Sunday, October 03, 2004

a gentle stroll
If ever there was a weekend to NOT have a violently flatulent bottom, this was it. I guess it could have been the four pints of guiness on Friday night that set me off, because when I got up on Saturday morning to head off to the mountains I was managing about one stinker a minute.

Eight of us, three French, three Germans and two Brits, left Toulouse for a weekend of 'randonée', or hiking. We hadn't been in the car longer than 10 minutes and I had to wind the window down.

It took us around 2 hours to drive from Toulouse to the car park at the bottom of the trail to the 'Peak d'Estats' on the border with Spain. I managed to behave myself but I can tell you that it was painful.

We started hiking up from the car park at 1180m, but had to stop only 10 minutes into the little jaunt since our bodies were a bit shocked. When I say 'our', I am excluding Holger. Holger is an ex-soldier and the mastermind behind the weekend. He eats mountains for breakfast.

My gastric turbulence wasn't much help in propelling me up the mountain, so it was lucky for my legs that we stopped for lunch in the sun about 90 minutes in to the hike. Nobody had brought any glasses so we had to make do with drinking wine from the bottle.

It took us about another 90 minutes to reach the 'Refuge du Pinet' at 2224m. There are quite a lot of Refuges in France. They provide basic food and dormitary accomodation to people hiking about in the mountains and stuff.

We had a dorm to ourselves, which was equipped with two rows of 5 beds stacked on top of each other like a massive bunk bed. Knowing that hot air rises, I thought it would be best if I went on the top so that's where I dumped my stuff before heading off to the facilities.

The meal was basic but tasty - sausages and onions with pasta. After we had all eaten one of the guys working in the Refuge took his guitar out for a sing-a-long with us and the fourty Catalonians also staying there. I'm not lying when I tell you that we sang 'Blowing In The Wind' by Bob Dylan.

Today we got up before dark, and after a rather disturbed night. This time though it was the wind outside the Refuge that was the culprit. After our breakfast we set off up the trail for our 3 hour and approximately 2000 vertical metre climb to the Peak d'Estats (3143m).

I can hardly begin to describe the pain of this experience. Although I haven't been getting much exercise recently, I didn't have a problem with my breath or anything. I just had massive problems with sore feet. Plod plod, pound pound, skip skittling on loose shale, the ascent was just tough on the poor things.

The pain was diminished by the amazing view that confronted us when we arrived at the top. We were at the highest peak in the area surrounding us so we could see for miles into Spain and back to France. We just sat up there laughing and joking and enjoying it, eating cheese, sausage, cake, tuna salad and rabbit paté. Since it was the first time a few of us including myself had climbed above 3000m, Sebastien opened a bottle of champagne. It didn't last very long.

There was a four hour descent after this, all the way down back to the carpark. Something I had eaten on the peak caused my stomach to return to its state of near volcanic activity, so I walked at the back of the pack in fairness to my friends.

By the time we reached the car park atleast half of us were stricken with the gait and expression of a starving three legged dog. Having got home via McDonalds, which usually kills off any sort of healthy activity in the stomach, I have just about mustered the energy to write this post.

Now though, it is time to limp off to bed. Does anybody have an overnight blister cure?

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