So, was the Finger Lakes on Foot trek as much fun as France on Foot?
Yes. We had a beautiful week of sunny weather, great food and wine along the hike, scenery that was breathtakingly beautiful, and kind and helpful innkeepers at each of our stops. What made my retirement hike even more pleasurable were the friends and family who came along for a day’s hike or the evening meal.
What were some of the similarities?
The GR trails in Provence are a combination of forest trails and country roads and our trek through the Finger Lakes was similar. There were local wines, cheeses, and good restaurants along the way in both places and we were treated to pastoral scenes and dramatic vistas (e.g. Oppedette in France and gorges galore in the Finger Lakes) during each hike.
What was different?
Poppies in Provence and daisies in the Finger Lakes; dry red wine in Provence and crisp whites in the Finger Lakes; late medieval walled towns perched on steep hillsides in Provence and Italianates nestled at the foot of the falls in the Finger Lakes.
The GR trail system in France is well-established and towns expect and welcome walkers. Each of the villages that we stopped in had an inn or a small gite along with a little store where you could pick up a baguette and lunch in the morning–as well as a restaurant in the next town that served dinner. The French accommodations varied—from a small boutique hotel co-owned by a professionally trained chef and his English-speaking wife, a small and ancient hotel that had sloping floors and lumpy beds but an incredible meal, and country home whose owner rented out a few rooms (with shared bathroom) and villagers and trekkers alike enjoyed dinner in the local restaurant. Costs varied too because of that range—from the price of a typical American B&B to ¼ of the price for the sloping floor 16th century inn. American B&B’s were more expensive but in most cases, you are getting more services and more privacy.
I planned my route to take advantage of local accommodations but many of our other upstate NY towns no longer have any accommodations or stores. Other than the Finger Lakes National Forest stop where you need to bring your own dinner (not even the local pizza shops deliver meals to the secluded Red House Country Inn), this route will make sure you have a comfortable bed and a good meal along the way. But the Finger Lakes area could develop its system to make it more hiker-accommodating. Most B&B’s require a two night stay on the weekends and as my experience showed, you need to book in advance to ensure a reservation. My friend, Sam, envisions a network of small huts similar to those in Europe that would offer a bed and a meal to hikers and I hope he decides to try and implement this idea as his retirement project.
How were your feet?
Ah, the feet. In France, I grew daily blisters under my big toenail that my friend, Martha, dutifully pierced every night and during the next day’s hike, the blisters painfully filled up with liquid. Eventually, I went to the doctor in Apt and he treated my “ampoules” successfully. Luckily, I had no such torturous pain in the Finger Lakes but two of my friends and I developed golfer’s vasculitis in the Finger Lakes which was ugly but not painful. None of us were golfers but we fit the profile (i.e. over 50, fit?, exercising, and the weather was hot)!
Would you do it again?
You betcha. Soon the Black Diamond Trail will have its 2nd new bridge and the Catharine Valley Trail will extend to Horseheads–then I’d like to see where else I could take a long-distance walk in the Finger Lakes. And, I would gladly go back to France or one of the other European countries that cater to long-distance hikers who enjoy beds and good food at the end of the day. Benton McKay envisioned the Appalachian Trail which now stretches from Maine to Georgia and is well-travelled by backpackers and day hikers. It would be great to develop networks of trails that take you through towns and villages where you could savor local specialties and find a comfortable bed. The Finger Lakes is one place to start developing this network. My hike was 6 days but I gladly would have extended it to 10 days or two weeks as we did in France. As in Provence, many of our towns are within a day’s walk and we have excellent wines and wonderful restaurants in many of these upstate villages. I’m wondering how I can walk to Aurora for dinner at the Aurora Inn or tea at Dallywater’s in Geneva. We have some of the infrastructure, e.g. NYS is developing the Erie Canalway, we have an excellent state park trail system, and we are developing more trails, such as the Black Diamond and CVT. I might just have to pull out the maps and see what’s possible for my next Finger Lakes on Foot adventure.