It is very misty when I wake up in the morning, but the sky clears and it looks like it’s going to be a very nice day – which is how it turns out. It is my daughter Meredith’s birthday today and I plot how to send her a birthday greeting.
At breakfast I say farewell to the folks from last evening. They are heading west towards Cahors, I am heading north about 21 kilometres towards Rocamadour. Jésus, true to his word, finishes up his breakfast chores and collects me for the ride to Figeac. It’s only 5 kilometres, but it takes about 15 minutes, the road is so narrow, windy and hilly. I am extremely glad that he has offered this ride. He deposits me in town at an intersection where the signage for GR 6 is obvious. I offer him some money, which he turns down. It is just part of his service to pilgrims.
I hump my pack on, cinch the belt tight, grab my poles and off I go into the unknown … again. It is the first of May, a big holiday in France, so there won’t be much open and there likely won’t be much traffic either. The walk out of Figeac is beautiful, due north, a quiet road which becomes a bridle path. Only a couple of joggers here. Trees line both sides of the road and there is a noisy brook to my left. The sun is shining, the road is flat and it is very peaceful. For the first hour it stays this way, then the path starts to climb. I am on the east side of a narrow river valley and as I climb, I can see behind me farther and farther.
Eventually I am so high (another of those breathtaking climbs) that I can see about 270 degrees of rolling hills and a mix of farms and forest and small villages for miles behind me. Of course I can. The folks who laid out this path have made sure that I have crested the top of every hill in this part of France.
Then I reach the top and start to descend into the next valley. The view to the north opens up. The roads are narrow and the path uses them when convenient and diverges whenever it suits. I can see on the map that the path is extremely windy but so are the roads, so there is no direct path to where I am going. It also tells me that the countryside will be very hilly. At the halfway point I reach Cardaillac, which sounds almost like Cardiac, which is what this path is a superb test of.
Today is like a day outside of time. I get a sense of the grandeur of this magnificent countryside. I walk, I feel good, I feel healthy, and when I climb I make small steps very, very slowly. If someone were to see me, they would think; “That’s an old man walking up a long hill.” And they would be right. When I get to the top of these climbs, however, the recovery time is shorter and shorter, so the body is responding well to the stresses that I am putting on it.
I walk from 9 AM until 3 PM, always alone. Never lonely, just alone. At one point I come across a tiny lake in the woods, almost a pond and there is someone sitting in a blue hooded jacket with a fishing rod. I walk over to talk to the fisher. She turns out to be an extremely old lady sitting in a low chair. She tells me that the recent storms have stirred up the water so much that the fish aren’t biting. On the far side of this lake I meet the only other pilgrim I see all day. He is from Luxembourg, a little younger than me, this is his first day and we end up staying in the same elegant little hotel in Lacapelle-Marival.
I am tired when I arrive. I check in – they are expecting me – find out that they can wash my muddy and sweaty clothes for me, shower and have a sleep.
The view from the room is spectacular. The 15th century gothic church and the 12th century chateau. And I am looking at them from across a lovely little park with a brook down the middle. I would show you a picture here but the import routine is routinely failing so you will have to wait until I get home. Désolé.
There is an interesting psychological phenomenon going on. While I am on the path, I seem to have lots of energy. When I get into the town, it drains away as I get closer to my destination, so when I arrive at the hotel, I am dragging. There is a market in town today – it’s a holiday – but by the time I manage to get outside after my sleep, the market is being torn down. And everything in town is closed because of the holiday. There is not even a place to get a beer.
In the hotel I cannot get phone service but they do have wireless! So I catch up on all my blogs, talk with Carroll and Meredith using Skype and see what’s happening with my Hike for Hospice. It’s over $1700 now, so that’s fine although it is still a long way from my goal of $10,000. But I still have a month to walk. And there have been donations for my hike to local hospices in Toronto, Victoria, Atlanta, Berlin and New Zealand. I love the generosity of people, many of them strangers.
At dinner the service is excellent and elegant. The food is as good but no better than that at any gite but it is served on china and the wine is served in a crystal goblet. I sit with the pilgrim from Luxembourg. This is his first day and he has spent way too much of it in the sun without a hat. His face is red and burned. That has to smart.
He talks about the immigrant problem in Luxembourg. It’s the usual litany of complaints. They won’t work, they steal, they take all the government money. I don’t know what an immigrant is supposed to do. If you work the complaint is that you are taking all the jobs. If you don’t work, you are taking all the tax money. He is anti-immigrant, far right of centre politically. I don’t argue with him because it would be near impossible with my level of French and frankly, I don’t need the stress. I bid him good-night and had off to my room with its ensuite bath and personal light switch by the bed.