Friday, October 5, 2012

Day 17: The Wrath of God

Dscn0489bAugust 28: I’ve been joking with people that God didn’t like my little campsite in the cemetery. At about 2:00 in the morning, I woke up and noticed thunderstorms in the distance and the winds had picked up considerably. It felt nice at the moment—I love watching a good thunderstorm, and I enjoy leaning into strong winds. In a cemetery, late at night, it even seemed appropriate somehow. Magical, almost. I rolled over on my stomach and watched the approaching thunderstorm lighting up the sky, followed by a distant thunder as winds shook the trees and leaves danced around the ground. But I could see that it was blowing directly into my path, which worried me for a couple of reasons.

First, the church and cemetery that I was at was situated on the top of a hill, a sure magnet for lightning. As if that wasn’t enough, however, I was also surrounded by tall trees—the only ones in the area since everything around the church and cemetery had been turned into vineyards and any trees that used to be there had long since been removed. So I more than a little concerned that my campsite might be a lightning magnet. And problem #2 was that rain often followed thunderstorms around. It wasn’t raining yet, but I had a hunch it would as soon as the lightning arrived. I didn’t really want to set up my tarp, and given the strong, swirling winds, it may not even be particularly effective.

So I found myself in this strange situation, admiring and even enjoying the lightning show in the distance—and if you’ve ever seen a cemetery lit up by lightning, you know what I’m talking about—but growing more concerned about it the closer it came.

And I decided I needed to move my campsite. For my own safety, I decided, it was probably best to move indoors and into the church. It was the only structure around. It was probably a lightning rod in itself, but the church appeared to be made of solid stone and I figured if lightning did strike it, it could probably protect me. I hoped it would, at least. I did, know, however, if it struck me outside, I would probably be a goner.

I put on my headlamp and headed into the church. I had tried to look in the church when I first arrived, but it was already pitch black inside—the fading light of sunset not enough to light the interior. I didn’t go back with my headlamp to check it out that night—I figured I’d just take a look in the morning. So now I entered the church to see it for the first time and figure out where I’d set up camp.

Dscn0494bMy headlamp really wasn’t sufficient to light up the entire interior of the church, so I wandered around it. The floor looked and felt like solid stone—a miserable surface to camp on. There was a door at the end, which I opened and it looked like it was mostly being used for storage. Nothing really looked comfortable to sleep on, and I considered pushing some chairs together and trying to sleep on those when I saw the steps leading up to a balcony of sorts in the back of the church. I’ve seen them in all of the churches I’ve looked in, but never looked up there before. This time, I followed the steps up and found a solid, wooden floor that made up the balcony seating area. Still harder than grass and dirt, but much warmer and softer than solid stone. This, I declared, would be where I slept the rest of the night!

I went back outside, making several trips to collect all my items, and carried them up the stairs into the balcony. I slipped into my sleeping bag and turned off my headlamp, ready to go back to sleep.

I had trouble getting back to sleep. Now that I was inside, I couldn’t hear the ferocious wind anymore. Even the thunder didn’t seem to be able to penetrate the stone walls—it was deathly quiet compared to the cemetery, and irony that was not lost on me. It also felt a little wrong. People aren’t supposed to camp in churches and chapels. Oh, yes, people fall asleep in them all the time, but they don’t camp in them! I don’t think I was committing any sins, but it felt like it should have been. But I’ve also heard that churches are sanctuaries, and by golly, I needed a sanctuary. I was sure God would understand.

But all the same, I felt a lot more uncomfortable sleeping in the church than I did when I was sleeping in the cemetery, and it definitely affected my sleep.

I’m not sure how much time passed, but eventually the thunderstorm grew close enough that I could hear the thunder again. I couldn’t see the lightning anymore—even through the stain-glass windows, none of the light from the lightning seemed to get inside. But the thunder grew louder until it was crashing so loudly that nobody could have slept through it. I sat up and listened, hoping—praying—that none of the lightning would actually strike the church. The structure seemed pretty solid, but I didn’t really have any desire to actually test it either.

Dscn0495bThe wind must have whipped itself up into a tremendous fury because I could even start hearing that through the thick stone walls, followed shortly by a pounding on the roof that I assumed must have been rain. It definitely wasn’t a light sprinkle either—pounding hammers on the roof wouldn’t have caused so much noise—and I felt glad about my decision to move indoors. Had I tried setting up my tarp, I suspect the wind might have ripped it to shreds by now and I’d be indoors anyhow—miserable, wet, and suffering from hypothermia.

I don’t know much much time passed, but eventually the noise slowed down and stopped. The pounding rain slowed and stopped. The wind slowed and stopped. The thunder faded off and stopped. The storm had passed, and I soon fell asleep again.

I woke up at the first morning light entered through the windows, and getting my first good view of the inside of the church. The church wasn’t particularly distinctive in any way that I could see, and I slipped on my Waldies and went outside to pee and see what the day looked like.

The sky was deep blue without a cloud in the sky. You’d never have been able to tell such a vicious storm had passed through during the night, and I remembered the woman in the tourist office who said that the weather overnight would be pretty much the same as the previous night. I didn’t believe her then, but by golly, I never imagined how wrong she could possibly have been. I thought of Maria in her small little tent and wondered how she faired overnight. It must have been quite an exciting night for Maria!

The ground was thoroughly wet from the storm, the only evidence that a storm had actually passed through during the night. That, and the grass where I had set up camp in the cemetery was burnt as if it had been struck by lightning during night. (Not really, but wouldn’t it have been really freaky if that were true?!)

I said “Bonjour!” to my friends in the cemetery, telling them, “That was quite the storm we had last night, eh?” They didn’t have much to say to that, though, and I headed behind the church to pee.

I ate breakfast outside of the church, on the patio area just in front of the entrance. It didn’t feel right to eat breakfast inside of the church. I’d sleep there in an emergency, but the emergency had ended. I wanted to be outside with my friends in the cemetery, so I carried my gear back down the stairs to the patio outside. I stayed on the patio, though, since the rest of the ground around the cemetery was still soaking wet from the storm.

Dscn0497bI finished breakfast, brushed my teeth, packed up camp, said goodbye to my cemetery friends, and hit the trail. Santiago wasn’t getting any closer as I sat around.

The first town of the day I got to was Montreal. I stopped at the tourist office to get a stamp in my credential and see if they had any Internet access available. I didn’t see a computer sitting around, but I asked about the Internet anyhow and the woman took me in back to a laptop and said I could use it. Cool!

She turned it on and it loaded up an operating system I was completely unfamiliar with: Ubuntu. She couldn’t get past the password, though, telling me it never asked for a password before. She started making phone calls to figure out what was wrong. I restarted the computer and before the operating system loaded, it had a list of choices of what to load with. I scrolled down to the “Windows” option—the one I was most familiar with—and tried to load that instead. It worked. =) It also didn’t ask me for a password once it opened. I was in!

Except that the Internet connection didn’t work. I could see the symbol for it in the icon tray in the lower-right corner, but it showed that it wasn’t actually connected to the Internet. I tried to navigate the French menus, mostly by feel than by actually being able to read anything, eventually figuring out how to get it connected to the Internet.

Then I loaded up an ancient version of IE and got online. The woman working the tourist office seemed surprised that I managed to get it to work. I have to admit, I was a little surprised myself. =)

I also noticed a little icon on the bottom of the page that said “FR,” and I wondered if I changed that if I could turn the French keyboard into an English-language keyboard. I clicked, and indeed, there was an “EN” option. I picked that and got myself an English-language keyboard. I was really set to go now!

Dscn0498bThen I spent an hour catching up on e-mail, checking on Atlas Quest, and getting the last weather forecast. (The weather forecast look warm, but not nearly as hot as before and no rain for the rest of the day or overnight, but probably some by 10:00 tomorrow morning.) I clicked off and asked how much I owed, and the woman waved me off. “Nothing,” she told me.

I paid the price by saying thank you, then gathered up my pack and left. About ten minutes later, I remembered I had changed the keyboard to an English-language keyboard, but I forgot to change it back when I was done. I felt a little bad about that. That woman, I knew, would never figure out how to change it back by herself. She couldn’t even get the computer turned on without my help. But I also didn’t want to backtrack to fix it for her either. Eventually, I figured, she would find someone to help her get the French keyboard back, but I felt a little bad about that.

For much of the day, I followed what seemed to be a rails-to-trails section. Practically straight as an arrow, completely flat, for miles on end. Roads would occasionally cross over the trail on a bridge, or the trail would cross over a road on a bridge of its own, but it was utterly flat for miles and miles on end. I didn’t know the history of this section of the trail, but I’d have bet money it used to be a railroad. It’s the only logical explanation for how they got such a straight, flat section of trail. But as wonderfully easy as this section of trail was to hike, it was equally boring, and usually in trees that created a green tunnel as far as the eye could see.

My pace had slowed down late in the morning due to a new problem: chaffing. I’m not sure what changed, but today I started getting some serious chaffing problems in some pretty sensitive areas, which caused me to walk like a man who’d been riding a horse for a little too long. So I was walking a bit slower than normal, and I threw a whole bunch of talcum powder down my pants hoping it might help, but the longer I walked, the more it hurt.

My guidebook showed the next town ahead, Eauze, and I expected to arrive after a couple of hours of walking, but an hour after my expected arrival time, I still hadn’t arrived. I was very puzzled by this—it seemed impossible that I could have passed the entire town without knowing it, but I didn’t feel like I was hiking that slowly either. Eventually I stopped on the side of the trail for lunch. I had planned to stop in Eauze, but I was hungry and needed to rest and eat and not over-exert myself. But where the heck had the town gone?

Dscn0506bAfter my break, I continued walking, finally arriving in Eauze about a half hour later. At long last, I finally found the town, but I was still perplexed about why it took so friggin’ long to get there. It took me over an hour longer to reach it than I had expected. My estimates are sometimes off by a ten or fifteen minutes, but over an hour? My chaffing must have been slowing me down more than I realized.

I finally stopped at about 6:00 in the afternoon near the town of Peyret. It was a couple of hours earlier than I initially planned to stop, but the chaffing was just getting too bad. I could barely walk anymore. I saw a nice place to camp in a vineyard and figured I’d best go for it. Maybe in the morning the chaffing wouldn’t be so bad. Because I hadn’t planned to stop so early for the day, however, I didn’t have my full allotment of water I’d normally use overnight. There was more water available four kilometers further down the trail by Manciet which I could get in the morning, but until then, I had to ration my water. Oh, how I wish I had more water, but I just couldn’t stand walking to the next water source. I’d live, though. I had water—just not enough to cook a dinner (so I ate snacks in my pack instead), brush my teeth (I did brush my teeth, but I used no water at all), or to use with my powdered milk for cereal in the morning (so I ate snacks in my pack instead), etc. I’d live, but I had to avoid any activities that would have used the little water I had.

During the evening, the clouds managed to squeeze out a few drops of rain. I threw the tarp over myself, but I didn’t actually set it up. Since I had checked the weather forecast and knew it wasn’t supposed to rain, I figured the drops to be anomalies and treated them as such. Enough to throw a tarp over me and keep stuff dry, but not enough to actually set up the tarp as I would for a more protracted rain.

At this point, the trail actually went over the bridge in this photo, from
left to right, then looped around on the left to the point where I took
this photo, and continues on straight! =)

The “long, green tunnel” portion of today’s trail…

Some of the most exciting moments along the
long, green tunnel are the occasional bridges
that pass it. =)

It’s hard to tell in this photo, but I’m suffering from
major chaffing issues during my lunch break!

I finally reach the small town of Eauze.

One of the windows in the church from the
previous photo.


I stopped hiking early, setting up camp next to these grapes. =)


Unknown said...

not sure if I'm happy or disappointed that there are no photos of the chaffed areas.

Michael Merino said...

I'm surprised the church would be unlocked at 2:00 in the morning. Ryan didn't even give it a moment's thought. Is this typical?

Anonymous said...

corn starch for chaffing! not talcum powder or baby powder. trust me!

Ryan said...

Most of the churches in France aren't locked.

-- Ryan