Meet our walkers: Gary and Marietta Pritchard from Alabama

Man and woman standing in front of sign for Port of Mount Dora.

Marietta and Gary Pritchard in Mount Dora, Florida.

Although this will be their second visit to Canberra, Americans Gary and Marietta Pritchard will be participating in our walk for the first time. “Canberra was the first national capital city in the world where we walked,” said Marietta.

While planning their 2013 trip, the pair reviewed the IVV website for information about IVV events in Australia. They contacted Walking Festival organisers Harry and Kathleen Berg for more specifics. “Kathleen was VERY helpful with information that first-timer walkers in Australia need,” Gary noted.

The couple enjoyed a cruise from Auckland to Sydney and then around Australia. During their first visit to Sydney they completed the two year-round IVV walks: the 12 km historical Sydney city walk around Darling Harbour, the Rocks, and the Botanic Gardens, and the 14 km Manly Scenic Walkway. Both these walks were established by the Canberra Two Day Walk Association and are sanctioned by the IVV as being eligible for credit towards IVV Achievement Awards.

When the ship returned to Sydney at the end of the voyage, Gary and Marietta travelled to Canberra to meet the Bergs. “Kathleen and Harry picked us up from our Canberra hotel to walk around Lake Tuggeranong and Lake Ginninderra,” Gary related. They completed the 30 km around Lake Burley Griffin in one day and also joined one of our marshalls’ walks around the eastern basin and the Jerrabomberra Wetlands.

The couple also journeyed to Uluru and Kata Tjuta in the Red Centre. On the return domestic flight, Gary tasted his first ever Australian meat pie. “I liked it SO MUCH that from then on all I wanted was meat pies.”

After that, they returned to New Zealand to walk their first IML event in Rotorua. “Our original plan was to walk both New Zealand and Australia to get only IVV credit,” recalled Gary. “We didn’t plan on doing the Two Day Walk because we could get our Australian IVV credit by doing the year-round events. But after meeting Kathleen, Harry, Diana Marshall and a lot of other walkers we promised we would return.”

At home in Alabama, the couple are members of the Capital City Wanderers, a walking club affiliated with the American Volkssport Association (AVA). During the year, the club hosts year-round events in the cities of Athens, Birmingham, Huntsville, and Montebello, as well as two year-round events in Montgomery, the state capital.

Each autumn the club organises a multi-walk event with walks in four to six of the state’s counties [a political administrative division]. “The goal for walkers is to eventually complete a walk in all of Alabama’s 64 counties,” Gary explained.

Over a six-week period this year, the two have completed 68 of the 70 year-round IVV events in Florida, and will finish this series of walks by mid-February. “We are currently walking two 10 km walks a day which is 140 km a week,” Gary stated, adding, “When we’re home we probably walk 30 km a week.”

The Pritchards are now on their way back to Alabama for yet more walking. Each February the Wanderers join the Georgia Walkers to co-host a multi-event weekend of walking, swimming and bicycle-riding events. On the same President’s Day weekend [13-16 February], the Pensacola Volksmarch Club offers seven additional walks. That’s a total of 21 separate events, according to Gary, which makes for “a REAL walkapalooza weekend!!!”

Marietta and Gary are also members of the IML and have completed events in Italy, New Zealand the the USA.

The retired couple enjoy walking and planning trips to do more walking. Gary also has the unusual hobby of collecting US National Park cancellation stamps.

“I’m going to enjoy the 20% discount on everything in Australia this year. At least I hope the exchange rate is still as good as it is right now. The last time we visited it took more than a US dollar to get an Australian dollar,” Gary recollected. “I just keep thinking about those cheaper PIES.”

Meet our walkers: Yvonne Morris and Jamie Stewart

Man and woman standing near a blue banner in the Czech Republic.

Yvonne and Jamie at the Czech Republic IML walk held in Brno last September.

At this year’s Canberra Walking Festival awards ceremony Yvonne Morris and Jamie Stewart will receive the gold IML medal for completing 21 IML walk events, including seven Two Day Walks in the national capital.

In addition to Australia, the couple has walked in China, the Czech Republic, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Spain, Taiwan, and the United States.

They learned about the IML Walking Association during their first Canberra Two Day Walk in 2009. “When we saw the list of countries holding IML events we realized we could combine our love of walking and our desire for travelling,” Jamie explained. “Wonderful!”

About this time, Yvonne reconnected with a school friend who now lived in Arlington, Virginia, USA. The following year they visited the friend and participated in the US Freedom Walk Festival. “After each day’s walking we showed her the photos and maps of where we had walked,” remembers Yvonne. “It was a magical holiday.”

Their next walk was in Rotorua, New Zealand, where they met a new friend from the Arlington walk. The first page of their IML passports was complete.

After deciding to walk for the IML Pan Pacific Award, the couple made many new friends in Korea, Japan and Taiwan. “Walking overseas is more than being ‘just another tourist.’ It is about making new friends, catching up with old friends, being outside in the countryside and sometimes rain,” explains Jamie. “Everyone is friendly and helpful, even if we don’t speak each other’s language.”

Their walking adventures began 10 years ago when the pair trained for three 100-kilometre Oxfam events. “During the training we discovered the joy of walking,” Yvonne remembers. “We found that walking was bringing us closer together as we left the mundane chores of day-to-day life at home.”

They decided to search the web for other long-distance walking events and found our Aussiewalk website.

The Melbourne residents enjoy visiting Canberra in the autumn. “It’s good to leave everything behind for a couple of days,” says Yvonne. “We love walking around the lake.” They walk the 30 km Loop the Lake route on Saturday and the 20 km route on Sunday.

Because Yvonne is a medical scientist shift worker with the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, the pair rarely walk together during the week. “We know that we can walk the distances,” notes Jamie, an account supervisor with RGIS, an inventory service provider.

The Canberra Two Day walk is an accredited event of the IML Walking Association, an international organisation that promotes walking as a worthwhile and healthy recreation by accrediting specific walking events in its member countries. The IML motto is “May walking bring us together.”

Buen Camino part 2

Photo of a man standing on El Camino in Spain.Mark Schipp concludes his story …

Inspired by the experiences of many other walkers from our group who have done the pilgrimage (some more than once!), I walked the Camino in June. I had been planning to do the walk to mark my 50th birthday but once I started to think and read about doing the walk I had to do it this year.

From Paris I took a train down to Bayonne where I waited a few hours before catching a bus to the traditional starting point of St Jean Pied du Port but, as I got off the train, another passenger saw that I was a pilgrim and he offered to drive me in his car to St Jean because he had been a pilgrim himself. My first experience of “the Camino provides” occurred before I had even started!

I had never been to Spain before (and do not speak Spanish) so was not quite sure what to expect. The countryside varies from flat dry agricultural land to beautiful green rolling hills and dark forests carpeted with ferns and mosses. I was fortunate to have good weather, largely overcast, with a few warm days and a couple days of rain. The worst parts of the walk were one night of bed bugs and getting bitten by a dog one day — but all Camino stories include bed bugs and dogs! I had a real sense of achievement once I had crossed the Pyrenees on the first day. I met many other pilgrims (some of us kept together, some we saw only for a day or two) and I was amazed at the size and ornate beauty of the churches in what are sometimes quite small towns.

I was very impressed with the friendliness of the locals along the route and I always found people going out of their way to provide directions and assistance. The path cuts through a number of villages and in some cases right through farms so you have a good opportunity to see rural life in Spain — always interesting to a veterinarian from the Agriculture Department! I greatly enjoyed seeing farmers with their flocks of milking sheep.

I arrived in Santiago after 28 days with some time to spare so I walked on to the coast and visited the towns of Finisterre and Muxia. In ancient times, as today, pilgrims carried back home a scallop shell from one of these towns as a sign of having successfully completed their pilgrimage.

To prepare for the Camino I increased my regular walking around Canberra and a few times I walked with my backpack loaded up with weights. A good piece of preparation was doing the St Clements pilgrimage from Yass to Galong over three days in April with others from my walking group. Most guidebooks recommend taking about 33 days to cover the almost 800km from St Jean to Santiago but I walked a little faster than this, averaging 30km a day. Initially I was not confident I could cover the distance in the time I had available. Later I found that on some afternoons there was no accommodation remaining where I had planned to stop and so I had to walk on further. Some days where I had planned to walk only 25km I ended up walking 40km.

People walk the Camino for a variety of reasons. Some are true pilgrims carrying out a religious activity, others are interested in the exercise, or the sense of achievement, or in meeting new people. Some walk to have an extended period of time for free thought, or to recover from divorce or bereavement. I found it difficult to articulate why I was doing the walk when I was struggling with blisters, interrupted sleep or loneliness, but having completed the walk, I feel a real sense of accomplishment and confidence to do something similar in the future.

End of part 2.
Photo of a man followed by a flock of sheep in Spain

Buen Camino part 1

Photo of a concrete walk marker with scallop and a backpack.Mark Schipp, our vice-president, also walked the Camino during the northern summer. Here is part 1 of his story.

The Camino de Santiago is a series of ancient pilgrimage routes ending at the city of Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. The most popular route (70% of all pilgrims) is called the Camino Frances which begins on the Franch side of the Pyrenees in the beautiful village of St Jean Pied du Port and ends almost 800km later at Santiago. This little exchange was heard in St Jean in the pre-dawn:
“Excuse me, which direction do I take?”
“One kilometre down and then 800 up!”

The route became established in the 9th century and has been growing in popularity over the past 20 years, reflected and reinforced by documentaries, books and films about The Way. The remains of St James, one of the apostles, are said to be housed in the cathedral in Santiago. Popular pilgrimage years include those where St James Day (25 July) falls on a Sunday. Last year (not a holy year) 215,880 pilgrims received their compostela in Santiago, generally during the spring/summer/early autumn seasons.

A compostela is a certificate showing that the pilgrim has completed at least the last 100 km of St James Way. Last year twice as many people walked only the last 100km rather than started from St Jean. Pilgrimage can be done on foot (87%), by bicycle (12%) or by horse (1%). Most walkers are over 30 years of age and there is an almost even split between the sexes. Australians are the 10th most common nationality on the Camino.

The route is very well catered for as small villages are coming back to life in order to service the needs of pilgrims. Cafes, bars and albergues (dormitories) are popping up along the route. Most days there is a cafe or bar every 5 or 10km, although there are a few sections with longer stretches where the walker is advised to carry food and water. The route wanders through some beautiful scenery across the Spanish countryside, including ancient cities with magnificent cathedrals.

Accommodation is usually in the form of bunk beds in dormitories and is relatively cheap at 5-12 euros per night. In some albergues you may cook your own meals while others provide a fixed price pilgrim’s menu (three courses, wine and bread for about 10 euros). So this is not an expensive holiday. To access these albergues you must show your credencial (pilgrim passport) featuring stamps of the places you have visited (a nice souvenior at the end of your trip). Your credencial is used in Santiago as evidence of your pilgrimage to obtain your compostela certificate.

Most pilgrims carry their packs, decorated with a scallop shell, but some choose to use a service that transports your pack forward so you only need to carry a day pack. This is a very useful option if you have blisters or a steep climb ahead of you!

The Way is very well-marked with yellow arrows pointing the direction and supplemented by the sign of the scallop shell along the route where it follows main roads and in more urban environments. There is a good mix of walking on formed paths, alongside crops or along the old Roman road.

End of part 1.

Photo of a compostela certificate



Harry and Kathleen Berg complete El Camino


A photo of a man and a woman standing at the town gate of St Jean Pied de Port.

Harry and Kathleen Berg at the entrance to St Jean Pied de Port.

Harry and Kathleen Berg walked El Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port, in France, just north of the Spanish border, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in 2010. They walked about 780 km, over 34 walk days and 2 rest days.

Like a few others they then felt they wanted to complete the pilgrim journey by also walking the Via Podiensis from le Puy en Velay in central France to St Jean Pied de Port. They did this second section in two stages — from le Puy en Velay to Cahors in 2013, and from Cahors to St Jean Pied de Port in 2014.

In May 2013 they walked from le Puy en Valey to Cahors, about 340 km, in terrible weather, over 16 walk days. Except for one nice day, the maximum temperature was 8 degrees with rain — with or without thunder and lightning, and sometimes even snow.

The Bergs were hoping for better weather this year for their walk (420 km over 20 walk days) from Cahors to St Jean Pied de Port where they had started in 2010. The weather was not so good for the first three days but then their prayers for better weather were answered — with a vengeance. Most days were 30 degrees C or above, up to a maximum of 36 degrees C.

“Hard work when there are hills to climb and you have to carry all your food and drink for the day,” recalls Kathleen. “This part of France was very lightly populated, so often there were no villages along the way. However, we felt a great sense of achievement when we arrived in St Jean Pied de
Port. We had met lots of interesting people and I certainly improved my French, as many people in this area speak little or no English!”

Meet our walkers: the Dutch Australian Society Illawarra


A photo of adults and children in orange shirts.

The Dutch Australian Society walkers at one of our past walks.

Another familiar group of walkers is the Dutch Australian Society, joining us in their orange shirts for the 15th time.

“We like to come to Canberra because the walk is very well organised and everyone is happy. The scenery and the weather are also a plus,” explains coordinator Bill Fikkers.

Bill and his wife Johanna, along with two other couples, established the walking group 16 years ago. “We like walking and when we found out about Canberra in autumn we were hooked,” Bill says. “For many years we had already come to cycle in Canberra, because of the extensive cycle paths there, and the autumn colors.”

Members of the group usually walk either the 10- or 20-kilometre routes at our event. They also travel to Bright, Victoria, each year to walk and cycle around the area.

For more info:

Meet our walkers: the Purple Ladies

A photo of seven women wearing purple shirts on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin.The “Purple Ladies” are a familiar sight to our regular walkers. “We very much enjoy this event and look forward every year to participating,” says member Wanda Stewart. “Although we have reached an age where we could walk a lesser distance, we continue to take part in the 20-kilometre walk on both days.”

Two members of the group have walked with us more than 10 times while Wanda is walking for her gold (year 10) medal this year.

These active women meet at a different location every Sunday and walk for at least 10 kilometres. In addition to walking, the friends participate in many other sporting activities, including running, cycling, netball, swimming, aqua-aerobics, Pilates and bridge.

Meet our walkers: James and Jean Ohl from the United States

Photo of a man and a woman on either side of a whale sculpture in Mystic, CT.

The Ohls in Mystic, Connecticut.

“We wish we had discovered walking before we retired,” say the Ohls, whose retirement plan is walk their way around the world.  They are visiting our city for the second time this month.

So far they have completed IML/IVV walks in Andorra, Australia, Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, England, France, Iceland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Vietnam as well as in the USA.

Their walking adventures started in 2005 when they attended a walk in Vancouver, Washington [state].  They went to meet the Mayor but also met Australian Max Riley who introduced them to the IML and IVV walk programs.  After encountering Max at several subsequent IML walks, they finally decided to visit Australia in 2010.  The Ohls appreciate the relative flatness of the Canberra walks.

Back at home, they are members of the Vancouver USA Volkssporters, the All- Weather Walkers and the Columbia River Volkssport Club.  All of these groups offer traditional events and seasonal walks throughout the year.  The Ohls complete at least two 10-kilometre walks each week as their minimum requirement for IML events is 20 kilometres per day.

They are also in the process of walking in each of the 50 states, a challenge offered by the American Volkssport Association. In their spare time they enjoy reading, cooking, and, of course planning their next walking trip!