Monthly Archives: September 2017

ARRIVAL! St. Jean Pied de Port, France

We arrived at St. Jean around 230 ish. Found “Villa Esponda” easily.

182236DA-013B-4072-B287-BAA2B459BBCE

9194C8AD-A170-47CF-8868-B6D6FBBB1F0F

The train was packed full with pilgrims!

D857C47B-2E07-44D9-8C45-C3A4AF542525

Our first view of St. Jean as we walked from the train to our hotel.

BD841CEF-132F-41C4-A388-E7328CC2DD95

The first “scallop shell” direction finder.

First things first – laundry – shower – food. Always check what you’re paying for your room!! We booked on Booking.com which has always been great. Got to the Villa Esponda and checked in. I was reading the amount they were charging us upside down. It looked to me like they were charging us half of what booking.com and said the room was worth. Signed the charge card and went up to our room only to discover they had charged us one half more! We had a copy of the receipt on our iPads and were able to show what we had agreed to pay. No problem but they couldn’t credit the card and couldn’t give us the refund in cash until the banks opened tomorrow – or at least, that was what we understood from the conversation in French. We liked the room, were exhausted, and decided to stay a second night so that took care of the refund. It was a beautiful room with a marvellous view of the mountains from the windows.

Next order of business was dinner. We didn’t want to walk too far and soon found a nice little outdoor restaurant which had been recommended. After 2 sips of wine, I was almost cross-eyed! By this time we’d been travelling and awake for 30 hours and so were pretty tired but wired with excitement about finally being in St. Jean, which we’d talked about for so long. While we were at dinner we started a conversation with a couple sitting at a table close by. They spotted our “Brierly” book which started the conversation. They were celebrating their tenth anniversary of doing the Camino by doing a one week trip this time. They told us that the first time they’d done the Camino, they’d reached the top and then sat down and couldn’t go any farther. Of course, eventually, after a rest, they made it but didn’t get into Roncesvalles until 10pm! We staggered home and were in bed by 8 and asleep by 8:01!

We were woken up by a particularly persistent insurance agent (Medicare Supplement) who called to see if we’d gotten our insurance cards etc. I can barely remember answering the call and can only hope I tried to be polite but…the good thing was it woke us up enough to turn down the heater which I had turned on earlier – we were swelteringly hot. After that we slept like the dead until 1030 am the next day. There’s nothing more sleep-inducing than knowing you have nothing pressing to take care of that day. Every time I woke up, I fell back to sleep again.

The Villa Esponda was a bit pricey for the budget we’d set ourselves but we are so glad we chose to stay a second night. In all of the hostels and alburgues, you have to be out by 8 or 9 in the morning. Here, we could come and go as we pleased. We saw so many people wandering carrying their packs today all over town – we were happily pack free.

We are just across the stree from the old citadel, an old fort dating back to before the 16th century. It was fortified in the 1600’s. The Camino goes right through the heart of the citadel, the Rue Citadelle. This street is lined with tourist shops and pilgrim boutiques. Later in the day it was teeming with tourists and even had an old auto/train loaded with elderly & juvenile passengers, giving guided tours of the old city. Very entertaining.

We explored the citadelle and environs, took pics, wandered into and out of shops until we found the Pilgrim Welcome Office where we got the first stamp in our credential for this trip. Next stop was a deli to get sandwiches for the walk tomorrow – the toughest day apparently as we climb the Pyrenees from France into Spain. In the deli where we bought our sandwiches, the proprietor declared, “[the hike over the Pyrenees] – EASY …. 6 maybe 7 hours!” We are hoping she’s right.

630BDB5F-748B-425A-8CFC-FD88DA3522BB

This is our route. Tomorrow we start! St. Jean to Roncesvalles, 27km, elevation change 170m to 1400m (558 ft – 4593ft).

DONE WITH PLANES BUT NOT TAXIS AND TRAINS

Arrival at CDG airport north of Paris 05:50. We’d been flying for 11hrs including a short layover in Atlanta to switch planes. While not uncomfortable, it was difficult to get much rest (sleep was fitful). NEXT we had to get ourselves to Saint Jean Pied de Port (SJPP) France (on the eastern side of the Pyrenees). Our first hiking day would see us crossing the Pyrenees into Spain. BUT for now we had to find the most efficient (and hopefully cheapest) way to get there. I can hear it now “Dummy – why didn’t you reserve ahead… and save yourself the headaches. After spending numerous hours on varied websites ( travel agents, French railroads, Airlines etc) I found it too complex… and had a sneaking suspicion that it was much easier than what I was seeing online… SO I opted for the ‘let’s just get there and then …’ approach. Having worked in the past, I had faith it would once again. Besides which, the approach has always led to spontaneous , interesting and exciting adventures… which have become some of our most cherished memories… me squatting along a roadside, map in hand trying to communicate with an Omani local about the best road around the desert… pointing at the map and scratching a better map in the sand he points to a road, then his truck – shakes his head YES, then points at my rental car and shakes his head NO. Til sits in the car and takes photos. We still laugh about how crazy we were.

Anyway… after securing our baggage we head off to the nearest train station. The representative was incredibly lovely. We could wait until 12:58 pm, take the train from the airport, make two changes and arrive in SJPP around 7-something pm that night. OR if we left right away we could catch the local train (“20 euros” she said, “but you will have leave immediately to make it”) into Paris then catch a Fast train from Montparnasse in the middle of the city… arriving at 2:50 pm OR we could “take a TAXI (“maybe 50 euros”, she said, “ would get you there faster – 30 minutes drive and is easier than making changes on the local trains”). Tired and starting to feel the weariness we opted for the more expensive BUT “easier” Taxi option and booked the Fast Train from Montparnasse, headed off to find the taxi. We realized that the taxis all use meters.. and the ‘50 Euros’ was an estimate with a reasonable range of variation (maybe 10%?). With confidence we boarded a taxi with a French-African lady driver … disdainful at first, she warmed to us as the trip progressed (and the meter climbed to new and higher amounts also).

It was 8 am. We had until 9:58 to reach our destination and board the train. Our driver got us immediately into the left, fastest lane… piece of cake. As we approached Paris, the traffic built and slowed … and slowed … and – shit! We did not think about RUSH HOUR… BUT what the hey!… we had almost an hour and a half to get there. Soon the white-lining motorcycles and scooters were whizzing by us on the right… THEN the first of a half dozen police cars lights and sirens blaring woo-ahh woo-ahh squeezed through the space between our lanes. I was thinking “ accident, be a little delay … BUT what the hey!… we still have an hour and 15 minutes to get there”. Traffic slowed again… people were jumping lanes… and our lady driver started to nervously pound on the steering wheel. She programed her GPS to find a way through. I could see that it was taking us to a very large roundabout… and suspected it was the Arc de Triomph – the quintessential TRAFFIC MESS and terrifying FRENCH TAXI RIDE – I’ve seen pictures and movies, AT THAT POINT we got the EXPERIENCE. AS the meter climbed past the 50 euros mark, I thought “what the hey we get a hell of a ride, too!”

With Til’s broken French and our drivers broken English we made jokes about her courageous driving and the stupidity of other drivers… She knew that we had a train to catch and as time counted down, her driving became more and more aggressive. We careened into the Arc de Triomph roundabout… slashed across five or six rows (although there are NO rows just a gaggle of drivers going every which way but, generally counter clockwise around the Arc) of cars to the center… drivers from other roads doing the same… (they don’t look at the oncoming traffic, as though what they don’’t see will avoid them) .. then at the 2nd or maybe 3rd road we slashed across traffic again to exit the roundabout onto a narrow street. A delivery truck was taking up almost 3/4’s of the street and our driver quickly slid alongside and passed. I wondered – what if the driver of the truck opened the door!

We were now down to 40 minutes to go and still 15km from the train station.
The GPS in the taxi not only told us how far but, also the eta… I saw 09:44 then 09:46 then 09:48… barely 10 minutes to find and board our south bound train… The next train would be the one we could have waited for at the airport. I was not the only one nervous about getting to the station on time. Our now HIGHLY motivated (evident by her driving & I am sure driven by a desire for a big “AMERICAN TIP”) driver was by this time whipping through small narrow side roads, cutting off other cars, taxis, and motorcycles/scooters. The eta began to fall… 09:45… then 09:42… then 09:40… then 09:38… twenty minutes to spare! We didn’t quite make it with 20 minutes but 17 was close. As we pulled up to the station, I checked the meter. As Tilly was congratulating our driver on an exciting and amazing ride, I quickly calculated a 10% tip then added 5 euros (she did get us there AND with enough time to find the train) and handed her 95 euros (so much for the “maybe 50 euros”) and bailout.

The train station at Montparnasse was not too crowded but we still floundered a bit until we asked an attendant for directions… Spur 5 she said … YES we found it … then we looked at the train – it didn’t say any thing about SJPP. Confused we asked another attendant nearer the train. Turns out there were two trains traveling together and they would split at a stop along the way. Our train was the first one. We hoofed it down to the first train, located the first car with a #1 on it… yes we bought “first class tickets” … more space, more comfort, less people, less noise – therefore what two weary, approaching grumpy travelers needed. We barely had enough time to get seated, put our backpacks away, sit down, and the train was moving.

As it accelerated, our ears would plug up and unplug as we entered and exited tunnels… I realized the speed of the train compressed the air in the tunnels… my phone boinged … a message from SNCF (French railroad – I had down loaded their app months before) “Congratulations you have broken the 300 km per hour barrier”.
The country side whizzed by … tired we settled in, read our iPads for a bit (1st class also includes inet – not great but, functional)… soon we became drowsy and set an alarm for 15 minutes before we were to arrive at our transfer station. We managed to grab a one hour catnap before the alarm awakened us. We are arrived at Bayonne and had about an hour to wait.

Perched track-side on a bench, we began to notice all these backpackers with hiking poles gathering on the siding. Seems, we were not the only ones starting a long walk. Soon we were engaged in conversation with a lady and her husband from Washington state. Having spent time traveling in Washington we were able to keep the conversation going almost until time for departure. As the train approached, backpackers started to appear from all directions. Luckily we were able to board quickly and secure seats. By the time we departed it was almost standing room only for the rest of the passengers.

There are three stops between Bayonne & SJPP… one person got off at each stop and a few more boarded the train. We arrived at SJPP with a full load. Departing the train, Tilly looked at me and said “which way?” Laughingly I responded, “follow the pilgrims.”

AND WE’RE OFF!

AND WE’RE OFF! DENVER – ST. JEAN PIED DE PORT
We are sitting here having a final coffee at Denver International before catching our first flight to Atlanta. Mike is finishing last minute business on the phone and is fully focussed on what’s happening on the other end of the line ….. on MY phone so I have time to write a bit about the events leading up to our departure.

Everything went perfectly as planned …. well, except for one minor detail. The plan was for us to drop the “Fox” at the dealership in Cheyenne for some specific, warranty repairs. After that, another RV repair business would pick up the Fox, do the rest of the warranty work, and then store it until our return. We had said that we would blow out the lines. Mike had never done it before and when he went online to see how to do it, he discovered he was missing some of the needed tools to do the job. That plus the fact it was cold and raining and we still had lots of final organizing, stowing, and cleaning to do in preparation for towing, made us feel pressed for time. We decided to let the dealership do the winterizing for us.

We finally set off for Cheyenne, Fox in tow, and headed up the pass, through the fog, to Cheyenne. Dropped the Fox without incidence, stopped off for breakfast at a local Dennys and were back in Laramie early afternoon. Dropped our Camino gear at Laurie and John’s and headed for the Dodge Dealership to drop the truck. We needed a service as well as new tires so we arranged for the dealership to store the truck until our return. So many details and so many things to remember but it all paid off. As each day passed and the “things to do” got checked off the list, the load seemed to lessen. Now, finally, all we had to do was get ourselves to DIA.

True pilgrims, we left Laramie on foot, headed for the shuttle to Denver. No, we didn’t want to walk all the way to Denver!!

We had reserved seats on the shuttle from Laramie to Denver. The trip was almost effortless and we spent the two hours listening to “Coffeebreak Spanish” which we had neglected the past week. The shuttle dropped us at DIA, we located the hotel shuttle and were comfortable ensconced in our hotel by 230pm or close to. Went for and early dinner to Ruby Tuesday’s – they have a great salad bar and mega sized beer – and were back in time to catch the news, make some last calls to friends and family, and watch another episode of the documentary about the Vietnam War we’ve been caught up in.

My dear friend Carol had asked me if I expected to sleep well – that she never did prior to a long flight – I nonchalantly said I expected no problems sleeping. Famous last words….2am rolled around and I was wide awake, reviewing the “inventory of useless concerns”. By 415 I was still awake. I must have finally snoozed because the 5am alarm woke me up in the midst of a ‘car accident’ dream.

We had arranged to take the 625am shuttle but since we were ready we took the 545 one instead. We had to still get euros and wanted not to rush and worry. Everything went so smoothly.

Mid-flight on our way from Denver to Atlanta: just had breakfast. We’re way at the back of the plane and were among the last 9 passengers to receive food and drink service. We hit a bumpy patch which they had warned us about – a very bumpy patch which delayed the service as the flight attendants hung on for dear life – but finally we got our rations.

 

 

MEDICINE BOW PEAK – A Soul Baring Experience

The most exciting (and exacting) of our “training hikes” began as we climbed Medicine Bow Peak at an altitude of 12,800 feet (3900 m) in the Snowy Range.

Driving to the trail head at Lewis Lake Campground. We hiked to the very top of the peak in this photo.

There are two ways to climb this peak: one way is from Lewis Lake, straight up. This is the steepest and most difficult and the one Michael chose for us to do, his memory serving him a bit hazily regarding the amount of scrambling this climb would require us to do. Michael had often mentioned this hike to me and really wanted to do it once more, with me. It was a compliment to me that he thought I would be able to do it. And so, full of excitement and with just a hint of trepidation on my part, we set off.

At the Lewis Lake Campground with Lewis Lake in the background. The pointy peak on the left is called Sugarloaf. We walked around it before starting the climb to Medicine Bow Peak directly behind Michael.

The trail during the first part of the hike was good.

It wasn’t long though until the trail started to climb, gradually getting steeper and steeper until we started encountering switchbacks, boulders to scramble over, and steep side hills.  All good at this point. We passed an 81 year old woman who wanted to climb this peak one last time. She was supported by her whole family…kids, grandkids and spouses! I was to remember her later on in the climb  for she became my role model….my mantra became, “If she can do it, so can I!”

Getting closer to the top. This would be the last photos we took until after we reached the summit and started down the other side (the ‘saner’ side, we discovered.) Behind Mike is the summit and the ridge we walked all the way into the distance.

Still smiling at this point. In the background is where we came from. Still not all the way to the top but getting there!

Every time we turned the corner of another switchback, I thought we’d reached the top. No such luck. I didn’t really know what to expect. Finally though, we made the last turn to find….not a trail but…..a boulder field. Some of these boulders were as big as small houses…some the size of the rooms in a house….with crevices….big black holes….between them. No problem. Don’t call me a whimp! I started off. Pretty soon the poles were folded up and given to Michael to carry as I needed both hands to make my way from boulder to outcrop back to boulder again. A few times I just sat on a boulder contemplating how on earth I would find my way through. (Later on Michael labeled that behavior as “freezing up” and as a “panic attack”  to which I took great offense!) In this moment though, the last 100 yards, he was a warrior, my warrior, and gallantly offered his hand and guided me safely through the boulder field to the top, promising that once we got to the summit, there would be a good trail down. Just a side note here: I wasn’t the only one experiencing difficulties. There was a young father waiting patiently on a boulder with his golden retriever beside him. Apparently the dog had found it difficult to keep track of where all four of his legs were and had already fallen several times into crevices and …  there were other “grey hairs” content to sit at the foot of the boulder field. I should have paid more attention. What was I thinking???

While I rested at the top, averting my eyes from the drop-offs all around me, Michael went searching for “the easier trail” down the other side. We were making a grand loop, intending to end up where we started at Lewis lake. He found the trail just beyond another boulder field. The boulders here though weren’t as large or as extensive as the previous ones. We found the trail and started making our way down….again Michael had to help me around the more precipitous ones.

The trail on the other side, descending. This side was much easier.

Beautiful views….

…still lots of boulder fields to scramble over…but these boulders were much smaller…

…..trail markers set into cairns all the way down.

It was a long way down…not as steep as the way up….just a constant downhill spread over a longer distance. We met lots of hikers coming the opposite way, asking always how much farther. One woman told us that she was afraid to go up the way we had – that she’d heard how difficult it was. That made me feel pretty good about what I’d accomplished.

By this time, I was getting tired. I had exerted a great deal of energy on the climb up and hadn’t really rested other than a few short stops. There was as yet no end in sight. We came to a section where the trail all but disappeared, turning into large, loose rocks on a steep, steep slope. The so-called trail did a major hairpin, turning back on itself. At that turning point, Michael was standing right on the edge….nothing behind him but blue space….waiting for me. I had no sure footing, a poor sense of balance, nothing to hold onto, and….did I mention how tired I was? My poles were no help in all that waste of rock!!! What to do?? I became spider-woman without the super-powers. I sat on my butt and scrabbled my way across the hairpin. No way was I going out on that point and falling to almost certain death! What else did I do? I got supremely, silently angry. That anger built up as I made my way down the remainder of that descent from hell. My mantra of “If she can do it so can I,” changed into, “How could Michael not know, not remember this part of the climb? How could he have forgotten that huge boulder field? Why would he bring me here knowing how frightened I am of downhill scrambling (ever since breaking my leg in three places trekking in Nepal?”

Thi is the last part of the descent from hell. It was much worse than it looks!!

At that point, as I finished my “spider walk”, Michael made the inopportune comments that I referred to earlier in this blog. Words like “freezing up” and “panic attack” were uttered with a total lack of awareness, on his part, of the volcano I’d become. At that point, nothing was said. We each remained silent until we were once again on firmer ground.

We sat here and rested after the descent from hell, before the ‘firmer ground’ was reached. The closest lake is Marie lake and just a bit farther is Mirror Lake.

THE SALVOS BEGAN…..we started firing shots until finally, Michael turned, looked at me and said, “Look into my eyes. Do you really believe I would ever knowingly put you into danger?” If you have met Michael, you know his eyes are the most beautiful blue eyes. At this moment, they were tunnels reaching directly into his soul….I got the message of his love loud and clear….I could see and feel it with so much intensity. The anger dissolved into tears which accompanied me the rest of the way down.

The last mile or so down to Marie and Mirror Lakes.

By the time we reached the bottom and filled up our camelbacks at the pump at Mirror Lake, we’d hiked 11-12 km. I was totally bagged – couldn’t walk another step. Michael left me sitting at the water’s edge, contemplating our hike, while he hoofed it back the 4-5 km left to Lewis Lake where we’d started and where the truck was parked.

At the bottom right you can see the edge of a small ‘fishing dock’ which is where I waited for Michael.

CAMINO PREP. CONTINUED – ON LOCATION IN LARAMIE WY

Excited about the arrival of our second grand-daughter, we didn’t get started with our on-going hiking/training program until 5 or more days into our visit. This was actually a good thing because here in Laramie, we are at 7,220 feet (2200 m), a good 2,000 feet (610 m) higher than in Lander, giving us time to acclimate.

Most of our hikes have been in the Medicine Bow National Forest (Vedauwoo, Happy Jack, Pole Mountain) 16 miles (26 km) east of Laramie, at an altitude around 8,000 feet (2440 m). This area is a favorite with bouldering/rock climbing locals and visitors alike. This was Michael’s playground in his youth. It is a spectacularly beautiful area – my pics don’t to justice to it.

Beavers are very busy here! Lots of homes and dams.

Adjusting hot spots before they become blisters.

Michael is always happiest in the wilderness areas of Wyoming….

…..and when he’s at the top of the world….

Meadows….

….rock formations….

….holes in rocks…. Michael called it “Angry Rabbit Rock”…

….”the Buzzard”….

Most of the time we have no service but when we do….this is what happens!

Great places to hike! Having experienced seriously challenging places to hike previously (next blog), we will continue exploring this area until it’s time to leave for Spain and the Camino Frances!