Training ~ The Los Angeles Stair Streets

road into Aubrac, France

100’s of Great California Walks

When I moved to Silver Lake (Los Angeles) a few years ago, and began prepping for my 2005 walk, I stumbled upon a few of the “stair streets” in the neighborhood. The most famous one is now called the Music Box steps, in honor of the classic, Oscar-winning, Laurel and Hardy film of the same name. (That’s the one where they’re trying to deliver a piano up a very, very long stairway).

Little did I know at the time what I had wandered into. A couple of years later, I discovered the work of Dan Koeppel, another local resident who was intrigued by the stair streets. He went about cataloging them and then designed a single walking route that runs up or down most of them. My favorite comment from his downloadable instruction sheet, describing a view along the way is, “Minaret House, up and right. You’ll be there in five hours.” (That’s training!) (more…)

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Where to Sleep in France ~ Hostels

Approaching La Soutteraine Trail in rural France

Not just for kids anymore

Hostels are a good way to stretch your travel dollars, as well as hang out a bit with fellow travelers, some of whom you may have passed on the trail this afternoon (no doubt because their pack, unlike yours, was so HEAVY!). Hostels are not as common in France as in some other countries, but there are a fair number. Like anything else, there are better ones and a few “not so good”, but for the most part, I’ve had good experiences at the hostels I’ve stayed at in France.

The basic hostel has several small dormitory-style rooms, each with two to eight beds. The idea is that they are shared as needed, but depending on the size of the crowd, it’s not uncommon to end up with your own room. I have, more than once! A growing number of hostels have some private rooms available, although not necessarily with en suite facilities. Some make a special effort to accommodate families and larger groups, but even in those, there’s often a spare bed for a solo walker. (more…)

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Longwalk 2011 ~ Chemin d’Arles, part 1

Into the Gers, approaching Montreal, France, 2009

Books & Trail Guides

In 2011, we plan to return to Europe for several weeks of walking in France on the long-distance GR hiking trails, called les sentiers de grande randonnée. The exact route(s) are still being considered, as is the departure date, but we are currently planning to walk along the ancient series of trails known as the Chemin d’Arles (the road from Arles), starting in early Spring. This article covers the FFRP topo-guides, trail guides, and books about the various sections of the GR 653 route. (more…)

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Where to Sleep ~ Chambres d’Hôtes

approaching Saint-Alban, chemin du puy, france, 2009

Among the possibilities of hébergement (lodging) in France are the many Chambres d’Hôtes. These are similar to what Americans call a Bed & Breakfast. They have become my preferred evening stop, and whenever possible, I seek them out, especially in small villages, and the countryside. (more…)

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French Trails and the FFRP

deciphering the road to Drache, France, 2007

FFRandonnée Leads the Way

The FFRP®, now re-branded as FFRandonnée®, is the administrative heart of the vast web of French long-distance hiking trails. If you’re planning to take a walk in France, this is prime resource dedicated to providing information to all randonneurs (hikers). The FFRandonnée Centre d’Information is in a nondescript office building not far from the Paris Métro station Bibliothèque François Mitterrand, on Line 14. (more…)

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Clothing ~ Waterproof Rain Pants

Autumn vines, Baudreville, France, 2007

GoLite™ Reed Ultralight Rain Pants – 168 grams

I became a big fan of the GoLite Reed pants during my 1,200 mile walk across France and Spain in 2009. At only 168 grams (5.9 ounces) these were an effortless pleasure to carry under blue skies, and were a great windproof, waterproof outer layer when the weather got rough. After months on the trail, they’re still in ready to go condition.

(more…)

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How to use a French Topo-Guide

path to Saugues, France

Part 2 ~ Tips for English language walkers

English-language walkers without much familiarity with French may have an extra challenge when hiking the long-distance trails of France. But it is by no means impossible, and may be both educational and fun. Imagine how impressed your family and friends will be when you return home being able to say “kwarh-SOHn” instead of “crah-sahnt” when you order a croissant. With a little effort, and a small dictionary, it is not too hard to figure out the maps and instructions of the French-language topo-guides (trail guides) published by the FFRP, (the French long-distance trail association). (more…)

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The FFRP Topo-Guides® of France

GR trailmark on tree in France

Part 1 ~ Introduction to the Best French Trail Guides

How do you find your way?

How do you keep from getting lost?

I’m often asked these questions about my long-distance walks in France and Spain. The reason I rarely lose my way, is that I use one of the many superb trail guides, called Topo-guides® (pronounced “TOH-Poh-Gheed”) that are produced by the FFRandonnée, also called the FFRP, for Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre (French Long-distance Hiking Association). These excellent trail guides contain detailed maps, pathfinding instructions, lists of useful resources along the GR® routes (sentiers de grande randonnée), and a wealth of history, culture and wildlife information about the various sections of the trail. (more…)

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Gear ~ Ultralight Trekking Poles

Out in the country

Stick it to me, baby

Most hikers don’t use walking sticks (also called trekking poles). However, many swear by them. I do. Anyone who does, or needs help deciding, should read the travel warning below. If you’re on the fence, here’s some information about the pros and cons.

Why do I like walking poles? Quite simply, it’s because I fall down less often! (Coordination and my name have rarely been used in the same sentence – but hey, maybe that’s just me). Walking with poles adds a lot of stability, particularly on uneven terrain and rough downhills. Rock hopping across streams is easier, too, as is squeezing along a narrow, bramble-bordered bank of a muddy lane. (more…)

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Cargo Creep

bizarro comic strip. cargo pants

Pick your pockets well…

Where did I put my compass this time? And my pen? And my map? And my wallet? And my …?

Memo to my amused friends and family: Dan Piraro, creative mastermind of Bizarro, makes my case. There are too many pockets in the world. Yes, they are everywhere. Ubiquitous. And they all weigh something. (more…)

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