The Pyrenean Traverse, Day 14: Sauna

We have to follow a busy road for several meters. A road sign indicates that the Col De Tourmalet is still closed. The avalanche risk is still not gone. We take a few steps up to a picturesque building that stands full of glory at the bottom of the Pic Du Jer. The Pic Du Jer is a mountain where locals are clearly proud of, since our campsite also carried this name. The beautiful building is the station where every day a train chuffs to the top, to bring tourists up without going through the agony of blisters. Today the station seems to be closed, but we were conquering the mountain on foot anyway.

Just before reaching te top, the GR trail goes down again. So no beautiful view of Lourdes like we hoped for. Making a detour for it is not possible, because it is going to be a strenuous day already.

Miraculously the sun breaks through. Finally summer! We apply sunscreen on our pale Belgian limbs. Despite the heat, the snow on the mountains is not moving an inch. She might be thwarting our plans, but that pearly white snow does ensure breathtaking views.

We puff our way further uphill until we find a metal table with four chairs standing near a house in a small village. Our names are written all over it. So without asking any questions we install our sweaty bodies to enjoy an invigorating lunch. A little later an old lady calls us. “Coucou” she says, and gestures to come her direction. “Oh-oh, caught”, we think. With hanging ears I go greet her. But instead of a scolding finger, I get a bottle of fresh water with grenadine. Of course we can stay, she laughs cheerfully. The woman was only worried that we were thirsty in this heat.

With recharged batteries we continue our way. In no time our sweat seeps down our faces again. In a Finnish sauna you would sweat less than here. Wim drinks more than five liters of water while hiking.

Fortunately, in the next valley we come across a cafe where we can bring our body fluids back to an acceptable level again. The bar is not very much to look at. It is no more than a caravan with a shed and three tables with a parasol. It is wonderfully authentic. But it is also wonderfully “never to get through the food safety check”. Still, without any hesitation, we eat the home-made cake that is being offered to us.

We still have a lot of distance to cover. While climbing, Wim has to cool off in the shade from time to time. He is having way more trouble in the sun than I have. But then again, I am the person who always has cold feet in the tent.

I am happy when we finally reach the highest point of the day. From now on it is only descending. That’s not too bad…

Or is it…? The descent is agonizing, excruciating and painfully slow. When we get a view of Bagnères du Bigorre our final destination of today, it is still at least two hours of descent. It is frustrating, because we can almost touch the roofs of the houses with our fingertips. We draw long horizontal lines against the flank, with here and there a hairpin bend downwards. I long for the short pain: a path straight down. But nowhere the route can be cut short.

When we finally arrive in the valley, a passerby tells us that the campsite is still an hour away. My body makes painfully clear to me that it can not carry me that far anymore. I suggest to Wim to pitch the tent right here, right now. There are picnic benches, so that’s great luxury. Furthermore, it is already half past eight. It is therefore high time to find a place to sleep. Wim agrees. At the benches we cook a simple evening meal, after which we quickly set up the tent out of sight of possible passers-by.

When I take off my shoes, I see that the last miles have taken their toll. In the tent I take care of the blisters on my aching feet. I am tired, broken and completely exhausted. Sleeping is the only thing I want to do right now…


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