Monday, September 24, 2012

Day 12: Unexpected Surprises

Dscn0052bAugust 23: In the morning, I packed up my bags and headed downstairs. If the waiter from the day before was working in the morning, I planned to skip breakfast. Or at least not eat there. I still didn’t like him any better after a good night’s sleep. But there was no sight of him—just the nice girl who spoke English that checked me into my room the day before. So I sat at a table along the sidewalk there for breakfast and quickly checked my e-mail and Atlas Quest before starting the day’s hike.

For breakfast, the girl served—unsurprisingly—an assortment of breads and she offered me the choice of coffee, tea, or chocolate. There’s not as much variety as you might expect when it comes to French foods, unless you count several different types of bread as “variety.” I passed on the drinks, which seemed to shock the girl. I suspect I might have been the first person to ever turn her down on that. She asked if there was anything else she could get instead such as orange juice, and I agreed to orange juice. I like orange juice. I’d be happy to drink orange juice. =)

Finished, I walked out of town. I passed a couple of largish people who looked decked out in hiking gear, but they stood around on the sidewalk like they were waiting for a ride. I nodded politely when I passed them, then headed out of town on the remarkably, ancient bridge crossing the River Lot. The trail climbed steeply out of town, gaining altitude before it eventually leveled off to a more comfortable pace. The temperature, even so early in the morning, was distinctly warm. The clouds weren’t so thick today to keep the sun away and weather forecasts once again showed mid-90s for the next several days.

Several miles out of town, I caught up with some hikers, two of which I recognized as the ones I passed on the street while leaving Cajors. They introduced themselves, and they were French Canadians. I wouldn’t say that there are a lot of French Canadians on the trail, but they certainly outnumber any other North Americans by a wide margin, and a large portion of them know English which allows me to talk to them.

In this case, I didn’t ask the most obvious question of all—how did they get ahead of me after I passed them in town and never stopped to rest? It was obvious to me that they had taken a taxi up the steep climb out of Cajors then started walking on the more moderate section of the trail. My first confirmed case of “yellow blazing.” (An AT term for hikers the skip sections by hitchhiking—the yellow lines in the middle of the road being “yellow blazes.”)

That’s okay, though. These people never claimed to be walking from Le Puy to Santiago. In fact, they were only doing a short section from Conques to Moissac. (Not counting the small parts they skipped when the terrain looked a little too rough for them.) I also found out that they started in Conques the same day that I started in Le Puy. They definitely aren’t out to set any speed records, but they seemed like a happy couple having a good time. I was also happy to see them out hiking at all. They were both on the hefty side, and you don’t see that many people with so much weight committing to such vigorous exercise. So if they wanted to cheat by getting a ride around the steepest sections of the trail, I was ready to let them and applaud them for just being out there in the first place. Especially on a hot day such as this one!

I took another long lunch break. I planned for a four-hour break, but started getting restless after about three hours. Some clouds started rolling in providing shade and knowing rain was in the forecast ahead, I decided to cut my break early and continue on.

Dscn0054bJust outside of the town of Montcuq, a variant route presented itself. It was a couple of kilometers shorter than the main route, but it followed a much less busy road than the main route into Montcuq. When I call it a “busy” road, it’s all relative. A fast-moving car would buzz by every couple of minutes, but it was still much busier than most of the road walks and I didn’t much like it. Really, the only reason to stay on the main track and not go for the variant is if you needed some sort of lodging or supplies in Montcuq—neither of which I needed. So I went for the variant.

The variant and main track merged again on the other side of Montcuq, and I followed the trail to the next good campsite I could find a couple of kilometers later. I camped off in a meadow with only a thin line of trees and brush separating the meadow from the trail.

The first thing I usually do upon throwing out my groundsheet is to sit down and take off my shoes and socks and massage my feet. It feels absolutely wonderful. I suppose most people get excited whenever their feet are rubbed, but let me tell you, you really appreciate it after hiking 33 kilometers (over 20 miles) in a single day. It’s like scratching a deep-seated itch that never really goes away, but oh, wow, does it feel so incredibly awesome to scratch.

Which is when I first felt a bump on the back of my heal. A bump I wasn’t familiar with. I twisted my foot to see what was the matter and I had a blister! I hadn’t felt a hot spot there or any inkling a blister was forming, but I got my first trail blister and immediate named it Saint Jacques. =)
I pulled out my little first aid kit, grabbed the safety pin, and popped the blister, squeezing out the fluid. No problem! Good as new!

Shortly afterwards, I saw a dog walk into the meadow from other side. Then another. And another. I figured the owner was right behind them, taking them on a little walk, but no owner followed the three dogs out of the woods and then I realized—they were strays. They immediately saw me across the meadow and headed in my direction, and I quickly started organizing my gear into a single, central pile that I could protect. I didn’t want the dogs running off with my food or anything! At least the didn’t appear threatening. More like curious. They seemed as surprised to see me in their meadow as I was to see them.

One dog came right up to me, wagging its tale, adorable as could be, but I didn’t want to encourage it by petting it so I just watched. The other two dogs kept their distance a bit more, curious about this intruder in their meadow. They sniffed around for a minute or two, then wandered off again. I usually see stray animals in cities. I was more than a little surprised to find these three miles from the nearest town and wondered where they came from.

Near sunset, a couple of locals out for a walk went down the trail, and I thought they’d miss my campsite from through the trees, but at the last second, the woman caught something from my camp out of the corner of her eye and jumped a little with surprise.

“Bonjour!” I said, knowing she had spotted me. I was planning to let them pass without bringing any attention to myself.

Dscn0059bShe said something in French, something I didn’t understand, and I asked if she spoke English.

“A little,” she told me, then asked if I was hiking to Saint Jacques.

“Oui,” I told her. She asked where I was from. “The United States,” I answered, in French.

She asked if I had eaten yet, because if not, I was welcome to walk over to their house which wasn’t far away and they’d feed me dinner.

I was tempted. In fact, I hadn’t eaten yet and I would have loved to have eaten dinner with them, but I already had my stuff spread out all over the place and didn’t feel much like packing it all up again. And the sun had just set. By the time I walked to their house and ate dinner, it would be quite dark. Presumably, they’d probably let me camp in their yard or, if luck were really good, have a spare room for me to sleep in.

But all of my gear was already spread out and I felt really lazy. I just didn’t want to pack everything up, so I answered that, “Yes, I had already eaten dinner, but thanks for the offer!” Had she asked me an hour earlier, though, I’d probably have gone with them. It was a nice offer.

She explained that they had hiked the trail a few years earlier so had a soft spot for pilgrims already. Before leaving, she said, “You found a nice place to camp!” and give me a thumbs up.

“Yes, it’s a very nice place,” I agreed. =)

They left, and I wrote in my journal, ate dinner, brushed my teeth, and headed to sleep.


I stopped here for a quick snack break. =)



I’m a little curious why so many snails crawled up this
post to apparently die. (And it has a left turn symbol.
The yellow blaze is for another trail in the area
that happens to overlap the Camino at this point.)

I started seeing my first fields of sunflowers today. These
don’t look especially bright and cheerful, though. These seem
like sad sunflowers…

I was looking at these plants thinking, “What the heck are those!”
The leaves are HUGE! It looked like no crop I’ve ever found
in a supermarket before. Then I started thinking what kind of
salad would use such large leaves when it hit me—tobacco leaves.
This isn’t a crop for eating. This is a crop for smoking!
(Needless to say, where I grew up, you don’t see a lot
of this being grown. I bet Amanda would have recognized it
immediately, though!)


This seems to be a man-made lake. I’m not really sure why it was made, though.

A modest little chapel.

The inside of a modest little chapel.

Most chapels had a logbook like this one in it, but this
chapel had bundles of post-it type of notes on it.
I’m not really sure what those were about or what people
wrote on them. Prayers? Hopes? Dreams and wishes?
I just don’t know. =)

A little water for the road. It’s always nice to replace warm 90 degree water
with fresh, cool water from underground. =)

Sunset is coming—gotta find a place to camp!

Yep, this will do. =) The trail is just behind the trees on the left.

Everybody, meet Saint Jacques—my first blister of the trail. =)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, hefty people hike too. Sometimes quite a lot. :)
Eli and Joe