Today’s plan is to walk to Nasbinal. It’s about 26 km. The day is dark, rainy and cold. The forecast is rainy with the possibility of thunderstorms the next three days. Here in Aumont-Aubrac we encounter a tall, well-setup young German, Max, who speaks good English but almost no French. He joins the little family that we have created and we walk together. He is a friendly, open, delightful young man in his early 20s, about 18 months from finishing a degree in Psychology, after which he wants to travel in the Far East. I wear my rain jacket for the first time and put the rain cover on my pack. It is very cold but not much rain. I walk half the distance, past fields with huge boulders, leftovers from the retreating glaciers of the ice age, then stop at a wide spot in the road called Les Quatre Chemins. It is a crossroads with a burned-out gite and a temporary trailer set up with a little counter and some tables to serve snacks and drinks. Nothing else here – no village, no stores.
My stamina has abandoned me … again … and I decide to get a cab to today’s destination. It will be a two-hour wait for a cab. I am hoping that someone will want to stay with me, but I do not want to ask anyone. Karsten and the others decide to walk on. Max asks me if I would like him to stay. Francine says that he is a good person, to which he replies that he is just lazy. I say that it is perfectly reasonable and OK to be both good and lazy. Everyone else leaves and Max and I stay together in this rather drab and forlorn little rectangular trailer. It starts to rain heavily. He goes out occasionally for a smoke. (There are still a lot of smokers in France). We talk about all sorts of things. I ask about his good English. He attended a private German school in Milan for three years, as well as 18 months on a school exchange in Christchurch, New Zealand. Unusually for a German, his English does not have a pronounced British accent.
When the cab finally arrives it is driven by an attractive young woman in jeans, very tight jeans. I can see that she has dimples. She is very pleasant and deposits us right at the gite NADA in Nasbinal. Interesting name, since NADA means “nothing” in Spanish. I sleep for a couple of hours, until the rest of the group arrives. I really feel the need for a day of recuperation and tell them of my plan. Several people suggest that perhaps tomorrow I just get a ride directly from here to our next destination, so that I can have my day off and we can stay together. I agree with this, then we go off to have dinner together at a nearby restaurant. I am feeling strange, not really well and not really here. We return to the gite and go to bed. At 11 PM my pulse is still racing along at 120 beats per minute and I make a decision to pack it up. This is just not working. I expect to have a sense of loss but instead get an immediate and enormous sense of relief.
I have learned some really important lessons on this walk already. One is that the strong sense of family that Karsten, Marina, Paula and I had four years ago was not a one-off event. Being here with like-minded people in a remote wilderness environment promotes a rapid sense of interdependence. I have heard this referred to by my daughter-in-law Laura (TJ) as “trail magic” and am beginning to understand it a little better. Another lesson, specific to this journey, is how to deal with the loss of a dream, when the plan simply does not work. I shall have lots of time to contemplate this in the days and weeks to come. For the moment, it is enough that the decision, when it is finally made, is a relief, not a burden. My stamina appears to be diminishing, not increasing. While I believe that I could probably complete this journey as planned, it no longer feels necessary and I do not want to discover on the trail that my problem is a real physical one. I think that the issue is likely the combination of no acclimatization for altitude, plus the unusual exertion required in the first few days.
Tomorrow is a short walk, only 15 km, so I decide to walk it with my pack as far as St. Chely d’Aubrac. At that point (135 km from Le Puy en Velay) I shall finish. It also happens to be where Sophie will finish and return from there toParis. With luck, I shall go with her.