Sacha Delmotte, une traversée en 37 jours
Récit GR10. Sacha a traversé les Pyrénées de Hendaye à Banyuls du 30 Juillet 2013 au 4 septembre 2013!
retrouvez dans cet article son interview et le récit jour par jour de son aventure!
l'interview de Sacha par Candy (mot de passe : GR10)
De retour de son périple sur le gr10 au mois d’août 2013, Sacha, dont l’aventure a été suivi sur son blog par de nombreux internautes, nous livre ses premières impressions à chaud…
Le récit GR10 jour par jour
mercredi 4 septembre 2013
Wednesday 4th September. Waking up by the grand walls of the Fort de Bellegarde, I realised today would/should be my last final « sprint » of my odyssean mountain traverse. This filled me with both excitement, but also apprehension. I quickly visited around the fort, and 30 minutes later I was in the small dwelling of Perthus. It’s a rather grim duty-free border town with a plethora of tacky neon-lit shops and 2nd rate mini shopping malls promoting unwarranted consumerism, mostly for brainless plebs. The motorway overpass 300m away didn’t help for charm or genuine atmosphere, so I just charged my phone and updated my FB with some good 3G connection. If I were to add up all the time I had to wait to charge my phone, and same with all the hours I spent penning my FB posts/comments/answers and uploading them through an excruciatingly slow 3G/EDGE connection, and if I converted it all to walking time… I think I’d have done the whole trip in 30 days!!! But that’s not the point, since despite « racing » against myself, I always wanted the rewarding interactivity which FB and www.gr10.fr have provided. By early afternoon I had reached the Pic Neulos, my last incursion above 1000m, where a mad south wind from Spain tried its best to knock me off my feet! Ignoring the huffing and puffing of Mother Nature (sorry Lady, I’m nearly done, and without a cloud in the sky… there’s nothing you can do to stop me…!), I enjoyed the 360° panoramas with, to the east, the vast Mediterranean coast visible as far as the eye could see and, to the west, the dramatic silhouette of the Pic du Canigou. At 14:30 I was joined by my young companion Sébastien Sotoca (thank you FB for enabling such encounters!) who I saw from 500m away running up the slope! Wow, this young man is a very keen trail runner indeed, and at not quite 17 years of age, he’s already competed in many races, and even represented the French National Team! He also knows Killian Jornet (the Spanish/Catalan « alien » who holds most world records of crazy speedy summit ascents or extreme trail races). I was very excited to have such a talented companion for my last few hours of trekking, providing some social interaction for the finale, as a contrast to all those hours where I had trooped along alone. First I had a quick lunch since Sébastien had brought me some Yop drinkable yogurt, a pain au chocolat and a pain aux raisins! Wow… what a taste sensation that was :))) With introductions out of the way, we had to bounce on since there was still more than 5hrs left till the end. And if I had expected a soft landing with gently rolling hills… I got dished out something else altogether! The last descent was really rather steep and very rocky indeed. Alas my mind had kinda moved on to other preoccupations, and my body had to deal with heavy legs and subpar stamina. My left foot (injured toe) began hurting again, and it all became just a bit tiresome. But thanks to Sébastien’s presence I made a final foray into my reserves and found the grit to bite the bullet and hammer this thing out once and for all. At one point I even went into maximum overdrive and began running downhill (but not on the steepest parts, not with 15kgs on my back…) through the rocks. Rapidly I found my pace, kept my breath, and before I knew it… I was cruising! Wow, it even felt liberating to a certain extent, and my foot hardly hurt! So much happens on a mental level, it’s astonishing. As a result we won 30 minutes on our timing and were certain to arrive before sunset. Alas, that would still be too late for Loofille Demetz to greet me, but she’ll come tomorrow afternoon instead. So I’ll get to spend one last commando night in Banyuls-sur-Mer, and I’ll enjoy the beach tomorrow morning, before heading to Perpignan! As we reached the final slopes, we crossed extensive vineyards from where the famous Banyuls sweet wine is made. Having already enjoyed some blackberries (again…), we made a quick pause to pluck a handful of ripe grapes which treated us to a sweet juicy nectar. And before I knew it… at 20:15… I stood before the town hall… in front of the GR10 arrival plaque. My route was finished…! I’d like to say I was overwhelmed with emotions, as I thought I’d be, even to the point of crying, but in fact… I was just there. Of course I was happy, relieved also, and we snapped some commemorative photos, but rather than an explosion of joy, a sense of « ok, and what’s next? » emptiness krept up on me. Existential considerations aside, Sébastien was greeted by his family and we had a drink at a bar terrace, right opposite the beach. After they left, I stayed at least an hour alone, whimsically watching a few tourists wander around. The summer season is over, it was night time and getting frisky, and essentially all was very quiet and tranquil. My sense of introspection deepened, an indescribable mix of both subdued joy and uncertainty as to what lies ahead. The last 37 days, in many regards, have been EXTREMELY EASY. Essentially, everyday I was faced woth only one question: where do I go next? And I only had one answer: it’s xyz, so stand up and walk there. « Just keep walking, eat when you need to, and keep walking; the clock will take care of the rest »: that was my underlying command. If I were to exaggerate, I was like a worker ant, with a set task, and the gall and resolve to achieve it. Now… well, now the myriad complexities of everyday life loomed ahead: EXTREMELY COMPLICATED. But hopefully this adventure will have taught me how to better deal with challenges. It was now getting on past 10pm, and all this philosophising wasn’t going to help me find a place to sleep. I considered sleeping on the beach (it’s been ages since I’ve done that… Costa Rica 2005 maybe?) but it proved to be too rocky and also way too open and public. So I returned to the safe bet I had spotted at the entrance of the town just as I was arriving: a good old abandoned building with a door wide ajar just begging me to squat it. As I lied down I contemplated the « enormity » of what I had accomplished: I had just walked 900km across the entire width of the Pyrenees, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Wow! But still this apathy echoed in me, and I couldn’t find the energy to inform anyone by text message I had finished. Was I playing the suspense game? Was I being flippant? Perhaps I was just exhausted and « numb » from the aftermath of my odyssey. It was certainly a little bit of all this, and it most definitely felt strange. And so I went to sleep, « victor ludorum » of my very own Pyrenean Games, both very proud and yet also rather humble. Still… deep inside me I could hear a fierce and defiant roar, reassuring me that I had what it takes to tackle new challenges upon returning to Paris: « this iiiiis SPARTAAAAA! »
mardi 3 septembre 2013
Tuesday 3rd September. After a tranquil night in the tent, I indulged in breakfast with my fantastic hosts from the Moulin de la Palette, and enjoyed some debonair chitter chatter with Catherine and Laurent. They both recommended I try an unofficial route variant by the mountain ridges and crests avoiding some dull forests. It turns out that the GR10 often passes private land, and some landowners refuse the right of passage, creating some of the ridiculously stupid detours I’ve witnessed. I better understand some of the cretinous « donkey ears » and « Pinocchio noses » I’ve encountered! So GR10… we’re nearly done, and I own you, I possess you, you’re miiiine! :))) I left late at 11:20, and within 10 minutes I was sidetracked by vast bushes of scrumptious blackberries!! I think I must have spent 20 minutes royally feasting! Further up the path I saw plenty of lavender, which is quite representative of the region I think. Going on my AWOL skirmish away from the GR10 path did make for slower progress however, since the route is poorly marked and a bit rougher. I ended up strutting on parts of the HRP (High Pyrenean Road), and the « Camino 11 » Spanish trek trail. The views from the Roc de France were quite extraordinary with a vast panorama on the Canigou. And I got to see the Mediterranean again! :))) On the Spanish side if the border I passed the Salinas Hermitage which was quite cool. And as the clock ticked on I got distracted by another blackberry bonanza! I’m not sure if today I’ve spent more time trekking or scoffing down whole handfuls of blackberries! LOL! As I reached the outskirts of the border town of Perthus, I set camp under the portcullis of the Fort de Bellegarde, a grand military construction from Maréchal Vauban. I texted Sébastien and arranged to meet up with him tomorrow after lunch for the last 3-4hrs of the journey! That is so cool! I’m very impressed by this young man’s initiative, and I’m honoured to be accompanied. Loofille Demetz should also meet me/us in Banyuls to celebrate my arrival and also to make a video interview for Eric Chaigneau and his awesome www.gr10.fr website. I can’t believe it… oh myyyy god (yes, that’s with a small « g », thank you)… tomorrow should be my LAST DAY!!! 30km more and I’m there! A mere skip and a hop for the mighty Pugnacious Pyrenean Perambulator And so i went to bed at the walls of this fantastic 17th Century military fort, conscious this is maybe my last spartan soldier bivouac night…
lundi 2 septembre 2013
Monday 2nd September. I slept really well and dropped by the Refuge de Batère, which had hosted a wild birthday party the night before. I was able to have a hot shower (my first in 7 days…), and whilst my phone charged I chilled and read some magazines. I finally got going at 11am, and nonchalantly trooped further down into the valley. I felt a bit lazy today, as if the trek was already finished, as if success was already mine. Admittedly, the views are also far less spectacular this morning, causing some carefreeness. I have to be watchful now… 3 days remain, and a fleeting moment’s inattention can cause an accident or injury. On my way I saw some ripe blackberries, the first on this journey. Well… they were the best! So much easier to pluck than blueberries, so much sweeter than the raspberries: tastetastic yummyness! As I reached Arles-sur-Tech I was brutally reminded that I was in the deep south of France, and that temperatures can still be very high and above 30°C! I had kinda forgotten… with all this « high altitude » gallivanting at above 2000m, the climate has often been brisk (not to mention bloody cloudy and wet…). Now that I’m back down at 250m altitude… the summer is deliciously hot once more I stopped by a primary school to recharge my phone again (the battery drains soooo fast when you’re using 3G…) and updated the last 3 days of my jolly mountain hopping. I found a decent sized supermarket and bought some Yop drinkable yogurt and Nutella! Urban creature comforts are soon mine… for better and worse Then an unexpected thing happened. I received a text message from an unknown chap by the name of Sébastien. He’s a local teenager who has followed my peregrinations and wants to join me for the last day of the trek! How totally cool is that?!? So… whilst the idea is very seducing, as is the « pride » of being able to give back to my « audience » some of the companionship and support I’ve received, the logistics will need fine tuning. We exchanged a few messages, and we’ll see how/where we’re able to meet up in 1-2 days time. I have to say, if this pans out… it would be awesome to have someone accompany me for the final sprint, and also be able to share and « inspire » a youngster to go above an beyond his comfort zone, to reach out and make his dreams come true. At 17h I climbed on, and at 19:30 I reached the Moulin de la Palette guesthouse. If previously I’ve often privileged a SBAT (Special Bivouacs And Tactics… haha) approach to my spartan camping, tonight I thought it made zero sense to go and sleep, without a tent, in a freezing forest (the temperature amplitude was really massive, it’s only 10°C at night!), and my hosts Catherine and Laurent were so very friendly and welcoming, I couldn’t turn down an evening of conviviality. As I talked with Catherine it turned out she had worked at the Yssingeaux ENSP (École Nationale Supérieure de Pâtisserie) where my friends Emmanuel Vaganey and Nina Tarasova had studied in the summer of 2012! Wow, what a coincidence… it’s such a small world! She knows Pierre Hermé, Christophe Felder and many other superstars of fine « pâtisserie ». Later on I picked up a copy of Patrick Süskind’s « The Perfume », read the last chapter depicting the fantastic bacchanalian orgy, and went to sleep in the permanent tent (my first time in a tent this trip!) set up in the garden.
dimanche 1er Septembre 2013
Sunday 1st September. By my standards I got off to an early start at 8:15. Not being a morning person, my progress was slower than I would have liked, despite last evening’s relaxation and good night’s rest. Still, I bravely plodded on, with a fantastic goal: the Pic du Canigou, a quasi-sacred mountain for the Catalans (a bit like Mount Olympus for the Greeks). The final scramble up a « chimney » (that’s the term used in French, but it’s not a closed chimney at all. It’s more like a narrow half-open gutter) to the peak was extremely steep and you’re nearly rock-climbing. Damn I was happy I wouldn’t be descending down the same route! Upon reaching the top, the 360° panoramic views at the 2784m summit were nothing short of stupendouuuuuus!!! I would say this was the most spectacular view I’ve had so far. You could see Perpignan in the distance, and far beyond. And I finallyyyyyy got my first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea!!! Success is within sight! Soon it will be in within arm’s/leg’s reach, since if all goes to plan I hope to reach the beach at Banyuls-sur-Mer in 3 days! There was a slight down side though, but I managed to mostly ignore it. Since it was Sunday, the peak was packed with moron tourists. I had been warned that Catalan tourists flood the Canigou, but I am sorry and « ashamed » to say these cretins were very much French. Goddam it what a bunch of brainless fools! All you could hear was shouting and screaming « I farted first », « go on, get your bum out for a photo », « haha, look I’m pissing from the top of the Canigou » and other senseless idiocies. They were the worst kind: a proletarian group of dumb-fucks out on an outing. I said nothing, patiently waited for the flock of lobotomised sheep to go away, and was finally able to enjoy some (relative) peace and quiet. Scrambling down I went « off-piste » and took a short-cut through very steep blueberry thickets down to the Cortalets Refuge. There I chatted with a guy I had seen on the summit, who like I had a very big backpack, and who like I was totally unimpressed, but unfazed, by the group tourist fuckwits. This old gentleman, a Munich dwelling German by the name of Klaus, is also crossing the entire Pyrenean chain from Hendaye to Banyuls-sur-Mer in 50 days or so. The man is getting along age-wise (early 70s I’d say), but he’s getting along even better trekking-wise! I was so impressed: maximum respect, old man! He could speak reasonable French and was endearing like the most sympathetic of granddads. I really appreciated my brief chat with him, as he with I, since he told me I was the very first other person he’d met who was also doing the full 900km trek in one shot (I’ve met half a dozen, no more). If I had more time, I think I’d have enjoyed to spend a few days trekking with him In an entirely different style, on my way further down, I walked past an absolute bear of a trekker: shirtless, heavy set like a lardy rugby player, at least 6″2′, long black hair, thick beard, storming up the path like a grizzly!!! A Sébastien Chabal look-alike! In comparison I’m barely a teddy bear! As I reached the Batère iron mines at a tardy 9pm, I opted for survivor tactics, and shying away from the official mountain refuge I found some abandoned miner’s buildings. With a metal bed frame from one building, and a foam mattress from another, I combined the two with some MacGyver backpacker DIY magic… and I had a comfortable bed! I lit my candle, pulled out my « Science & Vie » magazine for some bed-time perusal, but exhausted as I was… I fell asleep to mellow candle-light before even opening the 1st page
(Sacha au sommet du Canigou « l’Olympe des Catalans » – 793 ème km / 896km)
samedi 31 Août 2013
Saturday 31st August. I woke early to free up the dining room for breakfast, and enjoyed some morning banter with the other trekker guests. The sky was azure blue with fabulous sunshine, but there’s frost on the ground!!! Brrrrr, it’s cold = 2°C! I got cracking at 9am but was really slow with heavy legs. I felt totally lethargic, as if my batteries were flat. I was constantly hungry, chowing through chocolate bars far more often than I usually would. Clearly I pushed too much these past 2 days, and with a 1-2 day time-lag my body is now crying out for calories. I think I’ve lost 10kgs (of useless weight) since the beginning of this mountain ballad! Along the path I was so happy to be able to walk past dry vegetation without it spilling out a bathtub of water on me every time I brushed past it. Butterflies and grasshoppers are everywhere, making for a jovial entomological frenzy. I even saw an unlucky Jiminy Cricket being eaten by a lizard. After another steep descent which strained my poor toe, I reached the very cute Mantet village where I had a quick lunch pause. Further on Py village left me indifferent however. By mid-afternoon my energy levels were returning to quasi-normal and my pace picked up. I reached the Mariailles mountain hut at 1718m just in time to see a spectacular rich fulsome orange sunset over the legendary Pic de Canigou, which I plan on climbing tomorrow morning. At the refuge restaurant I ordered 25cl of red wine, and feasted on half my food provisions, eating much more than I felt hungry for. It feels good to pig out! Besides, after the past 3 days’ Herculean efforts, it can’t hurt to fill up the petrol tank to the brim! I relaxed, read a cult French comic from the restaurant bookshelf (Lanfeust de Troy, some French people will know it. It’s absolutely brilliant), and soaked up the joyous, if boisterous, agitation provided by the Catalan tourists. Back at my mountain hut I was lucky to lay out my mattress by the log fire, and once again I fell asleep with 2 candles by my sleeping bag
(Entrée dans le massif du Canigou – 775 ème km/896km)
vendredi 30 Août 2013
Friday 30th August. Ahhhh, how could I have forgotten in my previous post? Last night I received a flood of SMS messages encouraging me to push on, thanks to Eric Chaigneau who relayed my distress. That was so kind, all these people I didn’t know (who have followed my adventures on the www.gr10.fr website) sending out a few words to motivate me. Totally cool! :))) So my night under the saddle mats was rather brisk but I slept well. At 6:30am I got « caught » by a guy who was getting his riding equipment ready, but he found it very amusing that I’d slept there and was pleasantly intrigued by my Rambo tactics! I strutted over to the top notch Les Bones Hores hotel, where Christian Lacoste was really courteous and welcoming. I treated myself to a champion’s all-you-can-eat breakfast, as I’d had a gladiator’s dinner in Bagnères-de-Luchon. What a phenomenal feast that was! I was given wifi access and updated 4 days of travel journal, relaying all my injury-related mishaps. All this journalism being very time consuming, I was only ready to leave at 11:35. The landscape is definitely changing now… I could smell and taste I’m out of the Ariège region! You can also hear the Catalan influence: language and names. Thankfully my cardio is full speed and my muscles full strength, and my foot is now barely a minor nuisance, so I was able to make really good progress. At Bolquère I saw the « Yellow Train », a quaint touristy affair similar to the one I saw in the Basque country near La Rhune. Apparently, at 1592m Bolquère train station is the highest train station in France, and even in Europe! A bit further on in the tiny village of Planès, I was enchanted by the really cute chapel. The rest of the day involved me pushing really hard all afternoon and evening. I reached the Ras de la Carança refuge at 21:45 with my headlight, totally exhausted. The final -500m, a very rocky and steep descent, killed me. My left foot ached like hell, but I hope it’s just fatigue, not exacerbated injury. At the refuge I was able to get some lotion for my toe from the kind caretaker Camille, and I briefly chit-cheated with the other guests. The dormitory being full, I was invited to improvise a bed on the dining room table. Content with my recovery and day’s advance, I nibbled my dinner ration and went to bed. As I lied down with 2 flittering candles on either side of my sleeping bag, the ambiance was truly magical in this rustic mountain hut dining room. I
fell asleep with the wicks still burning, lazily rolling over in my sleep to first blow out one flame, and a bit later on the second. How enchanting
(le lac des Bouillouses – 721 ème km / 896)
jeudi 29 Août 2013
Thursday 29th August. I left my mountain hut and scampered down -600m far easier than I feared I would. My foot feels alright, not perfect, but assuredly better. As I reach Mérens-les-Vals I was elated at having finished my 3rd of 4 « topo guide » books (topographical maps + indications)! I’m more than 75% done!!!! Feeling a surge of optimism, and ascertaining that there’s another train station in 1-2 days time I case I’m in dire straits, I decided I’d keep on track and see how it goes. I’m still shaken (and stirred…) from my mishap, but my confidence is returning 2 hours into my next ascent I saw 2 happy punter 3rd age hikers enjoying lunch, and jovially speaking with them barely 3 minutes was enough to put some sunshine in my soul Marching on I realised that I was far quicker than estimated times, and this boosted me to keep at it, to not give up. An hour later a helicopter flew low over the valleys just above me, and with a big smile I waved with my happiest arms wave possible. The pilot acknowledged and replied back by tilting the chopper back and forth and flashing his signal lights!!! Woooohoo, totally cool! :))) This was enough for me to accept I couldn’t possibly forfeit victory and abandon the trek. Listen up mountain wench from hell: « I’m one tough sonovabitch, and I’m not giving up, you hear me fuckface?!?!? I’m not done with you yet, I’m taking you by the horns and I’m fighting on till the end. I will sooner die attempting success than live having accepted failure, so fucking bring it on bitchass, I’m ready for you!!! » As my delusions soared I imagined the Dirty Harry scene : « The question you gotta ask yourself is ‘do I feel lucky?’. Now do ya? Go on punk, just try… make my day! ». Hahaha! I amuse myself with my silliness! :))) As I reached the Refuge des Bésines I was greeted there by the most obnoxious and rude caretaker ever!! What a bloody tosspot cumrag wanker dickhead!!! I really have to make a complaint here. This piece of shit scumbag wouldn’t even let me sit down at his terrace, despite my injury, since I wasn’t a client. I’d barely spent 1 minute politely asking for directions that he disdainfully sneered at me « I don’t understand you autonomous hikers ». WHAT THE FUCK?!? Listen up jerkoff, given your moron brain, I wouldn’t expect you to understand 2+2=4, but I do expect minimal respect!!! Not everyone hikes from refuge to refuge with their hands in their pockets expecting board and lodge like sheep tourists. Besides you retard fuckwit, if you do the HRP (High Pyrenean Road) you have to be autonomous by definition, since that route goes from crest to peak and never descends into valleys for creature comforts!!! Well listen up fucktard from hell… I’m not done settling my scores with you. You pissed off the wrong « autonomous hiker » (as if we’re a subspecies…)! Anyway, having been positively energised before, now I was negatively energised which still helped me to power on. The landscapes today were truly amazing, I didn’t see a single other living soul, and I was mesmerised by my smallness compared to nature’s grandness. The Vallée de la Grave was extraordinarily beautiful, as is the Lac des Bouillouses, and seeing it all at dusk was magical. I had dinner at 21:30 and finished off the remaining half hour with my headlight. I localised a savvy hotel by the lake dam, and out back found a metal container (the type you see on cargo ships) that had been converted into a horse riding equipment storage hut. Well, I’ve never slept in one of those before, so yeeeeeha here I come! And the perk: the rugs that you put under the saddles made a perfect mattress and blanket! And a blanket isn’t luxury here… I’m at 2050m and it’s freezing cold! All in all I had an amazing day, I feel like a phoenix (albeit a slightly limping one), I feel reborn. Good night happy campers!
mercredi 28 Août 2013
Wednesday 28th August. I slept exceptionally well, with crazy sci-fi dreams of living in an alternate world, and being the hero of some extraordinary adventure where two very different species of humans exist, and I had infiltrated the other side. And the heroine was none other than… Angelina Jolie!!! Haha… clearly I haven’t seen enough girls on this mountainous escapade.! I woke early, refreshed, and fell back asleep for more wicked dreams. Evidently, the minor oxygen deprivation at 2185m altitude is working wonders for my sleep! Weather wise though, we’re far away from wonders: it’s an abomination of fuckiiiiiiiing shite clouds! I literally can’t see further than 20m. And it’s 3°C!!! For fuck’s sake… I’m once again being raped over and over. I so want to nuke the Pyrenees, level the whole motherfucker to the ground!!!! Well… my toe doesn’t hurt too much, but I know that as soon as I start bashing it against a nasty rocky path… I will again be a martyr to this vile swine of a mountain! I bandaged the wounded phalange like I could and, depressed by the shit weather, I gave up on leaving in the morning, figuring that today I wouldn’t make it further than down into the valley anyway. So this fucker of a wooden plank by the chimney has cost me a day! I’m back to a 39 day target I wrote up my travel journal, had a mid-morning nap, and left reluctantly at 14:00. The prospect of a 1400m descent with my battered toe and slippery shoes on wet rocks filled me with dread. Initially I made regular progress, but that was on flat ground or climbing up. Climbing down is what I was worried about, with my feet pressing against the tips of my shoes, my toe was certain to severely ache. Well, whist walking I was thinking of how I would write this all up, and all manner of rude words were echoing in my mind. I have decided to censor some of this vulgarity, and I’ll just say that as I dangerously flirted with the Dark Side of the Force, only my spite and venom fuelled me on. The interesting thing is that despite my injury, I’m pretty much keeping to the estimated walking times (whereas before I was reducing them by 30-40%). The real issue is the associated pain: it’s non-stop! Can I put up with this for another 10 days? Nothing is less certain I’m not a sodding quitter, but nor am I a masochsit! I made victory mine too early by anticipating success 2 days ago, and now I’m paying the price for my arrogance. Even my homecoming party in Paris is potentially compromised! And it certainly wouldn’t have the same flavour anyway if I have to abandon the route before reaching the Mediterranean Sea.At 18:30 I walked past a mountain hut from which I could see smoke rising, and that was enough to lure me in! A couple, Pascal and Carole, had started a chimney fire, and it all felt too cozy and inviting to turn down. I knew I had it in me to reach Mérens-les-Vals, but then I would have to seek out shelter and with my injured foot I could sense I wasn’t going to enjoy the challenge of improvising a rural bivouac. So I chilled out for the evening, saddened at the thought I might have to throw the towel in, forfeiting my claim to fame. Should I take the train at Mérens-les-Vals tomorrow morning? It would be irresponsible for me not to consider the option. We’ll see how things shape up… tomorrow is another day…
mardi 27 Août 2013
Tuesday 27th August. Soooo… how does my left big toe feel? Hmmm, passable… hopefully I’ll pull through. The day began laboriously with again a bloody ridiculously steep ascent, which was a mirror reflection of the fuck-off steep descent I did yesterday evening. I’m really sick and tired of this bullshit, especially since I’m once again treated to a shower curtesy of endless wet ferns. Ferns are prehistoric plants which have barely evolved over millions of years, much like sharks, but apparently ferns in Ariège have evolved into showers!!! As I reached the next pass… I was just so blasé I didn’t care anymore. The landscapes are all banal, and I’ve seen it all 726 times before, actually no… 10597263 times. Look, I don’t want to offend anyone, and I don’t know what the Plateau de Beille is like objectively, but subjectively it felt like a gloomy desolate shithole. My saturation levels are dangerously high… all I can think of is : retard weather on a retard mountain with a retard GR10 hiking trail. And the greatest retards of them all is ME to put up with this craaaaap!!! I should chainsaw my own legs off to stop this crazy jaunt!!! As I plodded along my left foot began hurting, clearly the big toe was sore, and it’s skewing my entire foot with awkward steps. As a result, I’m slowing down and losing time, and I fear I won’t make it down to Mérens-les-Vals in the valley. I can’t bloody believe it, I’ve hurt myself with a « domestic injury » by a chimney, not even out in the wild braving the elements! I should have better left that fucking log fire alone last night!!!! By mid-afternoon the thick as yogurt fog did partly clear up, the clouds drew open their curtains briefly, and admittedly the panoramas were breathtaking. The absence of bright sunshine made for wild, savage, austere scenery. I can’t even complain any more that there’s nothing to see, but soon the flood of clouds enveloped me again. What a fucking shit day! And just as my luck would have it, the terrain is becoming terribly rocky and convoluted! My foot now hurts like hell, my feet are wet, it’s cold and miserable. Cherry on top of the cake: my shoes are also showing their fatigue, the soles are very worn and are loosing their grip. FUUUUCK!!!!! My nerves are on edge, and much like my shoes, I too am losing my grip! I yell my fury, roar my rage, shout my anger!!!! Arghhhhhh! Actually, no… ARRRRRRGH! Hulk would be afraid! By 6pm I reached the Ruhle refuge and called it a day. There’s no way I’ll reach Mérens-les-Vals, not with a hurt foot and vicious clouds ready to gang-bang me. So here I was, stuck at 2185m… but at least I was safe. I found some « arnica » type cream for my toe, had an early nap and then dinner, in a rather morose chalet ambiance, as if all the other patrons were also subdued by the shiiiiiiiiit weather. Whilst comfortable and dry, I didn’t sample as much human warmth as on previous occasions, possibly because I myself wasn’t in the right mood. I read some magazines, and went to bed, resigned at my misfortune
lundi 28 Août 2013
Monday 26th August. Strangely I had a rather restless night, as if sleeping in a dormitory specially made for hikers was at odds with my « fend for yourself » approach. Still, what was 200% compatible with my state was… a hot shower!!! What a delight, and clean(ish) clothes as a bonus! I had breakfast with Nina Scheffer and then her dad Fabrice kindly gave me a compass (which hopefully I won’t really need to use). Then I committed some epistolary time to my Pulitzer prize-winning scribing, posting 3 days of travel journal, and answering my (fan)mail! Before I knew it, it was lunch time, and once again legendary Ariègeois hospitality ensured I was enjoying a delicious luncheon with my hosts. I finally left at 15:50, my latest departure time to date. I literally sonic boomed uphill at +860m/hr, fuelled by all my FB interactivity. Thank you thank you thank you for all your support, it has literally pumped nitroglycerine into my engines! GR10, I am no longer your bitch, now you’re my bitch!!! Even so, the weather did turn sour again, and it began raining once more. Goddamit punk, give it up will you!!! You can throw a bloody erupting volcano at me, I’ll lick it up like a popsicle or a chupa-choop, and I won’t even fart when finished!! I have a one-way ticket for success and glory at Banyuls-sur-Mer, nothing can stop me now! So retard weather, quit fannying around with me!!! And if you do insist in bugging me, I’m introducing you to my 2 friends « medieval battering ram » and « Star Wars plasma canon », and once we’re done shafting your fuckwit arse, the term black hole will have an entirely alternative meaning! Clearly my artillery of weapons of mass dissuasion worked, since the rain abated, and so I raced on. During a 5 minute pause I pulled out some of Loofille Demetz’s fabulous apple crumble which she specially made for me, and which Eric Chaigneau brought me last night. My oh my… what a sensational snack that was! Soooo much butter… yummyyyyy! Thanks so much my friends! And generally speaking, thank you to all: Nellie from Eylie-d’En-Haut, Adeline and Francis from Esbints, Pauline and Jean-Charles from Gîte l’Escolan Ustou, Dominique from Bassiès, Nina and Fabrice from Siguer. You are the true heroes of this adventure, I’m just a messenger relaying your kindness and hospitality! Like Hermes/Mercury and his winged ankles! At the Pla de Montcamp I met 2 shepherds in a caravan and we had a quick chat together. They offered me some pastis (which I declined, I don’t like aniseed) and then enlightened me on how Gore-Tex clothing really isn’t what it’s made out to be, not for them at least who spend half a year outside in wet conditions. As the clock ticked on, I sped on, very satisfied with reaching the Clarans EDF hut in 4h55 instead of 8h30! Nina Scheffer, please tell your dad that timing-wise, it’s doable in under 5hrs if you put some solid muscle into it Well… omg… this hut is just the best hut in the world! The Petit Gîte de Siguer stock it up with tin-cans of food and drinks! You help yourself, and then pay at the next mountain refuge. Using the provided camping gas stove I heated some cassoulet and had fruit salad for desert! Wow! I even succeeded in lighting my very first ever log fire ever in my life I think (I know… it sounds odd, but captain green beret here – that’s me – hardly ever gets to light camp fires, etc). I felt like Davy Crocket (or Jeremiah Johnson or Dersou Ouzala, for film connoisseurs) in his trapper’s cabin in the woods. And, truth be said, after all this time socialising, it was good to be alone again for an evening! The only minor glitch is that a heavy wood plank fell from the chimney on my left big toe! Ouuuuuch! It hurt a lot, but hopefully it’s nothing serious (the nail is intact). I laid out my bed on the kitchen table opposite the cozy chimney, and at 00:30 it was bed time for the Pugnacious Pyrenean Perambulator! Good night
dimanche 25 août 2013
Sunday 25th August. This morning I was faced with a hard decision: how do I deal with my « lost day » from yesterday? I have 2 options, either 1) I keep to my strict itinerary and this piss-poor (or « pour »…?) weather malarkey puts me one day late, or 2) I cut corners and shorten my itinerary by a few kms, missing out on a valley or two and an umpteenth lake. Whilst very tempted to strictly keep to my initial itinerary, I leveraged yesterday’s insight and wisdom and opted for flexibility. Doesn’t the saying go « only fools don’t change their mind »…? Besides my aim is to link ocean to sea by crossing the Pyrenees by foot without ever taking a vehicle (least of all an ambulance to the nearest hospital…), not to obsessively follow every bloody kilometre of the GR10 trail. As it is I’ve felt too often a « slave/prisoner » to this journey… but no more! Fuck you GR10, I’m making you mine, not the other way around!!! So with minor artistic licence, I’m taking a small shortcut (besides, it’s « officially » indicated in the guide book as an itinerary variant) and cutting off 2 (stubborn) donkey ears (« useless » meanders in the path, Eric Chaigneau will understand!). So I don’t lose any days, and what I lose in my geographical path, I have made up in my path to self-awareness. I have very little to say on the actual day’s walk, except that it began slowly with Didier, and after our lunch break I switched to turbo and literally catapulted myself to Siguer in essentially half the estimated walking time. Physically I feel just greaaaaaaat (despite some scary photos where I look very emaciated indeed…). So let’s talk about Siguer… I was expected there at the Petit Gîte de Siguer by Nina Scheffer, Fabrice Scheffer, Eric Chaigneau and Stéphanie Thibault, and as I reached the guesthouse I had a modest hero’s welcome, with a dozen people waiting for me in the street, and we had a fabulous apéritif with champagne and shared GR10 war stories. Ensued a fabulous dinner with a joyous crowd, with tasty and hearty homemade food and more chitchat about our mountain tales. It was brilliant, with terrific hospitality, and plenty of human conviviality which I miss so much when I’m rambo-ing in « lone solitary wolf » mode. As the evening drew to an end, I considered sleeping on the village’s tennis courts, but opted for a more comfortable and never encountered before option: a free municipal dormitory which the village makes available to hikers! Thank you Siguer!
samedi 24 août 2013
Saturday 24th August. Oh dear oh dear… my night was intense. At 3am rain trickled on my face and I woke next to an unfazed toad which was quite oblivious to my misfortune. My backpack was wet, I dragged it under the van and crept further under its bowels, lodging myself under the rear wheel axis, by the gearbox, and fell back asleep. At 7am water began trickling under the van, and bugger bollocks… my sleeping bag was half soaked wet! Shiiiit, now I’m in minor trouble! I awkwardly manoeuvred under the van, scrambled my stuff together, and braced myself to confront the rain and march on to a higher pass. I couldn’t see jack shit piddle squat in this ghastly weather, not until the Lac de Bassiès refuge where visibility improved. After 2.5hrs of miserable walking, I flung myself through the front door, relieved to have found a roof and warmth. The weather wasn’t meant to improve all afternoon, and it really looked like I was going to be stuck here all day. Daaaaamn it!!! What a pity because I had reallyyyyy recharged my batteries at l’Escolan, and I was eager to boost on. But I’ve reached saturation with bad weather, it’s pissing me off no end! In fact… I’m beginning to be frustrated with Pyrenean weather more than with Mother Nature herself. OK Lady, you’re off the hook! Shooo, go now! But don’t go misbehaving with tsunamis, earthquakes and whatnot… or I’m all over you with my pliers working wonders of pain on your nails! As for the Pyrenees… images of a giant steamroller levelling the whole mountain range to the ground began forming in my ever so imaginative mind! « Haaa, take that fuck-face! So you like it so damn wet all the time? How about I flatten your bitch-ass to sea level, and make Holland seem mountainous in comparison! You know what punk… I’m razing you to below sea level, since you like water so much… so you can just be flooded or have some of your own medicine fighting the water off with dams! ». Ok… my brain is warped! :)))) So ultimately I stayed in the refuge, accepting that there was no point in fighting the elements without adequate gear, most of which was already soaked. The wind raged on, battering the windows with unchained rain! Another reason I stayed was because I met this great guy Didier. He was very intrigued at why I put myself through what I do, seemingly inflicting upon myself unnecessary hardship. A fine psychologist with a keen EQ (emotional quotient) he hinted that this might be a »symptom » of some deeply buried underlying root-cause, which probably made life harder for me on an everyday basis. This was very interesting food for thought, and it resonated with my earlier interrogations over what I « must » do, what I « want » to do, what I am « able » to do, and the real purpose of having to prove to myself I’m capable of running the gauntlet. Is it a reflection of an ill-perceived insecurity complex, was it a subconscious masochistic streak, was I simply unbalanced and out of touch with myself? All very difficult questions, and certainly far more interesting to mull over than simply hearing gasps of admiration over my spartan bravado. Ultimately there is certainly some truth in all the above statements, even if I simply enjoy impromptu challenges of having to make-do with DIY backpacker resourcefulness. I could elaborate and wax lyrical for hours on this subject, but I guess you’re more interested in my torturous trek than in the convoluted mechanics of my twisted mind! On a more grass-roots level, Didier is in house/home construction, and we brainstormed some great ideas for my future apartment which I’m really excited about. Ultimately, having trekked barely more than 2 hours, I spent one of my most interesting days with my arse firmly lodged on a wooden bench, on a path not to Banyuls-sur-Mer (my end destination), but on a path better self-understanding. I also succeeded in forfeiting my anally retentive (« psychorigide » in French) warrior attitude, proving I was also capable of « letting go » instead of fighting a losing battle at all costs. « Fight or flight »… that is the question. And my answer: better succeed with minor compromise, than fail with rigid diehard principles. And as a result, I slept in a dry warm bed for the first time since the beginning of this odyssey
vendredi 23 août 2013
Friday 23rd August. Despite a very short 4hr sleep I wasn’t too demolished. I had breakfast with Pauline and Jean-Charles and then spent a few more hours on internet clearing my entire backlog of emails and FB messages (I feel it’s important to return the curtesy and reply to people who have been encouraging me). I’m now 100% up to date, hurrah! Before I knew it, it was lunch-time which I shared with my kind hosts, and for desert I had blueberry pancakes! Yummy!!!!!! I finally managed to « escape » the safe-haven of L’Escolan at 14:10 with Pauline’s brother Jacques Cusin, who’s a trail runner but wants to spend the day hiking with me. One of Jacques’ brothers had the Mont Blanc ascent speed record in the 80s, and we talked about Kilian Jornet, the spaniard « extra-terrestrial » who currently holds most of the time records for the fastest mountain climbs. I was somewhat apprehensive that after my relaxing break I would have unwound too much, and that it would be difficult to return back to cruise speed, but I got cracking top notch, polishing off 600m/hr ascents. We walked past Guzet-Neige ski resort, whose chalets are very pretty and Jacques told me how it reminded him of a similar place he’d seen in the Transylvanian mountains in Romania. Alas the clouds started pouring in, and rapidly our views were blocked. As a result we decided to short-circuit the itinerary, bypassing the Étang de Guzet lake and the Ars waterfall. Pity… this waterfall is said to be one of the prettiest in the Pyrenees, but there’s really no point in walking an extra 3hra for zero panorama. So instead we took a direct descent to Aulus-les-Bains. Jacques left me his trail gloves as a parting gift, which will sure come in handy (pun… intended!) when I have to fight through thick ferns! Pauline came by car to pick up Jacques and we all had a drink, a proverbial « one for the road ». Because for me… the road ahead was still long! Despite an ominous weather forecast (rain during the night), at 8pm I left Aulus and marched on through the darkening forest. I was certain to find a barn by the trail path, but as the light faded to looming darkness… I reached Coumebière pass where I was left without shelter to confront the elements. Luckily a mountain road laced up to this pass, and there was a small car park where my only choice for shelter was… to sleep under a big van!!! I kid you not my friends, I slept on the gravel under a van! This certainly earns 1st place for the most incongruous and rambo-esque bivouac!!! Mind you… I have previous experience in this department: during my year in Africa I once had to sleep under a lorry in the no-man’s-land between the Mozambique and Malawi borders (but that’s another story)! Fearful I might get driven over by an early riser driver, I put my backpack against the rear bumper, so that it would be evident that there’s something/someone under the van. And just in case… I ensured my head was sticking out behind the rear tire so that there really could be no confusion. And so at 10:30pm, with a clear sky but with high odds that rain would come, I fell asleep under my most spartan shelter to date!
jeudi 22 août 2013
Thursday 22nd August. I woke up in my enchanted hay barn having had an absolutely fantastic night! I mean… imagine… I had gone to bed with 3 « luxuries »: I was clean (very rare), I was warm and comfortable (happens 50% of the time), and had eaten to my heart’s content (not so frequent). Well, if yesterday I was low on fuel, this morning I had a full tank to power my engines! Clearly having my six-pack stomach full of protein and carbohydrates helps to speed ahead! And overall I kinda achieved peak performance today. My time management was perfect, my ascent rates great (close to +600m/hr with a 15kg backpack!), my descents running down were rapid and robust on strong knees, etc. Today I fine-tuned everything to quasi perfection. So much so that… I think I could do the whole trek in 30 days if I’d started with this pace (and if I forfeited some of the « tourist » halts I made, but I wouldn’t want to do that). As it stands, I’m again ahead of schedule, and I’m aiming to cut another day off, with a new target of 38 days! The views around the Cabane d’Aula mountain hut were terrific, with dramatic views of Mont Vallier… it was amazing. If only I had the time to simply spend a few lazy days at this hut, with a gripping book, suntanning my toes out in the wind… detached from everything, to recharge mind and body! As I raced to Saint-Lizier-d’Ustou I headed for the Gîte l’Escolan Ustou where I was expected by « fans » who had followed my adventures online. The couple in charge, Pauline and Jean-Charles, welcomed we with such kindness… it was wonderful. I had a beer and we talked about hiking, the Pyrenees, bears, blueberries, how bears crave for blueberries and pluck them with their massive paws, and 1001 other things. It’s so nice to be able to share a conversation with generous, interesting and open-minded people. This trek can be lonely at times, and teaches you to value « simple things » as elementary as everyday human contact. I was given internet access which allowed me to answer the dozens and dozens of comments and messages I’ve had on FB. This came with a heavy price though… I was up until 3:30am!!! But, it’s so nice to be able to share my adventures, albeit virtually through cyberspace, and it’s a welcome change from my « lone solitary wolf » days of mountain wilderness. Despite being offered a bed, I stood by my spartan discipline and slept a very short 4hr night outside, in the garden shed next to the lawn-mower!!
mercredi 21 août 2013
Wednesday 21st August. Today I felt physically lethargic and motivationally apathetic. By mid-morning I was really exhausted, and tired from it all. Have I run out of steam and burnt out? Things got better after lunch: maybe I’m undernourished. Actually, that is probably it: I’ve been low on « fuel », rationing myself too severely. I’ve lost a lot of weight, and my daily intake of calories is probably insufficient. I have no stove, so I fully rely on ready-to-eat cold food. A few pastries for breakfast, a sandwich with 100gr of bread and ham/cheese/sardines for lunch, and the same for dinner. Cereal and chocolate bars help during the day, but apparently sugar only makes the sensation of hunger worse. The Étang d’Ayes lake stunned me with its emerald green waters! Further on in the afternoon at a busy pass, easily accessible by car, I saw plenty of families picking blueberries. Yummy… when will I eat some more blueberry pie? At Esbints village I stopped over at the guesthouse/gîte and was welcomed by the lovely Adeline. She’s not really up-to-date with www.gr10.fr news, so isn’t aware of my peregrinations, but takes some time to listen to my stories. She was kind enough to sell me some of her homemade bread, since there are no bakeries/boulangeries for days ahead. I even got to have a shower! At 18:50 I pressed on, aiming to secure another 2:45h of walking. At 21:00 I spotted an awesome bonafide genuine hay barn… and wanted to sleep there, but continued ahead hoping to reach a tiny hydro-electric station where I could set camp. And this is where things got awesome! As I marched through this tiny micro-village Estours, a man spotted me on the road from his garden, and he instantaneously invited me for a BBQ dinner!!! He’s staying in this secluded part of Ariège for a week with wife and 3yr old daughter. We had a lovely dinner and I filled my belly with much needed food. The unexpected surprise was… for desert… homemade blueberry pie with blueberries they had picked themselves the day beforehand! Woooow! :)))) My daily ration of bread and pâté was hardly going to interest them, but I happened to have a bag of marshmallows and so that was my improvised contribution. We roasted marshmallows over the BBQ and it was lovely. As the fabulous evening of chit-chat drew to an end, I dearly thanked my hosts and backtracked 10 minutes to my vintage barn for my first ever sleep in hay! Epiiiic! And sooo comfortable and warm! It’s full moon again (or probably wasn’t quite full mon last night). Everything is cool… but tomorrow a megaaaaa long day awaits!
(Etang d’Ayes – 523ème km / 896 km)
mardi 20 août 2013
Tuesday 20th August. I woke at 7:30 after close to 11hrs of warranted sleep. The prospect of putting on cold wet socks and wearing cold wet shoes is unbearable! Each previous time I had been screwed by the rain, I had managed to dry my stuff out! Well at least it’s a grand blue sky and the sun is out. I can at last discover the surrounding landscapes, and admittedly they’re fairly spectacular (but I’m still pissed off with how I got fucked over yesterday). The old rusting mining infrastructure is pretty cool. As I get going, the 200% soaked long grass on the path trickles down my Gore-Tex trousers onto my non-Gore-Tex shoes: within 2 minutes my feet are soaked as if I’d put them in a shower! It turns out that drying my shoes and socks out last night would have been futile. As I reach Eylie-d’en-Haut village, I’m flabbergasted to be recognised at the « gîte d’étape » (a trekker’s guesthouse) by the landlady! She’s been following my adventures on my www.gr10.fr blog! Wow, that’s pretty cool… I felt like a minor « celebrity »! As I climb further I stumble across more raspberries, albeit smaller and less tasty than the ones I found last time. Clearly Mother Nature has realised she’s given me too much grief, and is trying to redeem herself. An hour later I am surrounded by endless blueberry bushes. Hmmm, Lady Nature is definitely trying to buy me off! Well sorry bitch-ass, no bribes will do! I’m still hacking you up with my ninja sword again again and again until the blade is so blunt, a McDonald’s happy meal straw would seem lethally sharp in comparison! Well… I did feast on the blueberries, and they were most succulent indeed! I’m looking forward to my next blueberry pie! After a sunny lunch pause, I decided to reorganise my waypoints differently over the next 3 days so that I stop stressing if I don’t exactly make a milestone. I need to be at such a place in 3 days, how I split the daily journeys is irrelevant. The associated consequence, is that despite yesterday’s abysmal day, I realise that I’m… one day ahead of schedule! Hurraaaaah, my target is now 39 days (notwithstanding the weather arse-ramming me again!). As a result, I decided today was not the day to catch up my 2hr delay, and so I eased the pace and soaked in the sunshine. Whilst taking a 10 minute rest at a mountain hut, another trekker showed up from the opposite direction. I ended up chatting with him for a whole hour, which was a pleasant change from yesterday’s god-forsaken day on « planet doom »! Switching my hiking boots to turbo, I tore down the remaining 2hrs and reached my rest place at Pla-de-Lalau. Hmmm… here the choices for an impromptu spartan bivouac are very limited: there’s a hotel (the owner there is a complete bitch, with as much of a sense of hospitality as a kick in the balls), and a public toilet hut with a big clean roofed patio. I’ll let you guys figure out which place I squatted! Tonight is a full moon… hooooowl!
(Eylie d’en Haut en Ariège – 496ème km / 896 km)
lundi 19 août 2013
Monday 19th August. At first I thought I’d have so little to say, and that it would be better if I kept quiet. But the day went from dull to disastrous, so I have some frustrations I need to vent off. It all began with an interminable climb through the valley. At first on a tiny road, it took me through tiny phantom villages of barren desolation. Afterwards I was faced with yet another monotonous forest climb that would bore the shit out of the word « boring » in a dictionary. And speaking of shit… it was soooo mind-numbingly dull even pig shit, if it was blessed with a conscience and could cogitate, would find it boring! This swine crap would go to a Farm Animal Shit Convention and talk with some goat shit: « Flies lay endless eggs on me all day, and you get your poo pellets relentlessly rolled by dung beetles 24/7, and that sure is a morose as hell existence. But goddam that’s nothing compared to how boring Sacha’s forest climb was. I’d rather be cow shit and day, than in his (wet) shoes! ». Then the clouds rolled in as I traversed wet marshy wastelands. My shoes got instantaneously wet and my sight was limited to about 20m! Fuuuuuuucking paaaaain in the arse fucking piece of shit weather!!!! Mother Nature: fuck you you fucking fuck!!! This is when having seen Saw and Hostel helps. This next part is rather explicit and violent… sensitive souls be warned! Images of Mother Nature being chainsawed to pieces, having her eyes gauged out by a red hot soldering iron, and then getting skull fucked through her eye sockets with her very own strap-on dildo, until her brains oozed out of her ears so they could be spoon fed back to her, before dousing the bitch with kerosene and setting her on fire… all those images crossed my mind and spurred me on through my gruelling punishment. Basically it was a day of 100% pain, 0% gain, except that it brought me one day closer to the end of this insane bloody trek. I stopped at 19:15 at an old mine worker’s barracks/dormitories from the nearby disused zinc and lead mines. I needed a good 2hrs more to descend to the next village, but I was cold, wet, and pissed off. A very steep and slippery descent, with the pressure of reaching destination before nightfall, and then having to find an impromptu shelter, all this would stress me out more than I cared for, and I opted for the safe option of calling it a day (even though it adds 2hrs to my already 12hr long day tomorrow…). I got changed so I could be warm and dry, and made myself a bed from an unhinged door which I put perpendicularly across two banged out steel bed frames. It elevates me from the cold ground, and I need all the thermal insulation I can get. I’m « forced » to sleep at the highish altitude of 1870m, so I need maximum warmth. What a pity there’s no chimney… a fire would be a blessing and would dry my shoes and socks. I fell asleep around 20:30, « lucky » to be in safe shelter, and relieved to have some peace of mind in terms of cutting short my cloudmaniac ordeal, but still very much incensed at what a crap « waste of time » day I had!
(Anciennes mines de Bentaillou en Ariège – 492ème km/ 896km)
dimanche 18 août 2013
Sunday 18th August. I woke up having had a restless night, with multiple nightmares! Bad school memories, bad family memories, bad job memories! It’s as if last night’s gargantuan feast had stirred up subconscious worries of everyday life… how very strange! Either that or my food was spiked with some nefarious hallucinogenic drug! LOL. I spent all morning in Bagnères-de-Luchon, having resolutely decided I could « afford » the time to be a tourist for a few hours. It’s a beautiful town, and it felt good to see the crowds milling around the market, people buying their baguette from a boulangerie and enjoying an espresso coffee on a sunny terrace. This debonair ambulation with yesterday’s succulent dinner really lifted my spirits high. Hopefully one day I can return here and enjoy some of the cultural and recreational activities. At 12:30 it was time to move on, and so I soldiered off back up the next valley slopes. It was tranquil walking, with neither boring nor exciting landscapes, just relaxing and appeasing And fabulous sunshiiiiine, so I had my happy bunny hat on! I feel good, do da do da dum, and I knew that I would now, do da do da dum. So good, so good, dum duuum da deeee! Things got a little hairier during my looooong climb down. Pffff, it’s becoming really tiresome this neverending « climb up &climb down » seesaw rigmarole! It’s like a rollercoaster, just less fun and more tiring! The « Haute Route Pyrénéenne » trek stays higher in the mountains with less up/down climbing, and is shorter at 700kms. You need to be far more autonomous though, and you miss out on many villages and towns. You can’t have it all in life! As I reached Fos town at 20:30, I was again saddened to see the devastation caused by the June floods. An entire bridge has been swept away, and the river banks spilt out massive amounts of silt which has trashed all the river-side houses and lawns. Terrible. I quickly found the school, whose gates were wide open! And the cherry on top of the cake: a sun-bed in the garden I could use as a bed! Schools are the best: they’re closed for the summer holidays, they’re secure, they have water and electricity, and you’re pretty certain you won’t be bothered in the morning! So… at 20 days… unless I have major difficulties in the next half… I’m half way there!!!!
(Bagnère de Luchon – 445ème km / 896km)
samedi 17 août 2013
Saturday 17th August. The mountain hut proved to be very comfy and warm. After breakfast with the Hungarian trekker, and a few more lingering hesitations on whether I should spend a few days hiking with her, I finally roll out, anxious to catch up last night’s delay. I’m getting a bit blasé with sempiternal valleys, and nondescript ridges, so I won’t wax lyrical. The undisputed highlight of the day was the breathtaking Lac d’Oô, where I stopped for my lunch break. I was doing well with time, so I pushed on, and was soon confronted with the formidable task of climbing down 1600m…! Today was physically the hardest day so far, without a shadow of a doubt. Overall I did +1907m and -2907m, I’m destroyed!!! After 12hrs, I finally reach Bagnères-de-Luchon, a big(ish) town for a change. It’s the end of my second map book, and at 448kms, I’m exactl half-way (distance wise, not necessarily time-wise)!!! It’s one of the first towns I cross with a train station, and as a symbol of my 50% completion… I purchased my return ticket from Banyuls-sur-Mer (my arrival point) to Paris. Now I’m committed to finishing off the next half in 20 days!!! As I envisaged my spartan dinner of bread with paté, I walked past a lively restaurant on the main square right opposite the grand church. The menu looked very appetising, the cost was an incredible bargain (compared to Paris prices), the atmosphere was great and the setting was perfect. So… to hell with soldier discipline tonight (I haven’t eaten in a single restaurant thus far), I’ll indulge in a well-deserved gargantuan feast!!! Well the all-you-can eat salad buffet filled me up pretty well, the scrumptious « bavette » steak with sizzling fries was the best tasting ever, and the blueberry pie was perfect. I certainly went over the top, and with my stomach having shrunk over the last 19 days I know the digestion will be heavy-duty… but to hell with it! You only live once! I jumped a school fence, and it was beddy-bed time for me in the playground
(Lac d’Oô – 426éme km / 896 km)
vendredi 16 août 2013
Friday 16th August. I wake to stunning scenery in my church garden. But the night was a tad chilly… I’m going to have to be more mindful of open-air star-gaze sleeping. I went back to the bar I’d been to last night to enjoy a pain aux raisins and pain au chocolat for breakfast. For once, I got off to a solid start in the morning. However, the timing soon went off track… In the village of Azet I walked past the Museum of Pyrenean Pastoralism, and there I am victim to a terrible temptation internet access on a proper PC! It’s been 18 days during which my only access to internet has been through my iPhone. So I spent a good hour checking emails and of course answering FB comments on my travel updates. Around the village church I saw the aftermath of the eve’s 15 August party: plastic glasses half full of beer everywhere! Shame I missed out on the folklore and revelry. I trooped on to charming Loudenvielle where I procrastinated another 30 minutes with 3G access to upload photos to my FB travel journal. As I began my climb to Germ village… f*******cking raaaaain broke out again! However it was short-lived and only my shoes got wet. In the village public fountain I found 2 beers cooling in the cold water basin, and feeling sorry for the little orphan fellas… I adopted them! I walked for another 90 minutes through cow shit (literally) as I romped through hills of grazing pastureland. Overall I was somewhat uninspired by today’s landscapes. Finally I reached a mountain hut, and with the weather looking terribly ominous I decided to stay. This does put me 3hrs behind on the day’s timing, and I already dread the extra effort I’m gonna have to provide tomorrow to catch up on the overall schedule. It’s gonna be one long bastard of a day! But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as hard rain soon broke out again, and had I been quicker today, I’d have been caught by the rain further up at above 2000m…! The hut had several guest and the atmosphere was great, and my 2 adopted beers were rapidly dispatched! I met this really cool Hungarian chick which is also doing the entire GR 10 trek. But despite being kitted out like an amazon fighter (and looking very much like a fit muscular warriorette), she’s going at a very tranquil pace = 60 days overall. We got on very well, laughing out loud finding out that we both have no issues with sleeping in church cemeteries! I did briefly consider slowing down my pace to travel/hike with her for a dew days/weeks along this epic Pyrenean jaunt, but ultimately I decided I had to stay true to the challenge I’d taken on. We made a fire in the chimney, which was a first for me on this trip. This time I could dry my socks by the burning logs! I spent an excellent evening, which clearly seems to happen most/every evening I get fudge-packed by shitty weather.
(le lac de Loudenviel – 410ème km/896km)
jeudi 15 août 2013
Thursday 15th August. Oh dear oh dear, today begins with slow walking. Despite a long warm comfortable night’s sleep, my legs feel like lead! What I should have covered in 90 minutes, took me 3hrs!! Since yesterday I’ve been feeling a sharp pain in my left heel tendon, and I’m limping like a bastard. The « injury » is in fact just a nasty scab from rubbing against my shoe, I’d spotted it already 10 days ago. But now it’s become really painful, like razor blades cutting into my skin. There must be something rotten in the Kingdom of Heelmark! Sure enough… the scab has become infected. Well… there’s no two ways about it: I pierced it, pressed out the pus, and dressed it with a bandage. Wow… amazing, the pain was 90% gone! No more razor incisions, just occasional aches. So I was back to normalish walking speed, but trailing behind with the timing. After yesterday’s blandish landscapes, today we’re back in the land of excess superlatives! I’m in the Néouvielle Nature Reserve, and it’s gob-smacking stunningly beautiful. The mountains here look and « feel » totally different from what I’ve seen before. There are amazing views of the incredible lakes: Lac d’Aubert, Lac d’Aumar, Lac de l’Oule. I’m totally enchanted. But as always the clock makes its pressure felt, and I need to boost on. I’m clearly not a morning person, and so it’s only in the afternoon that I finally switch gear and go to turbo mode, reducing walking times by 1/3 and making up for this morning’s turtle walking. The Pugnacious Pyrenean Perambulator (PPP), thanks Felix Pink, is back in action! Overall today I did +950m and -2350m…!!! My knees are trashed! And I’m at 400km into my Pyrenean Odyssey ! Finding a secluded stream, I had my first wash/shower after 6 daaaaays!!! That plus some clean(ish) clothes I’d washed in a river a few days back, and I felt like a new man. Upon reaching the ever-so cute village Vielle-Aure, I headed straight for the unique bar/bistro and indulged in 2 well deserved beers, and some casual banter with the landlord. My quarters for the night were in the garden adjacent to the Roman church cemetery, and I go to sleep (cleaaaaan for once) surrounded with glorious mountains, and a half-moon rising… epic! Tonight I’m a happy bunny
(massif du Néouvielle – 376ème km/896km)
mercredi 14 août 2013
Wednesday 14th August. The day begins lazily with me nonchalantly wandering around Saint-Sauveur. As I walk past the thermal spa, I dream of dipping into a « fountain of youth » and getting my body pampered and massaged. I had also seen such spas during my trek in La Réunion, in Salazie: mountains and hot springs often come hand in hand. Feeling resolutely lazy I sit down in the spa lobby and care-freely read a few magazines: fiscal reforms, Japanese xenophobia, the CERN particle accelerator in Geneva. So many « everyday » subjects that whisk me back to a very quotidian reality far from mountain climbing. But the clock relentlessly ticks on, and at 10:35 I finally set-off, somewhat unmotivated. As I skirt around and above Luz-Saint-Sauveur (alas, no time to enter and visit) I witness some severe landslide damage near the river banks, dating from June2013. As I climb out of the valley through more ubiquitous bloody forests and wet ferns (I hate those… they brush pas your shins, and the water then trickles down your legs to wet your socks and shoes), I walk past several wasps nests. Clenching my teeth I push through 3 nests, and I’m relieved to emerge unscathed. One solo rogue wasp does sting me a few minutes later on the knee, but I’m too bored with my endless forest ascent to care. And then an unexpected happy surprise happens: I stumble into vast wild bushes of sweet ripe raspberries!!! Well…needless to say my trekathon was put on halt, and I feasted with an orgy of sweet berries like any self-respecting Roman emperor would have! This reminds me that often on my treks I’ve been able to eat wild fruits: some wild berry/cherry in Reunion, cactus fruits in Peru, « toot berries » in Armenia. Having cleared the forest into open grazing land, I speed up and begin running down hill. It’s a « technique » I learnt trekking on the Big Island in Hawaii: I find it easier to run down on not too steep or convoluted slopes, since it puts less pressure on my knees, which otherwise work so hard as »brakes » fighting gravity to slow you down. My next halt was Barèges village, which boasts the highest thermal springs resort in France. Fuckface Shithead Mother Nature really went on a ballistic freak-out here with furious rape, pillage and plunder!!! Torrential rain and floods have gutted roads, washed away bridges, ripped houses apart, even scared the landscape with serious landslides. It’s the worst « natural disaster » the region has had in 2 centuries! The entire village, in fact the whole valley, is awash with a ballet of Caterpillar trucks, Liebherr excavators and all sorts of other heavy-duty machinery! It will take a lot of time and money to fix everything. Well… this served me some purpose in realising my own debacles with Mother Nature were derisory in comparison! I gotta stop whining! Enjoying a sunny pause in Barèges, and getting a bit « depressed » by the relentless rhythm, I decide to shave off 2hrs from today’s pace, and will catch up tomorrow. Furter up the valley I walked past some cows by a ski chairlift, a most incongruous spectacle! Pressing on I crossed some foolish tourists who at 20:30 still had a good 2hrs walking down to reach their car-park after dark. You could tell by their shoes/clothes/daybags they were clueless muppets! I finally reach my mountain hut at 2150m, predictably enveloped in thick fog. It’s a full house, and there’s 9 of us sleeping there. I meet a Basque Spaniard who is doing the same sea-to-ocean Pyrenean traverse, but in the opposite direction. Whilst I still have 24 days ahead of me… he’s covered all that ground in 17 days!!! Fuck me… what a jack-rabbit!!! He wakes at 6, leaves at 6:30 and walks 12hrs every day!!! What a crazy nutter! He expects to finish the whole crossing in 27 days…! And with that humbling thought I went to bed at 21:30, and was quickly fast asleep!
(pont Napoléon à Luz Saint Sauveur – 348ème km/896km)
mardi 13 août 2013
Tuesday 13th August. This will be a short update since I’ve been trailing behind, and I don’t know when I’ll next get 3G coverage. After last night’s rain fest, the morning sky was quite clear The group of 6 I had met were returning to their car to drive to the sea (I soooo envied them!), and they left me with all their excess food, and even their Martinique rum we’d enjoyed together the previous night! Cool :))) As I climbed off the mountain I reached Gavernie village which proved to be ever so lovely. The surrounding mountains, the « Gavernie Cirque », are a formidable 1000m barrier and the whole place is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Europe’s tallest waterfall, at +/- 450m, cascades down the cliffs here. I stayed in Gavernie 2 hours to enjoy the ambiance, and again put myself late. With little motivation, I left at 13:50 and powered ahead. Despite feeling like a lean mean fighting machine, I got a little discouraged as I climbed uuuuup and doooown through more senseless forest. I ran a lot of the way down, covering -870m of torturous terrain in 90 minutes, which isn’t half bad. Luckily in Sia village I stopped by at Francis’ stall where he bakes the local delicacy « Gâteau à la Broche », a spit-roasted cake cooked over a wood fire. The man was really cool, and feeling I needed my spirits lifted, he offered me a slice of cake and a glass of cider! Reinvigorated, I pressed on to reach Saint-Sauveur thermal resort by dusk, and through my carcass to rest in the boiler room of a derelict 19th century grand hotel (closed up, and for sale). My night was short though, as I had plenty of FB travel
lundi 12 août 2013
Monday 12th August. Today I crossed the highest pass on the GR 10 : La Hourquette d’Ossoue. Feeling on a roll, I ditched my bag there and « sprinted » up the remaining 300m in 30 minutes to reach the Petit Vignemalle summit at 3032m. I’m Kiiiiing of the Mountaaaain!!! Hooooo yeah, I’m bad-ass hard-ass! Think Mohamed Ali in that famous pose where, fist clenched, he triumphantly yells at his knocked-out opponent. Now that’s how I felt… just a little shorter, a little svelter and a little whiter! As I turned back to climb down… yup… you guessed right, Lady Nature tossed out a few rain drops to taunt me. Despite my best efforts, at 20:00, and with only 20 minutes to go before reaching shelter, the heavens opened upon me and I got pissed on big time! It was raining cats and dogs!!! As I scrambled into the mountain hut shelter, I was welcomed there by a joyous group of 6 early 30s friends who were out for chilled trekking. What followed invoked rum, tea, jokes and travel tales, and of course me drying my socks on their gas stove! Despite Mother Nature’s best efforts at fucking me over, it appears that it’s in moments of hardship that you make the most memorable encounters. And so as the summer storm raged on outside, the day ended very wet, but with fabulous human warmth
(le Vignemal – 310ème km/ 896km)
dimanche 11 août 2013
Sunday 11th August. The morning started off with slow walking past the Lac d’Estaing… I guess it was payback time for my DDBOS (Dirk Diggler Balls Of Steel) over-performance from last night. Conditions were perfect and I enjoyed beautiful scenery, it was really stunning. At Lac Ilhéou I opted for my lake-side lunch pause, soaking in the grandiose scenery. As I made a tranquil descent into the valley, I stumbled upon a rally race! Plenty of funky cars, but with no particular underlying theme. Cauterets town was a definite highlight, it’s really exceptional. it used to be a summer resort, with thermal springs, in the 18th and 19th centuries, and it has inherited some grand architecture. As skiing and other winter sports were democratised for the masses, it morphed into a ski resort, but keept its noble legacy. I made a point of staying 2hrs there to visit, purposefully setting myself late so I could enjoy the place. As I trekked on, I had to spiderman my way onto a broken bridge which had been partly washed away during the June flash floods. I walked past La Salliere, with its sulphur smell from the adjacent hot springs, and powered up to the Pont d’Espagne. It was a race against time with a setting sun close on my heels to reach Lac de Gaube before night. So here I’m doing the « walk till you drop » rigmarole again. I reached destination at 21:45 just in time to find a nice big boulder to sleep on. This lake, which inspired Victor Hugo and Lamartine in their day, was a stunning backdrop for a night under the stars
(Cauterets – 290ème km / 896km)
samedi 10 août 2013
Saturday 10th August. Why do mornings always start with such cold cloudy weather? It really doesn’t help me to get off to an early start! Still, I succeeded in improvising a shower in a holiday camp, and purchased groceries for the days ahead. Usually things (towns, houses, urban landscapes) look nicer at night and turn out to look awful in daytime. Gourette is an exception… it looked frightfully ugly yesterday evening at dusk time, but is more pleasant to the eye in daylight. That probably has little to do with the actual uglyish resort, but more to do with the surrouding mountain landscapes All in all I had an excellent day. I had to go off piste scrambling since the GR 10 was cut by landslides in some areas: June 2013 proved catastrophic for the region with Mother Nature going berserk and cluster-fucking the entire region with demonic amounts of rain, hail, etc. There were numerous floods, landslides, and other severe damage. You may have heard that Lourdes was very hardly hit. Upon reaching Arrens-Marsous, I was charmed by a lovely quaint town. This is where my 1st of 4 guide books (« Topo Guide » in French) ends, and I proudly pulled out the 2nd one. For my last 3hrs stretch I took a GRP variant route (said to be far more scenic) and went into DDBOS mode (Dirk Diggler Balls Of Steel)!!! I was literally running up the slopes, fuelled by unexpected stamina! I did get lost on the way back down, and had to bushwhack through thick forest to reach the road. I found an abandoned road-side honey vending shack/stall, and made it my home for the night. I’ll wrap up by saying that my brother Alexis Delmotte told me last night that this trek I’m doing is like a dream for him. He lives far away in the USA in Baltimore, so I don’t get to see him or speak much with him. Him sharing with me how cool he thinks this adventure of mine is… well that means a lot to me. So I’ll try an finish this odyssey of a journey by pulling through all 40 days…
(col de Saucède – 260ème km / 896km)
vendredi 9 août 2013
Friday 9th August. Today’s update is a day for « -ives », both superlatives and expletives. Having had quite an extraordinary night’s sleep in my 12th Century chapel, I was ready to boost on. As I climbed through more endless forest, the skies cleared and offered grand azure blue with lovely sunshine. I wasn’t even sure how to react… « goddamn… good weather, I forgot what that feels like! ». The panoramas that unfolded in between La Petite Arcizette and the Pic de la Sagette were just breathtakingly sublime, check out the photos. Despite having a very long day’s walk, I purposefully took a long lunch break to soak in the sun rays and enjoy the vistas. As I climbed up some « nevés » to reach the Hourquette d’Arre pass at 2465m the views only got grander and greater. Wow! This is where the superlatives end, and the expletives begin…! Once more, that wench Mother Nature decided it was time for me to drop my pants, bend over and get arse-fucked again! Rather than describing to you the miserable weather as I climbed down 1000m (cloud, rain, zero visibility… bla bla bla), let me rather tell you how I foresee my first encounter with the Dame when I finally do get to meet Mother Nature… I have quite a programme for her! First I will defiantly walk up to her and head-but her square on the nose! Then I will stoically punch her in the tits, kick her in the balls (yeah… the lady has such a bad-ass attitude, plus that strap-on dildo… I reckon she has a big pair of cahunas too!), and as she keels over I’ll triumphantly put my foot on her head, look her right in the eyes and vehemently hiss « it’s payback time muddafukka… taste some of this, bitch! » and smack her teeth into the ground with my heel!!! Ahhhh, it feels good to vent off some bellicose frustration!!! These polite introductions taken are of with all the appropriate pomp and circumstance, once the missus is out of hospital, I would be a gentleman and wine and dine her to congratulate her on the fabulous job she does, weather aside, in keeping our planet so beautiful! To wrap up, I reached Gourette ski station before dropping dead with fatigue, found an abandoned house to draw camp in, but still felt somewhat aggrieved that the weather just keeps fucking me over. I know I know I know.. it’s unpredictable mountain weather, bla bla bla. Still, it’s August, and I bloody well want a decent spell of climate! All inall, I admit it… t’was a great day! That’s it folks… that’s all from me for now
jeudi 8 août 2013
Thursday 8th August. After a great evening with the boys, it was time to say farewell and move on. The first part of the day’s trek was on the « Chemin de la Mâture », an extraordinary foot path carved out in a cliff in the 17th century on Colbert’s orders so that great timber logs from forests above could be felled and carried down into the valley for subsequent river transport to France’s great ship yards. Louis XIV had wanted to expand the navy, and new raw materials were needed, including specific wood types for masts which in French is a « mât » (the ^ accent often replaces a « s »), hence the path of « mâture ». End of history lesson As I passed the hut I had aimed for the previous night, I realised I’d have been there barely before nightfall, and that because of the rain and fight against the clock… I would have been a nervous wreck going up. The hut was manned, and the keeper told me 3 people had dated there last night, so perhaps there would have been great tales to tell there too, but I was happy with my own. Further on, the mist lifted but distant clouds remained, and I crossed the Col d’Ayous at 2185m. On the other side of the mountain… the Pyrenees National Park, teeming with day hikers, making for a novel change from the trails Ive been on: mostly void of people. And at last some reward for all that hard work: graaaand views of the Ayous Lakes (Lac Gentau in particular) and a partly occulted majestic Pic de Midi d’Ossau summit! Ever since the start of the trek I had wanted to do an extra « bonus » step in my itinerary and loop around this mountain. It’s not on the GR 10 route, and this option requires an extra 6-7 hours, hence my wanting so much to cut 1-2 days off the complete itinerary. So pressed for time I get cracking at 15:20, hoping to be done by 21:30 at the latest. But… Mother Nature returns for some more arse-sphincter-dilating, and after 10 minutes heavy rain breaks out. Whereas the day before I had decided to brave the rain, this time my gut feeling told me not to. I have fairly good mountain experience, and perhaps the reason I have never had any major accident isn’t so much because I’ve never undertaken challenges or taken (calculated) risks, but rather because I had the « wisdom » to make the right decision in the « fight vs. flight » choice. This time I decided to turn away, somewhat disappointed I wouldn’t get to see the Pic du Midi d’Ossau from 360°, but also relieved I’d spare myself a gruelling 7hrs extra trekking. Besides the summit was now shrouded in dark clouds, and there was nothing to be seen. Still, I had 1.5hrs left of walking to reach Gabas village, all under rain of course Thank god I didn’t loop around the summit, since I walked past where I would have finished after the 6-7hrs expecting to find a hut/refuge… but there wasn’t any!!! Also I realised I was way more tired than I thought I’d be! So all in all, a sound decision Besides, Eric who is my cyber-coach and PR agent on this adventure has told me to be really careful with managing my strength. The road ahead is still VERY long and I can’t run out of steam too early. Apparently it’s only after 2 weeks that the body begins to take the full toll of the accumulated fatigue. Speaking of time… today I’ve broken my record!! 10 days non-stop trekking! Before I’d never done longer than the 8-9 days it took me to cross Reunion Island (GR 2 and GR 3, also known as « La Diagonale des Fous »). And at roughly 235km out of 896, I’ve covered more than 1/4 of the way !!! It’s still very daunting to think that… 30 more days lie ahead!!! So to wrap up, by 17:30 I had reached Gabas village, happy to be able to have some time to relax. As I visited a XII century chapel, the caretaker there told me I could sleep in it, as it serves for shelter for the Saint Jacques de Compostelle pilgrims who also cross this village! Wow… that was quite unique! Drying my clothes with church candles, and enjoying an extraordinary setting of vaults and arches over 8 centuries old! I’ve slept in Hindu temples in Mozambique, in mosques in Oman, and outside churches in Nicaragua, but this is, I think, the first time I sleep inside a church, and what a great end to the day it is
mercredi 7 août 2013
Wednesday 7th August. Well… after my little loss of motivation from the previous night, things didn’t really get much better at the start of the day: more mind-numbingly boring climbing through thick forests out of a valley floor to reach a pass where you had no view whatsoever on the following valley curtesy of f***ing thick cloud cover. I have to say, because of the awful weather, this jaunt is really becoming very tedious and laborious. Anyway, I reached Borce and Etsaut villages, where I was able to charge my phone and send my Day 8 update. The sun finally peaked out, but just as I was ready to leave Etsaut at 5:30pm and begin a 3.5hr ascent to a hut, the temperature dropped, the wind picked up and ominous clouds rolled in! For sure… signs of an impending meteorological debacle…! Sure enough… 5 minutes after I’d left the village dry… heavy rain broke out!!! Now any normal person would have turned back and ran for shelter in the village. Well… not I! Possessed by some certitude that great adventure lied ahead if I was to press on against adversity, I pulled out my Gore-Tex jacket and trousers and ploughed up the slopes! 45 minutes later at a bend in the path I came across a lonely car that had tied a huge plastic sheet from its side to 2 trees, creating a big 3x3m shelter. I dive for cover and I’m greeted by 2 lads who are brewing coffee on a camping stove! Now this next part I could write about for hours, but I’ll try and limit myself. So the guys, Antoine and Alexandre, are carpenters and are on a 2 week road trip happily cruising the south of France looking for spots to go rock-climbing. As we chat along we share travel stories and before I know it I have a cup of hot coffee in my hands! An hour later the rain subsides and at 19:30 I have to decide whether to press on, or stay the night at this makeshift camp. Now 3-4 years ago, I’d have waved goodbye and hurried on, only interested in my solo performance. Today I’m more inspired in sharing experiences, and so why would I turn away from such a great opportunity for some human warmth, especially since my trek has so far been been lacking in such encounters! Needless to say… I had the best evening thus far on this trip! Not only did I get to relax from 18:30 onwards, sparing myself 3hrs climbing and the « walk till you drop » ritual, but I also got to forget about everything and everyone and disconnect for an evening. Simply enjoying the present moment. Forgetting past worries, disregarding future obstacles… just seizing the moment in « carpe diem »fashion. The 2 merry punters also exposed me to the concepts of « apérispliff », « digéspliff » and « somnispliff »…! :))) We cooked some hearty pasta, and I had my first hot meal in 9 days! We even dried my soaked socks by the stove! So I could elaborate further, but let’s just say it was everything I hoped it would be, and I look forward to making more fortuitous encounters of the sort. I ended up sleeping under the plastic sheet (I have no tent…) fully dressed to keep the cold at bay, and all was just fine and dandy
mardi 6 août 2013
Tuesday 6th August. As WTF crap yesterday was, today proved to be (mostly) OMG brilliant! So I’ve got my happy bunny face on now After Day 7th deplorable weather, I had expected this morning to be much the same, and had even planned to visit the world-famous Verna caves (amongst the biggest in the world). I was shocked to wake to a blue sky, and after a quick visit of the Romanesque church in Sainte-Engrâce, I got cracking. Sure enough, as I climbed through the valley forest the clouds caught up with me, but as I cleared the woods and made it into clear grazing slopes, the sun reemerged. The rest is a bit of a fairy tale… the views around La Pierre-Saint-Martin ski resort are totally fabulous. Incidentally, walking on a dry grassy ski-slope makes for a change from winter ski action! I had my lunch break there, charged my phone (my hawk eye can spot a public access plug from 200m away… much like the vultures here can see a rabbit from 4km away!!!), updated my FB journal and uploaded photos for your viewing Despite ominous weather forecasts of stormy weather, I decided to press ahead since the ticking clock gives me no respite. Heading past the Pas de l’Osque was simply grandiose, and with the sun beaming on me I felt rejuvenated! With a little imagination I felt like Kal-El (of Man of Steel fame = Superman), ready to fly over the peaks. And then of course reality caught up with me, in the shape and form of… Mother Nature and her sphincter dilating sex toys… The distant cloud floor I had kept an eye on, all of a sudden wahed up the slopes at an impressive speed! Think of a Hollywood film like 2012 where a huge tidal wave washes away mountain slopes… that’s how it felt. I bolted into run mode, crossed down the pass into the next valley, and within 15 minutes I was engulfed in cloud wetness! Much to my dismay, this nebular maelstrom only lasted 10 minutes, and all of a sudden all must was gone, and I was offered another extraordinary panorama at the next valley pass : Pas d’Azuns. That’s all very well and fine, but… the cloud tsunami surged into this valley too. I hurried down, and reached forest shelter just as the fog slammed in. The rest of the story is miserable… 1.5hrs of laborious slog through the wet woods, punctuated with a dinner break at a refuge.
A guy there told me that I his youth he had done the entire GR10 Pyrenean traverse in 21 days!!! As part of a scouting/reconnaissance effort, so with a very light 7kg backpack, and food and shelter arranged on the way. Still, what a performance! After dinner I still had 1hr steep walk down to reach Lescun at 21:40… damp… and with really sore feet and knees. The day had begun very much OMG, but was clearly ending WTF as heavy rain broke out… I have to say, this « walk till you drop » method I’ve employed so far is starting to have its toll on me: mentally it’s really tough. You have zero time to relax before your sleep. You walk till it’s dark, eat in a hurry your spartan ration, and then collapse into sleep without any time to reflect on the day, collect your thoughts, compose yourself in view of the next day’s challenges, etc. I need to set off earlier in the morning, make shorter lunch breaks (but that’s usually when I charge my phone and do my FB updates…), and reach destination no later than 8pm. Otherwise, I’m gonna run out of « will », and when there’s no will, there’s no way… And the road ahead is still long…
lundi 5 août 2013
Monday 5th September. Sensitive souls be warned… what follows contains several expletives and foul-mouthed language which would instantly mortify a nun…! It all started rather well with a convivial breakfast shared with some retired holiday-makers, and a promising blue sky. Crossing the Holzarté suspended bridge was great. And then the cloud tsunami washed over me! After the heat-wave, now a bloody fucking cloud-wave! Trekking in these conditions is about as exciting as scuba diving in an ocean of… milk! It was fucking miserable! Now I knew I’d have to face some shite weather sooner or later: a) it’s the mountains, so it’s a given that Mother Nature (what a biaaaatch) can pull out her strap-on dildo and cruelly violate you as she pleases, b) after the most abominable spring and start to summer, it’s only logical that we get further gang raped by the elements. Anyway, there little to say about the actual trek, since besides 360° of fog with 10m visibility, there’s scarce else to talk about Wet cloud turned to light drizzle, making me very damp but thankfully not drenched. I got lost twice (impossible to make out the path with such piss poor visibility), and lost a good hour getting back on track. I finally made it to the god-forsaken village where I was headed, had a totally deserved beer and slept under the sheltered court of the national Basque racquet game « pelote ». If the weather gets worse, it will definitely throw me off target to get this challenge of a trek completed in 40 days…
dimanche 4 aout 2013
Sun 4th August. All begins with an unhoped-for blessing: an improvised shower… in a school yard (closed for summer holidays… obviously). Hurrah, I can at last wash off 3 days of sweat and dust (true), tears and pain (false)! The Pyrenean Ogre is clean!! (in my case an ogre can also be hobbit sized… lol). The weather is overcast, making for comfortable walking but poor panoramas. As I climb above 1000m, I finally pierce through the cloud ceiling! There I’m rewarded not so much with wild peaks and summits, but rather gently rolling hills. What it lacks in excitement, it makes up for in peaceful serenity. At the top, a flock of wild horses enchants me, especially one stallion with a wild blond mane and tail. If he were my Jolly Jumper (you need to have read the Lucky Luke comic-books to get this reference), we’d be a rocking blondie cowboy duo! Ok… enough horse crap (bad pun… sorry). Further on, at Bagariak Pass, I stopped over at the LPO (League de Protection des Oiseaux = Bird Protection League) hut and enjoyed a really interesting talk with a volunteer ornithologist. Now I know all about the 3 local species of vultures, and the guy even told me how in Mongolia he’d seen Royal Eagles trained by tribesmen to hunt… wolves!!! Apparently a lone solitary wolf stands no chance against the lightening bolt strike from above! Having polished off my day’s set stage/phase… I decided to get some head start and go for a double whammy! Well… that was one long slog…31kms and basically on my feet from 8am till 9:30pm! The good news is that as a result I’ve gained 1 day, and my target is down to 40 days total. Hopefully I can cut off a few more days later on, we’ll see. Which basically makes me want to finish this trek, but Ill expand on all my thoughts another day. Ok people, that’s all for now! It’s past 11pm and I need my (ogre/hobbit) beauty sleep!
samedi 3 aout 2013
this morning I visited Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port ( that’s quite a name isn’t it?!) which was really lovely It’s at a crossroad with the « Saint Jacques de Compostelle » pilgrimage route, which makes it bustling and accordingly touristy. The citadel on the top, once remastered by military architect genius Vauban, now houses a school. The basketball courts nestled in between the ramparts and bastions are most incongruous A real supermarket allowed me to fill up with supplies (food) and I’m now lugging an extra 4kg Luckily today’s walking was waaaay shorter than yesterday’s (but also far less interesting), and I’m glad that today at 110/896km after 5 days, I am at last on schedule :))) You see, upon arriving last Tuesday morning with my night train, I wasn’t able to get started until noon that 1st day, which means I’ve been trailing behind and pushing hard to catch up. What a pleasure today to have reached my waypoint at 6pm and be able to enjoy some rest… and even my first beer! :))) It’s a big change from the past 4 days where I was trekking every day till 9:30pm (also due to the fact you just couldn’t walk mid-day during the heat-wave…). So cheers to be being back on target, and cheers to all of you: « santé », as we say in French
vendredi 2 aout 2013
oooh yeah, today rocked! It all started with a beautiful sunrise atop the 1044m summit I bivouacked upon: a splendid panorama of mountain peaks piercing through a delicate cloud blanket, much like an island archipelago in an azure ocean. The were dozens of majestic vultures soaring in the skies, dancing their airy ballet, it was marvellous! The weather marked a change today and temperatures dropped by a good 5-10°C. What a life-saver that « proved » (private joke) to be. Though the flip side of the coin is that as a result I walked a whopping 11hrs today!!! My legs are annihilated! Lunch involved a goat cheese sandwich… and despite the more clement temperatures… the cheese had gone into lactic lava fusion! Goat cheese and above 30°C weather is not to be attempted again! Fortunately the smell was mingled in with that from my beastly self…! Yeah, I’ve found no rivers to bathe in for 2 days now, my t-shirt is about to go into Fukushima-style olfactic meltdown… and now I know why all the wild goats and horses run away upon seeing/smelling me! :))) Still… nobody said this would be a stroll in the (nicely scented floral) park! Luckily tomorrow there’s a river at destination, so I’ll be all prim and proper, and I might even get some Crocodile Dundee style laundry done Ok punks, have a great TGI Friday night! Speak soon
jeudi 1er aout 2013
begins to set the men apart from the boys… and with the sun hammering down like a butcher’s mallet on a sturdy piece of meet requiring tendering… I’m being smacked up! Still, with tid bit sores here and wee bit aches here, I gotta keep trooping on! This being Day 3 out of a probable minimum of 4… I am somewhat impressed by te remaining task at hand! Do I really « need to » go the whole way, do I even « want to »…? Am I even « able to »? I’d like to think I’m past the need of proving achievements to myself, and I certainly have done many extreme treks before. But never such a long one… 40+ days! Also the idea of linking Atlantic Ocean to Mediterranean Sea resonates with a bygone romantic ideal of yesteryear s sojourns. Anyway, enough crap from me, I need to hit the road jack! 4hrs walk still wait ahead today! And sorry… no pics as no 3G! Ciao for now
mercredi 31 juillet 2013
Day 2 was even more gruelling as the mother of all heat waves blasted across south-west France. It was scorching and yours truly certainly took a pummelling! This morning I enjoyed a mountain stream bath, and I relapsed this evening in a river, ensuring I’d be just about clean after all the sweat and dust (but no tears… yet). As I write these words I have opted to spend the night in a ever-so-precious Basque village called Aïnhoa. The school grounds have a disaffected wing at the end of a yard, and this is where I’ll be having my spartan kip. Alrighty people, beddy bed time for me…! PS: please keep sending comments, emails, sms… it’s good to hear from you all
mardi 30 juillet 2013
After my night train from Pari, I’m soon wrapping up my first day assault. I’m one tired (Spartan) cookie… but it’s gonna be epic!