Thursday, August 30, 2012

Day 3: The Beast of Gevauden

Dscn8646bAugust 14: Before I continue, I’d like to apologize for not using accents and other strange marks in anything I write that’s French. I don’t really want to be bothered with figuring those out. There’s already enough typos and grammar issues—a few missing accents aren’t going to matter much. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. =)

So, I woke up from a rather comfortable night’s sleep, but when I tried to leave my meadow, I discovered I’d been barbwired in! I guess those cattle corralers put the fallen fence back up as they were outrunning the cows and keeping them in line. I hadn’t noticed the fence was back up until I tried to leave. It didn’t pose much of an issue, though—it was low enough that I could (carefully!) step right over it.

An hour into my hike, I went to take another photo when my camera did something it had never done before: It ran out of space. Barely 48 hours into my hike, and I had filled up my camera with photos! Unlike most people, however, who’d panic and have to decide which photos to keep and which ones to get rid of, I could keep them all. I set my pack down under a tree, sat down next to it, pulled out my little laptop computer, booted it up, plugged in my camera, and copied all of the photos off the camera. Bam! Just like that, I had an entirely clean memory card to keep me going. I’m sure I looked strange slouched over my laptop in the middle of nowhere, but it didn’t matter to me. It got the job done.

Now you’re probably thinking, “WTF? You’re carrying a LAPTOP?!” Yes, I decided that for this trip, I would carry a laptop. There are several reasons for this. One, the French keyboards are absolutely impossible for me to type on. You would not be reading these blogs without this laptop. Two, I didn’t think there would be a whole lot of Internet cafes or time to make updates to AQ if something goes wrong. I figured I could find wi-fi connections a lot easier than I could find Internet cafes. (This has definitely proven to be true so far!) Three, I could stay in various lodging every night if I wanted to. There was electricity everywhere! I could power it up on a daily basis without any trouble—not something that I would have been able to do on my other long-distance treks. And fourth, since I was walking through multiple towns on a daily basis, I didn’t have to carry a week or more of food on my back at the time. This hike give me my lightest pack weight ever—so I felt it was okay to be a little indulgent by adding the weight of a small, lightweight laptop to my pack. It was the smallest, lightest laptop I could find (for obvious reasons), and the cheapest (just in case it does get destroyed—laptops aren’t really designed for backpacking!).

So there you go, I’m carrying a laptop, and when the memory card in my camera ran out of space, the laptop was a handy little thing to have around. =)

Further up the trail, I caught up with two girls riding horses along the trail. They didn’t speak any English and I don’t really know how far they were planning to go, but I’d see them quite often over the next several days. Mules, and now horses. The difference being, of course, the girls could actually ride the horses while the travelers with the mules could only have the mules carry their stuff—but not them.

I tried talking to a number of hikers, but none of them know English. I managed to learn how to say, “Do you speak English?” in French, so at least when I don’t understand a word they say, they know why. =) Invariably, they’ll tell me that they know “a little” English, but as it turns out, they know about as much English as I know French which isn’t enough to even have a simple conversation. So I’ve largely kept to myself, not even asking if people know English anymore. It’s a lonely little trail, despite all of the people you can find hiking it. =)

Dscn8645bIf someone does know English, it’s probably because they’re Germans or Belgium or from some other part of Europe except France. I’ve had more conversations with Germans than I have French people!

I stopped for lunch in Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole (and isn’t that a mouthful!). I tried to order pizza, but the waiter waved that idea off. As I understood things, they weren’t serving pizza at the time. Or maybe that day. Or maybe they never did serve pizza but put it on their menus just to get our attention. =) Afterwards, I ordered ice cream, because I felt like I deserved it.

Later in the day, I was thinking about stamps. Pilgrims carry a credential—kind of a passport of sorts for hikers along this trail. At many locations along the trail, primarily lodging, they’ll stamp your credential as proof you were there. It becomes a record of your travels and, at the end, in Santiago, the powers-that-be will examine it to make sure you really did hike as far as you said you did. I’ve been told they look very carefully at these stamps, and guidebooks warn you should try to get at least once each day, and in the last 100 kilometers, preferably two per day. So far, I had two stamps in my credential—both from Le Puy-en-Velay. Both from before I actually started hiking! I was now on Day 3 and had no new stamps to my name, and since I was camping outdoors, I wasn’t getting any stamps from my lodging.

So I stopped at Le Gevauden Les Estrets Gite late in the afternoon and asked for a stamp. So I didn’t just want to stamp and run, though—which doesn’t seem in the spirit of things anyhow—I ordered a Coke for two euros, which he served to me in a relatively warm can. *sigh* I also made use of the facilities, which had real flush toilets and even included toilet paper! And bam—just like that, I had a third stamp in my credential.

The gite is named after the “Beast of Gevauden,” which my guidebooks describes as being renowned in the area as being responsible for some 50 missing people between 1765 and 1768. A lynx killed near Saint-Flour in 1787 is thought to be the culprit.

I have a couple of problems with this theory based on that short description. First, why would the lynx have stopped killing people between his last victim in 1768 and the being killed himself in 1787? For 19 years, he stopped killing people? Maybe my guidebook has a typo or something, but that sounds a little fishy to me to blame an animal 19 years after the last mysterious disappearance.

And second, if it were an animal killing all these people, what happened to all the bodies? Surely some of those 50 missing bodies would have been discovered at some point, but it sounds like they never were. Animals might try to hide their kills, but I gotta think at least a few of the bodies would have eventually turned up and they’d look at it and go, “Yep, look at those bite marks. Definitely a lynx!” (Or not, but my point is… what happened to the bodies?!)

Dscn8678bSo I developed my own theory, based purely on the short description provided in my guidebook, suspected typos, and my imagination. I think a serial killer ran loose in the countryside, killing 50-or-so people and hiding, burning, or otherwise making sure the bodies were never found. And in those days, people probably didn’t consider “serial killers” at a legitimate threat. So they had a sudden rash of disappearances, and the most logical explanation that they could think of at the time was, “An animal must have done it. It was…. THE BEAST OF GEVAUDEN!” Which almost sounds kind of plausible, and to folks in the 1700s, might sound even more plausible than a serial killer.

When you walk all day, you have time to think about this sort of stuff. =)

Near the end of the day, I passed through the small town of Aumont-Aubrac and used their Internet connection for the 15 minutes until the tourist office closed for the day. I didn’t know it then, but it turns out all of the tourist offices along the trail have stamps for the asking, and now that’s where I’m getting most of my stamps for my credential. But I wouldn’t figure that out for well over a week!

I bought a sandwich and soda from a small convenience store for dinner, even noticing that they had the same bottle of denatured alcohol I now carried in my pack. How ‘bout that. Found denatured alcohol, on the trail, on two consecutive days without even looking for it.

Outside, while eating my stash, I met a German who was bicycling around the world and said he’d already done over 15,000 kilometers or some such enormous number that’s impossible to comprehend. He’d been biking for the last 15 months, traveling through the center of Australia through their summer months. Through the US—and not in a straight line, but going from San Francisco to the Grand Canyon up to Glacier National Park, and eventually leaving from New York.

“I’ve hiked 90 kilometers,” I told him. It sounded pretty lame.

On my way out of town, I passed by an outfitters that I didn’t even know was on the trail. (Why do my guidebooks not include information like this? HELLO????!) I poked my head in long enough to buy a small pack towel—just in case it might come in handy at some of the hostels or even in camp along the way. I meant to bring one from the United States but I had forgotten it. Now I had one, and didn’t even have to go out of my way looking for it!

I set up camp just outside of town, in the trees, near a busy highway. Not the best place to set up camp, but at least I was well hidden and the traffic died down once darkness came along.

Still no new contributors to sponsor me in the WTA Hike-a-Thon since my last post. You’re running out of time! Remember, anyone who contributes at least $10 will get a postcard from me from on the Camino! =) (Anyone who’s already contributed—you should have already received your postcards if I had your address. There were a couple of people I couldn’t find addresses for, though. If you’re one of them, contact me!)

This little “roadside stand” appears to be selling trinkets to
passing pilgrims. Nobody was there—it’s an honor system, I guess,
and nothing was written in English. I signed the logbook on the
table anyhow, though. =)

The trail has billboards for pilgrims everywhere! Most of them
are for gites (essentially French hostels), including
location, phone numbers, and amenities.

A couple of horseback riders on the trail.

Only 1,475 kilometers to Santiago! =) Or as the French like to say,
to Saint Jacques de Compostelle. (As Steve Martin would say, the
French have a different word for everything!)


My ice cream for the afternoon. On a completely trivial subject, Amanda and Mom,
I sent your postcards from that yellow box in the background, just above
the spoon in my ice cream, before I sat down to eat. I watched the postwoman
drive up and pick it up while I was eating my ice cream. =)

I have absolutely no idea what this thing is all about. *shrug*

One of the larger roadside crosses.

I take a snack break late in the afternoon.

The German who’s ridden a bicycle around the world (right) and another fellow
who is currently only hiking a section of the Camino but told me that a couple
of years before, he hiked from Belgium (or something—I forgot to write it down)
to Santiago, which is a pretty respectable distance.

It was a wonderful place to camp—except for the nearby highway.


Sue KuKu said...

Thank you for taking the laptop! I love to read your hiking adventures and I hope to someday travel to France. I've loving that you can post so easily and take lots of pictures!

Sue KuKu said...

And before you read my comment and ask me why not, I DID just sponsor you!!

Deirdre said...

I once read a book about someone travelling in France--they'd camped for the night and woke to find the farmer had been scything the field and politely avoided him. Made me think of your barbed wire episode.

Dan said...

On my last trip over there I couldn't find a single German that didn't speak great English, but couldn't find many French English-speakers.

Thanks for updating us on your travels. It looks like I'll have to add this trail to my to-do list as well.