LIFE = TETRIS.
Week 5 eh? Crazy that we’re so far through. It probably sounds very clichéd but it seems like years ago that we were sat at a campsite in Hendaye with soft feet, relaxed muscles and a naive vision of what we had in store for us. I think of our memories a bit like a game of Tetris. In everyday life at home everything’s fitted into routine. Morning is a square, with waking up, showering, breakfast, and leaving for whatever you’re doing that day. Then there’s university, lectures you may or may not go to, walking there, talking to friends about similar things. There’s hobbies and gym, cooking, nights out. Everything fits into its place and there are a few surprise shapes thrown in there, a girl you meet, a special night out, or a catastrophe. Overall it’s all pretty ordered and you can keep the game running, breaking lines easily, turning the routine parts into points. The screen fills up slowly with those outstanding moments.
When you’re doing something different however, be it going to festivals, on holiday, travelling… basically anything that has a different setting on a day to day basis-outside of routine, that’s like Tetris gaining some artistic, artificial intelligence and deciding to screw the game. Shapes come out ridiculously sized, just squiggles and with no way to be pieced together into the same blocks. On the trail one morning you wake up in a campsite in the sun, next you’re by the side of a mountain road in the rain, the next you’re on the banks of a lake on a misty morning. One night you slept amazingly, the next you’re not sure if you managed to close your eyes. In one day you can spend 4 hours climbing 1,800m to the point where any question of a sane thought has left your brain, and half an hour later you’re strolling along a river joking with your best friends. The Tetris screen has become full of different shapes and outstanding memories that would have filled the board up slowly, over two months or so back home, can be filled in a matter of hours.
Anyway, enough philosophy from Doug, I think it’s clear I’ve had a lot of time inside my own head recently. What have we been up to this past week? Well firstly, I don’t actually feel like I should be writing this because it’s only been four days. What we were expecting to take 6 days found us deciding short sharp pain was better than sitting around waiting for the rain to stop or the sun to shine brighter. Also we ate lots so had to make it to town in four days.
‘I have been told that our faster than expected walking capabilities are really not something to brag about, I disagree. Go us!’
We’ve all had the discussion that we think we’re giving the impression that the GR10 is easy because of how quickly we’re doing it, so let me straighten this out: the GR10 can be easy-ish. I was completely unprepared for the difficulties of walking this landscape, in this weather, with the equipment I’m carrying, at the speed at which we do it. We are racing through it yes, and we meet a lot of people who have told us to slow down, take our time and enjoy it. I understand that approach, but a bunch of 19/20 year olds, physically fit, who are looking for a challenge; well we’re challenging ourselves. Challenging ourselves to the point where we are now going to finish two weeks early.
In a sense we’ve made it easier for ourselves, mentally. Rather than sit around waiting to finish, still having to walk the same distance, and getting stir crazy, we can just put our muscles through pain and sleep better, and reach the finish sooner.
More rambling. So the first day we left Luchon, an early start after a brilliant nights sleep, was the second hardest scheduled day. We had a nice long ascent to look forward to, and our heaviest packs yet, carrying 6 days worth of food. The Ariège is the section we were starting, spanning 15 days with just a handful of towns in between. The Ariège has some very big days, about 8 of the hardest in the guidebook, so we were relatively nervous. After 1,400m of straight ascent throughout the morning however, we were feeling brilliant, elated and happy to be there. The sun helped, although hot, it’s far nicer than some of the rain we had experienced before. An even bigger descent (pain on the knees) found us in Fos, at the end of the day; 27km later and in 7 hours of the suggest 9 hours 40 minutes. We were feeling pretty good about things, and decided to push on to a small village about an hour away to find somewhere to camp. Arriving in said village about 20 minutes later we were unsure whether the village had shifted or we’d somehow become super human. I have been told that our faster than expected walking capabilities are really not something to brag about, I disagree. Go us! We walked a bit further, totaling 33km for the day and found a wild camping spot by the side of the road.
Woke up the next morning feeling less than super human. There was a definite sound of rain on the tent and a definite feeling of pulsing through my legs. Yet, there’s little to do by the side of a barely used road in a barely known area of France, so up we got. The climbs were hard, and the rain was, frankly, just inconsiderate. The wet long grass quickly forming pools of water in my boots, luckily alleviated by the holes forming in my boots (silver linings). After a few hours we reached a refuge and bought a bit of cake and hot chocolate. Allowing our feet to dry, only to have to endure the revolting sensation of putting on cold, wet socks. We then proceeded to revisit last week’s theme and took the wrong path down the mountain, resulting in a long road slog back to where we should be. By this time we’d covered two days in one and it was lunchtime. Again, bragging I know, but hey, I haven’t posted any snaps of my beach holidays, so let me have my bit.
We’d decided earlier to carry on a bit further, trying to get to a cabin where we could dry off and have a good nights sleep. I had felt up for this, until we were about 200m into our 800m climb, again in the rain. I faked knee pain, when in fact I was just exhausted. I couldn’t move, or feel my legs. Craig offered to take my tent, and I alleviated myself of 2kg of weight, and much of my pride, and handed it over. Finally we peaked the hill, still in the rain, and found the cabin occupied by shepherds, who kindly let us use half of it, with a fireplace to warm up and dry, and we slept in our tents outside. After a hard day we all slept very well.
Woke to sunlight throwing itself at my tent, which is a great feeling. Had breakfast, clothed ourselves in newly dried and smoke-smelling clothes and got moving. We descended into the valley and pushed up a hard climb, which questioned how well rested we were, but made the top regardless. Descending again into a valley, this time with a refuge that supplied us with ice cream (although it took 45 minutes to be served, which Fiona is adamant had nothing to do with her walking in and emptying our rubbish bag in their bin without asking), we took a three-hour break in the sun, and decided to hit another chunk of ascent to cut into the next day. This 900m felt amazing, probably because I’d shed 2kilos in food from all the lunch we’d ate, now ahead of schedule we had surplus. I’d had my tent back all day so it was a nice weight lifted, also the extra energy from food and ice cream spurred me on. We had an amazing view of Mont Vallier which we are touring (circling) over the next three or four days. We camped by a lake, had a swim, ate a big meal again, and slept.
The final morning on our hardest week woke us up to mist and promise of more rain. Great. But a relatively easy day; just had to suck up the next 4-5hours and then chocolatines and a hot shower. But of course, we got a bit more lost, just for good measure. Finally descending off the GR10 and into Seix; a town which isn’t on the route but the closest place for us to re-supply and rest. By re-supply I mean eat the last of our couscous and chicken and then I set out to replenish myself of every food item I had daydreamed of the past four days, starting with 2 chocolatines, a croissant, a pan au raisin, 600g of milka chocolate, a baguette filled with ham, Camembert and lettuce, three more chocolatines, a doughnut, couscous paella, and a final baguette filled with ham and Camembert before bed. All in the space of 8 hours.
In other news I’ve noticed myself losing weight. Must find a way to remedy this.
Anyway, today we’ve rested in the morning and are going to push on a few kilometres to meet back up with the GR10 making tomorrow (the hardest day by the guidebook) far easier on ourselves.
I would apologise for writing such a long post, but I’m actually quite content writing so much, hopefully you find it interesting.