Randocabo / Eléonore Petit, Joël & William Percheron
Hiking with your dog on the Via Alpina
“Hiking with dogs and cani-cross (cross-country running in teams of one person and one dog linked by an extensible lead) are soft tourism forms, as long as some precautions are taken to avoid disturbance of the fauna, flora and other people. 26% of homes in Europe own a dog, thus the relevant public is very important, although rarely specifically targeted by communication on hiking.
Using the Via Alpina Blue Trail as a start, we intend to develop specific routes for hikers with dogs. We will point to the variants to take in order to avoid protected areas forbidden to dogs, such as the Gran Paradiso National Park. We will gather useful information about the hike such as the availability of water and particular difficulties, and draft information sheets on the legal frame in all three countries travelled.
In complement, we will identify a network of dog-friendly accommodation places spanning the three countries France, Italy and Switzerland: for hospitality professionals, this trail will enable them to get known among hikers with dogs, and possibly to develop additional service offers such as stocking dog food and selling or renting cani-cross equipment.
The team: three people and three dogs
Éléonore Petit, vet and member of the French Canine Sports and Leisure Federation (FSLC), came third (women’s category - and first French woman) at the Trophée des Montagnes 2011, one of the major international cani-cross races. She is second in the French national ranking for 2011 and also practices trail running.
Joël Percheron also ran the TDM 2011. He manages several blogs on canine sports.
His son William Percheron, 9 years old, also participated in the race and ranked third in the children’s category. He will participate in the Via Alpina project for one-third of the stages.
Chip, a 4-year-old male, Husky-Border Collie mix, Diego, 3-year-old, Border Collie and Sherpa, mix, 2-year-old, also all completed the TDM 2011. Sherpa is the 2nd ranked dog in the French national cani-cross classification.
We will hike the Blue Trail in two parts: starting in Riale around 15 June, up to stage D37 (Arlaud hut / Susa) then again from approx. 18 August, after participating in the TDM 2012 (4-12 August in the Oisans massif, France), for the last 26 stages to Monaco.
We will communicate on Via Alpina and our project towards the public of dog owners, via various supports: written press (daily papers, sports, mountain and animal magazines, veterinary publications etc.), TV and radio interviews, video and audio recordings, dedicated website and blog, Facebook page, participation in forums, stand on canine sports events (TDM and others).”
The small team walked 47 of the 61 stages of the Blue Trail, as well as the last two stages of the Red Trail towards Monaco, in two stretches: from Riale to Locana from 20 June to 20 July 2012 (D1-D27) then from Le Roux (D43) to Monaco from 20 August to 2 September. The dogs, although always keen, had arrived very tired at the end of the first part: much thinner, with worn footpads – therefore the somewhat earlier break. Several parcels with dry dog food sent poste restante had gone lost, some stages had turned out longer than planned, and the rest periods had been insufficient to maintain the form over such a long duration.
After a successful participation in the “Trophée des Montagnes” cani-cross race, Joël started again with his two dogs but without Éléonore, who had a leg injury and continued providing logistical support. He both increased his rhythm (by diminishing the weight carried) in order to reduce the number of days in autonomy and thus the weight of dog food; he limited the traction work for the dogs and inserted more frequent rest days. In Larche (D52) Éléonore and Sherpa joined them again to walk on until the finish in Monaco on 2 September. Proud and happy!
In the wake of this adventure, Joël and Éléonore are about to found the Randocabo association, as a club affiliated to the FSLC (French Canine Sports and Leisure Federation). Its objective will be to inform and initiate in order to encourage more people to launch into several-day hikes with their dogs. Datasheets on the hikes carried out will be published on a dedicated website, as well as other information; presentations at several cani-cross races and specific events will be organised. And the team reckons on walking the missing part of its route in July 2013!
Some reflections and future lines of work:
The diversion around the Gran Paradiso national park is not straightforward, since secondary trails are often abandoned;
From the encounters and discussions with local actors the team noted that hikers accompanied by dogs very rarely venture in the mountains for an itinerant hike, even just for a week-end;
The accommodation conditions or lack of information are in great part responsible for this;
Well-visible signage to explain the responsibility of the target public would be of value, not only in protected areas but also on pastures. It exists in some places;
The tourist offices would have an important role to play;
It would be desirable if the accommodation managers could set out a space and even a food supply for the canine companions. This remains an exception. For Randocabo, exceptional solutions were almost always found, it would be good to make these systematic and promote them to encourage the hikers;
Forbidden access to lodgings is mostly based on the disturbance the dogs would cause. After the team’s visit, the managers had been able to observe the discretion of the dogs, due to three factors: the tiredness of the dogs after a day’s hiking, a good education and the comfort of the space allocated to them. There is scope for work on the last two points.
“The Via Alpina, it’s a spacetime, a way of living, a dream, a philosophy. Despite the negative points, what remains and will stay with us is a moment aside, extraordinary, filled with happiness!
The Via Alpina: it is a journey and an invitation to travel.
And if we had to start again, we would all say: YES.
So THANK YOU... Thank you again to the Via Alpina... the Alpine Convention... and all partners!”
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