Napoleon’s ambitions pushed 47,292 troops across the Alps. Hannibal had once done something similar with elephants and slaves and stayed in Italy for 15 years. I guess horses and mules were the technology of Napoleon’s day.
Thinking of forgotten support and logistics, cooks, hunters, laundry, American troops came home from Iraq having put weight on because the military outsourced the menial tasks to desperately poor Indonesian and Filipino workers. Why do we tolerate war? What glory is there in finding your best friend’s blue eyeball after a shell strike? How does it become OK to spray people with flame-throwers? Or destroy homes by remote controlled drones? Or use agent orange to create famine? Or breach dams to destroy infrastructure by floods? Or nuke cities? Gas millions?
Maybe I’m spending too much time alone on my bike. Perhaps I’ve climbed one hill too many. But we’ve covered 1040 km since Canterbury and there are war memorials and other reminders of war everywhere we go. I even saw troops moving on roads here in Switzerland. Over twenty years ago Robert Fisk was observing that ‘war is about the failure of the human spirit’.
So here I am following a pilgrim trail and instead of finding inspiration, I see failure after failure almost everywhere I’ve been. The big churches and cathedrals only serve to remind me of the wilful failures of governance by its rulers in Rome. Suffice to say I am saddened rather than uplifted. Even in Ukraine today, a religious difference of opinion plays a big part in Putin’s barbaric full scale invasion.
We took a train last night and a bus this morning cutting out over 1000 m of climb. Wind and traffic on narrow winding roads don’t suit panniers so we chose safety over boasting. How different the world might be if Napoleons and Putins and their ilk weren’t so supercilious.
And today, we cycled or pushed our laden bikes up to 2473m from Bourg-Saint-Pierre. It was hot and windy and some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. We met a couple of other cyclists with whom we later had dinner. They’d cycled up from Martigny. Their cycling achievements were simply incredible. They even went for a swim in the lake which was a deadly 8ºC.
Remarkably, we’ve only encountered two obvious pilgrims since Canterbury. One was in France talking to a large group of hunters. The second was a Scot today who is walking to Rome. The treks he’s done are, like the cyclists, simply incredible.