Cross-Border Hiking: Getting Longer

Long-distance hiking, or walking as it’s called in Great Britain, has long been a European thing. Many long-distance trails, or paths (the British term), have Christian connections. El Camino de Santiago, the “Way of Saint James,” is a 500-mile-long pilgrimage route in northwestern Spain, to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, where legend holds that the remains of Saint James are buried. It and feeder pilgrimage routes to it across Europe, such as the Jakobsweg in German-speaking countries, have been trekked for more than a thousand years. The far newer Arnoweg, mostly in Austria, is a 750-mile loop around Salzburg that was opened in 1998 to commemorate the duodecentennial of the appointment in 798 of Salzburg bishop Arno to archbishop.

Historic routes such as these, as well as other trails, are embedded in national networks, some sizeable. In Germany, there are trails almost everywhere, in all totaling some 125,000 miles. The total trail length for Norway, Europe’s most thinly-populated country, is about a tenth that of Germany, but in the trail networks there are 463 trailside cabins, including 218 staffed lodges that serve meals. Hiking in Europe is as convenient as it is popular, yet it’s mostly been done within countries, not across the borders between them. There have been exceptions along borders, such as the Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne (“High Pyrenees Hike”) that wiggles north and south across the border between Spain and France for 550 miles through the range, and Grensesømmen (“Border Seam”), that stretches for 1,520 miles, sometimes west of and sometimes east of the border between Norway and Sweden.

But in the wake of an increasingly borderless Europe, hiking is changing, as routes now cross borders with impunity — unthinkable 50 years ago. In 1969, the European Ramblers Association (ERA) was founded to coordinate the efforts of the national hiking organizations throughout

Europe. The word “rambler” in the name, the British term for walking in the countryside, was chosen to stress that the principal concern was travel on foot away from urban areas. The first and still principal task was to link the trails of member countries together to form long-distance routes that encourage cross-border hiking. Like the international E-road network of Europe, the routes are designated E Routes. Initially there were six E Routes; now there are 11, numbered E1 to E11.

At press time, the E Route network stretches across 20 countries, and the lengths of its trails add up to about 33,000 miles. Most of the trails have unfinished stretches, aside from the permanent gaps over water, where ferries link trailheads on land, as across the English Channel between Great Britain and the Continent. And new Routes are planned, such as the E12, envisioned as a ring around the Mediterranean Sea, with connecting trails on the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Crete, Cyprus, Malta and Sardinia. Proposals have been put forth and hopefully will be agreed upon at an E12 meeting to be held in mid-2011 in southern France.

The trails of the existing eleven E Routes are being extended in the traditional way, by joining national trails and by building new ones. Aside from their challenging lengths, the trails bring new aspects to the hiking experience. When all its unfinished stretches are completed, the E8, from Cork in Ireland through Western and Eastern Europe to Istanbul in Turkey, will offer hiking through an unmatched kaleidoscope of cultures.

Likewise, when its end stretches are completed, the E1, from the North Cape, the northernmost point of the European continent, southward through continental Europe to Cape Passero, the southernmost point of Sicily, will offer hiking from sea to sea, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, through the range of topographies in which it can be done.

The northern-end stretch, from the tip of the existing E1 at Grövelsjön, a lake in Sweden at the Norwegian border, 1,020 miles to the North Cape, is expected to be finished and marked with cairns in the summer of 2011. It crosses Finnmarksvidda, the Finnmark Plateau, most of which is above timberline, subject to the harsh climate of the Arctic. Here winter temperatures have dropped as low as minus-60°F. But in midsummer, when the sun shines 24 hours a day, temperatures can soar to 90°F, giving a minimum to maximum range of 150°F, rare in Europe. Understandably, trail building is done only in summer. The southern stretch, from the southern tip of the existing E1 at Scapoli in the Molise Region of south-central Italy farther south to Cape Passero, is in the planning stage. When it’s finished, the total length of the E1 will be 4,530 miles, half again as much as the distance between the east and west coasts of the Continental USA.

M. Michael Brady lives in a suburb of Oslo and takes his vacations in France. By education, he’s a natural scientist. His Dateline: Europe column appears monthly in the Gazette.

Further reading:

For further information on the European Ramblers’ Association (ERA), visit the website at www.era-ewv-ferp.com . For specific details on trails, visit the websites of the hiking associations of the member countries listed on the ERA website.

Reconfiguration

I’ve been fantasizing about a friend of mine. He’s clever and irreverent, and he has lips I’m dying to taste. All too often, I find myself distracted by the thought of coaxing him into bed. It’s irrational. But I need to feel the cadence of his breath against my ear.

I understand him well enough to know he’ll bite me and call me “baby.” But I wonder what book he might have with him, what book he’ll hold up beneath low lights and read aloud to me in bed. I think about interrupting him — limbs entangled, flesh warm and flushed — then settling back against the pillows while he fumbles again to find his page.

During our casual conversations, I’m inevitably tempted to ask him what books he has read lately. His quick answers and sometimes lengthy explanations do nothing to dispel my desire to feel his hands tight around my hips.

He fell asleep with his hands palm up before him like some dozing penitent. When he woke it was still dark. The fire had died to a few low flames seething over the coals.
— Cormac McCarthy, “The Crossing”

The night before my daughter was born, I awoke with aching hips and back. Nerves electric, I couldn’t return to sleep. Nothing offers such consistent comfort late at night as a book within reach. So, in darkness, I grabbed Cormac McCarthy’s “The Crossing” from the floor beside the bed and headed to the living room.

Hauling myself up from the couch an hour later, I retrieved a book of maps I’d re-stolen from a boyfriend who once dared claim it. It is tattered and taped together. Pages are ripped and tucked back in. Notes line the margins.

Spread out upon the floor, I followed McCarthy’s wolf’s crossing from Mexico into the United States, and Billy Parnham’s trek across New Mexico’s Boot Heel. I ended up that night on tangents and side trips, tracing my fingers along routes I’d previously traveled — and forgetting that I was about to embark on a journey that, for a while at least, would have little to do with dry washes.

When my water broke the next morning, and a friend drove me to the hospital, I packed “The Crossing” and stubbornly read it through labor. A crossing, to be sure.

The mountains had withdrawn somewhere beyond the horizon, and we rode in the midst of a great bowl of desert, rolling up at the edges to meet the furnace-blue of the Mexican sky. Now that I was out of the coach, a great silence, and a peace beyond anything I ever felt, wrapped me around. It is almost impossible to get objective about the desert; you sink into it—become a part of it.
— John Reed, “Insurgent Mexico”

Three nights after giving birth — love-struck, sore and full of milk — I lie in the bathtub. Avoiding helpful visitors and feebly clinging to my identity as a journalist, I was reading for review Doug Peacock’s book,

“Walking It Off: A Veteran’s Chronicle of War and Wilderness.”

Page after page — turning the hot water tap with my foot, prolonging the bath for as long as possible — I followed Peacock’s attempts to integrate himself into his own new family. “The hideous solidarity of the dead was at these times probably more important than my marriage. I wanted to serve and love my children, yet this second calling could not be reconciled with what I called everyday life. After the messy chores of combat, you wanted to wash up a little bit before you played with the kids,” he wrote.

“Sometimes it took months of scouring isolation to cleanse the blood from your hands.”

I ended up crying in the bathtub that night. I didn’t cry for traumatized veterans or massacre victims at Mai Lai. No, these were selfish tears of self-pity. I had only just then realized how definitively my life had changed. I already missed wandering the desert, thinking of nothing more than warm red rocks and the taste of whiskey.

Despite the obvious differences between our circumstances, I understood blood and second callings.

The landscape is a trick to make us miss our lives.
— Charles Bowden, “Desierto”

Thirteen years ago, I stood alongside Route 666 near Towaoc, Colorado, staring up at a sky I’d never imagined real and waiting for the pound of thunder.

Much has changed since then. That road no longer bears the label of Devil’s Highway; there’s a giant casino and a palatial new gas station. And during those intervening years, I have moved and moved again (and again and again, always hauling boxes of books), changed careers, gotten pregnant, been married and divorced. And moved again.

And yet some things never change.

This spring, I drove away from a series of phone calls that left me boiling in a rage. I’d spent that rage in retribution, wreaking havoc before standing again near Towaoc, looking at that sky as though for the first time. Deciding to rest near Cortez, I pulled a sleeping bag, headlamp and book from the trunk of the car. When morning inevitably dawned, I could pause and breathe the scent of sage, then drive home in peace.

…When I pull solace from your pages to wipe my brow, I

admit I feel less like a freak, as if indulging in ink was

a form

of communion, one beetled brow knit unto another.

— Lisa Gill, “Poem V.” in “Red as a Lotus: Letters to a Dead Trappist”

It’s been this way for many years. While the cast of characters within my life has shifted and changed, I return again and again to certain landscapes. And books: They’ve always helped tether me when life’s meaning seemed at one moment or another to be slipping away.

I can remember when letters clicked into words, words into sentences upon the page. It was late summer, and my older brother and I shared the third-to-last step of our parent’s back porch. (“Dick and Jane.” It was the 1970s.) Ever since that moment, at the age of four, books have been a source of wonder, knowledge and inspiration. I spent a childhood dreaming of escape from small-town existence; books were the handiest way to imagine other lives in different places.

It’s no wonder the life I’ve since carved out for myself is one that revolves around words.

And not, by the way, those words upon a computer screen, though it’s easiest to form and reform them there. With all its temptations and conveniences, the Internet weakens my wonder at the written word. My favorite writers are the ones who end up in bed with me; books propped up against the pillow, I devour their words until entirely too late at night.

That’s not to say I don’t abuse and depend upon the Internet. But I’d rather life — and reading — remain a tactile experience. Books have a heft and scent; words can be underlined and repeated over and over again. Magazine pages wrinkle and fold; pictures to save can be ripped out with a satisfying tear.

My affinity for print is akin, perhaps, to my wonder at the ways in which bodies fit against one another. Streaming videos and endless Internet eye candy be damned: I demand more time reading, less time typing; less time facing off alone against a screen and more time licking fingers and kissing napes. I’m greedy, after all: I want the flesh-and-blood man who, in bed, will read me something very good.

Laura Paskus is a writer living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Potholes on Journalism’s Dead-end Road

Over the last year, we’ve seen a spate of hand-wringing articles on the death of journalism, prompted chiefly by the recent demise of some venerable American daily newspapers. To us unemployed and underemployed journalists, both print and broadcast, this is an old, old story, one that we have followed intensely for years (because we have nothing better to do). Across the board and as predicted, media conglomeration was the beginning of the end of the newsroom as we have known it, and certainly the death of journalism as an activity largely engaged in by trained, experienced and allegedly dispassionate professionals.

Anyone who has ever been a beat reporter knows the full truth: there’s no easy, cheap or free, robotized way to replace us, and Americans are going to become even less informed than they are now. We have progressed from “57 channels with nothin’ on” to a formidable millions of channels, containing a vast amount of (unverified) information, but the news hole has shrunk right along with broadcasting and newspapering. Everyone knows that reporting, which is characterized by research and facts, continues to be replaced almost wholly by punditry and advocacy.

The pundits are stumped on how to save journalism now that it is no longer a center of employment that the private sector is eager to support. Government funding would be rejected out of hand as un-American. Besides, do we need another tepid national McDigest like NPR? It does look likely that any renaissance will have to happen in the nonprofit world, but that begs the question of where the money comes from. I remain generally skeptical that journalism will survive without paid journalists, but I came across a hopeful piece of the puzzle right in my own back yard.

It’s an email “list serve” called the Moab Area Progressive Network, or MAPN. It was started innocuously enough back in 2005 by local members of MoveOn. From the beginning, the content on MAPN was impressive. Moab already had a number of local activists who were used to backchanneling lots of time-sensitive content. They had to, because our sleepy local weekly paper does not. So MAPN readers are regularly offered new and real information, like the agenda of the council meeting that didn’t get in the paper, blow-by-blow accounts of crucial local political battles, links to “outside” stories of local concern and endless links to newly discovered government documents. There is plenty of rumor to be sure, but I’m amazed at how often, Wikipedia style, a string of messages will quickly zero in on the truth or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

It was an event in the spring of ‘09 that convinced me of the considerable reporting power that MAPN can generate on deadline. On April 15, an eerie and massive, post-global-warming dust storm blew through town. The unprecedented brownout was confirmed by DOE air quality monitors at the tailings cleanup site, and old-timers said they’d never seen anything like it. It was easily the biggest local story of the week, and the local paper ignored it altogether, while residents joked about the “brown rain” spots on their cars. So I posted a quick question on MAPN, something like, “Where the heck is all the dust coming from?” In the ensuing hours, the closest suspect was analyzed: large tracts of land south of town that were scraped for development and now abandoned in recession. Perps were identified, names were named and carnage described, but it didn’t add up to being the cause of the Armageddon-like dust event we had witnessed. Soon, other posts provided links to another related and under-reported regional story — the recent brown snow phenomenon at Colorado ski resorts. The readers were zeroing in. Then someone found links to satellite photos from April 15 that actually tracked the dust storm from northeast Arizona to Moab. In a day, the group, which numbers less than 100 members, had done for free the research the local paper should have done. The biggest still unanswered question: What is causing the dirt of Arizona to go airborne in such unprecedented volume? Is it some combination of land abuse and global warming? Not too many years ago, those questions too would have already been answered by curious, enterprising and competitive beat reporters and editors.

Like our dwindling quality print media, information on the Internet flows mostly to a relatively small and affluent elite that has computers, broadband accounts and ample leisure time. To access the MAPN content, you have to also pass a political litmus test. Through some makeshift democracy, the group has created a system whereby basically an impromptu kangaroo court is e-convened to confirm an applicant’s progressive/liberal bona fides (so far a handful have been rejected). I’m sure if it were put to the group, the members would not approve of this story being written, so I also have to pass on introducing some of the colorful characters.

MAPN has another trait that serves as a reminder that this is not a website and not mass media, but a hybrid: Like most reporters, I have resolved any anxieties I may have had about the potential implications of shooting off my mouth. We tend to be type-A/Gemini/windbag/argumentative hams anyway. But many MAPN members wouldn’t think of sending a letter to the editor and would not contribute emails to MAPN if they thought they could be read by non-members of the choir. Knowing the speed and power of the local grapevine, I find this to be naïve but understandable. There is real intimidation here — Moab’s conservative power brokers have long practiced the art of the boycott, both formal and informal, against local businessowners who endorse green positions.

One of MAPN’s crucial functions has been to smoke out and support progressive candidates for local office. Moab’s old-guard Republicans have duly taken note, and some have publicly labeled MAPN a “special interest group.” But at annual potlucks and in online surveys, the members have repeatedly rejected the notion that MAPN should essentially become the town’s Green Party, and they’ve affirmed that they want a userdefined safe haven and clearinghouse with few rules (one being that you can’t pass on or quote content without the author’s permission). Whether the list serve is a safe haven remains to be seen — I suspect that if you trash someone on MAPN, you are just as vulnerable to a libel suit or even arrest (Colorado and Utah still have criminal libel/“speech crime” statutes).

Like most worthy Internet endeavors, the MAPN list serve takes up too much of your time. I never erase a MAPN-labeled message until I’ve at least scanned it, so there’s an unread backlog on my mailbox that goes back for months. I know I’m not alone, because, every so often, I see someone respond to a months-old message.

Like most Moab residents, MAPN readers can be fickle in unpredictable ways. Often a thread is launched by a relatively obscure aspect of a town hall skirmish, which somehow triggers a raucous debate over, say, affordable housing, that rages for days until the next juicy topic presents itself. Recently, one activist member castigated the group for its poor showing at a hearing on the proposed nuclear power plant at Green River. What ensued was not a discussion of nuclear power plants, but soul-searching treatises regarding Just How Many Goddamned Meetings One Person Can Go To.

It’s a quirky system, but simple and cheap (thanks to a volunteer administrator), and if it can work in a town with 5,000 souls, the MAPN concept could surely be adapted elsewhere. It’s not The Solution to the death of journalism, but it’s at least a promising piece of a part of the solution, and I’m guessing MAPN will still exist long after Facebook and Twitter have become quaint anachronisms.

Frequent contributor Jon Kovash lives in Moab.

Obituary: Inside Outside Magazine

Cause of Death: Economic Malaise

And now the question is: What next, Four Corners writers, reporters and readers?

After nearly 12 years of exploring, expounding upon, defending and celebrating the Four Corners Country from its home in Durango, Colo., Inside Outside Southwest magazine has joined the ranks of publications that have gone under in its attempt to stay afloat in the new-media economy. The September 2010 issue was the publication’s last release.

Since 1998, Inside Outside has been a journal of entertainment, culture, environment and recreation bonding the regions bounded roughly by Salt Lake, Denver, Albuquerque and Flagstaff. Self-dubbed “A locals’ guide to what’s really up in the Four Corners,” that tagline was more than just a boast — it was accurate. For no other single publication — or any other form of mass media — covered the Four Corners area as the single and distinct place it is.

A single and distinct place, yes, united by hydrology, creative arts, history, geology, rural and tourism economies, outdoor lifestyles and the constant push-me/ pull-you of public commons freedom and rapacious private enterprise. But those four corners of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado are also a multitudinous and distinctive place. As connected as the Four Corners’ inhabitants are, it is also a region of great and grand diversity.

At its heart is the Colorado Plateau, book-ended by the staggering Fourteeners of the ragged San Juan Mountains and the black-granite guts of the Grand Canyon. In between lie the shrapnel and wounds of that landscape’s making: every possible form of peak, foothill, creek, draw, wash, river, canyon, badland, hoodoo, outcrop, sage flat and sheer redrock wall. Inhabiting that landscape are peoples comprising a population more culturally diverse than most continents, inhabiting a scattering of outposts, villages, hamlets, towns and mini-cities.

Inside Outside attempted to package these many varied facets of this place, and gave an outlet for the region’s writers, reporters, artists and photographers to seek sense and continuity in them. They did that for the people who live here, of course, but also to show those who didn’t why someone who does might do so. Because generally — unlike in nicer climes or more economically rewarding places — people who live here in the Four Corners do so deliberately, consciously, by choice, for some more compelling reasons. Because it ain’t easy to make it here.

And now Inside Outside passes that lesson on, too.

But it was a good run. In its dozen-year existence, Inside Outside published some of region’s brightest and best voices (many familiar to Mountain Gazette readers), including Art Goodtimes, David Petersen, Rob Schultheis, David Feela, Ed Quillen, Ed Marston, Jen Jackson, Michael Wolcott and Amy Maestas. The magazine even scored exclusives with some big-name authors, including John Nichols and Will Hobbs, who each premiered chapters of new novels in its pages. Even Edward Abbey himself rose from the grave to throw a scoop Inside Outside’s way, when a special issue of the magazine on the 10th anniversary of Abbey’s death featured a “lost” Abbey short story that no one, not even Abbey’s estate, had seen since the mid-1950s.

Surely, a region like this can’t be done talking, sharing, exploring? So … what next? That’s up to us…

Ken Wright is the author of “Why I’m Against It All” and “A Wilder Life.” He was Inside Outside’s first managing editor.