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More than Cheese and Gnomes

Maui adventurers trek off the beaten path, again.

December 10, 2009
Debra Lordan

The couple, among the first to complete the route, carried over 30 topographic maps to navigate their course, which took them across eight countries. They left Trieste, Italy, to begin a trek across Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, France and Monaco—eventually arriving at the long-awaited Mediterranean Sea in September.

 “Many folks travel to Europe, see it quickly and think they’ve ‘been there, done that,’” said Brandon. “Cheryl and I wanted to explore the Alps more intimately to surround ourselves with untamed nature and find tranquility; a peace. Also it was one ‘heckuva’ challenge.”

Climbing the Alps from hut to hut for 20 miles a day proved to be a supreme physical test for these trekkers, but offered a unique (and ecological) way to experience Alpine culture—one step at a time. Their expedition was total immersion into local life, customs, history and cuisine.

Article Photos

Brandon Wilson and his wife, Cheryl, have recently completed their journey through the Alps.

The Via Alpina route consisted of more than 100 stages and literally, many “ups and downs,” as they ascended and descended 3,000 feet every day. To prepare for this extreme daily challenge, they followed a regime of aerobic and strength training at Upcountry Fitness in Ha‘ikū.

The Wilsons traveled light, carrying just 15 to 17 pounds of gear each. The latest in ultra-light accouterments saw them through the famous unpredictability of the Alps—snowbound passes, 40-plus days of rain and high altitude winds.

Brandon and Cheryl followed this unique trail for three-and-a-half months as they pressed on to reach the Mediterranean Sea before the alpine snows hit. But as dangerous as adverse weather conditions can be at those altitudes, they were happy to be dodging snowflakes instead of Chinese bullets, as they did during their historic 1,000-kilometer trek across Tibet in 1992.

“We were told by many, including the Chinese, that a trek across Tibet was ‘impossible.’ Yet that only made us more determined to try—not only for our sake, but to expose the struggle of the Tibet people to the rest of the world before it’s too late,” recalled Brandon.

As usual, Brandon chronicled this latest odyssey through daily journal entries and photographs, which will provide grist for his new adventure book scheduled for publication in late 2010. Through this tale, readers will be able to vicariously share the daily challenges and victories of their latest exploit. After finishing the book, some readers may be ready for an adventure of their own.

This is Brandon’s tenth long-distance peace trek. A member of the prestigious Explorers Club, he has also walked Spain’s Camino de Santiago and Via de la Plata, St. Olav’s Way across Norway, the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome, and in other far-flung locales.

Brandon is an award-winning author of three other true travel adventures, including Yak Butter Blues, which describes their 1,000-km walk along the Buddhist pilgrim’s path in the rugged Himalayas from Lhasa, Tibet to Katmandu and Dead Men Don’t Leave Tips: Adventures X Africa. His most recent book, Along the Templar Trail, chronicles his 2,600-mile trek for peace along what was once the route of the First Crusades from France to Jerusalem. It recently received the Lowell Thomas gold medal for 2009 Best Travel Book—the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize for travel writing.

Like his other adventure books, the tale of Via Alpina is bound to provide an intimate look at what he calls “deliberate travel.”

“The Alps are much more than gnomes and cheese,” said Brandon. “Ultimately, I hope the tale of our journey will help open up this unique trail to other Americans. For folks seeking a little peace and simplicity in these difficult times, I can think of no better solution than to simplify, slow life down, disconnect from the distractions of the outside world and head off the beaten track.”



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