Friday, June 30, 2017

Sore Ankles and Three Days on the Road along Les Chemins de Saint Jaques de Compestelle, from Montbonnet to Aumont Aubrac

Our trail from from from Montbonnet to Aumont Aubrac.

On the way from Montbonnet to Aumont Aubrac
Every day on the Camino is a chance for an encounter with pain and beauty.  You wake up in towns you will probably never see again, stumbling out into the morning dew, to start walking through the woods or medieval villages of neverlands, in a daze between what was and what is going to be.

After a magnificent meal at our amazing hosts at Les Drailles de la Margerite, Caroline wrote:

"Mon Dieu! Dinner in France is no small thing. Not sure how I'll survive. There are, like, seven courses! We stayed at a place run by a farmer and his wife. They made every scrape of food on the table. Unbelievable. Passing out now. Bonne Nuit!

Its an amazing country. At every corner i feel like i'm going to run into Yves Martand, and the others from Manon of the Spring.  

But we walk every day. 

In the mornings, we head out, stretching our legs. 
Looking at the fields, I remember that old movie. 

June 27th, we left Montbonnet at 8:15 AM, walking past farms, strolling past the most lovely fields, a medieval town in the distance. The air is crisp, sun bright, but not hot. Every medieval town is atop a mountain. So we always have to walk up or down. 

After about five kilometers, we stop for a break, ordering coffee at a small Gite and read poems. 
The cafe decorated with quotes by Jean Paul Sartre, Nelson Mandela and Victor Hugo.
Our lives and happiness are our responsibility, suggests Sartre. Challenges are opportunities. My grade school French only goes so far. 
But we get the point.   A dog greets us as we take in the scene of the old farm and town square in front of us. 

I pull out a volume of poems, reading Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant.

Related Poem Content Details
     To him who in the love of Nature holds   
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks   
A various language; for his gayer hours   
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile   
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides   
Into his darker musings, with a mild   
And healing sympathy, that steals away   
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air— 
Comes a still voice— 
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim   
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again, 
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up   
Thine individual being, shalt thou go   
To mix for ever with the elements

Will and company arrive and we all walk out, past the sheep being herded away. 

Walking I think about my books and the message from the poems, the chaos of this world, and the peace that we can still find in the midst of the chaos.  We talk with a French woman who tells us about the people she meets walking the trail outside her house.  She is 75 years old, walking her dog.  She loves talking with the backpackers along the road.

We are passing along a creek, up and down hills.  These ancient mountains are places where the French resisted the Nazis.  And stories were born.  So many heroes and so many villains born of this space.   Five k later, we stop for another coffee. 
We've completed ten of our 15 k for the day.  It feels like the Alps.  I love a coffee in a mountain town, be it Norther California, Italy, or here. 
"Maybe Mount Blanc trail next year," I suggest to Caroline.
"Or Japan?"

There is a joy to hiking, taking in a space, feeling and being a part of everything. But we're also ever weary of the pain out there.  There are times i feel like the hike could be the end of me, as my legs grow weary.  At others, I dream of hiking from Seville to Santiago, or to Finisterre or along the River Thames from Kimble to East London, 296 K.

At the next break, Caroline announces we are about to enter what will probably be the hardest five k of the hike. 

We make our way down windy trails through the woods, up and around, rocks and roots of trees below, tree branches at either side.  
Caroline and the kids move ahead of Will, Helena, and I. 
Will is pushing Bruce, in their son's stroller.  
Its crazy complicated. 

Already a little weary, my ankles are becoming sore. I untie my new boots, which i have not bothered to break in before the trip.

We see the kids ahead standing by chapel in the distance. 

The kids greet us at the monument, scampering up to look at the mountains which millions of years prior, rose up from the ground as tectonic plates crashed within themselves.
Looking around we could fall off the mountain. 
Stay on your back, I advise Helena, as we make our way up.
The little one stays below. 

And we gradually climb down.  
My ankles are now swelling. 
Try untying your shoes Will advises.
That's better. 

And we make our way between the sidways path, vines and branches above up, tree roots and stones below, Will,myself and his son carrying the stroller, Bruce running along, down, with Helena. 

It was hours and hours making our way down.  With each step, my ankles become more sore. 
Last year, I broke my arm on the first day of the hike. My fear is breaking my ankle.  There is no one here who can carry me if I fall. 

So we amble down the mountain, finally making it to Monistrol, where i put my feel up and sigh.  Our hosts are lovely. And the beer of delicious.   There is no beer better in the world than the beer after a 15 k hike. 
Well, maybe the beer after a 25 k hike?

I woke early the next morning feeling a quiet peace, despite the treachery of the world about us. 
Its hard walking and thinking about what is happening to the USA.  Its really scary to imagine us tilling from progress toward a descent into chaos, but that's what feels like is happening.
And getting upset about it is not going to change a thing. 

So, we'd walk for the next few days, always trying to find the right Gite in which to stay.  The kids love and hate it; tolerate and adore it, hate it and adore it. 
But we walk, meeting strangers who become friends.

There is the Swiss man who looks like Robyn Hitchcok, the Australians we meet in an old barn, eluding the rain, who share a piece of their lunch sandwiches with us. 
"What do i owe you for this?" I ask.
"Your friendship," Dave replies. 
Each has a story. 
One of the elders hiking with us is 88 years old.  He hikes with one of his students, a woman who tells us about her daughter who was consumed by cancer.
She smiles and tells us about her life, finding a way to breathe. 
I greet the cows along the trail.
"They each meditate in their own way," she smiles reflecting. 
Meditation helped giver her the tools to live.  

Our hike is a little meditation.
With each stop, the kids pull out their devices. Number one reads the bell jar by sylvia plath.
Already on the trip,she has read a memoir by Viv Albertine. 
Its a delight to watch her grow. But she may not have too many Caminos left with us. 
Shes anxious to fly.

Two eighteen year olds hike with us, one from Quebec, another Belgium. 
One carries a violin, playing to pay for his way, like so many before him.

Over coffee, we meet a man hiking from Bratislava to Santiago.
He had to curtail his journey, taking a train and then getting back onto the road.
We all have to from time to time. 
Its still the Camino.  

Caroline saves us with her German, Helena with her French.
Caroline tells stories about her German family, her grandfather, who fought both world wars,   an unfortunate piece of history.  She hung out with him as the Wall fell.  Her European lineage connects her to this space in a unique way. My Dorchestor story is a little more distant, but still present.  There are less living relatives to connect me to it.

We take lots of breaks in between the rain and drizzle.  Caroline reads  the Snowstorm by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The cool air greets us. 

We hike some more, past green fields and Celtic crosses. 
It feels like Ireland but here we are France, lucky to be together hiking through our summers, days and moods.
Everyone has their down moments. 
But we all make it through our first week on the trail.
Each day feels like forever.
With each step, there is hope for the world. 

Sitting along the road, I read:
The Arrow and the Song  by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I shot an arrow into the air, 
It fell to earth, I knew not where; 
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight 
Could not follow it in its flight. 

I breathed a song into the air, 
It fell to earth, I knew not where; 
For who has sight so keen and strong, 
That it can follow the flight of song? 

Long, long afterward, in an oak 
I found the arrow, still unbroke; 
And the song, from beginning to end, 
I found again in the heart of a friend. 

Caroline and our host in Montbonnet.

End of the day pint in Monistrol on Tuesday after a painful 15 k, the last five took all afternoon.

our amazing hosts at les drailles de la margerite, who made us a seven course meal, everything from their own farm.

The end of a 15 k walk through what felt like Ireland. Just lovely. 

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