Switzerland, Day 4: Mountains, Marmots & Excessive Train Travel

Pack up all my stuff, quickly eat breakfast, race to the train station to begin my day: I was certainly getting into a routine in Switzerland.

I used a locker at the train station in Montreux to store my backpack and took a tiny day pack with me up to Rochers de Naye. I could try to use my words to explain the beauty I saw up in the mountains on this day, but I think it might be easier to just show you. Suffice it to say, I actually gasped wow out loud on the train as we went up, up, up…the landscape thrilled me and I felt more excited about a day hike than I have since before I attempted the Pacific Crest Trail.

Cowbells served as the soundtrack for the day, as I tromped around the hiking paths on my own and marveled at our Earth. Everything was excessively green, excessively grand, and totally fucking gorgeous. The site got busier as the day went on, but I miraculously managed to hike almost entirely solo for the whole day. I did encounter a sweet family having a picnic at one of the highest peaks (the parents had two toddlers with them and it was super inspirational) and a marmot hut, which was very weird. The site billed it as a “marmot exhibit” but I couldn’t figure out if the lil’ babes were free or caged and mostly it made me kind of nervous and sad. The marmots were super cute though, as they always are.

The day felt perfect and I was in a very good mood by the end of it, but I also felt very tired and worn out and worried that I was probably getting sick. I took the train back down to Montreux, collected my bag from the locker, and started on the long trek to Lauterbrunnen. I had to take three separate trains there and by the end I no longer felt so enchanted by Switzerland’s landscape, though it remained beautiful — I was just way too tired and honestly starting to feel quite ill.

Unfortunately for me, I sat with a Swiss woman on the longest of the three train rides who was very chatty. It figures, the one time I’m not looking to make friends with my train companion, she wants to be besties. The woman’s name was Vensa and she had a lot of thoughts about travelers from the United States. Everyone I encounter here wants to tell me Donald Trump is awful (I know) and wants to ask if Americans are as bad at geography as they’ve heard (I mean…I don’t know?). Vensa wanted to know why I wasn’t couchsurfing, why I chose to travel in Switzerland, and what I thought of tourists in general. No matter what I said I felt as though it was the wrong answer, and by the time I had to get off the train I was very grateful indeed.

Staubbach Waterfall greeted me when the train finally pulled into Lauterbrunnen. I’d heard that some of the town’s 72 (!!) waterfalls were very visible directly from the train station, and that was accurate. I think as someone who has lived both in cities and in the country and who seeks out “nature” as a respite from city life, it caught me off guard to see “city life” and “nature” melded so seamlessly in Switzerland. I almost didn’t know what to make of it.

Everyone I spoke to about visiting Switzerland absolutely raved about Lauterbrunnen, but my first impression of the town wasn’t great. I didn’t like my hostel very much and was put off by the intense Tourist Bro vibes I felt emanating from almost everyone in town.

The grocery store closed before I was able to pick up anything for dinner, so I took myself on a short walk to a restaurant tucked away by a little campsite, feeling quite sorry for myself. I ended up having the MOST delicious meal called Rosti — it’s a typical Swiss dish that is basically a potato fritter with a whole huge slice of melted cheese on top. I got mine with eggs and bacon too. It was perfection.

I seemed to be surrounded by couples at the restaurant, and as I ate I eavesdropped on some of their conversations. It made me feel kind of lonely; I missed Alley and I didn’t feel good.

I don’t know if it was the grey weather, the bro vibes, the fact that I felt sick, or all of the above, but I did not feel very well disposed to Lauterbrunnen by the time it was time for bed, delicious dinner notwithstanding. I put myself to bed at 9pm, hoping that a lot of sleep would heal my body and my attitude.

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Switzerland, Day 3: Dairy Adventures in Gruyères 

I woke up as soon as my alarm went off at 7am – anyone who has ever slept next to me would’ve been shocked and impressed with how quickly I shut that shit off and popped out of bed. I’m a notorious snoozer, for those who haven’t shared a bed with me, but you can’t do that when you’re staying in a 6 person room in a hostel – it’s way too rude. So I was up and out of bed super early, ready to begin my exciting dairy-filled day.

After a free hostel breakfast (that was noticeably better than the free hostel breakfast I had in Geneva) I set off to catch three separate trains: one to the main Montreux station, one to Montbovon, and a final one to Gruyeres. I was worried about all sorts of things – what if I couldn’t find the station near my hostel, what if my Swiss Travel Pass didn’t actually cover the journey, what if I’d misread the train schedules, what if I missed my connecting train…etc. Alley’s aunt Norma told her I’m the only person who worries more than she does, and she may have a point (hi, Norma!). I wish my brain didn’t behave that way…I want to work on changing it.

Anyway, all my worry was for naught (as it usually is) because the Swiss have got train travel down to a science and they make it so easy for the passengers. There are clear schedules on screens in every station, extremely obvious numbers on the platforms, and if your train is running late – THEY HOLD THE CONNECTING TRAIN A FEW MINUTES SO THAT YOU DON’T MISS IT. I’ve literally never experienced such smooth train travel in my life. Bless the Swiss, amen. And as an added bonus, they’ve got these cool old school trains that run on something called the Golden Pass line, and my longest train today was one of those! I don’t quite understand how you know when these trains are running, but I just felt lucky to get to ride in one.

The seats on the antique train are set up in groups of four, and two older Swiss women sat with me. I would guess they were in their sixties, and I wanted so badly to be their friend – I got the vibe that they might be a lesbian couple, and they were so awesome. Both were wearing plaid and the one had the best messy butch haircut and the sexiest salt and pepper hair and ugh, why don’t I speak fluent French?! We all smiled at each other but that was all – they spent most of the time leaning very close to each other to chatter excitedly about the landscape rolling by. If anything gets me to learn French properly y’all, it’ll be old Swiss (probably) dykes on trains who feel as excited about cows and mountains as I do – mark my words.

My Swiss Pass did cover the entire train ride, as the rational part of my brain knew it would, and the entire journey took about an hour and forty five minutes. I didn’t mind though, because in a country as beautiful as Switzerland train travel is just another activity on a tourist’s itinerary. The time spent staring out the window as Lake Geneva got smaller and smaller until she eventually disappeared and was replaced by mountains, hills, tiny farmhouses, and vineyards was just as interesting as the cheese factory would be.

The factory, or La Maison du Gruyere, is right next to the train stop. It’s pretty small and less industrial than I expected. With admission fee you receive a sample of three cheeses – aged 6 months, 8 months, and 10 months – and an audio device for the self-guided tours. I usually hate museum tours, but this one was geared toward kids, super cheesey, and incredibly engaging! I loved it. The narrative was told from the perspective of a dairy cow (!) named Cherry, and she had me rapt as she explained how she works her “magic” to create cheese. During the tour you get a chance to watch the actual cheese factory and the workers as they create actual real Gruyere cheese! I learned that the factory makes 48 wheels of cheese a day!

After I got my fill of cheese I walked up (and up and up and up – the whole 20 minute walk was on a fairly steep incline) to the medieval town of Gruyeres, where there is another castle! Two castles in two days!! I never thought I’d be in a position to rank castles, but I will say that I much preferred the castle today, in Gruyere, than I did the castle yesterday, in Montreux. This one was smaller but the rooms themselves were filled with much more elaborate things, there was a beautifully landscaped garden, and there was a mini modern art exhibit in one of the rooms. I spent a while there exploring and ate a small snack in the courtyard, feeling proud of myself for packing some of my spoils from my “grocery store” run last night instead of paying $25+ for a meal at a restaurant. Then I refilled my water bottle and carefully made my way down the steep slope to the train station, where I waited for a train to Broc, aka The Place Where There Is A Chocolate Factory!

The chocolate factory, or Maison Cailler, was extremely busy by the time I arrived, and I wondered if I should’ve planned my day differently and if it was worth it to wait an hour for a tour. What else are you doing with your day, I ruefully asked myself, and that settled that. I bought my ticket and waited for my tour to start. In that time I worked on my blog a little bit and meandered the huge gift shop. I found one hilarious postcard in particular that is allegedly “a boy feeding a girl chocolate” but is clearly two dykes having a nice time. I bought two copies of that postcard – one is going on my wall when I finally move back into my bedroom.

I was extremely impressed with the tour itself and very glad I decided to wait to go on it. It was interactive, detailed, and theatrical – maybe my favorite museums are the ones that are geared toward kids? I dunno but the ones I experienced today were awesome. After the tour we were able to become “professional taste testers,” aka try as much chocolate as we could stomach – needless to say, I made myself slightly ill.

The journey home was long but enjoyable. I spent some time making plans for the next day; I would wake up very early again, I decided, so I could take the train up to Les Rochers-de-Naye before departing this area to head north, to Lauterbrunnen. From what I’ve read and heard, Les Rochers-de-Naye is supposed to be an alpine wonderland, with hiking trails, wild flowers, and a marmot museum!

I fell asleep hoping I would see so many marmots the next day.

Switzerland, Day 2: Finding Freddie Mercury in Montreux

The train was blessedly easy. I gather that buying a ticket works on the honor system – you don’t have to show it to anyone to board the train, and I thought the conductor would eventually come around to check, but he did not. Maybe on longer trains eventually they would? I don’t know. I kind of love not knowing things – it’s one of the only ways I know to soothe my anxiety. That sounds counter-intuitive but at home, where things feel “knowable,” I stress myself out trying to find the answers, even if they’re not really necessary. Being “somewhere else” allows me to turn that part of my brain off, just exist, just accept that I don’t know. It’s nice.

Forty five minutes and a million picturesque mountain and lake views later, I was in Montreux. I walked from the train station to my hostel along the lake and was blown away by the beauty. The vibe is such of a seaside town, even though of course we’re on the lake, not the ocean.

I dropped my bag in a locker at the hostel – this one only had reception and check in starting at 5pm, which is vaguely irritating but not uncommon – and headed directly to the castle! (Pro tip: If you’re planning to use a locker in a hostel or at a train station in Switzerland, make sure you have anywhere from 2-9 CHF in coins on you! Otherwise you will find yourself putting your pack back on and walking an extra 10 minutes to a little convenient store to break your 50 CHF bill by buying a Coke Light. Maybe that’s obvious to everyone else, but uh…well, that Coke Light was refreshing after that extra walking!)

The castle is a big part of the reason I chose to visit Montreaux. I wanted to visit a “typical” lakeside Swiss town, something less urban than Geneva, but couldn’t decide which one would be best. Then I stumbled upon my friend Allison’s amazing travel blog, Eternal Arrival (thanks, Facebook algorithms, for being useful for one thing in your life), and she had just written a post about off the beaten path scenic spots in Switzerland! Montreux and the castle were on her list, and just like that, my choice was made. I love when life works like that. (By digital forces of questionable morality influencing our every decision? Ugh, but yeah, I guess.)

I was disappointed about the harsh 5pm sunlight – it didn’t lend itself so well to photos. But I got over myself and had an excellent two hours at the castle. I know that castles and the ideas behind them – classism, wealth inequality, etc – are actually not good, obviously, but I couldn’t help being impressed with the architecture and the historical value of the building.

When I was done at the castle I walked back to the hostel and checked in. I got a bottom bunk this time, which I was super thankful for, especially as I’ll be in Montreux for two nights. I used the free wifi at the hostel and texted with some friends from home and learned that Frida has always wanted to visit Montreux and especially wanted to see the Freddie Mercury statue here! The woman at the front desk of the hostel – Christine, who I adored – had just pointed out the statue on my map, so I promised Frids I would go find it. I also really wanted to get to a grocery store so I could buy some not-outrageously-priced snacks and avoid eating at super-overpriced restaurants and cafes, but unfortunately 95% of the grocery shops in town had closed by 7pm and most would not be open the next day as it was Sunday and I guess these folks are good god-fearing people. I searched online and found one grocery store that was going to be open until 10pm, right near the Freddie Mercury statue. Perfect.

I decided to walk again, as opposed to taking the bus, because it really is so luxurious to have the time to go everywhere on my feet instead of worrying about schedules and appointments and deadlines. My only goal was to get to the store before it closed, and I had plenty of time.

Walking by the lake at sunset again gave me the vibe of the ocean. I saw a lot of families, a lot of beautiful art, and finally, Freddie Mercury! I excitedly texted Frida to let her know. I got a text back soon after: “I’m weeping.” Success!

After hanging out with Freddie I made it to the grocery store which…well, it is generous of Google Maps to call it a grocery store. Gas station shop might be more accurate? Place to buy some provisions if you are in desperate need at 9pm on a Saturday night? I fell into that category, though, so I made do. I felt a bit like I was doing a resupply shop for the PCT – everything I bought was shelf stable and vaguely unappetizing but would do in a pinch: dried apples, raisins, salami, chocolate. Well, the chocolate wasn’t unappetizing – it was delicious.

I did take the bus back to the hostel, seeing as it was dark and I had big plans for the next day. I had agonized over how to best logistically plan my short time in Montreux, but ultimately decided that I would take a day trip to Gruyeres. It was far for just a day – a few hours on several trains, roundtrip – but Gruyeres is home to both a cheese factory and a chocolate factory, plus a castle, which is basically my dream scenario, so I decided it would be worth it.

And with that, armed with many screenshots of the train schedule, my inexpensive food options, and a weird numbness in my big toe (I don’t know when it started or why, but it was noticeable and bizarre), I happily fell asleep.

Switzerland, Day 1: Fondue and Flea Markets in Geneva

It took me less than an hour to get to Geneva. I hopped on the bus in France, battled motion sickness for a solid 45 minute, and then suddenly I was in a new country.

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New city, new street art

I had an easy time getting my Swiss Travel Pass – it’s such a relief that everyone in a customer service position in Switzerland speaks a bit of English. (That’s definitely not the case in France – shoutout to the dude at the Orange phone store who looked at me disdainfully when I asked, “Parlez-vous anglaise?” and simply said, “Non!” before turning to speak with another customer!) The pass will allow me to travel on as many trains as I want/need to for the next 8 days, and also grants me free admission to museums and castles and such. It was super expensive – almost $400 – but I’m hoping it will be worth it. Switzerland is, in general, incredibly expensive. That’s part of why I hesitated to visit – a full week in Switzerland is costing me ten times as much as two weeks WWOOFing in France. But I’m so glad nonetheless that I chose to adventure here – as I’m writing this post it’s only been 48 hours in this country, and I’m already deeply in love. And I haven’t even gotten to the mountains yet!

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Thunder storm on the horizon

I’d been warned that Geneva is not the prettiest or the sexiest of cities, and that is true. I arrived in thick humidity, with a thunderstorm on the horizon. My hostel was fine; it was so expensive you’d think it would be a five star hotel, but no, it was just a regular bunk bed in a regular all-women dorm room. And the top bunk no less. Welcome to Switzerland!

The exciting thing about the room is that shortly after I arrived, three other girls showed up – a pair of friends from the UK, Khilna and Kate, and another solo traveler from Canada, Leslie – and they all spoke English! It sounds sort of dumb when I write it out, but y’all, I was lonely for two weeks being the only native English speaker! Elsa made such a huge effort to speak English in groups when I was around, and the other WWOOFers tried their best, especially Anne, but ultimately I just wasn’t able to communicate with most people at the farm to the best of my ability, and so it never really felt as though anyone knew the true me. That’s totally on me – it’s super arrogant to show up in another country and expect everyone else to speak your language! – but it remains true no matter whose fault it was. Being around English speakers felt so comfortable. We all introduced ourselves and then set about doing our own things, but I hoped I would get to see them all more later (spoiler: I did!).

My main goal in Geneva was to have a pot of fondue. It’s one of the local specialities and it’s a pot of melted cheese in which you dip hunks of bread – I’m not sure any further explanation is necessary as to why that was my major goal! I was sort of bummed that the weather was so rainy right upon my arrival, but I tried to look on the bright side: fondue is way better in the chilly rain than in the smothering heat. I’d looked up “the best fondue in Geneva” on the internet because I’ve heard that all restaurants in Switzerland are very expensive, and the price points between “mediocre” and “omg that’s so good I could die” apparently are not much – so I figured I may as well treat myself to the best! I’d already read good things about Les Armures, and then while browsing the brochure the hostel gave us, I discovered an Extremely Important Fact: allegedly, Les Armures is where Bill and HILLARY CLINTON like to go eat fondue when they’re in Geneva!!!!!! That settled it, obviously. I had my evening plan.

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Why yes I did doodle on this photo and send it to my girlfriend, guilty as charged no regrets

It seemed like kind of a fancy place so I called in advance to make a reservation and felt very grown up. I showered and prayed for the rain to stop for a bit and then it did so I took myself on my merry way. I decided to walk because it was only a mile away and I wanted to see the city. I hoped it wouldn’t start raining again.

I got super lucky and the rain held off for two hours while I explored and killed time before my solo dinner date. I visited the flower clock (kind of anticlimactic) and saw Jet D’Eau from afar (also pretty anticlimactic – what’s up with Geneva’s weird tourist attractions?!). I got a bit lost in the old city but eventually made my way to the restaurant – conveniently located right next to St Pierre Cathedral, the church I had been looking for the whole time I was lost.

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Not so impressed with this flower clock?

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Sweet tunes

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Will the rain hold off?

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Yes, or at least until after dinner

The host sat me right away, at a small table with a “reserved” sign on it. My server was super sweet and I felt amazingly comfortable. I ordered a pot of fondue and a glass of white wine, and when both came I was just so happy. I didn’t feel weird sitting alone; I made myself leave my phone in my bag and I only took it out to take some photos of my food, like the basic bitch that I am. I think (no, I know) there was a time when eating alone at a restaurant sounded horrifying to me – I wouldn’t have wanted to do it and I’m not sure I would’ve been able to. Yet my solo fondue date at Les Armures was calm, easy, pleasant…it was perfect. I felt really proud of myself for how far I’ve come. I thought of Hillary Clinton eating the same fondue I was eating. It was really, really good.

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I have been told this is food porn so I guess #NSFW

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Why is that man ruining the photo of Hillary on the wall of this restaurant?!

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The brief moment before the sky opened up as I left the restaurant

After dinner I set off back to the hostel, feeling tipsy and pleased. As soon as I left the restaurant a light sprinkling of rain began to fall from the sky, and within minutes it was a torrential downpour. I had my raincoats but it was zero help. I eventually ducked under an awning and waited out the worst – there was a lot of lightning and thunder! I felt grateful that this part of the storm hadn’t happened while I was meandering before dinner.

I got back to the hostel and thought I’d be the only one in the room, assuming the other girls had gone out on the town for Friday night…but much to my delight, all three of my new friends were sitting on their respective beds, chatting and getting to know each other. I climbed up to my bed and proceeded to join them.

“I hate small talk,” Kate explained, and I know exactly what she means because I, too, hate small talk. I often say, if I can’t connect on a real level with a person, what are we even doing? We’re all gonna die soon and I refuse to go out while chit chatting about the fucking weather, ya know? If I die while talking please let me be learning something valuable about our world, or another soul, or lesbian culture, or even just someone else’s favorite type of cheese – ya know?

Anyway Khilna was teasing Kate and saying she always wants to ask people super deep questions immediately, like “what are your views on abortion?”, so then we all talked about abortion for a long time. We also talked about Donald Trump, white supremacy, Brexit, Charlottesville, marriage, kids, gay bars, WWOOFing, tarot, and traveling. It was the best conversation I’ve had in a long time.

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New friends in our hostel room

Reluctantly we decided we should go to bed at midnight, but we all agreed to go to breakfast together at 8:30am. I fell asleep very full of cheese and had wild dreams.

After breakfast the next morning I said goodbye to Kate, Khilna, and Leslie and set out for the Saturday flea market at Plaine de Plainpalais. Ron, a friend of mine from high school who lived in Geneva for a few years and kindly gave me many recommendations when I reached out, even though we hadn’t spoken in years, had told me about it and I love a good European flea market. On my way there I stopped and took some photos of an interesting looking synagogue. I also reflected on how well I’ve gotten to know myself when it comes to traveling. I love walking around a city if time permits because it allows me to get my bearings and understand the city better than if I just take public transport. I love outdoor things that don’t require I focus on a tour guide or an audio tour – flea markers, for example, and also parks, rivers, lakes, mountains, and self guided walking tours aka just walking everywhere at my own pace. I don’t necessarily love visiting museums when I visit a new place – one has to be really exceptional to make me want to go see it, especially if I have limited time in a place – but if I do go to a museum I’d like it to be a modern art one. Again, this sounds so basic when written out, but it’s just really neat to reflect and realize you know yourself well, or at least better than you knew yourself ten years ago! I am becoming a grown up and I am learning and honoring what I like! And what I dislike! I can travel successfully and happily alone! I can choose cool things for myself to do, things I will enjoy and value. It just felt really nice to acknowledge all that.

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This is the synagogue I found en route to the flea market

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I mostly took these photos for my dad

The flea market was great, as I anticipated, and afterward I decided to walk toward the junction in the city where two rivers meet. I got there easily and it was interesting – one river seemed very clear and turquoise and the other was a muddy grey. Watching them mix together was cool but weird; I wonder why the two rivers are so different. I do not know.

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Flea Market, Part I

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Flea Market, Part II

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Flea Market, Part Gay

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The two rivers meeting at this junction!

I walked back to the hostel, stopping on the way to get some good pictures of the Jet D’Eau and popping into a Laduree branch for an almond croissant and a rose petal macaron. And then I was off – to the train station, to Montreux!

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Geneva is beautiful when the sun shines

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This sign was on a random apartment building and it literally says “I came to Geneva to be gay” and I’m wondering who will make me one for my house in Portland?

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Bye Geneva, you were way cuter than I thought you were gonna be!

Four Days in Paris: The Beginning of our Euro Trip

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See ya, #pdxcarpet

We landed at 10am on Thursday morning and I couldn’t actually believe we were in Paris. I think partially because I planned so little for this trip (credit to Alley, she got most things in logistical order and I just decided to tag along, essentially) and partially because I’ve been so all over the place both mentally and physically this summer, it didn’t quite hit me that when we got on the plane in Portland we would end up…in France! And then there we were! I was surprised, even though that’s how air travel works.

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Society of Queer Adventurers Prepare for Europe: The Interview, Part Two

Remember yesterday when I wrote that after getting off the Pacific Crest Trail I cooked up a pretty fantastic Plan B for the summer? Now I want to tell you more about that!

I’m going to Europe for three months with my girlfriend Alley, and we’ll be hiking, biking, WWOOFing, and exploring all over the place!

We decided to interview each other (with both of us acting as interviewer and interviewee, which makes for a cute and weird format that I hope y’all enjoy as much as I do) to provide some details to our friends / families / strangers on the internet who want to follow along with our adventures!

The first part of the interview published this morning over at Alley’s blog, Out and About (get it?!), and the second part is right here, right now! If you want to get up to date on the nitty gritty details of our plans, make sure to read Part 1 – you’ll learn all about Alley’s bike route through France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, my plans to WWOOF on some farms in Southern France, and our collective plan to hike the Camino de Santiago. Then come back over here and let’s get into my favorite thing: FEELINGS.

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Alley and Vanessa, adventuring in Glacier National Park, August 2016

We went over the logistics of the trip in the first part of the interview. Now let’s talk about some feelings. What are you most excited about?

Alley: I’m excited to see how I do on a bike for many days at a time. I am excited to meet new people from all over Europe and all around the world, but especially locals. I’m excited to see my good friends Sarah and Scott after so many years and to spend time with a newer friend in Amsterdam. I’ve been to both Paris and Amsterdam before but haven’t really spent any time in rural France so I am intrigued to find hidden treasures there as I pedal through. That said, I’ve never been to Belgium at all so I’m excited about experiencing cities there too. If I can go enough miles in a day I think I might be going through Antwerp just as they are having their annual Pride celebration. It would be a hilarious coincidence to be there then and I really hope to meet other queers.

Because our trip is in sort of two or three parts I feel like I haven’t even had as much time to think about the later portions, although there is so much to anticipate then too. I am anxious to lay on a beach with my bae, which we will hopefully do near Bordeaux, a stop we hope to make pre-Camino. Of course everything about the Camino is something I am excited to experience (though nervous as well, which I will get to in the next question). Crossing into Spain on day one will be my very first time setting foot in that country so everything is going to be so fresh and so new. Hopefully my bad Latin American Spanish will be of some use.

Another huge draw, can’t lie, is the food and wine. France and Spain are both known for wine and cheese and I will not be holding back from trying all of it. The fresh baked items and produce are just as enticing. Being active plus eating everything in sight seems like the way to do it to me. The fam has requested cases and while we definitely can’t carry them with us while we are walking perhaps a particularly awesome vineyard will ship some home. Otherwise I’ll just keep drinking for you all at home. And Binky, we’ll try to remember the names and textures of all the cheeses we eat for you. Babe, maybe a wine and cheese count needs to go into each blog post?

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Portrait of a “casual cheese plate” I made in July 2017 – we are nothing if not dedicated to consuming cheese

Vanessa: I’m excited about everything! The last time I was in France and Spain I was 19 and thought I was an indoor kid and a straight girl. Last time I was in France and Spain I had bangs. So much has changed in nine years! I’m a different version of myself and I’m really stoked to see what this Vanessa is going to find on this adventure.

I’m also really excited about having this blog to document our travels in. I’ve grown extremely fond of this little community and this writing practice but I’ll admit, when I got off the Pacific Crest Trail I had a hard time figuring out how to keep writing in this blog while dealing with the sadness and confusion of no longer being on the trail. Now that I’ve got a new adventure I feel like I have something tangible to write about and even if that’s cheating, I’m grateful for it.

I’m also very, very excited about all the cheese. Yes, I am absolutely down to include a wine and cheese count in every blog post – but with an emphasis on the cheese.

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For reference: this is what I looked like last time I visited Spain (Madrid, 2009)

And what are you most nervous about?

A: As excited as I am I’m also crazy nervous. What if I don’t like biking for more than 5 days at a time? What if I am pressed for time and can’t find a way to take my bike on a train? What if I am lost and no one speaks English?

Language is one of those things that some days doesn’t feel like a big deal and other days freaks me out. My French is pretty much nil and I will be alone for the bulk of, or all of, my ride through the French countryside. I’ve been trying to get at least some on Duolingo lessons but I can’t decide if it’s better to try and improve my already existing Spanish or spend the time getting more French basics. I’m sure my mixture of the two has proved ineffective for either. Forget about my Dutch/Flemish-Dutch. I just don’t see that happening and I have absolutely zero knowledge of it beyond seeing a lot of Js and Ks. I think most Dutch speakers also speak English though? You can do a lot of communicating without language though too, so I probably just need to calm down.

In some ways it’s a small thing, at least in the grand scheme, but I’m also nervous about unpacking my bike at Charles de Gaulle. The nice folks at Gladys packed it up all good but that means I haven’t even ever seen what it looks like packed up and the box is pretty big and heavy so we’re going to carry it as little as possible. It makes the most sense to reassemble immediately upon arriving in Paris as it will be easier to take the built bike on public transport than trying to take the box there or even in an expensive cab. But we will have traveled for 18 hours overnight with a nine hour time change and I’m sure will be both exhausted and cranky. So I hope my tools are right and I can put everything back together without having a breakdown in arrivals.

I’m also just a bit nervous about missing home. I love travel but this is the longest I have been away from home (not counting studying abroad in college). I am also a Cancer who loves to nest and feeling comfortable in my home environment is very important to me. I have spent a long time cultivating the right environment and people I have around me and my present situation is in an apartment I love, in a neighborhood I love, with a person and a cat I love. And I am sure I will have days that I will wish I were there instead of a random campsite, albergue, floor. But that is what adventure is about, being a little scared, a little out of your comfort zone, and doing it anyway…then being rewarded with a unique experience.

V: I don’t know why Al is nervous about assembling her bike at the airport – I plan to be fresh as a daisy and not at all tired or cranky upon arrival! Just kidding, I’m an awful version of myself at airports; I’m sure Alley’s nerves about reassembling her bike are spot on – but we’ll do it and then it will be done and then we’ll be in Paris! So all will be well.

I think that attitude is generally how I feel about nerves when it comes to this trip. Perhaps it’s because going to Europe is not what I was planning to do with my summer – I was “supposed” to be on the Pacific Crest Trail from April through September/October, so I haven’t had much time to stress about this new adventure. Whereas it feels as though I spent months and months and months preparing for the PCT, I barely had time to think about this trip. In order to make it happen we had to make some decisions pretty quickly, and I’ve felt both kind of depressed and also very busy since getting off trail.

(I know, I know – poor me, I’m going to Europe for three months to frolic with my cute girlfriend on fun adventures instead of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I know I sound like a jerk! I just don’t know how else to truthfully examine the fact that I was really sad to get off the PCT, an adventure I’d been dreaming about for years, and that even though this new adventure is SO EXCITING, there was a level of sadness for me when accepting I wasn’t sticking with my original thru-hiking plan. I dunno. Just trying to be real and honest for forever.)

Anyway, the point is, while I’m usually a pretty anxious person, my mind has been too distracted to feel properly nervous about this trip.

That said, if I let myself think about it, I can definitely come up with some anxieties! What if the airline loses my bag? What if I can’t figure out how to get from Paris to my first farm? What if I get lost? What if my knee – which gave me trouble on the PCT – starts hurting on the Camino? What if Alley and I get on each others’ nerves? It’s interesting because while I had some very specific concerns going into the PCT – most specific, the snow conditions in the Sierra – my nerves about this trip are mostly focused on how much of it is unknown. I don’t know what will happen, and so I could imagine infinite things to be nervous about. I could get really into this brain loop, but I’m choosing not to – I want to focus on being calm and excited instead.

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Feeling nervous on a hike in Mexico, Spring 2015

Going to Europe for three months sounds really expensive. How are you able to afford this trip?

A: I’ve been saving for a down payment for a house since just before I was laid off from my job as Web Producer at OregonLive in 2009. It’s always been just beyond my grasp and while that’s sad it means that I have a pretty good chunk of savings that I can delve into. If I don’t get to have a permanent home I at least get to make traveling the world my home. In general, I am a good saver and don’t really live much more extravagantly than I did when I was a low-income kid getting free school lunches, nor when I was a struggling college student or young adult. But I have gotten a couple raises as I have become a better Software Developer over the past couple years. It’s weird to not be living from paycheck to paycheck like I and my family have our whole lives and I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it. But maybe that’s good. I’m lucky enough to get to have many adventures, but I am still always amazingly grateful for the opportunities and privileges I enjoy.

V: My financial scenario is different from Al’s, but over the past few years I’ve become really committed to talking about money in relation to “travel” and “adventure,” because I think it’s disingenuous to pretend that “anyone can travel!” or that if we all just work hard and save up we can go on big trips. In the same way I don’t think it’s “bad” to accept help from family members when putting a down payment on a house or co-signing a loan, but I do think it’s “bad” to pretend you don’t receive this help because it gives other folks unrealistic expectations of what we all can/cannot afford and makes people feel bad about themselves and their abilities (when we should all be mad at capitalism and classism) I think it would be dishonest and unhelpful to pretend my ability to travel is simply a result of “hard work” or “good saving.”

I do work hard, and I am a good saver, but I’ve also had help. I don’t have any student loan debt because my parents were able to pay for my college education, and I don’t have any credit card debt or other kinds of debt, either. As such I’ve been able to live frugally for the past few years and save as much as possible, and I don’t have to worry about dealing with debts when my paychecks come in. My jobs as a nanny (which pay me a lot) and as a writer (which pay me a little) combined with cheap rent and living expenses and very little desire to ever go shopping or drink a ton of alcohol allowed me to save $5,000 for my Pacific Crest Trail adventure. I obviously spent a portion of that money during the time I spent on the trail (40 days), but as soon as I hopped off the trail I got back to work (again, both nannying and writing) and a combination of the money I saved for the PCT and the money I earned in June and July are funding this trip to Europe. In total I’ve got about $4,000 for the endeavor.

I am subletting my room while I am away and I am storing my belongings in the basement of my house. When I return from Europe I have a part-time job lined up as community editor of Autostraddle, and I feel confident that I will be able to find nanny work again, too, so while I know I will come home with very little (if any!) money in my bank account, I do not feel too worried about earning money again quickly. That said, having a safety net in the form of supportive and financially comfortable parents definitely allows me the feeling of security to travel no matter what happens, which I do not think can be discounted when we think about who can and cannot “afford” to travel.

Vanessa and Alley, Thailand Spring 2016

Everyone is probably dying to know how to follow along with our adventures while we’re gone. Where can they do that?

A: The main way, of course, is to follow our blogs at vanessapamela.com and outandabout.space but I will also be recording my bike rides on Ride with GPS. As of now I think I am going to use that even though I have used Strava in the past but we’ll see what ends up working the best for me. Both will be linked in the sidebar of my blog either way.

V: People can also follow us on Instagram! I’m @vanessatakesphotos and Alley is @alleyhector. We haven’t quite become That Lesbian Couple Who Has A Shared Instagram Account yet, but I’m not ruling anything out for the future! @TwoDykesAHikeAndABike, anyone? Very short and catchy, I know. [Insert Alley rolling her eyes here.]

A: Oh yeah, and Twitter, I’m on there too @qpdx.

V: Ugh, Alley and I just had an intense discussion about if we should include our Twitter accounts or not and I said I probably wouldn’t because my Twitter is more “queer media shit” and I feel like people checking out my blog are more here for my “queer nature shit” but now I feel like I should also include my Twitter handle SO if you want to find me there you can, I’m @vanessapamela. And now Alley is laughing at me. SO OKAY I HOPE EVERYONE IS HAPPY.

A: I am.

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Vanessa and Alley in Glacier National Park, August 2016

Three months sounds like forever, but we are eventually going to come home again. When will we be back and what do we plan to do when we’re home?

A: To be honest probably take a breath. Three months sounds like a long time in some ways but I know it will fly by and we will be walking or cycling or working almost the entire time we are away so I am guessing we’ll be pretty damn tired. I’m hoping to return to my job at TransitScreen at least part time but that is not assured. I also want to make sure I continue to write and if I was good about it during the trip I will have a lot of material to draw from already. I’m sure we’ll want to do a recap post after a week or two home acclimating back to real life as well.

V: Taking a breath sounds nice. We are home right before Halloween – October 26 to be exact – so we’d very much like to be invited to your Halloween house party, please and thank you!

I’m actually a crazy person though, and enjoy setting goals for myself that are destined to make me feel super stressed and really overwhelmed, so I’ve decided to apply for grad school when we get home! I’ve wanted to get an MFA in Creative Writing for years, and it just feels like Now Is The Time To Go For It. Most application deadlines fall sometime between December 1 and January 1, and like I said, we get home right before Halloween, so I am going to have a Very Fun Not At All Stressful month of November!

Oh but also Alley is a dreamboat and is taking me to a Tegan and Sara concert in Seattle the day after we get home (the Portland show was sold out and she couldn’t handle how sad I was about it so she got us tickets in Seattle!) so actually neither of us will take any breaths right when we get home, we will be racing to Seattle to cry over The Con with a bunch of other queers. I really can’t wait.

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This is what we looked like last time we went to Seattle so like, make sure to come find us at the Tegan & Sara concert if you’re also going, is what I’m saying

So there you have it, folks! My game plan for the next three months. Alley and I will both be updating our blogs regularly while we’re gone, so be sure to check in for updates about her cycling trip, my farming adventures, our Camino de Santiago hike, and of course, our cheese and wine consumption.

Spoiler alert: I am no longer on the PCT

The title of this post gives the subject matter away before I even begin. I suppose that’s okay. Best to not bury the lede. Good morning, dear blog readers. I am no longer on the PCT. I left the trail on May 29. I’m glad I did, but it’s also complicated. Sigh.

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I’ve been putting off writing this post for a variety of reasons. First of all, I’m a perfectionist and I wanted my blog to follow the correct narrative order as opposed to being interrupted with this announcement; I wanted the story to unfold on its own, and for the posts from the additional 20 days I spent on trail that I haven’t yet written about to slowly tease out the reasons why I had to get off trail and go home. But it’s been taking me forever to get my additional 20 blog posts (days 20-40) ready to publish, so instead of telling a meaningful story I just stalled out. (I do intend to publish my trail journal from the PCT days 20-40. I do. I’m just not sure when.) Second of all, I figured a lot of people who read this blog already knew I was no longer on trail because we’re either friends in real life or they follow my Instagram, and third of all, to be real, I was sad and embarrassed to not complete my hike.

But now it’s July 31 and I’m about to embark on a new adventure that I want to tell you all about, so it’s time to be a big kid and just write this damn post. Okay, let’s do this!

Hi. It’s been a minute, huh? Thanks for being patient with me. How’s your summer going? Don’t be shy, I really want to know. Tell me in the comments, if you want to.

How’s my summer going, you ask? Well yes, it’s true, I got off the Pacific Crest Trail. As in, I have not been hiking it for the past two months. I can’t believe it’s been two months. Here’s the post I wrote on Instagram a few days after getting off trail:

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hi guys. some small ultimately insignificant news that feels large to me: i hopped off the pacific crest trail on monday, visited the ocean in LA, and now i’m back in portland. i hiked 454 miles which is a lot of miles but also not nearly as many miles as i intended to hike when i started this journey. i spent some time feeling embarrassed and turning the word “failure” over in my brain and my heart but i don’t feel bad anymore – i feel proud of myself for making the right decision for me. i have a lot more to say about all this (you’re all shocked, i’m sure) but i’ll tackle it in my blog. at first i just wanted to lay low but it honestly felt very weird for people to keep sending me sweet encouraging texts etc while i napped in a comfy bed (i’ve slept so many hours since getting off the trail). thank you to everyone who followed along with my journey and was so supportive and kind – it meant so much to me and helped me keep going and i hope i haven’t let you down (or if i have i hope you don’t tell me that because i don’t think my fragile ego could handle it!). i will continue publishing my blog posts about the 40 days i spent on the trail and i am making some exciting Plan B hiking and traveling plans for the summer which i’ll also write about when the time is right. and if you live in portland maybe i’ll see you at the queer dance party tmrw night (or maybe i’ll keep being a hermit idk)! xoxo

I probably should have just posted that spiel to my blog immediately, because over the past few months I’ve gotten quite a few people inquiring where I went or if I was okay, and I felt guilty each time that there were humans who were wondering about me and I’d left y’all hanging. I’m sorry about that. I’m especially sorry to the sweet people who have messaged me via email or Instagram or text message who I simply haven’t gotten back to – I read every single message and tucked them all into a special pocket of my heart where my sadness and embarrassment about the PCT live, and they make some of the pain and shame feel a lot better. They are an excellent balm. I haven’t not responded because I’m not grateful for the support or because I don’t care – I care so much! All I can say is that blogging is really emotional work, and even simply communicating with other humans is really emotional work, especially if you’re me, which is to say, supremely emotional! I have been overwhelmed and I remain overwhelmed. I still don’t really know how to say all the things I want to say, but I will eventually. Again – thank you for being patient. And thank you for supporting me.

The super cool news is that I did indeed cook up a pretty fucking fantastic Plan B, just as I said I would in that Instagram caption, and I can’t wait to tell y’all about it. It will involve more adventures, more blogging, and more time spent with my delightful pink sleeping bag and, inevitably, all my feelings. It will also involve my sweet girlfriend, a large airplane, and tons of cheese and wine. I posted about this, too, on Instagram, and here’s what I wrote the night we bought our plane tickets!

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i took this photo on April 20, on my first day hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. i wanted to hike the whole thing – all 2,650 miles. i only made it 454 miles before a combination of things – physical injuries, mental exhaustion, loneliness, snow, logistics – sent me home. i’ve been pretty sad since getting off the trail, and i keep telling myself to write about it because i know it will help me sort things out in my brain – writing always does that for me – but so far i haven’t. i will. but right now i just wanted to share some exciting news: i have another hike planned this year! last night @alleyhector and i bought tickets to Europe, and on September 1 we will begin walking the Camino de Santiago, a 550 mile route in Spain. it’s very very different from the PCT, and i think that’s a good thing for me right now. anyway this all feels so bizarre because i put so much time and energy into researching every single aspect of the PCT and getting ready for the Camino is going to be a whirlwind in comparison, but i am really excited and i think this is the right choice, in as much as anything ever is the “right” choice! my goals for the next couple of months include publishing my blog posts for days 20-40 of my PCT blog, getting my gear together for the Camino, and getting my butt back onto some local trails because i have been straight up avoiding hiking since getting home. i plan to blog daily on the Camino, so if you enjoyed my PCT posts perhaps you will be excited to follow along on this upcoming journey. thanks as always for all the support and kindness y’all sent my way while i was on the PCT – i am so, so grateful for all of it – and exxxtra thanks for humoring me when i write these ultra long instagram captions! love you happy monday xoxo!

Alley and I have been working on a really cute two part joint blog post to share with our readers re: this new plan, and we’ll publish it tomorrow. Stay tuned for that!

So I hope that gives some context to why my blog posts abruptly stopped and why my Instagram photos stopped reflecting the PCT. I have an essay coming up for Autostraddle that delves deeper into why I left the trail – it’s a follow up to my original essay about the PCT that I wrote for Autostraddle, This Queer Fat Femme Is Thru-Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and You Can Follow Along. If you haven’t read that yet, you should – it’s kind of adorable to see how young and naive I was just a few short months ago!

I also published an essay about my experience on the PCT in SHAPE magazine: What It’s Like Being the Fat Girl On the Hiking Trail. I was super anxious about publishing this because it’s very vulnerable, even for me, and I worried about how it would be received, but I was pleasantly surprised because people have been nothing but kind and empathetic, and I got so much positive feedback from women who have felt the exact same way. So that’s really neat and makes me very happy. (I mean, it makes me eternally bummed out that so many women feel the same because what the fuck why are we all being made to feel “less than” on the goddamn trails, Jesus fucking Christ, but it makes me happy that we can all connect about it and that no one told me I was being silly or overreacting and instead totally validated my experiences in sharing their own, you know?) Also, not to obsess over this until the day I die but Cheryl Strayed read the essay and liked it and told me so! For those who don’t know, Cheryl Strayed is one of my top five favorite authors and her book, Tiny Beautiful Things, is basically the reason I left New York and ended up living in Oregon, and I respect her writing tremendously and think she is just so fucking rad, so being noticed in a positive way by her is one of the most exciting things to ever happen to me. I’m often hyperbolic but in this case I mean that very sincerely. I’ll probably never stop talking about it, sorry not sorry!

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Oh, and one more housekeeping order of business! My fundraiser is still open, and I would still love to raise the total $2,650 for Big City Mountaineers this hiking season. Just because I’m not hiking every one of those miles doesn’t mean that we should stop raising money for such an important organization, right?! So! If you’ve enjoyed my words this summer, if my journey has inspired you, if you’ve wanted to send me a care package or do something to say “thanks for baring your soul all the time on the internet” – please consider donating to my fundraiser! For those of you who are waiting on postcards because you donated more than $36 to my fundraiser (THANK YOU!!), I will send you a postcard from Europe instead of from the PCT. If receiving a postcard from me from Europe sounds fantastic and you really want that to happen for you, you should totally donate $36 or more to my fundraiser! And if you don’t have the means to donate, please consider sharing it on your social networks. Check it out! Thank you! I love you!

Whew. Are we all caught up? I’m sorry again for disappearing. Blogging is weird but ultimately I love it, and I really genuinely enjoy being in conversation with all of you. I hope you’ll still be interested in following along with my adventures, even though they are no longer on the PCT. Thanks, as always, for reading and cheering me on. This would all be so much less fun without you.