I have, until this evening, been without cell, data or wifi service since Bayonne. Saint Jean Pied-de-Port (SJPDP) -- aka the starting point and pilgrim Mecca-- was completely without to my surprise.
So, I still need to fill you in on Paris and the. Give you a little taste of today. Fair warning, I am...well, exhausted. This will account for any typos or the length (brief or long and rambling, TBD) of this post.
First, I want to thank all of you who have subscribed or are regularly checking in on this blog. The outpouring of interest and support has been wonderfully overwhelming. I so appreciate all of the notes and comments and it is my hope that I might also offer something to future pilgrims. So please bring on the questions and suggestions for content and I will do my very best.
For an abbreviated version and for photos, click on the "See Where I Am & Where I've Been So Far" link on the right hand side. Pretty cool little app lets me plug it all in and it's much easier than the blogger app. (h/t: Jonathan)
It's beautiful, amazingly cultured, and every bit worth my crazy 24 hrs there...yadda, yadda, yadda...
Lets back up for a moment and talk about my first interaction with the French language. I was flying direct from Boston- with a Boston-based crew. They were fantastic. One of them also spoke French. French is of course a beautiful language that is quite easy on the ears. That is unless- and God love him- it's coming from this guy. As most of you are familiar with, the Boston accent is, well, distinct. Just google for examples if you're unfamiliar (I know I've for a raft of non-Americans reading) but it is a harsh, masculine accent that most people would generally describe as less than charming. But its one of those endearing things that makes our wonderful city special. That said, this Boston-based guy s French was hostile even to the American ear. I'd put it somewhere between the sommelier at a fine restaurant and the guy selling beer at Fenway Park. Absolutely hysterically terrible.
Next, among the many things I crammed into my day was a 3hr tour of Paris via Segway. A great way to see the sights in quick fashion. We probably covered 20 miles of ground. HatTip to Fat Tire Tours for an exceptional experience. That is except for when your Segway reaches maximum speed and you are unable to stop it. President George W. Bush famously fell off of a Segway, after all their supposed to be practically impossible to fall off of. And I wouldn't say I'm in the company of the president but somewhere close. They work basically by a gyroscope. You tilt fwd they go, you lean back, they slow down. That is unless you've leaned so far forward that it hits speeds of 11mph. Not that may not seem like but I promise you that it's a hell of a lot faster than you or I can run. And it's not a fun feeling when there is nothing strapping you on/to the thing and it has absolutely no breaks. Your instinct is to CLING to the small semblance of a joy-stick/handle contraption, thus further flinging your body FURTHER forward. Leaning back feels like certain death and you are suddenly one a one-man, 2-wheel roller coaster from hell. God forbid you be a pedestrian in the way. So needless to say I had such an experience, out in the open thank God, which came to a halting stop when the two large wheels met a large curb. I attempted to abort the vehicle and was only told that I looked like an I Hurd bird diving for a safe landing. I may or may not have a bruise the size of a baseball on my calm from slamming into one of the wheels on my attempt to dismount. Go ahead. Enjoy that image. I'll wait.
Ok, done? Good. I finished my evening w a night boat ride on the River Seine. I highly recommend it (just like the Segway but much less likely to cause you bodily harm).
Paris may be the City of Lights, but it's also a city of bridges. I think I heard them say something like 37. And we went under nearly all of them. Lovely you might think. You'd be wrong if you're on a boat w a large (30 or so?) group of sloppy drunk French students. The custom-- well use that loosely-- is evidently to scream at the top of your lungs when passing under the bridges. ALL of them. I'm not a total party pooper but give it a rest already. So this very tired pilgrim-in-the making, having left Boston some 18hrs earlier, running on about 2hrs in the last 48hrs was having none of it. It's not funny or interesting. It just sucked and telling you about it make me feel better in some small way. But the sights were lovely.
So, that and the post "Sleepless in Paris & the Mad Dash" should get us caught up to arrival in SJPDP and today. I'm not sure if included it but I did make it to mass at Notre Dame Cathedral and I don't think I'll forget it as long as I live. There are no words.
I arrived via a small train from Bayonne that was exclusively pilgrims from what I could tell (pic in the above mentioned link).
The first task was to get to the pilgrim office and officially register. Little fanfare but a lot of loosely organized chaos. They were wonderfully kind and even helped me and 2 Canadians I was behind find lodging for the night. A small dorm above a small restaurant housed 14 of us and after some hunting to find it we found it more luxurious than we expected. But few things could be further from the balcony w Paris view room I had at the Westin Vendome. None the less it beat my expectations and I was grateful for a hardy meal, a hot shower and a comfortable bed. And that's exactly what I got.
I planned to get up at 5:30am and beat the rush of people leaving SJPDP. so when I woke up at 5:30 I was startled to find that all 14 of us were up, though all but me would stay for breakfast.
So I retrieved my stamps, strapped on my headlamp and began walking into the darkness. The Way was pretty easy to find and we I was supplied w a great map at the Pilgrims office. There were maybe 10 people ahead of me over the preceding half mile, and I was quickly followed by a slightly better than middle-aged couple that was trailing close to benefit from my light.
About 30m in the roosters began to crow as daylight just barely broke. I say roosters because there must have been a dozen in the 10minute stretch that I walked. I think they woke each other up in a domino effect as I walked with them.
Another 30minutes in the sun made it just to the ridge line (pics in the afore mentioned link on the right hand side of the blog). This was probably the worst hour of my life. I have never felt like I was climbing a steeper stair-stepper in all my life. But being a pessimist by nature, I had already decided that today was not the day for being such a terrible thing. "TODAY I am an optimist", I told myself upon waking up. I genuinely believed it was the only way I would survive. "Your burden is easy and your yoke are light" were the magic words today.
Not much more than an hour in the pavement gave way to grassy track even more steep than the street. There I met up w the couple who had stalked me in the dark and realized they were Americans. (Precious few I've encountered). Floridians to be exact and recently retired they're in good shape and lovely people whose company I genuinely enjoyed. Together we suffered through the next 1 or so until reaching the first stop in the "town" of Orisson. In truth, I don't think it's a town given that we only saw the one building but it was a serious marker and the first time we all felt that if we could do that first 10, hellacious Kms in 2+hrs, we would indeed make it another 18km to our destination for the night.
And so it continued without much relief for another 9hrs. We huffed and puffed but didn't stop for long, except to eat out packed lunches which we scarfed quickly since being in such think clouds (visibility of not even 50 yds) with a brisk wind meant we quickly grew cold and our sweat became an enemy instead of a friend.
We hiked and hiked through woods and mud and think large gravel for 8.5hrs in total before reaching our summit: a small turn in the road without much fanfare and with a view veiled by fog. But we knew it was downhill from here and few things could have been a more glorious idea.
We quickly realized of course that this was just a different type of hard. Our knees, now exhausted from climbing wobbled underneath us with each step. Even with trekking poles we all felt that we might that the knees might give our right from underneath us with each step. Still spirits remained high with another American who now joined our group. This one from Seattle, a middle-aged flight attendant with a warm smile and encouraging attitude (but not too encouraging-- you know, like those people always just a little too happy that create an impulse to punch them).
Our descent took us longer than we expected with our weak legs and flat out tired bodies but we still made great time. And we remarked that none of us expected to be walking with fellow Americans but found it comforting for such a tough journey.
So some 10hrs after leaving we arrived. 28km (17.3mi) and more than 1450m of elevation change later. The attitude here is joyous. "We survived" you heard many people say and the pilgrims mass was PACKED with clearly exhausted and emotionally grateful peregrinos, some with tears (including a few of my own) that perhaps came more easily from a body beaten and battered. I've never stood with some many people where the gratitude was palpable. We all knew today could very well have ended in failure or injury, but with few exceptions we stood there in one piece, with the hearts of survivors, beside new friends forged in trial, and so filled with gratitude it would turn atheist into believer.
I'm not going to post pictures on this post but do check out the map link on the right which will also show you the distance covered today. The dorm hall is dark and filled with the lullaby of snores of all types and it is time for this weary pilgrim to bid you Beunas noches.
The alarm is at 6:15am for a 7am departure and another 14-17 miles tomorrow, much of it steeply downhill so wish us luck and stability!