Left to right: Senior Chief Robin Wallace, USN (Ret.); Master Chief Ken Brigham, USN (Ret.); Chief Petty Officer Dean Martin, USN (Ret.); Chief Master Sergeant Ron Tate, USAF (Ret.) Photo courtesy of Robin Wallace.
After more than four trips to Europe, we have found that you need to be in pretty good shape to participate in these backpacking experiences. When you take the SANDEMAN’S NEWEUROPE Free tours. The events last from 2-1/2 to 3 hours and you walk about 5 miles. Most of the people taking these tours are no older than 45 years old. In fact, most are in their 20’s, thus they walk quickly and you must keep up or drop out.
To get to your hostel or hotel you have to walk long distances, up to a mile from where you parked the car or where you departed from the train station. Additionally, many of the hostels don’t have elevators. Therefore, you have to carry your bags up or down many flights of stairs to get to your room. In Paris, we stayed in a hostel where our room was 5 flights above the registration desk. That was 64 steps each way. To catch trains, trolleys and aircraft we often had to run or walk as fast as we could to make connections even within terminals or stations.
When visiting historical sites like D-Day beaches you have to walk down steep unimproved trails and over bomb pocked and cratered land to see the site monuments. To visit the very large National American Cemeteries you must walk several hours to see all the many memorials located in remote places on these grounds. While visiting old castles and war time bunkers you will find there are no elevators, thus you walk up and down ancient steps for hours to see the many artifacts located in the remote chambers.
Europe, unlike the USA, does not have a strong “Americans with Disabilities Act” or even a similar program with ramps, elevators or anything to assist the disabled. There is very good public transportation all over Europe, but you must get off and walk to see the things that interest you. We try to save money so we never take a taxi unless it is absolutely necessary.
A good way to see if you are fit enough for the Space “A” backpacking experience is to pass this simple test: Put a 10 pound weight in a backpack and see if you can walk 5 miles in 2 hours. To prepare for this trip, we start an aggressive walking program about 3 months before we go. Even using this program, we experienced some difficulty in 2015. After two days in Berlin, Germany, to my surprise, everyone was complaining about the pains in their leg muscles. Training beforehand is essential, as you don’t want to hold up your shipmates, but you do want to see everything you have planned to see.
P.S. On a good note; we usually loose 3 to 5 pounds and a 5 mile walk is just a piece of cake after we return from one of these trips.
SCPO Robin Wallace, USN (Ret.), Cordova, TN firstname.lastname@example.org
Reprint from September–October 2015 • Volume 45, No. 5