Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Nature

Walking in Solothurn – Day 5 and Farewell

Our final day hiking began with a train from Solothurn to Deitingen where we walked through a lush forest to the lake of Inkwil.

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The pilings in this lake area are a Unesco world heritage site, originally houses on stilts now primarily underwater due to changes in environment over the thousands of years since the houses were built.

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After another hour of walking we came to a clearing in the forest where two Friendship Force of Solothurn volunteers Susan and Martin surprised us with a forest luncheon.

 

We learned how to properly score a sausage prior to placing over the fire.

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Jürg demonstrated the proper technique to score a sausage to achieve the desired appearance.

Bidding goodbye to Susan and Martin, we continued out of the forest and were again on open trail where we came upon the Lake of Aeschi, a lovely tourist stop suitable for swimming and having a beverage on the lawn that banks to the lake.

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A beautiful afternoon of sun and water followed by a farewell dinner with many thank you and good-byes, and of course music of the region. 

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Tomorrow, we leave this wonderful hive of hikers to cast ourselves to various destinations. Some will continue to travel in Europe, others like myself will be returning to our homes.

I will miss the door-to-door public transport that Switzerland offers. Among the first departures in the morning, I catch the earliest bus at our stop. The bus drops me at the Solothurn train station where I then board the train for arrival at the station in the Zurich Airport, finishing my morning commute with  a walk through security and on to my airline’s gate.

Many thanks, Friendship Force of Solothurn for a hospitable and healthy journey.

 

 

 

 

 

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Walking in Solothurn – Day Four atop Weissenstein

On the fourth and perhaps my favorite day of our walk, we board the train from Solothurn to Oberdorf. There we hop on the gondola and ride to the middle station at Nesselboden for this beautiful mountain in the Juras chain, Weissenstein.

 

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We did well, needing only one rest break on our way to the top.

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The cattle grazing along the mountainside are responsible for the wonderful cheese and other dairy products we are enjoying during our stay.

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Although rain was predicted, we don’t see any until we reach the summit where a fresh mist was coming down.

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We watch a hand glider preparing to take flight

From the top of Weissenstein, Lucie leads us on a path that dips down several hundred feet to the Sennhaus restaurant.  There we enjoyed a well-earned lunch of sausages and potatoes. 

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With our wonderful guide Lucie, dark clouds overhead at the top of Weissenstein.

Our trip down was shorter and steeper, and soon we were back to the gondola for a quick trip to the base of the mountain.

 

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On our return to Solothurn, we joined in at the Cheese Market. We made our way through animals, hay bales, vegetables and an array of Swiss cheeses and chocolates to sample and buy.

After a long day, we hike back to the hotel to prepare for our final day of walking and hiking. 

Thank you for a splendid day, Lucie, Karin, Urs and Jurg, our Swiss friends.

Walking in Solothurn – Day Three along the River Aare

 

Today, before our walk along the River Aare, we spend a bit of time with a historic walk through this lovely baroque town. There are three remaining gates to the city and we also see portions of remaining Roman wall jutting from the corner of a trendy shop.

 

The Solothurn Cathedral (Cathedral of St. Ursus, an early martyr of the church), was originally built in the early middle ages with changes over the centuries including a rebuild in the 1700’s. 

 

 

The detailed history and design is worthy of a guided tour when you make your visit to Solothurn. As is the Church of the Jesuits, a relative newcomer built in the late 1600’s with a stunningly breathtaking interior.

 

 

We don’t leave the town center before seeing some of the many clocks, including one representing the cycle of life/renewal and death, a musical clock, and an 11-hour clock (the number 11 having a special designation in Solothurn – 11 steps to the cathedral, 11 of almost everything with a historical significance).

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Leaving town, we follow the River Aare, passing cattle in pasture meadows, fields of crops as well as some industrial buildings along this lane.

 

The stork settlement at Altreu was a delight. In September, many of the young storks had already flown south. Those too old to make the trip stay to winter here.

 

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Having hiked just over six miles from Solothurn, we boarded a boat  on the River Aare for our return and to meet our dinner hosts.

Our day ended with small group dinners hosted by local Friendship Force members. My good fortune was to be included in a dinner in the neighboring city of Bern where we dined at the home of Urs and Ursula. We were treated to wonderful food, including dishes incorporating grapes, figs and apples from their garden. After enjoyable conversation and cuisine, we returned to Solothurn by auto. (Urs had rented an auto by the hour, a common practice when several people are traveling or large items must be transported. Otherwise, the order of the day is convenient bus/train combinations to get from town to town.)

Many thanks to our dinner hosts as well as day hosts Tamara, Kurt, Lucie and Jürg. Sleep tight and prepare for Day 4 – hiking up Weissenstein.

Walking in Solothurn – Day Two along the River Emme

Another beautiful morning in Switzerland finds us on Day Two of our 5-day walk with Swiss Friends.

Two rivers run through the city of Solothurn, the Emme and the Aare. Today, we are exploring the River Emme.

We meet with our hosts at the bus stop for a short trip to the train station, then on to Ulzenstorf.

Our trek begins with a green path, dotted with houses that seem to merge into the countryside and always surrounded by flowers and greenery. The beautiful Juras Mountains are at the horizon.

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These homes with truncated hip roofs and large balconies or porches are a typical style found along our walk.

 

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Every window ledge has a distinct look to catch the eye of passers-by

A short way ahead  our feet find us at Landshut Castle. It was the seat of the Lords of Uzansdorf for about two hundred years.

 

 

 

 

The castle was rebuilt in the 1600’s and exchanged hands many times over the next 200 years.

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What is a castle without a moat?

Today it is a Swiss heritage site housing the Swiss Museum for Wildlife and Hunting.

 

 

 

 

 

We stopped for a break and ate our packed lunches under the watchful eye of these outdoor sculptures and hangings. 

More walking on our return, then a stop at the Coop, a cooperative grocery with a dining and refreshment area. Here we had the option to return  by bus to the hotel or hike a bit further ending at our hotel. I opted to continue hiking.

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More outdoor artwork along our return path:

 

 

 

 

 

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Taking a break before our final stretch home

 

We were ushered to our destination by beautiful swans and ducks guiding our way. A hearty dinner at a nearby tennis club awaited us (water fowl were not on the menu).

 

 

 

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Thank you to our Swiss hosts for the day, Jürg, Lucie, Marie-Therese and Thomas of the infectious laugh. You made another beautiful day possible for us.

Five-day Walk in Solothurn

An hour’s train ride out of Zurich took me to Solothurn, Switzerland. I was there to join 22 other walkers and hikers as well as a number of the Friendship Force Club of Solothurn/Swtizerland.

As a global journey, the majority of the hikers came from Friendship Force clubs located in Belgium, Canada, Russia and the USA.

Our itinerary included walks along river beds, in the Jura hills, to a mountain top and through several towns. During our stay, we were housed at a sports hotel where our adventure started each day. We became quite familiar with bus and train transport to our walk starts.

So with that introduction, let’s get started with …………..

Day 1 Walking with Swiss Friends

After a breakfast of meats, cheeses, yogurt and thick brown bread, we packed a similar combination for our lunch and met our Swiss friends at the Bus Stop.  We began our journey by bus to St. Niklaus.

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Hikers/walkers on the trail approaching the Gorge of Saint Verena

Our first day’s walk had a spiritual tone as we set off on foot through the gorge of Saint Verena who is said to have arrived in Switzerland in search of a relative, Saint Victor of the Thebes Legion. Saint Victor was martyred for specific religious beliefs sometime during the 500’s and Saint Verena lived out her life as a hermitress.

 

 

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Next we are off on a walk around Waldegg Castle. It’s a beautiful building in the French and Italian baroque styles, with many additions, including apartments and an orangery, during the years the Bensenval family owned the property (late 1600s – early 1800s).

The Bensenval family had a close connection with French royalty,

 

their son being a diplomat and officer in the French Swiss guards. After the French Revolution the family fell out of favor in France. These many years later, the property belongs to the  Center for Intercultural Dialogue.

We take leave of the wonderful setting around the castle, formal English gardens bordered by magnificent fields of corn, greenery and the Juras Mountains in the background.

 

After a lunch along the trail, we proceeded onto the Trail of Megaliths.

 

How these large stone came to be along this area isn’t known. They are massive and beautiful.

The day’s hike complete, we’re back catching the train from St. Niklaus to an early dinner in Solothurm. Enroute to the restaurant we got a first look at the town of Solothurn.

 

 

The ancient fountains with allegorical designs are still used today as thirsty visitors fill their water bottles before moving on. There are a total of 11 fountains in Solothurn, in fact almost everything in Solothurn is connected with the number eleven.

 

We dined outside under beautiful trees enjoying food from a Greek restaurant. Then, the option to walk the trail back to our hotel or hop on the bus. I elected for the walk, It was a beautiful evening and a good choice.

Thanks to our delightful Swiss hosts/friends/hike leaders Regina, Franziska, Andreas and Jürg for organizing this wonderful day.

Total walking/hiking distance for the day: 7.5 miles.

How do you like Solothurn so far? Have you expanded your walking or hiking to destinations previously unknown?

Stay tuned for Day 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paw Paw Foraging

It all started with a church auction item – an opportunity to paw paw forage with an experienced forager. I had no idea what I would be foraging for, but it sounded like an interesting experience.

These many months later, the season for paw paw foraging had arrived. Instructions were to meet and come prepared with boots, bug spray and drinking water.

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I had, since my successful auction bid, done enough research to know that the paw paw is a fruit that grows as an understory plant in several states from the Atlantic through Ohio. As it turns out, Native Americans harvested the fruit, as did explorers following suit, craving the sweet juicy fruit in their diet. According to many sources including Kentucky State University, the paw paw is rich in nutrients.

Our foraging began in a forest section of the Susquehannock State Park. After walking down several trails and into the brush, our leader, Laura, identified the paw paw tree.

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The paw paw has large exotic-looking leaves unlike most trees in east coast forests. We spotted our first fruit overhead. 

When the paw paw is ripe enough, it can be ever so gently plucked from the branch. For fruit that is out of reach, a gentle shaking of the tree’s trunk will release the fruit that falls to the ground with a thump, or – if you are quick enough – into the bag you are holding. If you are not quick enough, you may get a surprise bop on the head (don’t ask how I know).

The taste of the paw paw was everything I had heard described. We gently peeled our first paw paws then stood enjoying the flavor of the pulp, somewhere between the sweetness of a banana and the wildness of a guava.

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I also understood why the fruit is not cultivated to any great extent, as very few paw paws appear on a single tree and they are a delicate fruit, ripening in a short time window. I’m told you may find some farmer’s markets where a stand may have them available for short periods of time and at a very dear price.

Paw paws tend to grow in colonies, the largest reaching to the sky peaking out of the forest’s canopy, with less mature trees sheltering underneath and a myriad of newer growth along the forest floor.

After filling our bags and leaving a generous amount of paw paws for other foragers, we did some initial sorting and talked potential use. There are  recipes for everything from quick bread to beer.

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As for me, my paw paw cache will be frozen in small amounts to be used in smoothies along with some frozen slices of rhubarb. Those exotic summery tasting fruits will be perfect for adding nutrients and a sweet and sour taste to the post-run smoothie on chilled winter mornings.

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Do you have experience foraging in the forest? Have you used paw paws in cooking, baking – or brewing?

 

Hiking a 40-Mile Meditation

I’ve had a draft playing around in my head for a month or two, a sharing of my experience at the Hike Across Maryland (HAM). I’ve come to think of this experience as a walking meditation. This morning, a radio program gave me the impetus to move ahead and put those thoughts to keyboard.

Krista Tippett’s “On Being” was airing,  her topic being Running As Spiritual Practice.  A number of runners (including Olympian Billy Mills) share with her how running has taken them through dark times, lifted spirits, developed discipline and in many different ways become part of each runner’s spiritual practice.

I have felt many of those sentiments through my years of running. At the HAM, the closest I felt was the necessity to be mindful of every step I took as I ran and hiked the 40-mile distance on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in a single day.

The HAM is an incredible opportunity for hikers to test their endurance and pacing. From the 5 a.m. start at the Mason-Dixon line where Pennsylvania meets Maryland to the arrival crossing the Potomac River at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, we were supported by volunteers and checkpoints providing refreshments and documenting our passage. While this event is not a race, we were required to reach specific locations by specific times or be asked to drop and accept transport to the finish.

Rain was heavy the previous day, making our May 6th passage on the trail muddy and slick. Temperatures at the start in the high 50’s would have been perfect if not for the cool rain. A love of nature and tests of endurance still brought out over 100 participants.

Off-and-on again sheets of rain came down as we ran a portion of an early mile. As water ran down her face, my friend said “Isn’t this great? We get to be in the woods all day.” She was serious and set a tone of optimism for me.

I realized early on that 40 miles of hiking, with running spurts where I was sure of my footing, would require concentration. I decided if I was to make it through with minimal injury, it would need to be a meditative endeavor.

I cleared my mind of any extraneous mumbo-jumbo thoughts that usually find their way into my thinking. Every step was a mindful step. That’s not to say I wasn’t aware of the rushing of the streams we crossed, the calf-deep mudholes, the occasional birdsong and the rustling of unseen critters in the woods. It’s not to say I wasn’t aware of the beautiful deep, deep green the rain was bringing out in an already lush area. And it’s also not to say that I didn’t listen to and acknowledge a number of fellow hikers talking through their love of the trail, concerns about and pride in their children, job and health challenges. Being on the trail is license to spew out to total strangers the things that really matter in life.

With any and all of that seeming to be on a separate track, my concentration was in each step of the trail, 40 miles of meditation. Even that concentration did not stop me from taking a face plant as we climbed  a rain-slick boulder. The bill of my cap and my glasses let me escape with nothing worse than a small goose egg on the forehead and a few scratches on the palms of my hands.

At our last major checkpoint, I turned over my headlamp and heavier raincoat to friends who volunteered support, exchanging that weight for a couple of quick chugs of Coke. Off then for the last few miles, still mindful in each step, my pace was quicker than the pace of my first few miles.

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Hello, West Virginia!

Although the towpath near the finish seemed unending, the stairs to the bridge a cruel trick and as we crossed to West Virginia the wild beauty of the rain-swollen Potomac breathtaking, I stayed mindful of each step on this wonderful earth.

 

There are no regrets I took up this challenge. Through this 40-mile hiking/jogging meditation, I treasured the company of good friends as well as strangers and the support of the organizers and personal hiking friends who made the day.

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Enjoy your weekend, dream of a new challenge and try taking a mindful approach. Gotta run.