Sunday, September 9, 2012

Day 6: The Heat Wave Begins

Dscn9146bAugust 17: I woke early—5:30 early—ate breakfast and was ready to hit the trail by 6:00. I wanted to get an early start to the day because the dreaded heat wave officially starts today. The last few days on the trail, a lot of hikers had been talking about the “heat wave.” I looked up the weather forecast the last time I was online, and Friday, August 17th, was the first day that was expected to break 90 degrees. Tomorrow, Saturday, it was expected to hit 103 degrees. The weather forecast, annoying, said that due to humidity or something, it would “feel like” 108 degrees. Yeah, rub that in our faces—as of 103 degrees wasn’t hot enough. It wouldn’t get back below 90 degrees again for nearly a week.

So I decided to be proactive—hike early in the morning, take a very, very long lunch break, then hike in the late afternoon and into the evening. It worked out well when I did that on the PCT, and I had no reason to think it wouldn’t work out well here. But still, it would be hot. There’s no avoiding that.

And that’s the reason for my particularly early morning wake-up call. Except by the time I was ready at 6:00, it was still pretty darned dark. I wanted to take photos along the way, but that’s hard to do when it’s still dark out. So I waited around an extra half hour and finally hit the trail at 6:30—which was still my earliest start time yet and still before sunrise.

It only took a little over an hour to reach the bustling town of Espalion, where some sort of farmer’s market was being set up. I don’t know that it actually was a farmer’s market—just that the stalls being set up had that sort of feel to it. I didn’t stop to browse, though—I had miles to hike, and it was still early in the morning. Darned warm for this early in the morning, but it was the coolest weather of the day. I was going to spend it hiking, not shopping.

I passed through town at an unfortunate time, however. It was 8:00, and it seemed the town was being emptied of hikers who had stayed the night. I saw dozens of pilgrims leaving town, and one small group of six or so people started singing quite loudly and I badly wanted to get well ahead of them or well behind them. Hikers, hikers, everywhere…

They all seemed to walk at a plodding pace, so I decided I could outrun them—not literally, but just walk faster than them and leave them in the proverbial dust. Annoyingly, as soon as I passed one group of hikers, I’d catch up with another group. ARGH! Would the plague never end?

Yes, it did finally end. Oh, there were always people around, but I lost the large crowds and wound up the rest of the day with never more than one or two other people around which was a comfortable level for me. =)

Late in the morning, I saw a marker that suggested a left turn, but up that road was clearly another marker with an X—don’t go that way. The left turn marker wasn’t well-placed. I think it was meant to suggest to follow the turn in the road we were following, but it looked like it was telling us to get off the road completely and follow another road to the left. If it wasn’t for that X on the other road, I’d have taken it without thinking twice.

Which is when I noticed a hiker coming from that direction. And it was a hiker I recognized—the French girl who I ran around in circles with, lost in Aubrac.

Dscn9148b“Bonjour!” I told her. “Did you take a wrong turn?”

Yes, indeed, she followed the left turn marker up the wrong road having missed the X marker.

“Why is it that every time we bump into each other, you’re lost?” I joked. This was the second time I bumped into her, and both times, she had gotten lost. At least I was only lost the first time she bumped into me. =)

So we fell into a walk together chatting and learning more about each other. I can’t say her name to save my life—she repeated it several times and I never made it past the first syllable. But I did learn that she had a 4-year-old son and apparently works in an automobile factory installing the plastic paneling inside of cars. At least that’s what I understood through her think accent and limited English.

We walked the rest of the way into the town of Estaing together where we parted ways. I stopped in town long enough to buy some food for lunch—it was still much too early in the day for me to stop, though—and she wanted to visit the church in town.

Not even ten minutes out of town, I bumped into another girl hiking alone and, as it turned out, spoke some English as well. Her name was Marielys (she even spelled it correctly for me, but I’m not 100% certain I remembered it correctly when I finally wrote it in my journal), but said I could call her Mary. Which was fine by me since I could say Mary without any trouble at all. Absolutely none. =) She learned English while living in Ireland for three months but still spoke with a heavy accent that required my complete attention to understand. But still, it was probably more difficult for her to speak English than it was for me to understand her English, so I’m not complaining!

We walked for a couple of hours, chatting away about the trail, and a little about America where she had never been. She doesn’t want to see the big cities like New York—no interest in them at all—but she liked the Camino and was section hiking a little bit of it each year with friends. Section hiking the Camino is quite the norm—at least on this part of the trail. Almost everyone who is hiking is only out for a week or two on “holiday” before they have to go back to work.

By around 1:00, it get getting seriously hot out. Certainly well into the 90s and perhaps already passed 100 degrees, and it was definitely time for the long lunch, but I enjoyed chatting with Mary and pushed on a little longer than I otherwise would have. Near the top of a ridge, we reached a spigot with potable water and I filled up my water bottle. And since it was so hot, I soaked my hat and handkerchief under it. Then I took off my long-sleeved shirt (even though it was so hot, I still wore a lightweight long-sleeved shirt for sun protection) and soaked that with cold water as well. I knew it would dry within a half hour of when I put it back on, but for that half hour… oh, it would feel wonderful!

Dscn9156bSeveral minutes later, Mary’s phone rang—which surprised me a little. I know most people on this trail have phones, and I know there’s cell service over seemingly the entire trail. We go through half a dozen or more small towns every single day. But it was the first time I’d seen anyone actually answer their cell phone since I started my hike, so it took me by surprise.

It was one of the friends she was hiking with (which amused me, because if she was hiking “with” her, why did she have to call?) Mary started looking at my maps trying to figure out exactly where we were in relation to her friends and came to the conclusion that we were a kilometer or two ahead but her friends were ready to stop for lunch.

So Mary and I hiked on, now looking for a place to stop and her friends could catch up. I spotted a shady little patch, just a few trees on the side of the road in the town of Montegot, casting shade into a field of grass and suggested we stop there. It wasn’t much, but it was something. On the barren ridge we walked, that might be all there was.

We made ourselves comfortable, finding clear spots between old cow patties. I ate the lunch I bought in town and Mary snacked while we waited for her friends to catch up. I didn’t realize it when I suggested we stop here, but it turned out to be a great place to stop. On the ridge, we got a nice breeze going and despite the high temperatures, once we sat in the shade with a breeze, the temperature felt quite comfortable. The breeze made a big difference, though.

Her friends caught up about 10 minutes later, two more very cute girls. Wow, how lucky was I! =) They joined us and pulled out their own snacks, offering me tempting treats of cheese, salami, apricots, and candy. The two new girls didn’t speak much English so I didn’t really talk to them very much, and Mary had to translate when we did talk. Eventually, I just laid down and tried to nap. The three girls chatted in French for the next two hours—almost none of it understandable.

There was one point, a good hour into their little chat, I heard something like, “Blah blah blah blah sexy blah blah!” and the three girls laughed. Hmmm….. I said to Mary, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I know girl talk when I hear it!” Which made them all laugh more, but I’m not even sure if Mary’s friends actually understood what I said.

After two or three hours, we finally started to get up to go. As I was putting my shoes back on, the two girls riding horses rode by. For some reason, I rather liked bumping into the horses on a near daily basis now. It wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t bump into them at least once each day.

Dscn9164bI decided to part with the girls—they were certainly cute enough to look at, but I didn’t really know enough French to keep up with them. Mary alone was fine for walking with, but I felt more in the way when she wanted to talk with her friends, so I left them as they were still getting ready and headed off on my own.

At the end road intersection, I could see the horse girls going straight, and when I got to the intersection, I saw that the markers indicted we should go straight. No surprise there, but I was a little surprised when I saw the horse girls coming back my way. What? Was that no the correct direction?

A few seconds later, though, from around a bend in the road, I saw a herd of cattle coming down the road and laughed. Herds of cattle always get the right-of-way! Even when you’re riding a horse. =) The horse girls stood to the side of the intersection, as well as me and a couple of other hikers who got caught up with the herd, waiting for the animals to pass before resuming our journey again.

I stopped in the town of Golinhac for food and drink, and my guidebook said that there was water to be had in town, but I couldn’t find it and wound up going into some trailside lodging for water.

The woman inside said something in French, which I understood not a word.

“Do you speak English?” I asked. (I actually asked this in French—I learned enough French to ask if they speak English in French.)

“No,” she replied. “Dutch?”

I laughed. “No. Espanol?” I asked.

She laughed and shook her head no. It’s like we were bargaining for a common language, and out of the four languages we tried (French, English, Dutch, and Spanish), we couldn’t find a common meeting ground.

It finally came down to sign language. She tilted her head sideways on her hands—an international sign for “Are you looking for sleep?”

“No,” I told her. “Just water.”

Which was good, because she managed to explain in broken English that she had no more beds to offer anyhow. She filled up my water bottles and I asked for a “tampon” which she happily provided. =)

Then I pushed on, eventually stopping a short ways out of town in a patch of trees. It was a little close to the road, but it wasn’t a particularly busy road and my maps suggested that this might be the best place to stealth camp for several kilometers, so I grabbed it.

Too… many… hikers…




I took this inside the Church of Saint-Pierre-de-Bessejouls.


The staircase in the church was quite narrow!










A photo of me in the town of Estaing


Pilgrim art?


Mary (in the foreground) and one of her friends (laying down behind her).


The horse girls, waiting for the stampede to go by.


Wildlife on the trail!

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