Overland Trail in 2003

That first day wasn’t even the hard one. Stumbling over and through thigh-deep snow for eight hours on day two made me realise that I was the only one who could get me to the hut. There were no cars, no respite-giving kiosks or helicopters – only my determination would get me there. So, suck up the pain and the exhaustion and keep moving, or lie down and die.

Later, much later, I realised how lucky I was to have that experience. Hiking is not a race. It’s set a pace, have the equipment for an emergency, and focus on getting from A to B. Take your time, smell the roses, enjoy the scenery and if in Tassie, keep your eyes out for tiger snakes, leeches and attack wombats. Despite these challenges, a passion for this overnight hiking gig was born.

I got back to Brisbane and booked and walked the Kokoda Track six months later in 2004. By then I was well and truly hooked. After that, I enjoyed multiple trips to Tassie, checking out such wonderful wilderness areas as Frenchmans Cap, Walls of Jerusalem, Western Arthurs, Mt Anne and Maria Island. How good was this walking gig? A lot of preparation in the weeks before goes into your happiness on the trail, but once all the organising is done, just eat what you brought (pack as much chocolate as possible) and relax and unwind from the pressures and stresses of life.

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Walking in Tasmania

I consider myself lucky to have such great friends who suggested that first hike and we’ve shared the love of adventure and the great outdoors on many others. People say we’re lucky to have seen so many great places. Not lucky, just making our own luck and grasping a hold of opportunities when they arise. Opportunity sometimes only knocks once, so don’t miss out. Great experiences don’t come without a willingness to get out there and just do it. Have enough determination and it can be done. You meet all sorts of people out there under the stars – old, young, the fit and the slow plodder. You have the time to chat and play cards and write in a diary. Reading it back is like doing the trip all over again … without the dirt slowly accumulating under your fingernails.

After learning the ropes from good friends and mentors, I convinced my sister that she, too, could carry one of these heavy pack things and we’ve had many an excellent holiday together. I’m not allowed to take her to Tasmania to hike – too many leeches – so we’ve stuck to the more coastal areas of mainland Australia.

Our first hike was the Great Ocean Walk. We “double-hutted” the first day to break her into this hiking business quickly. She also learnt heaps, like eating tuna on pita bread for lunch will repeat on you all afternoon (tuna never came on another hike). I also learnt that you should buy a good map and not rely on the free promo one that came in the National Geographic magazine that was, for the most part, WRONG! Thinking you’re nearly there and four hours later still walking is not good for the spirit.

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The sisters on their first adventure together, along the Victorian coast in Australia

Trips to New Zealand (no leeches there) to walk the Routeburn, Milford, Kepler and Humpridge Tracks followed, then a week in the Snowy Mountains in April (it’s a hiking playground up there) and Wilsons Prom – where we nearly packed it in a day early after seeing a massive big brown snake … and a leech!!! Not sure which was worse. After convincing my sister to stay, she then ate all the M&Ms out of my trail mix … slowly … and in front of me.

Our favorite track is Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia. It’s 1000km and we’ve done half of it, going over twice for two hikes of over 10 days. Occasionally you walk through a town, so you really get the time to relax and unwind from work. Combine the stunning scenery with meeting such interesting people along the way and you have a most excellent holiday. Also, for anyone who has a sister you will know they can be very honest – you laugh, you cry and you tell each other off, get on with it and then laugh again.

I no longer have a pack that looks like a Christmas tree. I’ve slowly upgraded my gear and fortunately it no longer weighs a tonne. If you’re not hiking, then looking for and buying hiking gear is almost as much fun. I thought for the rest of my days, as long as I was fit enough, hiking holidays were for me.

That was until 2012 when those same old friends suggested we try something different … “Do you want to cycle from Lhasa to Kathmandu this year?” Of course I said yes. The fact I owned a knockabout bike that only went on the odd bike track didn’t worry me at all. And here began Phase Three …

The tour we booked had a questionnaire where you outlined how much exercise/training you did each week. Um, tap dancing one night a week and doing the odd hike up Mt Coot-tha, in Brisbane, on the weekend didn’t seem to cut it with their “suggested training schedule”.

I also needed a proper bike and had no idea what they were talking about in the shops. “29er, 26er, hard tail, dually.” What were all these words?? I just wanted a bike that would allow me to ride up mountain passes over 5000 metres and tackle some dreadful road conditions in Nepal. I ended up with a 29er Hard Tail and immediately fell in love with it … until I couldn’t clip out and nearly went splat on the bitumen on my first ride. I clearly had a lot to learn.

The trip was great, but since I’ve been back it’s been even greater. Meeting a handsome fella on the tracks of Brisbane’s Gap Creek has also been great. Now my weekends are full of rides and single-track adventures. I’ve also done a lot of fun cross-country racing on the mountain bike. The competitions have different grades, so even if you are new like me you still have fun and occasionally get up on the podium.

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Kate, right, now enjoys mountain bike racing, especially with a podium finish

Combine all that hiking gear I have in the cupboard with the bike and you have “hikling” adventures. Pop a pannier on the back of your bike and you can go further and still camp under the stars. I still go hiking – it’s a different pace altogether – but, for me, being on the bike is loads more fun. There are so many more places you can visit with a bike. Now, if only work didn’t get in the way so much! How do you win lotto?

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On her 40th birthday “hikling” trip to an island off the Queensland coast

Update: Kate enjoyed her first blogging experience so much she now has her own site, showcasing her hiking and cycling adventures around the world. Read more at www.theoutdoordiaries.com. Great work, Kate!