And We are Off!
Last night I was fortunate enough to find a hotel in St Jean. With St Jean being the start of the Camino on the French side, the city sells out very quickly, often with reservations months in advance. While hotels are not the pilgrims way, I hadn’t sleep well in 4 nights and decided I wanted a private room to relax and unwind, with a private bath before venturing into the hostel arena.
Shortly after our arrival I set out to find a hotel. I check at 6 hotels before I found one with an opening. 60 Euro later, I had a rather nice room on the second floor of the Continental Hotel. The bathroom was interestingly decorated with the walls being tiled in a medium pink shade of porcelain. As some would say, fitting considering the company.
I am still dumbfounded by the check-in process. Upon arrival and confirmation of the availability of a room the hotelier immediately handed me a key. I pulled out a credit card as he was getting the key and laid it on the counter.
Curiously, he looked at me and said, “you want to pay now?”
I was equally as curious and said, “Yes, we are leaving very early in the morning.”
He was going to give me the key to the room without so much as a name, credit card, or any other identifying information. Im used to the states where they don’t let you in the door without ID, credit card and a blood sample from your first born. How trusting. And unusual.
Molli, Tony, and I decided to hit the trail At 6:30. I was in my room and on my way to sleep by 9:30. I finally got a full 7.5 hours of sleep uninterrupted. I felt greatly refreshed. I awoke at 5:30, finished packing my bag and made my way to a small convenience store for pilgrims that opened at 6am. I had a chicken pesto sandwich for breakfast. Unusual and delicious.
I ate my breakfast and waited outside of Molli and Tony’s hostel. I watched as pilgrim after pilgrim hiked by. I thought we were getting an early start. My two compadres walked out promptly at 6:30 and we promptly started walking. It was a heavily overcast day with a steady mist. Within 30 minutes we stopped to put our pack covers on. Within another 30 minutes, T&M had stopped to put their ponchos on. I opted to skip the rain gear and just get wet. My pack was protected, and considering we were steadily climbing, with a fair amount of exertion I thought I would likely overheat quickly.
T&M and I have hiked some very strenuous hikes. The bar in which we measure most other trails is a hike called bear canyon in the San Bernardino. It’s a brutal hike. It starts at 5000 feet, and gains in some areas up 1100 feet per mile. Finally topping out at just over 10,000 feet.
The grade of first several kilometers on the Camino was steady, but not what I would consider overly difficult. Then it got difficult. It became bear canyon difficult. The weather had also worsened as we were climbing into the clouds. Within an hour I was soaked. Visibility was limited to 100 feet. Not only did this limit our views, it also made it difficult to see what the grade of the trail was coming up. Some may consider this a good thing, as if you could view the whole climb you might become demoralized. For me I use this information to determine how hard I can push and how often I should take a small break. Needless to say, I was in uncharted territory.
T&N are very experienced hikers and generally in great shape. They walk 6 to 15 miles daily and run a fitness bootcamp. Models of health and cardiovascular fitness. I on the other hand, carry some extra weight around the midsection, and as of late haven’t adhered to anything resembling a training regime.
On several occasions they pulled well out of sight. When this happened it was somewhat of a relief. I didn’t have to disguise my struggle and fatigue. Call it my own machoness. Itis not as if they would EVER ridicule me. They know what I’m capable of and so do I, but, I also didn’t want them to coddle me either.
After a couple hours of strenuous climbing, we arrived in Orisson. It was a welcome 15 minute break. I had an espresso, and Molli had an orange juice. I figured the jolt of energy from the coffee would propel me up the remainder of the climb to 5,000 feet. We also ran into a couple dozen pilgrims who had started earlier than we did. We made quick work of our beverages and went back to work.
The degree of ascent lessened substantially. From then on we hiked together and made conversation on an array of subjects. Par for the course when we hike.
Within the hour, the fog started to break as we were making our way higher in elevation. The Pyrenees Mountains began revealing themselves. While we knew we were hiking through a lush landscape, the vast expanse of green combined with random herds of sheep and cows, and the rolling nature of the mountains was breath taking. We were in awe of the beautifulness we were beholden.
As we hiked further, the fog bank continued to lift revealing more and more stunning beauty. It really felt as if we had been transported to the scenery of a postcard.
We arrived at the summit late morning. The view westward into Spain was breathtaking. Shockingly, there was a wifi hotspot on the summit. I guess there are those, whom refuse to unplug; even while hiking through the beautiful South of France. We also had a view of the descent we would have. Again, similar to Bear Canyon. It’s really unfortunate we swore off hiking Bear Canyon several years ago after our hike of Half Dome. It would have prepared us for today.
We hiked down the side of the mountain. Legs fatigued and quads trembling. it was difficult. We took a few very short breaks to restore glycogen levels in the muscles. We only had 2 miles left to Roncesvalles, our intended destination for the night. I lamented to Molli on one particular steep descent, “I suppose the Camino has never heard of switched backs.”
We both laughed.
We arrived in Roncesvalles shortly after one, and immediately made our way to the Municipal Hostel. A new wing had been opened within the last few years. The existing wing has been closed temporarily for updating and refurbishing.
This is my first experience with staying in a hostel. While I realize this facility is brand new, I am highly impressed. The facilities are sparkling clean and modern. The only downside is the wifi is currently down.
We checked in to the hostel and paid our fee. The beds didn’t open until 2. Famished we made our way to one of the two restaurants, called La Posada. Martin Sheen ate there while filming the movie “The Way.”
The food was spectacular. Three course meal for $18 euro. The restaurant is also Michelin recommended. The portion size was cleary geared toward pilgrims. We left smiling and stuffed.
We went back to the hostel and showered. So refreshing. They also offered laundry service for under $3 euro. Crazy! So nice to have sparkling clean clothes.
We opted for the communal dinner at the Hostel. While Molli and I wait, we are sipping beers and blogging. Ah the life of a pilgrim.