22 April St. Chely to St. Come

This is to be my first day of walking and a major test to see if the combination of the training that I have done over the past two months and the medication which I am taking for diabetes will do the trick.

I have breakfast at the gite in St. Chely d’Aubrac, hot milk and coffee in a big bowl, a little orange juice and bread with butter and some marmalade. I am on the road by 8:30, dressed in long-johns, melton wool undershirt, shirt (courtesy of Ed Zenowski), pants, fleece, rain jacket and hat. My pack has its rain jacket on as well. It is not raining as I leave, but starts within a few minutes, not heavy but cold. I am expecting this section to be pretty easy, about 19 km and a drop of 600 metres, but I am quickly disabused of this expectation. The walk out of St. Chely is uphill, perhaps 200 metres of vertical, and then it switches between uphill and long downhills all the way to St. Come. To add to the fun, it’ s been raining for the past two weeks, so the path is, as often as not, a fast stream running in the track.

There are a lot of people on the path, almost always someone in sight before or behind. Since the way-finding is very well marked, this is just a little extra reassurance that I am going the right way. On one of the uphill sections, I am taking tiny steps, trying to keep out of the water (we can’t keep out of the mud) and just sucking for air. This is one of the times when I don’t look up to see how far it is to the top. It would just be discouraging. The track always turns to one side or the other at the top of each climb, so I don’t get to see just how far I have still to go. This is a good thing.

Within an hour I have my fleece off and stowed and within another hour I have the rain jacket off, since I am sweating with the effort of climbing and descending. Of course eventually I have to put the rain jacket back on, since the rain returns.

At one low point on the trail, I cross a bridge over a fast, full mountain stream. The bridge is about 2 metres wide, about 10 metres above the water and is just the trail with some grass on either side. Karsten (you will remember Karsten from Berlin, who walked with me in Spain in 2007 and again from Le Puy last year), who does not like heights, would not be impressed by this bridge.

Where the land opens up, the vistas are breathtaking, pastoral, rolling country, little villages with their inevitable church spire. I can hear birds, rushing water (often under my feet), the wind and the sound of my own footsteps (often the squelch of my own footsteps). What I cannot hear is the sound of traffic. When I am on a paved country road, there is no traffic. Except once: on one road, a four-wheel ATV followed by a motorcycle roar by, both he vehicles and their riders covered in mud. They are in he mud voluntarily!

At one point about halfway through the walk, I turn a corner by a small building and there is a group of pilgrims standing there. The explanation is soon obvious. A local farmer and entrepreneur and supporter of pilgrims, has built a shelter and put out a table of coffee and tea with powdered milk and a small box asking for one Euro donation for a cup. It’s a donation we gladly make. It lifted my spirits and , I am sure, those of my fellow pilgrims. Some of these pilgrims were my fellow guests in St, Chely last night. On arrival in St.Come, I cannot find the gite that I seek. I had Sylvie, the host in St. Chely, call ahead and make a reservation for me. I walk into town, ask a local and get the directions: walk back 500 metres, turn left and there it is. But it is closed. It says open but the door is locked. I sit in the garden under an overhang (since it starts to rain hard) for about an hour until the door opens and I am welcomed in. This is not like any gite that I have ever been in. It is the second floor of a very nice private home, there are only five places … and I am the only guest. This gets me a double bed, a light over the bed, kitchen facilities, but no food.

I wash out my smalls and my pant legs, which are mud to the knees and then sleep for about 90 minutes. It feels great.

Today is election day in France. They are voting for president. It’s an interesting and effective way to conduct this exercise. There are 10 candidates from extreme left through the centre to extreme right. After today’s results, the two with the highest counts will have runoff election in two weeks. This way, they guarantee a majority result. Sarkosy is expected to be one of the two. We shall see what happens.

And since it is Sunday in France, I discover that the recommended restaurant is not open for business – but they do let me use their wireless connection, so I talk with Carroll and my daughter Meredith who are in Brooklin (near Whitby, Ontario) celebrating our grand-daughter’s third birthday and our nephew’s daughter’s first communion, for which Carroll created the dress.

There are two other pilgrims sitting here as well and one of them, Aurele from Paris, suggests that I ask where they are staying and see if I can have dinner there. I do and I can. I am just about to head there for dinner.

I eat dinner with only four other people, Aurele and her companion Jean-Louis and Eileen from England and her boyfriend Nicolas from France. Jean-Louis speaks little English, so we converse mostly in French. They are all walking the chemin, although Eileen only has two weeks of holidays so she will walk as far as she in that short period.

Dinner, cooked and served by Antoine, is excellent. Before I tell you about it, I learned some new French. Today is Bella’s birthday, so I told him about this and that she was three today. I used the term “jour de naissance” and added that she is three today. He looked confused, then brightened and corrected me, since in French, un “jour de naissance”, is only the day that you are born. All other birthdays are “anniversaire de naissance”, which actually makes more sense, if you think about it.

So, to dinner. Five courses: carrot soup, a puree with tiny bits of carrot, a slice of pâté, a main course of sausage with tomatoes and onions mixed, plus green beans (green veggies at last!), a cheese plate and crème brûlée. It is all excellent aAll this for 15 €, plus 1.5€ for a quarter litre of red wine. What a bargain! After dinner we discuss tomorrow.

Apparently the chemin from here to Estaing goes scenically up and over the hills, while the road goes directly and follows the river. The river option is highly recommended. I will decide in the morning, although the river option is looking better by the moment.

It is raining as I walk back to my gite, so I get a little wet in my fleece and sandals. But they will be dry by morning. I have passed today’s test. Let’s see what tomorrow will bring.

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