The GR 78 was Carroll Koepplinger’s seventh Camino trip but this one was different. He wanted an adventure and he got one. If you’re a member of Carolina Mountain Club, you know Carroll as a regular Sunday all-day hiker.
The Camino de Santiago, which takes pilgrims from almost anywhere in Europe to Santiago, Spain, is known as a very crowded trail. The Way, the movie with Martin Sheen, only made the main trail from France more popular. But Carroll’s route from Pamiers to St. Jean Pied de Port was remote and almost devoid of other hikers/pilgrims.
Last night, Carroll recounted his trip to a standing-room crowd at the Asheville REI. He walked 351 miles in his fascinating three-week trek. Unlike the Camino Frances and the Chemin de St. Jacques that I did last year, this trail had several challenging ascents.
Carroll showed slides of outstanding views of the snow-covered Pyrenees. He walked past canals, an abandoned slate mine and through a town with no street signs, just fanciful paintings at street corners. While most pilgrims stay in gites (French for hostel), this area was so remote that many were still closed in May. He stayed in hotels and B&B where he also had dinner. Most of the time, he was the only guest there. ATMs and grocery stores were hart to come by. By the time he got to St. Jean Pied de Port, he had only seen nine other hikers.
Though trail blazes were good most of the time, Carroll got lost a couple of times. He says, “I don’t hesitate to ask for help and directions.” He met interesting locals that way, not all who spoke English. He was invited for long Sunday lunches by several families along the way.
“Every time I needed help, someone was available to help, even as isolated as the area was.”
If you don’t know Carroll, this might be a good time to mention that he’s way past 80 years old. He just puts one foot in front of the other and goes.
But where was the regional press? Why didn’t they pick up on this presentation? Writing about this would send a message that long-distance hiking is not just for the young to middle age person.
Carroll will present again at Diamond Brand Outdoors after they move. Maybe at that time, the Asheville Citizen-Times, Mountain Xpress and Blue Ridge Now will pick up on it. Better, maybe NPR will.