Saturday, June 23, 2012

Day 4 -- Roussillon to Rustrel

The daily one or two word summary: much easier!

Maybe a degree or two cooler, but more importantly low humidity, a bit of a breeze... and lo and behold I had no problems with the heat. In fact, if anything the sun was stronger today -- I got a sunburn on one forearm. And although we left earlier (9AM), we still hiked through the heat of the afternoon, arriving here in Rustrel after 4PM. So, my conclusion is that the conditions of the last couple of days really were exceptional... and with a bit of luck won't occur again on the H2H.

We, by the way, were my friend from Eygalières Jean-Paul Gilles and I. His wife Françoise is loosely accompanying us in a car (due to knee problems). She met us for lunch in the charming village of Saint-Saturnin-les-Apt, and was waiting for us at the hotel when we arrived in Rustrel.

So I'll bet a number of you are wondering whether, nay, are nigh on sure that I sent my heavy pack in the car with Françoise... but you would be wrong. I considered it, but a) then it wouldn't be like the H2H, and b) I'd be less well prepared for later when there won't be a car. Actually, in the same masochistic spirit I have everything in my pack that I'll be carrying in the high mountains... including two fleeces, rainpants, and a pair of gloves that are let's face it unlikely to be used in the next few days!

I've done today's hike before, in the other direction while on the H2H -- it's a pleasant walk in rolling hills, sometimes along minor roads, sometimes on hiking paths, but with nothing too remarkable. The pleasure of days like today are the conversations one can have with one's fellow hikers when one doesn't have to pay too much attention to one's footing, or spend too much oxygen climbing or descending steep slopes.

And conversations with Jean-Paul are always a pleasure....

Here in Rustrel our hotel has an excellent restaurant (according to Gault Millau... and to me, because I've eaten here a few times), and outside there is a vide grenier (small flea market) / village fête with a live band playing a mixture of schmaltz and salsa. Très cute! Looks like it will be a lovely evening on the H3H.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Rest day in Roussillon

A rest day both needed and appreciated. I woke up this morning still feeling a few aches and pains and glad that unlike on the H2H this time I only planned three days hiking before the first rest day. Occasionally I do learn....

The rest day was as rest days usually are -- filled with busy immobility. After breakfast I said goodbye to Oliver, then washed and hung out to dry the hiking gear used so far. I answered various emails and looked at my daily blogs and websites. I wrote yesterday's blog entry. I snoozed. I spent a couple of hours on a conference call for one of the companies on whose board I sit. I made a few other phone calls. I read a book on my iPad (Dune... seemed appropriate given the hiking experiences so far :-). Had lunch and dinner and drank lots of mineral water. In a short while I'll go to bed, early, so as to get up early tomorrow for the hike to Rustrel. Such are rest days on a long hike.

And one last thing before I post this. It occurs to me that (as usual) I've been focussing on the most striking things from the hike... and since the most striking thing has been the heat, you might have gotten the impression that overall this has been an unpleasant time. Not at all! The countryside has been beautiful, the villages also and ancient, the company excellent, the food and drink very good, and the places we have stayed in (barring the odd mosquito) lovely. I'm having a great time and still get up each morning thinking, "Man am I lucky... today I get to hike while others have to work".

So don't get discouraged and cancel on me, fellow hikers!


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Dinner at Clos de la Glycine

Day 3 -- Oppede le Vieux to Roussillon

Belatedly today I remembered a piece of old wisdom that I should have thought of before: on hot days, get up early and get the bulk of your hiking done before midday.

So, we left at 11.

Although Nietzsche may have been right that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, it certainly doesn't seem to make you smarter.

It is perhaps unnecessary to say it, but it was another very hot day. After a long and leisurely breakfast in our very pleasant B&B La Belle de Nuit (whose owner remembered me from five years earlier on the H2H), we set off along the northern edge of the Luberon range. It was warm, but under the trees not oppressively so, and we had recovered well from the stresses of the Luberon crossing the day before. So we made good time and arrived in Menerbes shortly after 1PM.

For those who don't know Menerbes, it is one of the loveliest villages of France, set up high on a long rocky outcrop with ancient houses and spectacular views over the Luberon valley. It is where Peter Mayle lived and wrote about in his series of books about Provence... and as a result has become a tourist Mecca and in the meantime 60% of the houses are owned by Americans and English. We admired the views for a few minutes and then retired to the cool cavelike interior of Les Delices de Charlotte where we had a very satisfying lunch including (for my part) a liter and a half of mineral water (endeavoring to recharge a few salts...).

We came back out into the mid-afternoon sun at around 2:30 and headed towards Goult. It was HOT once more. As has been the case all three days so far, there has been little wind, and the little there has been has come from the south (and has thus been hot and humid). Fortunately the walking was nowhere near as strenuous, but despite that by 4PM I once more needed a long break (no dizziness this time, but I noticed that I had stopped sweating... and that's never a good thing :-). So, we sat in a shady corner of a field and I poured water over my head, upper body, and legs for a while.

A half hour later I felt more or less recovered and we climbed the 90m up to Goult. Oof! In the Northern Alps 90m is trivial... here, in the heat, it felt like a half-marathon. I think that if Oliver hadn't been with me I would have almost certainly succumbed to the temptation of the cafes around the village square, and, after a cool bottle of mineral water, have called for a taxi to take me to Roussillon. But the fact that he was soldiering on uncomplainingly somehow engendered enough motivation (was it pride? competitive instincts? responsibility -- not wanting to let him down? -- I'm really not sure) to keep me going.

He has great reserves of toughness, Oliver, and I doubt many other people would have continued... and if I had been hiking with someone who wanted to or needed to take a taxi, almost certainly I'd have done so too. So, in a very real way, he is responsible for the H3H still being a through hike -- all the way by foot, without breaks. All hail Oliver the Great!!

The rest of the way to Roussillon -- about another 2 hours -- was an easy stroll through rolling hillls along minor roads and lanes as the temperatures waned... thank goodness. We stumbled into town around 7:30PM, checked in to our hotel, and took the lift up to our second floor room. There ensued many sound effects as we sat down, got up, took of hiking clothes, etc... particularly from Oliver. He may be uncomplaining while hiking, but he makes up for it once the hike is over ;-). Showers, dinner (excellent -=- I'll post a picture shortly), and we were done. What a day!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

An even trickier spot

Ooops... vine took a wrong turn

Oliver admiring suspended rock

A tricky spot

Oliver in the gorge

Old bridge part 2

Old bridge over the Durance

Day 2 -- From Domaine de Mejeans (near Alleins) to Oppede le Vieux

Actually I could distill the blog for today's hike to one word: HOT!!!

There were thunderstorms in the morning, so we delayed our departure until 11AM... and shortly after we started the sky cleared and the temperatures soared. We walked a couple of hours to the entrance to the Gorges of Regalon, had lunch, and then scurried out of the increasingly intense heat into the cool gloom of the gorge. It's a slot canyon coming down from the center of the Luberon mountain and is quite spectacular -- I'll send photos later.

All good things must come to an end, however, and an hour later we were out of the gorge and climbing up trails to the Luberon crest. At first the trails went through woods, but after a while we came out into the full sun... it was like an oven. The slope we were climbing faces due south and we couldn't tell if more heat was coming up from the rocks underfoot or down from the sun above.

In short order, despite drinking a fair amount of water (I went through 2.5 liters today), we started to get dehydrated. I've done this hike a few times before and it is hot even when the weather is cold... but today was ridiculous. We got to the point where we had to stop every few minutes, and at one point we both felt dizzy and sat down for half an hour until we felt better. We were in full sun most of the time, there was little wind, and every step was a struggle. I'm not quite sure what the physiology of heat prostration is, but it seemed more than ordinary dehydration: I was panting like a dog at times, and we both were way more exhausted than we should have been.

We finally reached the crest about 5:15PM, headed down the cooler northern side, and got to our B&B around 6:45PM. Oliver reckoned it was his most difficult hike since Kilimanjaro, and I can't remember the last time I had such difficulty on a hike. I wouldn't be surprised if the temperatures within a few feet of the ground were close to 50C. I'll be drinking more tomorrow and hope the conditions will improve now we are north of the Durance plain and slightly higher (also, much of the hike tomorrow is through wooded landscape).

To those who are planning to come along on the hike before we get to the Park National des Ecrins (around July 13th), I suggest you bring lots of water bottles, sunscreen, and pray to the weather gods to send some bad weather!

And in case you are wondering, we are both in good spirits and looking forward to the hike to Roussillon tomorrow. I think we must both be Nietzsche enthusiasts -- what doesn't kill us makes us stronger!

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Landscape around Lamanon

Penelope and suitor

Day 1 -- Eygalieres to somewhere too far away for the first day's hike

After shifting about 20 todo list items to the "when I get back from the hike" category last night I finally got everything done that I absolutely had to do, the prospect of walking 550km no longer seemed quite as imposing given the whirlwind of the last few days!

We were supposed to set off at at 9AM but Lidia didn't get back from the baker's until ten to 9 and Oliver was his usual unhurried self, so I went with the flow and we didn't leave until 9:45. Then we had to stop in the village for water (Oliver's water bottle having being discarded just before arrival due to runaway fungus growth... eeeww) and money (the ATM machines everywhere else in France not having deigned to work for him). Something about ATM machines at the moment -- when I asked it for money (very politely) it grudgingly gave me a pile of 20s. I mean, it must know that 50s are lighter....

As a result (more of the late start than the pile of 20s) we didn't get to Toni's place for lunch until about 1:45PM (we were expected around 1, so not too bad). Actually I was quite pleased we made it by then since we took a sequence of paths through the Alpilles that a) I had never been along, and b) were not marked. Beautiful though -- particularly after we came down into the plain around Chateau Roquemartine where the broom was blooming and the butterflies (of many different types) dancing.

Toni had very kindly (and foresightedly) prepared a couple of salads for us for lunch, so our late arrival presented no problems. Afterwards he showed us around his studio/barn and good-naturedly listened to our profound observations on some of his works (I descended all the way to Coelacanths, which, you may know, is pretty deep).

But we still had miles to go, so we said our thanks and walked off along tracks and trails to the Neolithic cave dwellings of Cales above Lamanon. Surprised a shapely model doing a photoshoot in one of the rock houses, dressed in gold paint and a bikini... nigh on the first person we had seen all day during the hike. Not sure why -- it was a hot and humid day, with a few scattered raindrops, but not that hot. Perhaps people here just aren't used to the humidity... or perhaps the phrase about "mad dogs and Englishmen" applies.

By the time we arrived at our hotel, the charming if it were not mosquito-ridden Domaine de Mejeans at 6:30PM, after 7 hours of hiking time, I was more than ready for the first day's hike to end. We both seem to have held up well... but I'm a little apprehensive about how quickly we'll be able to stand up when getting out of bed tomorrow morning! Dinner was good (except for the aforementioned beasties) as was conversation.

Tomorrow we cross the Luberon!

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