Friday, September 14, 2012

Day 8: The Brutal Heat

Dscn9541bAugust 19: I loved my campsite. During the night, all night long, I could wake up and see hundreds of sparkling lights spread out below me. Nothing so bright as a city, though—just stars that formed constellations on the ground. The stars above were quite impressive as well and even the Milky Way glowed brightly overhead.

By morning, the wind picked up quite a bit, and I had to be careful about where I put anything small or light so it wouldn’t blow away. My dish rag from my cookset, for instance, had to be weighed down so it wouldn’t blow away while eating breakfast. My trash bag—a mostly empty ZipLock—was carefully stowed in my pack.

I ate, brushed my teeth, and hit the trail just before sunrise. I decided to charge hard to make an essentially non-stop run to Figeac more than 20 miles away. The Italians I met claimed that this day would be even hotter than the previous, although the weather forecast I looked up several days before showed it being a couple of degrees cooler today—but would still put it at over 100 degrees. If I wanted to do the miles, I needed to cram as many of them into the morning hours as I could.

The trail dropped down from the ridgeline I had been following and the wind instantly stopped dead. That was disappointing—the wind felt nice, and even so early in the morning, it was helping a lot. I guess the ridge made a good wind break, though, because once I got down from the top of it, the wind completely stopped and the temperature felt like it rose 20 degrees within minutes.

The trail dropped steeply into the town of Decazeville, which looked rather run-down and sad—at least along the official route of the Camino. I didn’t stop, though, and as soon as the trail hit bottom in town, it immediately started climbing a steep hillside back up again. I sweat bullets the entire time, wiping the sweat off my forehead and eyebrows before it could get into my eyes. I admit it. I swore a little. Christ almighty! It’s too damn early in the morning to be so friggin’ hot!

In the small town of Livinhac-le-Haut, I stopped for the first time in the day at a small shop to resupply some of my food and get a cold drink. It was a relatively short break, not more than 20 minutes, and on my way out of town I caught up with a woman who said, “Hello,” instead of, “Bonjour.”

“You speak English?” I asked, a little surprised. Had I said or done something to indicate that I spoke English, or did she knew so little French that she couldn’t even tell people, “Bonjour!”?

So yes, she knew English, and she also made the observation that I had the first North American accent she had heard since she started the trail in Le Puy ten days before. Which, in my mind, immediately pegged her as a Canadian because I didn’t hear any accent at all from her, and only a Canadian would have described my accent as a “North American” accent. An American would have said I had an “American” accent.

Dscn9545bAnd indeed, she was from Canada. From Vancouver, to be precise, a mere three hour drive from my home in Seattle. We were practically neighbors! She introduced herself as Lois, and we talked for a few minutes, but she walked slower than I did and eventually I passed her by. I still wanted to get to Figeac or die trying!

Early in the afternoon, I reached the Chapelle de Guirando. It’s not a particularly noteworthy chapel, but a few folks were there set up with tables and chairs asking hikers to fill out a survey. Fortunately, the survey had questions in French and English, so I volunteered to take it. (I needed a break from my hike anyhow.) It asked where I started, how far I was going, what my nationality was, what my daily budget was, and other standard questions to learn more about the people hiking the Camino. My daily budget swings rather wildly and I wasn’t sure how to best answer that question. Some days, when I camp out, I can go an entire day without spending even one euro. Other days, I go into town, splurge for a hotel room, eat out for dinner, buy groceries, buy postage for postcards, and rack up a rather large sum. I figured I was averaging about 30 euros per day, though, and settled on that.

They offered me dried apricots for my trouble, which I happily ate.

At the chapel, I also dumped all of the water I carried and replaced it because there’s one thing about hiking in 100 degree most of you probably don’t think about: Your water also warms up to 100 degrees, and 100-degree water tastes like crap. There’s nothing you can do to make it taste good. It’s just awful, but being so hot, you have to drink large quantities of it anyhow. There was a faucet at the chapel, though, so I dumped the hot water I carried and replaced it with cool water piped in from below the ground. I knew it would be just as hot within an hour as the water I dumped out, but until then, I drank as much as I could and enjoyed the refreshing, cold water. I also soaked my hat, handkerchief, and shirt in the cold water before I said goodbye to everyone and pushed onward. I still had more miles to hike…

After the chapel, though, I started running down quickly. The chapel marked about 15 miles for me, but I was exhausted and started wondering if I might be pushing myself too hard, so I started paying attention more to signs that I might be suffering from dehydration or heat exhaustion. Not that I really had a clear concept of what those signs might be, except that I felt absolutely and completely wiped out. It definitely felt a lot hotter to me today than it did the day before. Admittedly, the day before, I was mostly in the shade or hiking along the ridge with a nice breeze. Today, I had little shade and no breeze. If it wasn’t hotter, it certainly felt hotter.

Dscn9551bI took another 15 minute break in Saint Felix, but I pushed on again. I was sure I could make it to Figeac. I was so close already…

The trail led down a pathway that, unbelievably, was saturated with water. Where the heck did that come from? Here I am all but dying of heat stroke and I’m now plowing through mud with insects buzzing all around me. Then I took a closer look at one of the bugs and realized it was no ordinary insect. No, it was a bee. And they were everywhere. Hundreds of them, buzzing around along the trail!

There must be a hive of them somewhere nearby, and I all but ran through the mud trying to get well away from them. I made it through the bees without being stung, though, and wondered what the heck happened to that part of the trail. I also wondered if the water on the trail had anything to do with the huge number of bees buzzing around it. Did they need water on hot days too? I’m not sure the water helped much in that regard, though. As soon as I walked into it, the humidity went sky high and I felt hotter than ever walking through the water. It was like a sauna along that section. A sauna that someone let a bunch of bees loose into.

The trail crossed a road, where I saw a group of hikers who had paused to check their maps. I walked up to the sign, pointing to Figeac just 3.7 kilometers away (barely over two miles), and crashed. I couldn’t take another step. I dropped my pack, and crashed to the ground with exhaustion. There was a little shade here, and every time a car drove by, it would generate a small gust of wind that I basked in. I didn’t say, “Bonjour!” or any other greeting to the other hikers. I just collapsed there.

I drank a little water, and the other hikers looked at me like I was a space alien that came out of nowhere, and finally one of them tried to talk to me in French, but I didn’t understand a word and told them so in English.

They said some more in French, which I still couldn’t understand.

“I’m sorry,” I replied, “but I really didn’t understand a word you said.”

One of then finally said “Kapoot?” and made a hand gester with one hand over the other than pulled both hands out sideways. “Kapoot?” she said again.

Dscn9572b“Oui,” I replied. “Kapoot.”

Apparently, the sound “kapoot” spans all languages.

I ended up sitting there for the better part of a half hour getting my energy back. I still felt like crap, but I was coming to.

I marched the rest of the way into Figeac without anymore breaks. A sign pointed to a hotel, so I walked over to it but the door was locked. I knocked, but nobody answered. There was a sign on the door, but I couldn’t read it. I seemed to suggest something about a door by the parking area, so I went around back and did find a door by the parking area and entered the building there, but it led into a hallway of rooms. Where was I to check in, though? I headed down the stairs so where the lobby presumably was but once again hit a locked door and all the knocking in the world didn’t get anyone’s attention. A dog lay in a small bed in the corner of the hall watching me. I think it might have gotten up to greet me if he hadn’t been so darned hot himself. The place felt like an oven.

Should I wait for someone to come back? Should I look for lodging elsewhere? No, I wouldn’t wait. Damn it, I needed a room now! I wasn’t going to wait for one minute. I left out the back door from which I entered and followed the trail deeper into town, following another sign pointing to lodging near the trail station: the Terminus-Le Saint Jacques. I staggered into the lobby and asked the woman if they had a room available, and yes, they did. I plopped down my credit card and paid for it. (Definitely way over my daily budget!) I took the stairs up, followed a wrong hallway, followed more steps up, then followed more stairs back down—I felt like a rat in a maze—before finally finding my room which had no air-conditioning.

I made my own air-conditioning by taking a cold shower. I was so exhausted from my walk, however, I couldn’t stand another minute. So I sat at the bottom of the small shower, cold water washing over me, and finally felt comfortable since I woke up that morning.

When my toes and fingers started looking like raisins, I finally got out of the shower. I opened the windows of my room, but it was still stifling hot in the room. I decided to stay naked. It was too hot to wear any clothes. I lay down in bed and napped. And sweat. Lots of sweat. The heat was killing me, and I found no relief in town.

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My obligatory daily photo of myself. This time,
I used a mirror that was situated on a sharp
turn so cars can see “around the corner.”

 

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The church in Livinhac-le-Haut

 

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A couple of hikers on the trail.

 

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Inside the Chapelle de Guirando.

 

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These guys set up a station to survey hikers.

 

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The trail through Saint Felix.

 

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I really wish I had another hiker nearby to stand next to this thing.
It’s huge! It was probably more than ten feet tall!

 

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Home for the night….

3 comments:

A M Jenner said...

Hey, we appear to have the same camera...

Anonymous said...

Take it easy out there. Get yourself some ham sandwiches and plenty of water. ; )

strollerfreak - Mel said...

That poor saint someone is baking in a bread oven?! Well, at least it looks like a bread oven, and you are in France...