Within Walking Distance.
“Red, sweaty, hot, bothered and smelly, we made it. All the way to the Mediterranean sea.”
And so the last section finally came. I say finally, it seems like it took both forever and sped by faster than I could ever imagine.
After our last rest day in Vicdessos we started off late due to absent-mindedly forgetting both to pay and to retrieve our washing from the machines before the office was locked up and having to wait until they reopened at 9 the next morning. Once we did finally get moving we made good steady progress and a little before lunch time we found ourselves in a quaint little French town who were celebrating their annual fete. They ambushed us on our way through the town square, which was buzzing with people, and offered us free sangria, beer and cake which we found exceedingly hard to refuse. We made a team decision to stop there for lunch and several sangria’s each later we stumbled back onto the path, a little off balance. The 1200m ascent ahead of us was hot and sweaty and saw us marginally regretting accepting all that free booze, however, we all agreed it really would have been rude to turn down such kindness.
At the top, upon waiting for me, the other two had met a spirited nudist named Brian Johnson who is re-writing the GR10 guidebook. We bumped into him again by the cabin we were camping at that evening and he walked a little way with us the following morning sharing with us his knowledge of snow coverage over the past decade and other such interesting facts. I’m not sure how he retains all this information, but it’s quite impressive.
The following evening we camped by a refuge with an awesome French Canadian guy called Remi who was also walking the entire GR10 (to our dismay faster than we were) and had our first gite meal. The guy who ran the gite was lovely and welcoming and even offered that we could sleep inside for free if the storm got too aggressive, but unfortunately the meal itself was a bit of a let down. For starters, there wasn’t a great deal of food and we all found ourselves going for seconds (and thirds) and filling up on the slightly stale bread. Second, desert was a disappointment; where we’d been promised cheese followed by desert, we got a single slice of cheese, served with the same stale bread, and an apple.
The next day gratefully brought us the end of the Ariege with one last steep steep ascent which resulted in my falling on my bum, a lot. I’ve definitely perfected the art of falling over on this trip, although I can’t say it happens any less, I’m just more attuned to it now.
Running out of money again meant that we had to scour our pockets to scrape together enough loose change for a crepe each at the next refuge. Doug alerted the entire campsite when he shouted with glee that he had found a whole euro at the bottom of his bag. But by this point we were past embarrassment. We’ve become less self conscious about our travelling ways as time goes on, caring less about our smelly clothes and feet, where we pitch our tents, and stealing all the free bread from restaurants than we were inclined to at the beginning. When we finally did come to the next town with a cashpoint, we were informed that in order to get to it we would have to head 30 minutes uphill back in the direction we came from. Now this might seem like nothing when you’ve been walking 30km a day but the prospect still didn’t sound particularly appealing. Luckily a lovely French man who spoke no less than 2 words of English offered us a lift and we spent the car journey playing charades in order to try and figure out what exactly it was that he did for a living.
After that, lunch with my parents was a welcome treat and celebration of our soon to be completion of the walk. Only a few days to go and they literally flew by. The last week is a blur of lakes, cabins, siesta’s, the best chocolatines of the entire walk and fake snakebites (apparently pretending to be bitten by a venomous snake is a funny pastime).
By the last morning I was jumping up and down with excitement to the mild chagrin of the other two. The last day seemed to be hotter than it had ever been, but perhaps that was just because we walked on through the mid afternoon heat rather than stopping for our usual siesta.
Red, sweaty, hot, bothered and smelly, we made it. All the way to the Mediterranean sea. We were greeted by Craig’s parents with a bottle of fizz before running past the hordes of holiday makers on the beach straight into the sea, still fully clothed. And that was it; we had finished. We were done and we could wake up the next morning knowing we didn’t have to walk. I’m unsure how I feel about this, happy, sad, indifferent? Aspects of them all I suppose and a thousand other emotions that I can’t even explain. It seems very separate and detached, as though it were a different person from me who completed the walk. Surreal I suppose is the best way to describe it although I’m not sure if I can quite put it into words.