Day30. Donnement to Dienville – Back on the VF, time to whip out the tent – perhaps.

Looking forward, 10 of the next 11 days will be walking less than 17.5miles per day .   It’s odd to say that that is going to feel like a break.  As we walk out of the “desert” today,  the VF will rejoin us.  We will be hitting more populated villages and hopefully more open stores.  Unfortunately, today is Sunday.   So we will have to wait  one more day to see if that holds true.

Actually we were provided for very well by our host families,  and we never lacked for anything but cold water.  But passing open supermarkets and pharmacies will be comforting nonetheless.   Because of the spacing between villages,  we will end our day at a campsite (our third for this pilgrimage). 

Today started out cool,  but the temperature quickly rose as the sun climbed and pounded down on us. I found another use for my cotton bandanna since we ran out of sunscreen. I pinned the bandanna to my cap,  and it worked perfectly throughout the day.

Sad sunflowers

We found a shady spot to stop for lunch. It is amazing the temperature difference in the shade here. I would imagine it is at least 15 to 20 degree difference in Fahrenheit. We enjoyed our sandwich and nuts and dried banana chips. Then we  began to contemplate how to refresh our food supplies realizing it is Sunday.

We decided that the largest town around was Brienne le Chateau (site of the military school where Napoleon was schooled). It was a total bust. 

Everything here is marketed as Napoleon
The Chateau of Brienne le Chateau
Napoleon as a boy

We finished a hot day in the sun after totaling 18.1miles (more than intended due to a busted search for water and food in Brienne le Chateau. And everything is closed on Sunday in France apparently. But thanks to a kind young woman relaxing in her backyard with probably friends and family , who filled up our empty water bottles. That was physically and mentally refreshing.

We tiredly stumbled into the campground,  and we were promptly turned away.  They were full.   There were two campgrounds in the area.   We had one last chance.  The opposite of our somewhat rude dismissal at the first place, the second one initially said they were also full but quickly stated that for pilgrims they would find a place.  Indeed, they found us more than a tent site but an actual room with a double bed.  We were in end-of-day heaven. So no tent camping after all.

I so wanted to hug the gentleman who graciously found us a room. I highly recommend Colombier as a place to stay. They are so helpful, and the hospitality is beyond what is expected.

The bos trotters homeschool van.

This is a family run business.  The oldest daughter actually sat and talked with us for some time.  They were a homeschool family (rare in Europe) and had travelled through the Middle East and Africa together as a family.  It was such a cool story.  see

Well, we ended the day with a dinner at the restaurant near the campground. This is a hoppin’ vacation area with lots of boaters and beach vacationers at the adjacent lake. 

Day 29. Coole to Donnement – Heads Down

Before we begin the day let me give a shout out to our hosts Brigitte and Jean-Claude Dulieu.  They fed us well, and we had a wonderful night of conversation.  We saw their pilgrim book of all those they have hosted,  and Brigitte received a Key.  This gift seemed to be very special to her and later we understood why.  Since the story is a private one, I won’t publish it here.   It was an important evening and I’m glad we came.

Brigitte, her key and two of her grandchildren.
Brigitte and Matteo and a beef, and garden vegetable casserole (part of a four course meal).  Yum!

This morning starts Day2 of the Coole Valley ancient route.  It will be like yesterday except even straighter.

We left our host house with an escort. Brigitte insisted on walking us down to the boulangerie to get supplies for the day.  She then walked us onto the Roman road before heading back home.  It was a sweet gesture and gave us time to say our goodbyes. 

These morning clouds vanished by 10am

Speaking of Roman Roads…today was a heads down, plow forward kind of day.  We didn’t speak with anyone because there was no one with whom to speak.   We didn’t stop to visit anything for a similar reason.  This was pure left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot… for about 16.5miles. 

There was a breeze at our backs in the morning,  so we actually walked backwards for a bit to get refreshed.  But by the afternoon it was just still and hot and exposed.   We had an extended lunch in the shade and then plodded on toward our next host house in Donnement. 

Hiding in the shadow of a windmill.
Signs like this will drive you crazy.  Gee, Rome is now only 1000miles away!

To pass some time we listened to some music and two chapters of Oliver Twist.  In fact we ended the afternoon listening to our kids childhood favorite “We Sing Silly Songs” …. Ok… maybe it’s about time we got out of this desert.  Perhaps it’s making us a little crazy. 

We took our last swig of very warm water about 1/4mi before the end with some heart pounding John Phillips Sousa pushing us forward…Good timing. 

Our host for the night has a larger family than do I.   Not many people can say that.   This place has a bonus feature…an indoor family pool.

Dinner was so much fun. Our hosts had friends over, and he had a wood pizza/bread oven. We had homemade and home-fired pizza. In addition we had a homemade cherry wine and a walnut wine. The walnut wine tasted like a port. The wine and the conversation was fantastic.

Tomorrow we emerge from the “desert” to rejoin the VF and camp.

Day28 St Martin sur la Pre – Coole – Working on that tan!

Well that was a hard day.

We walked a full 20mi today, most of it without shade on a day that ironically we had our first cloud-free day since arriving in France. We were blessed however with only moderately hot temps 84F.

Those roads!

Still, the sun exposure and the weight of the backpacks made the day tough for both of us. 

The scenery was unchanging, great expanses of wheat, sugar beet, onions, and one sunflower patch stretched from horizon to horizon.  The lack of trees allowed a slight breeze during the day but our water soon got warm.  There’s nothing quite like drinking warm water when you are thirsty. 

Lunch in the shade!

This should have been a 19mi day, but head down and steadily moving forward I missed a turn, one of only three that we had to make during the day.  The rest of the day was on ancient Roman roads which are straight as an arrow and relentless. 

Endless Roman Road!

Maybe I’m building it up too much.  It wasn’t nearly as exciting as I’ve described so far. 

Find the bunny

By the end of the day we were weaving from one side of the road to the other like drunken sailors as we instinctively sought even the tiniest piece of shade.

Never ending sunshine
Tempted to stick out my thumb

The last few miles were on a heavily trafficked asphalt road. By heavily trafficked, I’m talking about farm tractors towing huge flatbed trailers loaded with hay. These tractors were driven by teenage boys traveling at warp speeds along the 1-1/2 lane roads. We counted two sets of boys that passed us over 6 times with alternating empty and full loads.

A Welcome sign

We’d been advised in advance by our hosts that they would not be available until 7 pm.   However to beat the heat,  we did start out our regular time.    Once we arrived at our hosts house about 4pm, we propped ourselves up against a fence in the shade across from their house to wait out the clock.  To our relief and surprise the husband and grandson arrived at 4:15pm.  However I don’t think they were expecting us.  Graciously they let us in and we started the shower and laundry routine. 

It feels so good to be clean after the tough day.  I think we will sleep well.  After showering a minor event took place that cemented in my mind that we’ve been on the road a while.  This family graciously allowed us the use of their washing machine.  So as we were gathering our clothes to be washed I started to put on my clean shirt … it reeked.   After a while hand washing clothes in a sink with a bar of soap just doesn’t cut it.   Luckily my last shirt stunk less.

Day27 Trepail to St Martin sur la Pre – Two Words, Canals and Mosquitoes

Hi everyone. This will be a short post because today was kind of a slog with little to see.  We knocked out about 17.4miles though.

Petite Dejeuner

I had trouble getting up this morning, not because I didn’t sleep well, but because I took a Benadryl before bedtime since our host had a few cats.  So I was unusually slow in getting ready. 

Mme Jacqueminet and Allison – Au Revoir

But our host had a breakfast of bread, butter and homemade jam ready for us with a bowl of coffee each. Yea, it seems to be a thing here in France to serve coffee in a medium size bowl. Hey, I’m not complaining, everyone knows I’m good for a nice size bowl of coffee. In fact I might start using a bowl when I get home.

We said our goodbyes and promptly left the beautiful vineyards for the flatter countryside with the typical corn and wheat fields.  It was sad to come back to this, but we are refreshed from our hills and woodland walks. 

When we were preparing for this trip, one word of caution was repeated by those who’d travelled before us.  “France goes on vacation in August”.  Honestly it hasn’t been a problem until today.  We’d been looking for a morning visit to a patisserie for our eclair fix, but every town seemed to be closed.  Bakeries – closed; Bars – closed; Cafes and Supermarkets – non-existent or closed. 

Several had signs in the windows saying some version of “We’ve gone on vacation – see ya in three weeks”.  Knowing how much local stores mean to a community and how much people rely on them – particularly the elderly – I wondered how they managed.

When we hit Conde sur la Marne, we re-joined the VF and travelled alongside the Canal Lateral a la Marne. Fifteen miles later our day ended. Well, that’s really pretty true. Walking along a canal is just like walking on a treadmill except that the scenery doesn’t change as much.

The only detour that the VF took was through Vraux and that ended up being a bad idea. I’ve mentioned before our skirmishes with mosquitoes. The recent wet weather has made the perfect stew for them.

Well, those skirmishes turned into all out war today. Normally the repellent has done a good job of keeping the away. Today’s battalions of mosquitoes seemed to feed off the stuff. We returned to the canal as soon as we could, pausing only briefly on a bridge over the canal that for some reason had enough of a breeze that the flying biters couldn’t catch our scent.

That’s all we have left dear. 

Here we had our lunch.  It was a repeat of yesterday, sans the avocado, demonstrating how short on supplies we’d be become.  In fact afer lunch, we had only a tiny wedge of fake cheese remaining.  We REALLY needed to find an open store. 

Two short things to end our day.

1).  We arrived at a supermarket that was within sight of our hotel for the night.  We did our provisioning using a shopping cart into which we promptly offloaded our backpacks.  At the checkout, the clerk looked at us oddly and rang up her manager.  They had us open and inspect our rucksacks before we could leave.  I suppose they felt we may have pilfered an extra box of cookies somewhere. 

2)  Our “hotel” for the night is a budget one. In fact, to say it is a hotel room is a gross exaggeration.  It is more like a closet with a shower, toilet, and sink.  The latter three are in such close proximity that you could literally (if one were so inclined) shower, pee, and brush your teeth in the proper place simultaneously.  If that room is more than a square meter in size I’d be surprised. 

Our luxury suite!

But hey, we are safe, we are healthy and we are happy. What more is needed?

Day26 Reims to Trepail -oooh…now we’re famous!

All rest days must come to and end.

So we packed up our bags, took a few parting shots of the Reims Cathedral and hit a grocery store on our way out of Reims.

An honest moment

We immediately came to the Ainse/Marne canal full of dog walkers, joggers, and bikers. Well, the path adjacent to it was full of them..not the canal itself.

Ainse-Marne Canal
Taking a quick break – life’s good

The canal was mostly void of anything more than a few fishermen, but we did see a working grain barge and two pleasure crafts as well.

Walking along a canal is pretty for the first few miles but then it becomes a bit monotonous. The path is level and mostly straight and, at least it was shaded. The weather was quite warm today so we were happy for the shade as long as it lasted.

The hills ahead. They don’t look like much, but that’s just because you’re looking at them from the comfort of your home.

At Sillery we diverged off the canal and headed into the direct sun and away from shade. The path directed us into the heart of the Champagne vineyards. These are absolutely huge and their expanse is awe inspiring. I guess when you have to supply the whole world with bubbly, you need a lot of grapes.


The trail climbed into the Montagne de Reims becoming a stiff climb in the hot sun at times. The major climb ends at the windmill of the Mumm Estate known as Moulin. From this point on you are in the boutique champagne region, an area of small independent champagne vintners hidden around in pockets of small villages. One day when I have time I’d like to visit the area again.

We stopped in Verzy for our lunch of tuna salad and avocado sandwiches and chips and then stopped in at one of those boutique vintners for a taste. The owner Jean Paul Morel offered us each a glass as a gift to pilgrims. How could we refuse?

There used to be a railway running along the Verzy Forrest between these small villages. They form a crescent shape of primarily east-facing vineyards. The railway, long since dismantled, provided a welcome shaded walkway that was also relatively level and broad. Other than the bothersome mosquitoes (a result of all the recent rain), it was a perfect end to our day.

We arrived at our host’s house in the small village of Trepail. The entire evening was completely in French. I’m happy to report that despite undoubtedly horrendous grammar, we had a good multi-hour conversation exclusively in French. It was fun,…tiring, but fun.

Home cooking’. yum!

Our host is Mme Jacqueminet . She has a family label of her own and a glass of champagne was our first course for dinner tonight. After a pate we were treated to fresh garden vegetables and a veal and tomato main course. After this was a local goat cheese course that was very creamy and had a mild blue cheese flavor. Allison is no fan of either goat cheese or blue cheese, but I was in food heaven.

Family label

Tomorrow is our last day in this area. The department doesn’t change but the landscape does. We will be going through a desert – not a sand desert, but a village, food, and water desert. This will be a physical and mental challenge. We appreciate your prayers and well wishes for the next 5 days as we make our way through.

P.S. Oh…and by the way, an Italian online magazine has picked up our story…so now we’re famous! Link below.

Day25 Reims Rest Day

Day 25, wow. Today is a significant milestone. We are 25% through our Pilgrimage. It’s also our first rest day since Dover, and it is coming after 5 consecutive 20+mile days. So…great timing!

We slept in late … what a blessing… and had a leisurely morning before heading to the French treasure in Reims, the Cathedral. In my opinion the outside was more impressive than the inside. But then again, we’ve yet to see a cathedral that impresses as much as the one in Burgos Spain.

The Reims Cathedral does have the bragging rights of being the traditional site for the coronation of French Kings going all the way back to Clovis in 509 AD…so that’s cool.

The VF marker at Reims Cathedral

After a good salad back at our hotel apartment, we went to Pommery Winery for a Champagne tour. The cellar pits were dug by Romans to mine the chalk and later joined with tunnels to make the famous cellars of Reims. It was cold in the cellars and the tour was interesting but expensive.

The real highlight of the day was dinner with Yannick and Agnes, the couple we met yesterday while hiking. It was a fun night until I broke the tooth back off and later progressively whacked Allison and then Yannick in the head with my camera attempting to take a bullet time shot.

So much for international relations between the French and Americans.

Enough for a rest day. We’re off again tomorrow.

Day24 Pontavert to Reims – What a haul…pop the bubbly!

A crisp morning. 

Waking up in the country after a good night’s sleep is a wonderful thing. We had breakfast on the glassed-in patio overlooking a lovely yard and a huge vegetable garden. Our hostess, Nadine, even sat and had her morning coffee with us after her husband poured Mark and I the largest cup of coffee we have ever had. I think Jean-Paul read our blog post about where I missed my morning coffee. No such complaints this morning. I am caffeinated and ready to roll.

We walked along the road in the crisp morning air. The road had quite a bit of traffic, so we opted to venture off-road/off-the-VF and take a “short cut” which actually was a true short cut! We did cross a few countrified “keep out” signs. We joked that if this was West Virginia there would be several stills with their guard armed with his trusty shotgun. Luckily we saw no one, no one armed that is.

Back on the Via Francigena, we went through an area that had recently experienced a strong storm. The path was completely blocked, and we struggled to make our way through the downed trees.

Our path is straight ahead. 
A difficult path

While eating lunch in the village of Merfy, we saw two other backpackers coming toward us. Of course we looked super cool sitting on a street bench with our socks and shoes off and me with my feet propped up on my pack. Of course I mean the “opposite” of cool, but my feet felt great! Anyway, the young couple was polite enough to stop and chat with us. Agnes and Yannick were on a short adventure together and were spending the night in a local monastery. Wow did they seem like us a few decades ago! I even spied them walking together hand-in-hand as they left….I thought WE were the only ones to still do that! 🙂

Our lunch spot was at the northern edge of Champagne. 

After lunch we checked the time and distance to Mark’s dental appointment. Fortunately, or ironically, the appointment was 1hr55min away and google’s shortest route matched it exactly. We needed to get moving.

An impression of Wine Country

Unfortunately the google shortest walking route takes no account for safety or practicality (it is a computer after all).  We found ourselves walking at top sustained speed of 3.7mph.  That is so fast we were both breathing heavy and sweating buckets as we were throw into the ditch repeatedly by high speed oncoming traffic.

Clearly in the Champagne region now. 

We would have been terrified, but there was no time for that.  We just soldiered on and dared the cars/trucks to hit us.  I pictured the two of us diving into a ditch at the last minute to avoid an incident.  Honestly, the drivers were mostly polite and tried to pull over when they could.

Anyway, after trudging through what seemed like and endlessly long suburb, we made it to the dental appointment with 2min to spare!

While Mark had fun getting his tooth super-glued back in temporarily, I just waited in the waiting room wondering when someone would kick me out due to Covid rules or the stink factor. Mark already mention that we had worked up a little sweat as we walked into town. My conclusion…the French are beyond patient and kind.

After leaving the dentist office with only a 39euro dental bill, we headed in the direction of our lodging but got side tracked by a wine bar. Seriously, I think we deserve a glass of wine and some tapas after today’s 22.5 mile adventure. I mean, look at Mark’s smile. That smile says it all!

We hit up a grocery store moments before it closed and then finished our walk to the hotel. The hotel was near the train station and was an ExtendedStay type of place. Most of the clientele seemed to live there more permanently than two pilgrims and we felt a little out of place. Still, the room was clean and we were so tired we didn’t really mind.

Tomorrow is a rest day! This will be our first since Dover two weeks ago and although we don’t feel too bad I think some time to chill for a little while will be welcome. There is so much to see here. More about Reims tomorrow.

Day23 Laon to Pontavert – a complication

Agnes and her mother Mme Tordeux

Last night we were the guests of Mme Tordeux-Bremand. She has looked after pilgrims for many years and was so kind to us during our stay. Her daughter Agnes was also visiting, and we enjoyed getting to know them both for a short while. Mme Tordeux-Bremmand received a key for her generosity to so many.

After a cooked breakfast and a wonderful cup of coffee, we set off with some hesitation after packing and not finding one sock each. They are likely folded up in some other cloths….well, we hope so anyway. Luckily, Reims is only 2 days away. There will be a chance to replace them, so it’s not too worrisome.

Most photos don’t capture the steepness of a hill well, so when one does. You KNOW that it’s steep.

The descent from Laon was very steep, knee-straining steep. Luckily the descent wasn’t too long. Before long we were out into the country and heading south toward Rome again.

A French Mule without his beret.

Our day ahead would be yet another 20miles. Honestly, we both admitted that we were in a good routine. Twenty miles was starting to feel normal. I know that sounds crazy, but your body does indeed get used to it.

We walked through our first field of Sunflowers

We travelled through the village of Martigny with its cool Art Nouveau church built after the destruction of the city during WWI. The standing angels caught my attention as a beautiful detail.

The church at Martigny
The angels in the spire of the church at Martigny

After this, it was a beautiful wooded and hilly trail with the occasional ruins of an abbey nature preserve thrown in.

Ruins of the Abbey Vauclair

A short walk farther we stopped for lunch, and that’s when it happened! We started our usual routine of preparing a baguette for sandwiches. Today we were having sausage and cheese sandwiches with some applesauce and nuts to top it off. The baguette made, I took a big bite into that lovely crunchy baguette….and then this happened….

I’m blaming this on the French Baguette

Well now for our day off in Reims on Tuesday, I hope to be sitting in a dentist office. Unfortunately, our Duolingo French lessons didn’t make it to “how to discuss dental repairs”. I’m going to be totally trusting Google Translate on this one folks.

The good news is that this is the tooth that I’d had a root canal on a few years ago. So there is no pain associated except for some rubbing on my upper lip. My French colleague from work Emmanuel is helping me find a suitable dentist in Reims. Thank you Emmanuel!

The rest of our day was relatively uneventful. After a broken tooth, even the cool deer encounter and short hail storm we walked through didn’t make it to the headline.

So now, we are resting at the lovely home of our hosts Jean Paul and Nadine Portet in Pontavert. He has a fantastic garden and also keeps bees. We are the first Americans that have stayed with them. “Apologies in Advance” to all future Americans for any damage we may do! 🙂

We loved talking to Nadine and Jean Paul through the afternoon. Nadine had told us over the phone that on Sunday she did no cooking, so she’d only be preparing some cheese and butter and bread etc. This was perfect for us since we really enjoy simple meals and had been craving something like home. Well, when we came down at dinner we were treated to a feast of eggs, ham, butter, bread, cheese, and from their garden: beans, potatoes, cucumber, and tomatoes. Oh Joy!!! To tomatoes from the garden, yum!!! It was so good. Exactly what we’d been missing. We were even treated to some ice cream with whipped cream after dinner.

What a way to end the day!

Le Jardin de Jean Paul

Day22 Bertaucourt to Laon – Warm up those climbing muscles

Sleeping last night in a pasture was so relaxing. Ok, it used to be a pasture but now the upper half is a building site of a new gite. I slept wonderfully! Mark…meh.

Morning Sunrise

It is early morning again but what a beautiful place with all these rolling hills and a beautiful sunrise to greet us. We said goodbye to Bertaucourt and began our journey to Laon today. We found a place on the side of a path to enjoy our breakfast. It is amazing what satisfaction my growling stomach can receive from a chocolate pastry. The only way to elevate the experience would be to add coffee. Unfortunately, I had to use my imagination since no villages we travelled through today had any cafes.  Pretending my water tasted like a rich cup of coffee had to do for the day.

We mostly walked on well defined forest paths today. No bushwhacking our own paths today folks. And as I mentioned before, we love hills. Well, be careful what you ask for because all of a sudden today real hills with elevation appeared in our path and our climbing muscles went into shock.

Personally, we do love mountains.  Just the contrast from the flat open land would have been enough, but the joy of not knowing what is around the next corner is a thrill.

Our path took us along the Chemin du Abbeyes.  In a dark section of the woods, all of a sudden a large stone wall appeared.  A few hundred feet later we’d climbed to an overlook to view the abandoned Benedictine Abbey of Saint Nicolas.

A hidden Abbey deep in the woods

After more beautiful woods walking, we stopped in a clearing next to some cows for lunch.  As we were eating, the owner of the field drove by with a fork lift carrying fencing.  We had a brief conversation, and he went about his work building a temporary corral.  Then with a call “la,.  la” and a tap of a bucket he was carrying, the cows came running. 

Tall Ferns

It was free entertainment for our luncheon. 

Soon enough after rounding a curve we spotted the clear outline of a cathedral on a hill up ahead.  When I say “up ahead” we are still taking about a 4hr walk away.  It was a sight to see!  I imagined medieval pilgrims being awe inspired by the sight. 

Laon in the distance

Just before we entered the city we passed a German WWI cemetery.  What a contrast the grey crosses made to the white marble headstones of the allied cemeteries we’d seen.  At the same time it began to rain lightly. 

German WWI cemetery

Just as we were about to make the climb up to the city center, our heads hunched inside our rain gear, we heard an “Allo….Pelegrín…Pelegrín”.  A man (Guillian Herbecq) at his front gate heralded us and beckoned us to come over.  As it turns out, he and his three buddies will be attempting the walk from Laon next May.  He was happy to greet us, and he received a key for his pilgrimage.  We had our picture taken together. 

Guilian “ bisous” and his key

After saying our goodbyes, we again headed up the hill in the rain.  But moments later we heard a car behind us beeping.  It was Guilian.   He insisted on driving us up the hill and ended up giving us a quick driving tour of the city walls (beautiful views).  He even got us an early entry for the Gite in which we are staying tonight.  More about that tomorrow. 


The day ended with a tour of the Laon Cathedral and receipt of our stamp for the day.