Number of kilometres today: 30.09
Total kilometres walked from Canterbury: 413.81
Total steps since Canterbury: 586,427
He leadeth me beside the still waters (Psalm 23).
I leadeth me beside the busy highways during peak hour (Kym mistake # 23).
If I followed the guidebook's suggestion, I would have walked 40 kilometres today. 24 kilometres to Hermonville and then 16 kilometres to Reims through farms and woodlands and vineyards and I am sure it would have been lovely but I really wanted to make it to Reims today in less than 40 kilometres.
Studying my map, I noticed that the D1044 ran straight from Corbeny to Berry-au-Bac whereas the guidebook arched its way around farm tracks and woodlands. I could walk the D1044 straight there, save myself 2.7 kilometres and then pick up the off-road trail from Berry-au-Bac.
Theoretically, it made perfect sense until I started walking at 8.10am. Peak hour traffic. Trucks, truck and more trucks and cars all speeding along in both directions. When I saw how much traffic there was, how fast it was going and the state of the soggy, overgrown verge I would be walking on, I turned back to follow the guide book's trail but ten step backwards, I turned back around.
"Stuff it, I do not want to walk 40 kilometres today and it's only for 8 kilometres. I'll be in Berry-au-Bac in 2 hours."
Possibly not the best decision I have ever made and not something I want to repeat but if I had to I would. The verge, at times, was narrow and I was too close to the traffic for my liking. Chased by black clouds laden with rain, I wore the Kermit Cloak in anticipation of a downpour at any second and it's really no match for the hurricane winds generated by semi-trailers speeding past me that would rip it open. And I really wasn't a fan of the traffic speeding past me so I marched as if my feet were on fire to make it to Berry-au-Bac as soon as I could. My poor feet. They weren't hot. They were wet again from the long grass saturated with last night's rain. My waterproof boots that have turned out not to be waterproof let me down again and my poor feet worked hard whilst soggy. However, I made it to Berry-au-Bac by 10am and saved myself 2.7 kilometres.
I rewarded myself with a cafe au lait chaude grande at the local bar and studied my map again. I had planned to pick up the guidebook's suggested route again but then I saw that the Canal de l'Aisne et la Marne ran all the way from Berry-au-Bac to Reims and that it had a path running its length. It looked shorter than the suggested route and it was safely off-road. I decided that would be my way.
All roads lead to Rome. With the Via Francigena, there is no one correct way, just 80 towns documented by Archbishop Sigerc that he passed through, that is the way. That is the beauty of this journey. I can choose to follow the guidebook, or the GPS coordinates given to me by someone else who has walked the VF, or I can follow the signs that appear inconsistently in France or I can choose to go my own way, like today. There's always a time to go your own way as long as you trust your instincts.
I made it to Reims trusting mine and I ended up walking only 30 kilometres, although it was still a long day taking me almost 8 hours. After my walking sprint to get myself of the D1044 plus 16 days of constant walking I am tired and by the end of the day my walking slow. The last hour along the canal was on a clay-based track and I kept slipping and sliding which slowed me down. Then walking the Avenue de Laon into Reims was a very long hour (probably more). Sometimes the final approach into my destination seems never-ending and it feels like I will never arrive. I did eventually but not without stepping in my first dog poo left behind on the pavement as is the way in France. Or cursing at the schizophrenic weather; Melbourne's renowned for four seasons in one day but here it is four seasons every hour. Kermit cloak on, off, warm layer off, warm layer on, kermit cloak on. Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.
I may not have entered Champagne region amongst the vineyards but I spent the day surrounded by green. Green waters of the canal. Green grass, trees, bushes. Green Kermit Cloak.
As frustrating as the weather was, it had its blessings too. A sudden shower made be put the Kermit back on and then five minutes later the sun came out scorching leaving me cursing momentarily until I rounded a corner and saw all the yellow and purple wildflowers glistening in the sun. And when the sun was out there were always stars dancing on the water.
A butterfly, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, black with smudges of yellow, red and violet, landed on the path before me. Then flew around me and landed on the path a little further ahead. Then did this once more. She blessed my path. And off I went slipping and sliding more happily on the clay.
And I met a lovely lady running along side the canal near Loivre who stopped to walk and chat with me in our limited French/English and told me where I could buy some lunch. She now has my blog address. And if you are reading this, merci beaucoup. You helped to lift my tired spirit and I enjoyed your company for a short while.
After finally arriving in Reims, drying and resting my soggy feet and taking care of my blisters, I walked straight to the Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims. The sheer size and detail of this cathedral is breathtaking. I sat on one of the wicker chairs for half an hour, looking up at the ceiling and absorbing the enormity of the space inside. Feeling how much love for God is in that building and how much of God dwells there. As I wandered around, I was immediately drawn to the stained glass window above a chapel at the back of the cathedral. The Marc Chagall Windows. A 13th century mediaeval technique was used to produce the special blue that forms the backdrop of the windows. It is the blue that caught my attention, like a violet tinged sky blue. It is one of the prettiest stained glass I have ever seen.
Then there was the Saint Therese chapel with dozens of candles burning before the statue of the saint. Light and darkness. Unexpected beauty. Unexpected tears. This is the chapel where I lit my own candle today.
As I left the Cathedral with the most beautiful light streaming in from one of the west windows, I knew that Reims is the place for me to take my rest day. I am tired. My body sore and needing a day's break from The Devil. I have a few days of hard walking ahead of me with limited accommodation options that needs to be arranged. And there is something very beautiful and special about this little city and it's not just the champagne.
To everyone who is leaving comments on my blog, please know that I am reading them but I haven't had time to respond. I am so grateful that you are taking the time to write to me and share such kind words. I see your footsteps beside mine.
...this to my right!
Lock station house along side Canal de l'Aisne et le Marne
Graffiti on a factory building alongside the canal
Memorial to an Australian fighter pilot on Avenue De Laon, outskirts of Reims
Saint Therese Chapel
Notre Dame Cathedral Reims. That photographer was using a very old fashioned camera and had been standing in the same sport for two hours waiting to take his perfect photo.