Today’s plan is to walk 22 km. In the first 90 minutes, I climb out of the Alliers gorge on a path up a cliff side over 300 metres in a 20 percent grade. The cliffs are on my left, the gorge to my right. The views are spectacular but I am more concerned about keeping my footing. A slip here could really hurt! After we reach the top and Karsten catches up, he tells me that he is afraid of heights and this bit scares him. I am not surprised. It scares me. I have to stop often to catch my breath, my heart is beating too fast … and my legs hurt. Karsten and I meet Jocelyn, a slight 50-something year old from Paris, bright shiny eyes. She tells me that her husband and her adult daughter are opposed to her walking the path alone. She tells them that she will not be alone, she will be walking with St-Jacques. She also tells me that she is happy to join up with us. She is gregarious, openly religious but not trying to convert anyone, a happy person.
After seven or eight kilometers, another 100 meter climb. It gives me a lot of difficulty. We stop in a small village, Vernet, for a drink. After resting 15 minutes, I am still breathing heavily, my heart is still beating much, much faster than I like and I realize that I have not recovered from yesterday’s descent and today’s ascent from the gorge. It occurs to me that I am pressing perilously close to the edge of the physical envelope and that I don’t actually know where that edge is. I am barely rational and feeling a little panicky because of the high heart rate and the very heavy breathing. It is not quite, but close to, an out-of-body experience. I can picture myself here, sitting on the bench, head down on the table, just trying to catch up. It occurs to me that, if I keep on now, I could easily drive my heart beyond its limits, and I don’t know what the effect would be. I can picture a little tasteful monument somewhere farther on saying “A Canadian pilgrim perished here on 20 April 2011” and that is NOT part of my plan. I do not want to be an example to others, at least not like this. So I ask the owner of this little bar, who is in a wheelchair – a farm accident – if I can get a ride into Saugues (pronounced sew-g, with a hard “g”). He offers to drive me and I sag into his car with my gear. He doesn’t want to take any money but I insist. I do not think that I could have done this on my own.
I get to the gite, sleep for four hours, up for 90 minutes to have a brief visit to the town, sleep another two hours, up for dinner and sleep from 9 PM to 7 AM undisturbed. That’s a total of 16 hours. One would think that that would do the trick. Karsten and Jocelyn arrive before dinner and we share a room. So now we are three.
The dinner includes an excellent beet, tomato and lettuce salad. This is a recipe that I will have to try when I get home. We have local cheese after dinner. Later we are advised that the local cheeses, while absolutely delicious, are also generally not pasteurized, so we should be cautious. How can we tell?
There is a local legend from a couple of centuries back. Local children were found dreadfully mauled. It was decided that this was the work of wolves and so a bounty was placed on them. Finally, a huge wolf was killed … and the killings stopped. There is a huge wolf monument overlooking the town. It is called the Beast of Gevaudan. There are still wolves in the area.
I have thoughts of failure. I had not intended to be carried any portion of this journey. This was not part of my plan, but it appears as if my plan will need to be modified. I am disappointed because I thought that my training was adequate, and it would have been for the Spanish camino, but not this part out of Le Puy. Tomorrow should be better. I think that I am through the worst. Someone points out that we are walking at over 4,000 feet altitude and I am not accustomed to the height. So perhaps that is the problem.
Here in Saugues in the church there is a Canadian connection. Did you ever wonder where all those Jesuit priests came from who came to early Canadato convert the heathens? One of them came from here. There is an altar in the 13th century church dedicated to Noel Chabanel, born here on 2 Feb 1613, trained as a Jesuit, was sent to Canada and was martyred by the Iroquois on 8 Dec 1649. He was 36.
I think that the Iroquois perhaps over-reacted to the missionary effort, torturing and burning the Jesuits, but I do have some sympathy for the Indians. I have always found the concept of sending missionaries to proselytize others both arrogant and condescending. What makes anyone believe that the people they are coming to “save” need saving? Saving from what? What makes them think that the heathens are so burdened in what looks to me like happy lives that putting on clothes and praying to a foreign god will magically transform them? How would we like it if animist priests from Africa came to Europe orNorth Americato bring us the happy news?
Given that the culture we have imposed on North American includes the destruction of the environment and the wanton overuse of the available resources, I am not at all sure that the Indians were wrong. They should have had a more restrictive immigration program in place.
Enough grumping for one evening. Off to bed and hope for better things tomorrow.