My friend Jane is planning another self-guided walking tour in southwestern France, and wants me to join her on a two-week trek along the Chemin du Puy-en-Velay, a branch of the Camino Santiago (or the Way of St. James). This has been a beloved pilgrimage route for more than a thousand years.
Jane hiked the Chemin du Puy for two weeks last fall, and plans to walk a comparable 150-mile segment this September, continuing in the footsteps of long ago pilgrims.
Undertaking this Journey
Should I join her on the trek this year? Can I? And if not, why not?
It’s a big undertaking, both physically and financially.
Fortunately, we’ve both traveled in France before, including self-guided tours off the beaten track, so we’re not intimidated by the travel logistics of getting to our starting point.
And then there are the cultural aspects of preparing for the journey. To truly appreciate these out-of-the-way places means brushing up on French language skills, reacquainting myself with highlights of France’s medieval art and history, and the storied history of the region we’d be visiting.
The overall journey, as it unfolds, is more rewarding than any specific destination, so undertaking this tour with some appreciation of its history and cultural context is by far the best way to savor its delights.
The journey is costly. Even with a 2‑week self-guided walking tour (one that doesn’t require us to compensate professional guides or a touring company), the price tag is higher than a month’s mortgage for many people.
Training for the long walk will require a significant time commitment, hundreds of hours of aerobic exercise between now and then.
Despite being a regular walker, one who can do 10,000 steps on a routine basis, preparing for this trek will require me to double or triple my usual walking regimen.
Regaining my French speaking and comprehension skills will require another big time commitment. Hundreds of hours again.
But these are things I love to do, and exercising these skills will lead to indirect benefits and lasting value in their own right, such as improved health and well being.
The Journey Is the Reward
My yoga practice suggests setting an intention for this undertaking. So what should the theme be?
At Apple, I first learned that the journey is the reward. For lots of reasons, that will be my theme for this walking tour — the journey of the trek itself, and the multi-month journey to get ready for it.
I look forward to the indirect consequences of preparing for the journey: a stronger and healthier body, a nimbler mind, thanks to the mental stimulation of relearning French, and a quieter mind, thanks to the meditative aspects of the journeying.
The Training Régime
We’ll be hiking 10–18 miles each day, across some rugged or hilly terrain, so the trek requires a level of physical fitness and stamina that is well beyond my current capabilities.
Before starting a serious training régime, I’ll need to recover from a knee injury. That said, with a disciplined effort, there’s plenty of time to build up the necessary strength and stamina for those challenging day hikes between now and September.
Jane recommends at least 2–3 months of disciplined training before we leave for France. That means a long walk every day, plus one or two hikes up hilly terrain every weekend. Those long hikes should target ≥5–8 miles total distance, including elevation gains.
Rain or shine. Given Seattle’s typical rainy weather between now and early July, that’s no small commitment…
We’ll be passing through small hamlets, staying in tiny inns or guest rooms out in the country — places that lack sophisticated tourist services or large numbers of English speakers. We’ll need to be self-sufficient en français.
Because we will make the bookings and manage the walking tour on our own, without any professional guides, French language proficiency will be every bit as helpful as our walking sticks.
After poking around at online resources about le Chemin du Puy, it’s clear that I will need to brush up on my French just to make sense of what those websites and blogs have to offer.
Today’s First Steps
So here’s what I’ve done today, in taking the first steps on this journey:
- Ordered some French-language learning resources
- Ordered a Michelin guide for GR65, le Chemin de Compostelle
- Browsed a few pages of a 15-year-old travel guide for southwestern France, and read about a few of the places we might visit
- Ordered some summer-weight hiking shoes, with enough support for long day hikes, but without the extra weight of my trusty hiking boots
- Had a long conversation with Jane, to agree on starting principles, expectations and values — and some early concepts for a plan
- Began a tour of online resources to learn what’s in store
- Went out for an hour’s walk, up some hills, about 7000 steps total — and am happy to report it did not harm my knee
- Joined a closed Facebook group of past and future walkers whose feet have trodden the Chemin du Puy
May the journey begin.