The Pyrenean Traverse, Day 11: Wet, wet, wet

We get up at 8 am. We slept pretty well in our 17th century bedroom. There is a mini breakfast in the refectory of the monastery. It is very basic, but our stomachs are filled. Our host joins us at our table, while we slurp yawningly from our coffee. We tell him about our changed plans and that we are now thinking about walking to Lourdes. From there on we will be following another GR trail until the GR10 is declared safe again. According to him, it will take us at least eight days to get from Sarrance to Lourdes. We had only calculated two to three days and hope that there is something terribly wrong with his judgment.

His wife has also come to join us. We talk for at least another hour and it is actually quite fun. Our host claims to have magical plasters, which should be able to fix Wim’s feet. He has been hiking with soaking wet hiking boots for five days and that starts to take its toll. Wim lets himself be pampered. In the meantime I talk about the wild beast that kept us from our sleep a few days ago, while camping in the forest. We both try to copy the shouts of the beast, to great amusement of our spectators. The couple believes it might have been a bear. I thought there were only a few bears left here in the Pyrenees, but apparently the bear is even the mascot of the region. Could it have been a bear that night? I do not know, but it does sound pretty cool …!

After some firm and friendly handshakes from our host and hostess, we set off again. And we can be brief about that. We start with a monotonous and annoying climb of more than 700 meters on an asphalt road. It’s a much-coveted climb for cyclists, that much is clear. They all shout “bon courage” (good luck) when they pass us by and we wish them all the same in this dripping wet weather. Every kilometer there is a sign along the road on which you can read the distance to the top. The gradient of the road is also indicated. I’m not sure if the signs motivate or demotivate me. But I do know they follow each other way too slowly.

About two hours later we arrive on the top of the mountain. The rain and barren cold prevent us from stopping and recovering from the climb. The descent is almost as boring as the ascent. On the other side of the mountain the landscape however is a bit prettier. But unfortunately it is also a bit wetter. We run into a Flemish cycling club. Fourteen of them are trying to reach the top of the climb on their steel steeds. We chat for a while with the equipment man, who follows the team with a van. Their original plans have also fallen into the water. They wanted to climb the Col d’Aubisque, but because of the avalanche risk the mountain is inaccessible. It seems that every outdoor adventurer out here in the Pyrenees is in the same boat…

Completely soaked we arrive after 30 km of hiking at the campsite of Bielle. Despite the cold we order ourselves two fresh beers that we drink while we pitch our tent. There is one store in the village where we buy some topographic maps to map out our modified route.

A large white tent on the camp site offers backpackers a welcome shelter from the pouring rain. While I prepare dinner, Wim starts with his big hiking map puzzle. Every day the same question marks arise about which route we will take the next day. And although that insecurity sometimes saddles us with a lot of headaches, it is also accompanied by a certain sense of freedom. There are hundreds of routes to walk. It is up to us to choose just one …


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