Day 0

First post from the road…

Day 0, Friday, 20 April 2007 – Okay, so this is the first post from the road, from a train running north towards Aosta to be exact. Seeing how I’m supposed to be a 21st Century pilgrim doing a very 12th Century walk I figured posting from a moving train would earn me a few points in legitimacy.

First off, about the elusive professor and the bees. I tracked him down and he conceded me an email in which he refuted the whole cell phones killing bees thing and then had me speak to his graduate student because he’d had it with journalists. We can be a difficult type, that’s for sure. Seems newspapers were writing about the dying bees (with scintillating titles such as “to bee or not to be” “cellular phones killing our bees, researchers say”) without having spoken to the researchers in question. Journalists.

The graduate student supplicated me to set the world straight in what he promised would be the research team’s last interview for ages because, well, they’ve had it with journalists.

So in my final attempt before my walk to help the world by setting the bee-cellular phone misunderstanding straight, I pounded away at my keyboard for a few hours this morning before grabbing the train from Milan’s Central Station. Read all about it from Monday on the International Herald Tribune’s website (the link added after the post was written).

Onto more pressing matters, the walk. So here’s the deal…arrive in Aosta sometime soon. Ride with local Rai journalist Renato Willien to Etroubles, a town just below the Great San Bernardo Pass. Ninety-minute trek up in snow shoes to the pass with Etroubles’ mayor, Massimo Tamone, who will be my guide down tomorrow. We’ll be sleeping at a mountain hut up at the pass, 2.500 meters, which is 50 meters into Swiss territory. I’m banking on some fatty, cholesterol-filled fonduta for dinner or something similar.

I think I may have forgotten to mention one of my main goals of this trek…to eat lots, to eat well and to return home heavier than I am now (73 kilos).

Day 0 (part II) – Macaroni and Cheese at 2,500 meters with Benedictine Monks

Day 0, Friday, April 20 – First off, it must be noted that the fatty, cholesterol-laden meal up at the pass was not what I was hoping for, but then again we were at 2,500 meters and the place is run by some incredibly nice Benedictine Monks so if their soup is a little thin and lacking in flavor and the vegetables are canned beets with some dodgy dressing and that’s all followed by mac and cheese that’s really okay. (By the way, I kid you not, I can now say that I have had macaroni and cheese at a Benedictine hospice on the Swiss-Italian border.)

Renato drove Mayor Massimo and me through the Gran San Bernard tunnel and left us just on the other side. Ninety minutes straight up with the snow shoes wobbling around on my feet and we were there at the hospice just in time for dinner (the above mentioned mac and cheese). It was a beautiful trek up and all rather easy from a trekking point of view with Massimo mentioning only the so-called mountain of death (because of the many avalanches that it has). “Better not to stop and adjust your snow shoes in that spot, kind of late in the year for an avalanche, but you never know.”

I had hardly taken off my backpack up at the hospice when an enthuastic Belgian named Karine wanted to hear all about my trek (she saw the sea shell on my backpack, symbol of the pilgrims who have done or are doing the Camino de Santiago). Turns out she had gone from Brussels to Santiago and also from the Gran San Bernardo Pass to Rome. Massimo and I had dinner (yes, that same mac and cheese) with Karine and her Swiss friend Carole in the big mess hall. Karine gave me some tips for the rest of my walk.

The atmosphere at the hospice is terrific as people swap stories, the monks are affable, kind, nice and engaging and the mac and cheese is actually quite good. Oh, just in case you were wondering, I had three plates plus a double serving of the beets (trying unsuccesssful to dodge the sauce) and two bowls of the warm water they were passing off as soup.

In bed at 10 pm, not a second too early as I was still feeling the fatigue of having gotten up before dawn to write about the bees and cell phones.

Stats on the walk: 90 minutes from Super San Bernard to the Hospice at the pass. Altitude meter: 526 meters up, 0 meters down.

Weather Report – perfect, sunny, no clouds, about 20 degrees when we started up.

Medical Report – all good, nothing of note.

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