The Road to Santiago The Road to Santiago


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05.23.01 Nice, France US$1=7.06 Map Map

An unsettling day. Je suis en France. It's a little hard to adjust.

I checked out from the hotel this morning and brought my gear down to the bike. It was filthy, and I had to first clean it up a little and do some maintenance. I noticed the back brake was worn down, and the crank was squeaking like you wouldn't believe. I need to buy oil today no matter what! I think the poor bike is a little more fragile than it used to be. That, or I'm just harder on it...

It was a surprisingly easy ride today. I didn't enjoy the extremely heavy traffic, but the ride went fast. I was in Ventimiglia before I knew it.

12 years ago, my older sister and I were in Rome three days before we had to fly home from Nice, France. The day we were planning to take a train to Nice, the rail system went on strike. Through the effective use of a blonde woman's (my sister) tears and a helpful military officer, we managed to get our bikes on a train out of town, but for customs reasons, could only go as far as Ventimiglia, the last stop in Italy. From there, we rode to Cap D'ail, France, for a couple relaxing nights in a chateau recently turned into a youth hostel. Nothing looked familiar from my last time here. The old customs booths were still there, but the border crossing was empty.

  Gambling, anyone? :: Monte Carlo, Monaco
Gambling, anyone?
Monte Carlo, Monaco
I think things have really changed since I was last here. The empty, steep road that emerged into life from my nightmare, and that I maneuvered by riding from side to side last time was now a traffic jam of cars, and I barely noticed the hill. After the Cinque Terre, I think all hills are tame. Hopefully, it will stay that way.

It was an odd thought being here again. Same person, same bike, but much has gone in between. I can hardly believe the teenager I was back then. I try to recall my thoughts at the time, and they feel so... limited. So it goes.

Traffic was heavy, so I decided to take a roundabout way to Nice via Cap D'ail. Also to check out the town and see what it's like now. As usual, it was changed greatly. The quiet, rich village is now another resort, with hotels, souvenirs and all. I didn't check to see if the old Relais International de la Jeunesse was still around, but I suspect not.

The road down the coast went through some towns I never saw last time. I suspect the road is new since then. Before I knew it, I was in Nice with hardly any traffic problems. Wow, that was easy.

I found a room at the first place I tried - Hotel au Picardy - so I took it and settled in. Strange. The shower and sink were in the room (as in, in the room - no separate bathroom), with the toilet down the hall.

I went out and about town to run errands. Nice is a pretty decent city. I only saw the beach and the airport last time around. This time, I saw more of the living city that lay behind. I bought maps up to Toulouse. They're not as good as my Italy maps, but they have better detail. Also, some oil and brake pads for the bike.

At night, I had some tasty Indian food in old Nice. Yum. It was a nice change from eating Italian everyday. I'm still a little intimidated by speaking French, but it's coming back fast. What I need now is a dictionary. I recall the grammar, but I don't have the words I need.

I topped dinner off with a couple ciders at an Irish pub down the street. As I said, a nice change. :-)

I feel unfocused today. I need to spend some time thinking about what I'm doing here tomorrow.

Hotel au Picardy: 180F single
Internet: 50F/hour
Maps: 31F each
Dinner: 110 for naan, rice, chicken masala, beer
Cider: 34F each

Stats ODO  00686km
DST  59.16km
AVS  19.1kph
MAX  55.6kph
ATM 03:05:22

05.24.01 Frejus Map Map

A mix of a day. It started out nice and mellow. I bought a couple pain-au-chocolat (Yum!) from a boulangerie-patisserie next door and went to eat on the boardwalk by the beach. A calm morning, peaceful, full of good memories and thoughts.

The ride out of town was easy. Unfortunately, I decided I don't like these IGN maps. They're not nearly as nice as the Italy maps, though they have more detail. The scale is too large to ride any sort of distance. The topographic detail isn't specific enough at this scale. I'll take little arrows on my maps over topo maps when it comes down to it. That's all I need to know.

I had trouble soon enough. France doesn't mark it's roads nearly as well as Italy did. Only the major roads seem to be marked consistently, and I didn't want either the highway or the inland route to Frejus. I wanted to take the coastal route, something that was more difficult than it should have been. An instant's distraction, and I was riding inland. Part of it was my fault. In Italy, the autoroute signs were green, and the secondary roads were blue. Here, it's the opposite.

While I'm griping, I also have to comment on the road conditions. They're bad! Rough roads, full of potholes, no shoulders, and nowhere to pull off. Speed limits of 110kph have drivers screaming past, bumper to bumper. It's like riding to Stinson beach on a sunny weekend. Not good. *sigh* Maybe I'm just on the wrong roads. Hopefully, I'll figure it out as I go along.

The coast road was tougher than I expected. The map didn't indicate all the hills along the coast, though I should have expected it.

I got to Frejus in decent time. The town has two parts: the beach and the old town. Even though pilgrims obviously used to stay in the old town, I felt the pull to the sea more strongly, even if it was a developed beach. I rode up to the old town first to check it out, and I liked what I saw. In other circumstances, I think I would have enjoyed it very much.

But instead, I found a pricey hotel right across the street from the beach. The day was hot and sunny. I decided to work on my sunburn, I mean, tan. Nice beach, good sand rather than pebbles. I snoozed there in the sun for a couple hours, listening to the water lapping up on the sands.

In the evening, I had a tasty Vietnamese dinner with fresh spring rolls, pineapple chicken and rice. It was just what I needed for biking. Funny, I've eaten two dinners in France so far, both Asian food. I missed it! It's my usual diet back home... I finished the day with a lemon gelato (I mean glace) sitting on the rocks, watching the day fade into the starry sky above. I allow things to get to me sometimes. The sea is a good cure for that...

Room: L400F
Dinner: 100F
Maps: 36F each for Michelin guides

Stats ODO  00763km
DST  77.28km
AVS  21.3kph
MAX  43.9kph
ATM 03:37:17

05.25.01 Les Milles (Aix)  Map Map

Very, very long day. *sigh*

The traffic on the coast was so heavy yesterday, I decided to skip my planned ride to Hyeres or Toulon, and just ride straight to Aix-en-Provence inland. I knew it was going to be a long day. But still...

The ride itself was fine. Far too much traffic, bad roads, the usual. But the scenery was excellent. Vineyards, olive groves, huge granite massifs lining the horizon. It wasn't too hilly, and I found a few nice towns along the way to rest in.

The ride into Aix was impressive. The road dropped through a forested gorge, with no town in sight. And then, suddenly, I was there! 125km today, long ride.

And the day suddenly got longer. Unknown to me, there was a three day festival going on here. Every single room in town was taken, no matter the price.

My savior today was the manager at Hotel Cardinal. For literally hours, he called every single hotel in town trying to find me a place. He turned others away, but had sympathy for my exhaustion from the day. He seemed to take it as a matter of pride and hospitality rather than business, not giving up until he finally found something for me, several kilometers out of town. Not ideal, but it was a room! I thanked him profusely, climbed wearily back on my bike, and rode out.

It was almost 7:00 by now. I decided as a long shot on my way out of town to check the tourist information office and the hostel. Tourist info confirmed that there was nothing at all left in town, and even Marseille was full. Lucky for me, that was a possible place I would have ridden to if I couldn't find anything here. What a day.

The hostel was closed on top of everything, so it turns out that wasn't even an option.

The place my friend found for me was several kilometers out of town, in Les Milles. It turned out, not so close, and not easy to find. I'm glad my French was up to the task. I had to ask directions a couple times. Up a long, steep, windy road, I finally found the Hostellerie La Bastide. Out in the country, in very nice setting. It was a nice place, too. If you have a car!

I was so exhausted by this point, I fell asleep in the tub. I woke barely in time to get dressed and get dinner downstairs before they closed the restaurant. Very tasty French cooking. I'm not exactly sure what all I ate, but stuffed veggies (tasty), tuna steaks, chocolate tart, and a big bottle of water were just inhaled.

I think I was asleep within ten minutes after trudging back up to my room. Sore in body, exhausted in mind. Why do I always take things to extremes? :-)

Room at Hostellerie La Bastide: 310F
Dinner: 160F

Stats ODO  00888km
DST 125.34km
AVS  21.3kph
MAX  60.9kph
ATM 05:51:41

05.26.01 Les Milles Map Map

Today was supposed to be a rest day. But I wanted to check out Aix while I was in the area. I slept in late, my worn out body taking the sleep it needed from yesterday. I rode into Aix for the afternoon. It's a nice town, but I don't think I like it. Yesterday warped my perceptions, I'm sure. It feels too full of itself, too full of tourists, too full of themselves. No one would move out of your way. And I had my bike with me all day, so I wasn't always mobile as I walked down the sidewalk. As an experiment, I stopped rather than move out of a couple's way, and got full-on scowls as they walked past. Huh.

I was done being shaggy, so I decided to get a nice short haircut. It's always an experience in a foreign country. This one was rather tame. A lightweight robe was draped over my clothes, a shampoo and a cut. The barber didn't speak English, but said about my French, "Je te comprends assez bien aujourd-hui." I'll take it.

Very disappointing Thai dinner in the evening. Nothing tasted right. Ah well.

I had to leave before dark, having a bike ride back to Les Milles ahead of me. Too bad, there were some fun-looking bars around here.

I got back to my hotel to find a wedding reception in progress. My friendly hostess joked with me as I got my key. How far today? She's lovely. The reception went on late into the night, but I was too tired to care. Early to bed, early to ride.

Dinner: 110k
Internet: 35F/hour

Stats ODO  00906km
DST  17.79km
AVS  20.2kph
MAX  43.5kph
ATM 00:52:43

05.27.01 Arles Map Map

Very nice ride today. I'm figuring out French roads, and finding the sideroads better. I rode in the countryside all day. Lavender and poppies colored the land. Olive groves and vineyards, the usual local color.

  Post ride :: Arles, France
Post ride
Arles, France
  Église St-Trophime :: Arles, France
Église St-Trophime
Arles, France
  Place de la Republique :: Arles, France
Place de la Republique
Arles, France
  Les Arenes :: Arles, France
Les Arenes
Arles, France
The last part of the ride was rather bad, though. The roads into Arles were very poor. My butt was in agony, and I thought my bike would shake apart before I got there. Potholes, patched pavement, tree roots, the road was not in good condition. And there was heavy traffic even then.

In Arles, my second check found a room at Hotel Gouguin for a decent price. Ensuite and a great balcony looking out over the square. My clothes dried in the sun faster than ever.

Wandering around town, I received a major shock. It was scorching hot, so I took shelter in a nice cool church. I wasn't really thinking much, but as soon as I walked in, I spotted a wall dedicated to the Camino de Santiago, or the Chemins de Compostella as it's known here in France. Complete with a detailed map of the stops from Arles right up to Spain. I was finally enroute, and I can't really describe the feeling that overcame me. Shock, a stroke, my head exploding, the feeling of all those thousands of focused souls passing through this place before me. Whatever it was, I had to sit down, it was so intense. I have begun my pilgrimage. More than that, I couldn't write. I still can't describe the feeling.

With open eyes, I took in the church around me, with a gaze so intense, I was almost crying. An ancient place, built in the 11th and 12th centuries, it was bare, clean, soaring inside. I think austere might be the best word to describe it. Outside, I stood a moment, and tried to sketch it, with sad results, but my purpose was to really see the place, not just snap a photo and move on. I was shaken.

Moving on, I checked out Les Arenes, a Roman Amphitheatre still in use for bullfights. It had modern seating scaffolding filling the inside. It ruined the old feeling of the place somewhat. I just heard the roar of the modern crowd here in my mind. Great views from one of the towers.

Wandering the streets again at night after the edge was off the heat of the day, I looked for food. I happened across Restaurant La Paillotte Grill, down a side street with a decent crowd. Excellent meal. Salad, garlic and olive bread, duck, and potatoes, finished off with a nice sweet chocolate fondue-like dessert. Washed down with a 325cl of good white wine. Yum.

Dinner: 150F (50k for wine)
Les Arenes: 20F
Ice Cream: 10F

Stats ODO  00984km
DST  77.75km
AVS  21.7kph
MAX  41.1kph
ATM 03:34:16

05.28.01 Montpellier Map Map

Another nice ride today. I started the day on the Chemin d'Arles, part of the hiking Santiago trail. No traffic, decent road, all flat. The road went through rice fields, oddly enough. Nice flat riding, but damn, the bugs. Tiny bloodsuckers everywhere. I had little bloody patches all over my arms and legs.

I stopped off in St. Gilles, the next stop on the Via Tolansa route. Very similar design as the church in Arles. Nice and clean.

Then, a fast a slightly hilly ride into Montpellier. I had the damnest time finding the youth hostel. My orientation was all screwed up. I eventually found it, got my (basic) bed, and cleaned up. Not much of a feel to this place. The people working here are all very cute characters, but all the people staying here just seem grim. No smiles anywhere.

I went out to explore the town and visit the church. Very grand and nice. But again, not much of a feel. Too many people around, too many students messing up the vibes.

On the other hand, the students provided some very attractive people watching. Rrr.

Montpellier seems a very lively city. People move fast, talk fast, and seem on the move. Whether in the windy roads through the old town, or out on the grand promenade, things seemed bright, young, and... in your face a bit. In a good way.

I mostly wandered all afternoon as much as my aching legs allowed. I did some grocery shopping, bought some contact lens cleaner, and got a box at the post office (planning to lighten the load some more). I entertained the thought of taking a rest day here, but I think right now, I'd rather keep moving until Toulouse.

The night at the hostel was a bloody nightmare. It was steamy hot. I had a slight sunburn from my ride today, and that didn't help. I went to bed a little early, hoping to catch up on some sleep, but I didn't fall asleep until late. Just in time for the first of seven other guys started coming home from a night out. I had left the light on for the others, but each of them repeatedly turned them off and on as they came in and out. Finally, sometime after 2:00, everyone had settled in, the lights were out... and a very loud party broke out in the courtyard below. The guys in my room repeatedly yelled down at them (they were all French) to shut up, to no avail. I think it quieted down around 4:00. That's when I woke up to the lovely liquid sounds of one of the guys vomiting all over himself and the floor. And so the night continued. Blegh.

Hostel 50F + 19F join (x6) +16F sheets

Stats ODO  01062km
DST  77.48km
AVS  20.9kph
MAX  48.2kph
ATM 03:41:21

05.29.01 Lodeve Map Map

After last night, I couldn't leave Montpellier fast enough. But I had a package to mail out. I'm sending home my regular shoes, film, maps and various sundry. Nothing like a pilgrimage to lighten the load. Besides, I now have room in the duffel for food! And water! I should have, that was.

Just like coming into town, I had trouble leaving. I was looking for a secondary road, and no signs marked it. It took much riding around, the usual 10km to find the right road, and that was only by backtracking rather than taking the busier northern route. Once I did find the road, though, life was good. A very nice, smooth, wide bike trail ran separate but alongside the road, flat and fast, taking me right out of the area by the time it ran out. I even got the chance to do two good deeds along the way. I fixed one lady's rear brake, and later on, helped out a biker with a broken pump and a flat tire. Karma I hope I won't have to collect later on during this ride.

Soon after the bike path ran out, the day got harder. And hotter! It reached over 35 degrees C today in the sun, and I was only in the sun. Up, up, up, the road continued. I ran out of water, guzzling it on the hill. Lucky for me, I found a town on the other side with a store just closing for the afternoon. I bought 3 liters of water, and guzzled one on the spot. I wish I knew how to tell the woman she was a lifesaver. :-) I hope my smile said enough.

I managed to stay on the secondary roads almost all the way to Lodeve. The hills continued to grow around me. The road continued to rise slightly, and the day just got hotter.

In Lodeve, I found a 2 star hotel nice and easy. The lady's idea of a small room was as big as any I've stayed in. I wonder what a large room here is like? Hotel de la Paix, or something like that. I was wiped out by the heat, sitting in a cool bath and guzzling water.

When I finally gathered my energy to visit the church, the day had not cooled down at all. It was like a physical impact when I walked out on the street. The church's cool air spread like holy air conditioning as I opened the door. A very old structure, with displays out back of even older parts dug up in restoration. I loved the feel here, very peaceful. There was a painting on a back side wall of a pilgrim to Santiago, shells covering her outfit. I'm on the trail.

I reluctantly left the church after some good meditation, and went back out into the furnace. Lodeve is a good sized town, but there wasn't much to see in this sort of heat, so I went home instead for a nap, tired from the day and no sleep last night. I slept the night away and missed dinner.

Hotel room: 200F

Stats ODO  01142km
DST  72.96km
AVS  19.3kph
MAX  51.6kph
ATM 03:46:16

05.30.01 La Salvatat Map Map

A staggering day. I was caught up on my sleep, but very little food yesterday didn't help my case. The day grew longer several times, growing from a short easy day into a grueling grind in the heat. Right out of Lodeve, it was a 5km uphill ride, a shock of a warmup on my legs, which were still waking up. Thank god for pain chocolate and my morning pushups, or I would never have made it. But I had an early start at 7:30, and the day was still nice and cool. I made it over the pass with limited pain in my knee and little sweat. Lodeve faded into misty valleys behind me. It was hard work. Then, a very fast, steep 6km down to Lunas. The church was locked up, with a sign in French telling who to ask for the key. I would rather sit on a boulder in the churchyard by the river and soak up the ambience while I munch on a croissant. Nice town.

I was planning to stay in St. Gervais, the next step in the road to Santiago. Of course, there was a good sized hill between me and there. Maybe halfway up, I was resting in the shade on the side of the road when a gentleman came putting down on a scooter in the other direction. He pulled over to chat a little. Turns out, he's Dutch, from Amsterdam. Nice guy. The first thing he asked me was if I was a pilgrim. He owns a house (a rebuilt train station house) along the trail up ahead. He said how he invites pilgrims in for a drink whenever he gets the chance. He said they always have interesting stories about why they are going. He was on his way to Agde, or he would have gone back and invited me in, but he wished me Bon Promenade, and luck on my way. A true encounter, I felt he was a messenger sent to ask me without asking: Why am I on this pilgrimage. What is my story? I don't feel focused today, but I feel the question requires thought as soon as possible. A true encounter, with the guardians at the gate posing the question. And a warning. Physical challenge is only part of this endeavor. *sigh*

But physical challenge, I had plenty of today. The rest of the ride to San Gervais wasn't too painful, eventually turning downhill and winding through some amazing valleys. The scenery was impressive along the way. Mountains in the distance, deep valleys, and a wide open sky.

I arrived in St. Gervais far earlier than I expected. It was only 10:30, and the town was quiet. A small village, with two fascinating churches. I forget the names, but the Crèche was tiny, cluttered, and musty, with a solid feel and a spiritual air. The chapel for Penitents was clean cut, dark, and, I don't know, serious feeling. I felt the weight of the stone around me. Intimidating, in a way.

  Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Languedoc :: France
Parc Naturel Régional
du Haut-Languedoc
  Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Languedoc :: France
Parc Naturel Régional
du Haut-Languedoc

It was far too early to stop for the day, and my legs felt relatively OK, so I decided to push on to Murat, 21km further on. The map showed a hill between me and there, but I didn't pay close enough attention to the markings. And so, for the next 10km, I struggled, screaming and cursing, up one of the hardest hills so far. It felt like I was going uphill forever in the 35 degree C heat. I ran out of water yet again. My legs were dying. To hear me, you would have thought I was giving birth, my gasps and cries of pain and exhaustion tearing loose. I fell over in the scorching sun at one point, too weak to catch myself and trying not to throw up. The hill was bad, the pain worse, the heat killed me, and lack of water was the clincher. I suffered. Heat exhaustion is not fun when you're alone.

I suffered through some wonderful views, though. Sheer mountains rose up on all sides. Distant waterfalls tortured me with their thunder. The road rose higher and higher, revealing more and more of the surrounding scenery. I climbed 800 meters since Montpellier. Most of it today, I'm sure. Reaching la Croix de Mounis, I let out a sound somewhere between a sigh and a scream, as my feet slammed out of their pedals, and my legs refused to budge without a good long rest. I gave in, needless to say. I had a pleasant conversation with a Canadian couple, puffing from the short walk from their car. I need to work on the pride thing. I'm too quick to judge. :-/

La Croix was the top, though. In good time, because I was drained. From there, there was still some up and down, but the road gradually went down. Somewhere along the way, pine trees took over. Pine trees, bless them! Their cool shade and the scent of their needles gave me the strength to continue.

I reached Murat around 2:00. I found a town shut down and baking in the heat. A dead, dusty, fly blown town, it appeared, but on an afternoon like this, any town wouldn't appear it's best. But I didn't like the feel of the place, and so the day again grew longer.

It was another 20km to La Salvatot. Mostly downhill, as luck would have it. I was out of water. Murat didn't even have a cafe open, and I didn't find a stream most of the way. But my wheels sped across the kilometers, pine trees all around, farms zipping past, set up on very attractive hillsides. The road came down out of the hills to a ridge looking down to Lake Laouzes, with people swimming in the water far below me.

The first thing my dry eyes beheld entering La Salvatat was an old fountain, with the words "Eau Potable" in big letters above it. I almost dove in, but chose instead to drink down a couple liters on the spot. At first, it seemed another dry, empty town, but then I looked up, and saw the old city, and all the town above me. I found a tourist information office, but they were pretty useless for finding a room. They seemed mainly focused on the Plateau du Lacs, and the hikes and rides you could do in the area. Useful for others, but not me. The girl tried to tell me the closest hotel was 10km away by the lake, when I already saw 2 places coming into town.

So, I rolled out of the old town, propped my bike against the only cafe/bar in town, and 5 minutes later, had a nice simple room upstairs, ready for me to collapse in.

Recovering, I found the church and collapsed in a pew, too tired to reflect much on my situation. A fellow pilgrim, a hiker, wished me well as I left.

Over a more-than-generous dinner, I chatted to the limit allowed by my French with a couple at the next table. Friendly folk, they were here on holiday from Paris. Then, a couple other bikers, Brits, caught me on the way out to ask about my ride so far. They were also dying on these hills, though taking shorter rides. Brian's chain came off on their ride today, breaking out 4 spokes as a result. I offered some of my spares, but when we went to look at his wheel, it turned out his hub had actual chunks taken out of it, so new spokes were worthless at this point. Good luck to him getting back to Carcossoune!

Room: 180F
Dinner: 116F

Stats ODO  01226km
DST  84.26km
AVS  16.8kph
MAX  57.2kph
ATM 05:00:09

05.31.01 Castres Map Map

A gray, misty, wet, Grimm fairy tale sort of morning. I woke to find a heavy fog hiding even the building across the road. But I had to move on, so after a visit to the boulangerie, I hit the road. What a ride. I was all waterproofed up, with rain covers on, flashing lights going, and at full concentration. It was necessary, because the fog was so thick, I couldn't see the road ahead if I went faster than 10kph. "Luckily" for me, I had a couple steep uphills to ride, so I wasn't moving that fast. But past that, it was a scary ride. Ogres loomed out of the fog, their branches reaching out for me, tearing my skin. Dragons, with bright flashing eyes and toxic fumes, roared past on eighteen wheels. The road beneath me slid away at a moment's distraction. The scent of wet pine needles filled the air. The road into Castres was over 10km down a fog shrouded road so steep, my hands turned numb pumping the brakes for so long. I couldn't slow down enough a few times, and trucks roaring past almost took me out.

Castres was a bit of a shock after tiny La Salvatat last night. A decent sized city, I was swept in by the traffic. A brief search only turned up a couple 3 star hotels (there were others, but that's all I found at first), so I picked one at random, and I was settled for the night, though my poor bike was stuck out in the garden in the rain. No help for it. It was only a short ride today, but I needed it. My body is aching. Has been aching for weeks, now. My knees hurt, my legs hurt, my hands hurt even. I'm ready for a real rest day in Toulouse.

It was early, and I was a stranger alone in a strange town. The churches are only open in the morning, and the Goya Museum didn't interest me, so I caught Le Retour de La Momie, en Francais. The usual. Good enough way to pass some time. I wandered around some more afterwards, ending up buying snacks at the Monoprix next door to my hotel.

Dinner was a great pizza and a beer, nice and simple, just what I wanted.

After 3 hours, I've finally caught up on my journal after a few days of neglect. Aching hands, indeed!

Room: 400F
Dinner: 96F
Movie: 34F

Stats ODO  01281km
DST  54.36km
AVS  20.0kph
MAX  48.0kph
ATM 02:42:46

06.01.01 Toulouse Map Map

I awoke to a clear blue sky with just a few clouds scudding by. The day felt fresh, scrubbed clean, eager to begin. As the lady at the hotel remarked on my way out. "C'est un beau jour pour le velo!" Indeed.

Before leaving town, I visited the Eglise de Saint Jacques. Wow. Dark, cluttered, solid. Gregorian chants played in the background. I felt the presence of tired, determined souls, but with a light shining down from above. Was it hope?

Following the Chemin, I rode south from Castres to Sorez, a nice old town with a ruined church and working clock tower at its heart. Narrow winding streets, and good pain-au-chocolat.

Revel was the next stop on the way. Just another town, I thought riding in. But they had a great central hall, a covered market, almost pagoda-looking. The Saturday market must be a site to see.

From Revel, I turned west to Toulouse. Roads didn't cooperate in getting me to the next two towns along the way, so I decided to just cut straight across. I was on back roads the entire way, which was a very good thing. I had the road completely to myself.

All day long, the road was one long roller coaster, rolling hills, up and down and up... It was hard work, but fun in a way. I never had to work for long going uphill, and all those downhills let me zip along.

Unfortunately, the fun ended soon after I left Revel. That's where the wind introduced itself. I would get to know it well over the next couple days. A strong headwind that made even downhills hard work. The harder I pedaled, the harder it blew, gusting and shrieking curses in my ears, refusing to let me have one meter without working for it. Downhill, I could manage 10kph without pedaling, that's all. It moderated the heat, but that wasn't enough for me. I'll take heat over headwinds any day. I'm pretty sure I will.

The wind wiped me out. I was painfully struggling on every small hill, resting far too often just to get out of the wind. I was guzzling my water as well, getting nervous as I started to run out.

But the gifts continued. As I rested at the end of a driveway, an old gentleman yelled down to me from his balcony. "Avez vous soif?" The timing was too perfect to be coincidence. Chatting with the gentleman and his wife, it turns out she had been a pilgrim to Santiago herself in her youth. They offered food, water, words of advice (I didn't understand most of that) and good wishes on my journey. Gifts from the path.

  Place du Capitole :: Toulouse, France
Place du Capitole
Toulouse, France
I pulled into Toulouse with little difficulty and found my way right to Place du Capitole. I got a room way back in the labyrinthian hallways of the Hotel du Taur right off the plaza, and collapsed as usual. I was tired. This was my tenth day in a row biking, counting my last not-so-restful rest day in Aix.

After dinner, I went to London Tower, a British pub. A good crowd, but I was so tired, two pints had my eyes closing and my mind wandering. I was asleep an instant after lying down.

Room at Hotel du Taur: 270F/single
Dinner at Taj Mahal (very good): 96F
Pint of cider: 30F
Internet: 30F/hour

Stats ODO  01365km
DST  84.27km
AVS  19.5kph
MAX  49.6kph
ATM 04:18:00

06.02.01 Toulouse Map Map

  Rue du Taur :: Toulouse, France
Rue du Taur
Toulouse, France
  Basilique St-Sernin :: Toulouse, France
Basilique St-Sernin
Toulouse, France
Ah, glorious rest day. It was so brilliant waking up to the sound of church bells this morning, stretching out in bed, and realizing that, today, I don't have to ride! Yeah! I slept in late, lounged in bed watching TV, and only emerged into the day shortly before noon.

I saw some odd churches today. First, of course, was the Basilique St-Sernin, a step on the path. Curiously simple, with an over the top nave crammed into the end, looking too big to fit. I was drawn to this one alter behind and to the side. I didn't know what I was seeing, but I liked what I felt and sat there for a few minutes meditating in the silence. Next was the Eglise des Jacobins. A single row of columns down the center, the place felt big, open, airy, ... and non-sacred somehow. As if it was now a museum or gathering hall rather than a church. But I've been to St. Thomas Aquinas' burial place now. Interesting. The last one was the Cathedrale St. Etienne. What a strange church. All different angles. Come in this way, turn right, turn left. All different styles.

I was still tired, though, and I found myself in a bad mood after dealing with the crowds of the day. Too many people after the relative solitude of the past few days. Rather than move around any more, I found a comfortable spot at Place St. Georges, took out my journal, and drew for a few hours, people watching and chilling.

I saw a funny encounter. Two male dogs were having a literal pissing contest. Each was trying to mark their territory. One would piss on a spot, then the other would move in, growling, and piss on the same spot. Then, it would repeat, until the two were circling each other, probably out of piss, and growling until one gave up and slunk off. *chuckle*

Early to bed, ready to *sigh* hit the road again tomorrow.

Stats ODO  01365km
DST   0.00km
AVS   0.0kph
MAX   0.0kph
ATM 00:00:00

06.03.01 Auch Map Map

Long day today. I woke up to a cloudy, dark morning, threatening rain, but dry so far. For once, I found the road out of town easily enough. And rode right into the teeth of the wind. No matter which way I turned today, I swear the wind was coming right at me, the grass and bushes bent my way. *sigh*

It was not a good day to visit churches. In both L'Isle-Jourdain and Gimont, ceremonies were going on. A mass in one, a baptism in the other. Both appeared nice from outside.

  Cathédrale de Ste-Marie :: Auch, France
Cathédrale de Ste-Marie
Auch, France
  Cathédrale de Ste-Marie :: Auch, France
Cathédrale de Ste-Marie
Auch, France
  Le Chemin de St Jacques :: France
Le Chemin de St Jacques
Many more rolling, windy hills along the way. I rode an extra 25km today to stick to sideroads, but I think it was worth it. France doesn't believe in shoulders for the road. Small backroads work for me, even if they're usually longer and go over more hills. I rode through farm country most of the day. And rather than risking life and limb as some maniac drives 150kph right past me and sucking diesel fumes all day, I rode in fresh air and never had to pull over.

It was a stiff uphill into Auch, but my legs finally felt strong, and I scooted right in. The church was very impressive. I got myself a room next door at Les Trois Mousquetaires for 230F. Huge room, at that.

The church was undergoing renovation outside, but the inside was beautiful. Very bright, detailed stained glass windows, all telling a story. A choir all carved out of a single oak that lay in the river for years before being dried out and carved. Graceful arches, and a good feel, despite the two busloads of tourists causing noise.

I think I've been feeling weak lately because I haven't been eating enough. I ate well today, three full meals. We'll see if it makes a difference tomorrow. I hope so. I need it.

I need to make a decision tomorrow: I can continue to follow the Via Tolansa over the Sonport pass. Or diverge and follow the other ancient paths further east, which would save me one days riding, is 600m lower, and would allow me to visit Pamplona. The biggest problem for me is my knee, which isn't improving. I'm afraid the higher pass will cripple me. I need to decide by tomorrow which it will be...

Room: 230F
Dinner: 75F

Stats ODO  01453km
DST  88.33km
AVS  19.4kph
MAX  47.7kph
ATM 04:32:38

06.04.01 Pau Map Map

Very long day today. It was easy getting out of Auch. I just followed the signs to Condom (snicker) until my turnoff. All day long, it was a roller coaster of hills, with stiff up and downs. I was tired after 30km.

But, wow. I came over one hill, and there they were! The Pyrenees, shining white on the horizon, fading into the mist. Ulp. I have to ride over that?

Thankfully, no. I continued riding west, right along the distant mountains, which grew closer all day.

Today was Monday. In small towns in rural France, things shut down Saturday afternoon until Tuesday. Well, I was in small towns all day. I found ghost towns, one and all. Every shop, every store, every window was closed. Even the few big chain supermarkets I passed. And I saw not a soul most of the way.

Luckily for me, the town of Marciac was open for business. I bought lunch supplies and had a picnic in the main square.

The road went through nice towns all day, some rich, some poor. I was riding along a ridge through farmlands a good part of the day.

But as I said, it was a very long day. By the time I pulled into Pau, I had gone 113km, mostly hills. Luck was with me today, though. Pau was having it's annual Grand Prix race. A day earlier, and it would have been Aix all over again. But this was day three, and I had no trouble finding a room at Hotel Central.

It was 5:00 when I got to town. I was completely wiped out. I didn't even get cleaned up in time to see the end of the race.

After an excellent lasagna dinner at Pizzeria de la Tour de Parliament, I couldn't even stand straight. Today decided it for me. Both knees hurt, I was drained, depleted of all resources, I'd never make the Sonport pass.

I briefly considered staying another night in Pau. It was a surprisingly nice town. I liked it as soon as I pulled into town. But, I'm tight on time, and I'll be resting in Pamplona.

When I got home, I was so wasted, I just collapsed into bed, and had feverish dreams until finally falling into a deeper sleep after midnight.

Hotel Central: 240F
Email: 30F/hour (paid 15F for 1.5 hour?)
Dinner: 110F

Stats ODO  01567km
DST 112.76km
AVS  20.3kph
MAX  61.4kph
ATM 05:32:56

06.05.01 St. Jean Pied de Port Map Map

A grim day. I woke to dark clouds in the sky and strong winds. After leaving town, I set off cross country on a minor road to Oloran. It would be the last town on my original Via Tolansa route before I diverged, and joined the other routes in St. Jean.

I had no energy today. Nothing left over from yesterday. Every little hill killed me. 30km later, I pulled into Orloron, completely wiped out. I found the church and went inside. It was very... somber, welcoming, nice. Beautiful frescoes. I slumped down in a pew. And actually prayed. To whom or what, it didn't matter. I prayed for the strength to make it through the day, and through tomorrow. I think that prayer was answered, in an unexpected way.

Looking on the map, I noticed something I had missed previously. Right along my route, in addition to all the usual rolling hills, there was a 500m pass I'd have to go over. I knew that wouldn't happen today, so I looked for alternatives. I found it. The main road went far, far out of my way, but the topo map showed it to be almost completely flat the entire way. Just what I needed today. I'll take the extra 15km.

Before leaving Orloron, I went to the pharmacy. Some things are embarrassing enough when you can directly ask for something. But it took the entire staff there to figure out I had a massive case of heat rash on my bum, and needed medication. It would have been easier and less embarrassing if I had just mooned them!

The road was flat, for the most part. I burnt rubber roaring down the road. Traffic was light as well, so not bad. There were a couple bad parts, though. The worst coming up to St. Jean. A steep uphill that went on forever. A taste of tomorrow? I hope not!

St. Jean is a small town. But what a carnival! Far too many cars, day trippers, souvenir stalls, restaurants, fruit stands, my first impression of the town was chaos. Passing a woman on the street, she asked me, "Pelegrino?" Yes... Five minutes later, I had a nice cheap room upstairs inside the walls.

  Notre Dame du Bout du Point and the Porte Notre Dame :: St Jean, France
Notre Dame du Bout du Point
and the Porte Notre Dame
St Jean, France
I was wiped out as well today. But thanks to my road choice, not as bad as yesterday. The church in St Jean is a small, old affair. Very restful, I almost fell asleep in meditation. I looked around for a gift for Amy, but no luck.

Dinner was a very nice surprise. I took one of the menus at Hotel-Restaurant Ramuntcho next door, and was soon tucking into a hearty Basque meal. Starting with Bayonne ham. Yum, almost like bacon. Proceeding to an excellent trout, stripped it to the bones. Then, a mouth watering Poulet a la Basque. Wow, that was good. Rice and chicken, with the chicken smothered in tomatoes, onions, bacon, mushrooms, all sorts of herbs. Very good. And finally, gateau basque. Some sort of almost pie thing. Tasty, but no idea what's in it. Didn't matter, I cleaned all plates. One of the best meals I've had all trip. Yum.

Wandering after dinner, I found the pilgrim center run by the Association Les Amis du Chemin de Saint-Jacques Pyrenees-Atlantique. It was a small room covered with maps and information about the road to Santiago. An hospitable British gent there took my information and sold me my Carnet de Pelerin de Saint-Jacques (Credencial del Peregrino), my pilgrim's pass, for 10F. I sat and chatted with several folk there - both pilgrims and past pilgrims - for a while, excited to pass through the next gateway along the road.

Early to bed. Tomorrow's going to be a rough day...

Stats ODO  01682km
DST 114.82km
AVS  21.6kph
MAX  50.8kph
ATM 05:18:20
(Over 1000miles!)

©Copyright Seán Connolly

Nice Frejus Les Milles Aix-en-Provence Arles Montpellier Lodeve La Salvatat-sur-Agout Castres Toulouse Auch Pau St-Jean-Pied-de-Port Roncesvalles Pamplona