Hiking in Switzerland – Foreign Confusion

Oh, the pretty Alps!

There is no denying Bad Ragaz is a lovely Alpine town – Heidi country for sure. But try hiking here without reading German and you can find yourself in a mess of confusion. I was happily following the walking trail along the Rhine – keeping to the yellow Wanderweg signs, which I guess means nature walk, and come to this:

What happened to the nature walk?

That didn’t seem very wanderweg so after awhile I turn around and come to this:

And this means?

Evidently horses can read in Switzerland, so they know they’re on the right path. But what’s the top sign? No existential nothingness? No empty-headed thoughts while walking? It’s just a good thing my head was filled with deep philosophical thoughts or I may have been stopped in my tracks.

Then I ended up in a lovely park full of strange orange ducks, with not a sign to be seen:

No signs. A good sign.

Line your ducks in a row

And finally, as I was leaving the park, I completely ignored this sign – because it seemed to concern cars more than wanderwegers – at least I hope so:

No walking in two directions simultaneously!

Unless of of course, it was a sign against multi-tasking.


Switzerland – Peeing in a 13th Century Tower

Ah, the great outdoors

The things you think about when hiking alone. In this case it was literary poop. Some scenes in a book stay with you for life. In Bear, the best-known book by the late Canadian author, Marian Engel, the female protagonist, Lou, goes outside and shits with a bear. It’s a strangely erotic relationship between the bear and Lou and an unusual form of bonding. (As a completely irrelevant aside, I dated Engel’s son, William, way back when we were too young to drink in bars, but did anyway.)

I was thinking of this scene in Bear yesterday because I was outside walking and I really had to pee. Anyone who has ever travelled with me knows that I always have to stop for a bathroom break, and even in the great outdoors it’s going to happen. But I didn’t want to go outside. What if someone saw me? By this time I’d hiked up to the ruins of a 13th century castle – Burg Freudenberg overlooking the town of Bad Ragaz.

I think this says that it's old

No one was around. Almost nothing is left of the ruins except for a few stone walls and one perfectly round tower, its doorway just a hole of crumbling bricks. There was already water inside, since it was roofless and had recently rained, so, um, well, I’m not proud of it, but I used a 13th century tower as a latrine.

Hm ... no one's around

Before you hate me, let me remind you that back in the days of castles (or burgs, as they’re called here) there were no lavish bathrooms anyway. I remember visiting a castle in Wales and I was convinced that I’d found a secret passage. It was narrow and wound around a tower and I followed it as far as I could go. “That was the toilet,” said my guide.

Step up a couple of centuries to Jane Austen’s time in Bath, where coincidently, she set part of her first book and her last. As I was touring a grand Georgian manor on the Royal Crescent and gushing over the gorgeous dining room, the guide pointed out a screen in the room and said that the guests would just get up from the table and duck behind the screen to go. No matter how badly I had to go, I wouldn’t do that. Honestly.

Then of course, there is the whole territorial thing about urine. Tigers do it, wolves do it, rats and rhinos, too. It’s a way of claiming space, of making a place your own. So, I guess in a way, I now own my very own Swiss tower – even if the view’s not so great from inside.

Who turned out the lights?

Killed by Coyotes – The Risk of Hiking Alone

Beautiful, but safe?

Ah, the Wilderness .. rejuvenating or dangerous?

Just how risky is it to go off on your own? I wrote about hiking alone a few weeks back after walking in the wilds of northern Saskatchewan. I wrote about being scared of bears, of human predators, and, well, mosquitoes are annoying, too. But I never could have predicted the tragic attack on a budding young musician, Taylor Mitchell,  who was killed by coyotes when hiking alone in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia a couple of days ago. She, like many of us, probably loved walking alone. It seems like a much more direct experience with nature. When I’m with someone and we’re talking I tend to forget my surroundings. Conversation drowns out those wonderful sounds of crows, frogs, robins, rustling leaves and water running through streams. When it’s just me, it’s a dialogue between me and the forest (or the mountains, or field, or whatever) and something is lost when I’m in company.

When I think of all the places I’ve hiked alone in the last few months – the Grand Canyon; the hills around Montegrotto, Italy; Waskesui in Saskatchewan and along the riverbank in Saskatoon –  it makes me wonder if I was pushing my luck. Is the joy of solo wandering worth it? Then again, when I was travelled down the Yukon River this summer on a river boat, we kept passing a blond nordic-looking woman.

Lone Paddler

Braver than I'll ever be

She was kayaking alone, her strokes were steady and she quite often pulled past us as we meandered down the river in our motorized boat. She must have been camping alone at night, and the Yukon is serious wilderness. She is braver (and far more fit) than I’ll ever be, but I have to say, I was envious of her strength and determination. That’s a dialogue with nature I’ll never get to have. Then again, neither will lovely talented Taylor. On behalf of single hikers everywhere, our thoughts are with you.

Get Me Outta Here!

Snow in October? I'm moving to Hawaii

I'm moving to Hawaii

Snow? In October? What the …? I’m just thinking about a walk on the  Meewasin Trail – Saskatoon’s gorgeous path along the South Saskatchewan River when I look out the window and thick fat flakes of snow are flying everywhere. This is just not right. What’s the llama going to do? What am I going to do?

Only 8 more months of this!

Only 8 more months of this!

I’m going to start writing about the Caribbean that’s what. Or Mexico, Burma, Thailand, Columbia … please someone, send me somewhere warm!

If You Go into the Woods Today …


Walk on the Wild Side

Walk on the Wild Side

This morning I went for a long walk around Waskesui Lake in Prince Albert National Park up in northern Saskatchewan. It was windy and cool and moody and beautiful and this is when I realized that solo travellers, especially women, are short changed in the tranquil hiking department. First off, I was paranoid about bears. If there had been two of us then I wouldn’t have been scared as two are twice the size of one. Alone I felt like a walking appetizer.

Strolling down the beach was fine but when I started hiking on a secluded trail I freaked myself out. At every bend I thought I’d turn to find a bear looking for lunch. To warn all bears to scamoosh I started whistling and clapping my hands while walking (yah, that’ll scare him) and really hoped I wouldn’t run into anyone while  doing my solo entertainment act.

Then I started thinking about other predators, namely human, and of all the women who have been killed on trails, like Chandra Levy who disappeared while jogging in a park in Washington DC in 2001 and Mary Pinchot Meyers, the mistress of John F Kennedy, who was shot twice in the head while walking in 1964. This sucks. What are we supposed to do, give up enjoying nature all together unless a bodyguard is involved?

Any bears around here?

Any bears around here?

I’m not sure of the answer. In this case, I backtracked and stuck to the beach. Obviously a deer was thinking the same thing because I followed its tracks all the way back. But I can’t stop living my life and I refuse to give up solo hiking altogether. In Toronto I love walking through the ravines that slice through the city like rough green grooves, but I’ll compromise. I’ll walk on weekends or when other people are getting off work and walking their dogs. In the evening I’ll stick to city streets. Oh, wait. Is that dangerous, too? At least I won’t run into a bear.