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Day A15 - Shortcut because I can
April 18, 2013                            Marseille to Vitrolles                                    14 miles
Marseille vista 3
Marseille vista x
Marseille suburban street
Marseille drab
Marseille backyards

For today's hike, I left my backpack in my Vitrolles hotel near Marseille airport. It was a twenty-minute train ride back to Marseille in the morning, to begin my "official" hike to Vitrolles. Leaving my backpack in the hotel made the hike easier, but my main motivation was to avoid being a crime target in Marseille. I dressed as much like a local for the same reason.

Marseille is a large, straggling city, and the downtown areas are unattractively urban with few softening touches. I walked north for over five miles on avenues Salengro, Lyon, Saint-Louis, Viste and Saint-Antoine before I sensed much of a transition from urban to suburban, or perhaps I should say that multi-family housing transitioned only slowly from high buildings to lower ones. Laundry often hangs from balconies but seldom seemed picturesque. There's lots of graffiti.

I left my hiking pole in the hotel to seem like a local, and realized how much I had grown to depend on it when surfaces are uneven. The sidewalks were often covered with parked cars, so walking was often interrupted by calculations of "Can I get through here?", "Do I walk on the street now?", "Is the other side of the street better?" sometimes with expletives. But even without cars, the sidewalks are often uneven due to holes and gravel.

Eventually, neighborhoods thinned to become mainly "single-family residential", the upslopes became steeper, and there were the softening influences of pines and acacias (but only acacianally).

It was a warm day, 75 degF or higher, but felt much warmer because there wasn't any wind, it was humid, too, and I had been climbing. Plus there was a haze which was probably smog. After about ten miles, at which time at least the climb had ended, I met a couple of unwelcome detours for road construction.

But my fatigue was held at bay by my curiosity to try for a certain shortcut in the vicinity of the hotel. The regular route to the hotel would have had me go "beyond" it, and then turn back on circuitous side roads, that would add about 1.5 miles and 45 minutes to the day. Such diversions are profound insults to any self-respecting hiker. But the maps showed at least the potential of a shortcut by bushwhacking my way for a half-mile from the main road down a steep, brush-covered hill to Vitrolles station, where I could cross under the rail line and quickly reach the hotel on normal roads.

Aerial maps and streetviews showed the obstacle of a purposeful and well-mantained chain-link fence to prevent access to the brush area from the road. But they also showed a wrecking yard that bordered the area that could allow me to circumvent the fence. If I did that successfully, I would have only to deal with accessing the station on its east side, where there's no normal access. In fact, the station has concrete walls there.

But first the junkyard. I accessed it through their front gate, uttering a businesslike bonjour to one, raised-eyebrow employee. Then I kept walking briskly while curbing my natural instinct to shield myself from his further view. Instead, I stuck to the middle of the yard's dirt track and away from the junk that I've known (from experience) might be protected by a junkyard dog.

There were no junkyard dogs, but beyond the junkyard itself, the path down the hill to the station was blocked by a bulldozed hill of concrete rubble. Not willing to stop now, I climbed over the rubble, and continued down the hill.

As I neared the station, I really hoped there would be a gate, unlocked at that, to let me in from the station's east side, which is not the official side to enter the station. But I could now see it was over-the-wall or rethink. Once at the station, I could see over the wall, and there were railings on the station side of the wall that might make my descent graceful. But there were nothing like rungs or steps on the outside to help me over the wall in the first place. I looked left and right for some rocks, a tree, or a high-quality, abandoned home appliance like a washing machine. (A self-respecting hiker only jumps station walls from high-quality appliances.) There were none of those, but the topography did have an area where I could pretty well rest my forearms on the wall and swing a leg over.

Perhaps you can imagine my sense of achievement when I sat astride the wall - knowing that success was at hand. If so, you will readily understand my feelings when, at that exact moment, the station loudspeaker blared an announcement! My heart jumped into my mouth as if I'd been caught by searchlights escaping from Alcatraz at midnight. But the announcement was just about a train arriving.

I passed through the tunnel under the tracks, and joined the debarking passengers with the swagger of a stockbroker who'd just commuted home from the Marseille bourse after a profitable day on the market. Fortunately I was wearing brown trousers.

Today was about 14 miles. I was not just a bushwhacker, but whacked.

Vitrolles sign 2
The shortcut to my hotel at Vitrolles lay through a junkyard, over this rubble, down a hill, over a wall  
 into the station and under the tracks. The hotel was nearby.
Vitrolles station and hill
Vitrolles station
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 2013 Daryl May