Sunday, 13 October 2013

A hike through Southern Europe: Le Puy

 I got up very early in the morning and was even hiking before sunrise. The reason for that? The French custom of closing shops for lunchtime! I needed food and it was 19 km to Retournac and its Intermarche supermarket that unfortunately closed for lunch at 12.15 and reopened only almost three hours later. With little daylight I could not afford to wait out three hours and therefore had to make it before 12.15. At 8 am I arrived at the first village desperate for water. When I hunted around a garden for a water tap I was surprised by a lady in a nightgown - who was surprised by a hiker in her yard at sunrise. But of course I was given water and pressed on. The trail seemed to creep in and out of every little valley and at 10 am I almost gave up hope to make it in time. At 11 am it started to pour down but my GPS showed that I was less than 2 km away. I arrived at 11.30 wet, cold and hungry and even bought an umbrella....

Now I only had to find a dry and warm place for my lunch break and ended up in a church. It was not very encouraging that the unheated Romanic church was warmer than the outside. But the timing was perfect: it rained for over an hour during my break but had stopped by the time I left. I had spent my time in the church preparing the next stretch of trail. The GR 3 makes a big detour here to climb up high above the gorges of the Loire. No way I was going to make that detour in rain and cold. Instead I decided to stay low and follow the river mostly on the road which fortunately was not too busy.

Loire valley
An internet research had also revealed that there is a gite in the next town of Vorey which was managed by a nearby hotel. I have the hotel a ring and found out that I could stay at the gite for just 9 €. That settled it for me. There was no use suffering through a cold and wet night if I could be in a warm and dry gite for that price. The hike along the Loire was nice and quite scenic but dragged on. Fittingly I listened to Huck Finn's adventures on the Mississippi following the Loire until I finally arrived in Vorey.

The gite communal was another gem and I was alone in it which felt like being in a holiday apartment. A living room with a kitchen, a bathroom with shower and two bedrooms. There even was a washing machine. This was paradise and I spent the evening reading next to the heater. When I left the gite next morning there was ice everywhere - this was the first freezing night on this trip but luckily I had spent it inside. I won't always be that lucky... Now I just wanted to get to Le Puy which was an important stop for me. Hopefully my first resupply package was waiting there for me at the post office. I had to do a lot of shopping and I needed a longer rest.
View from the cathedral
I arrived in Le Puy earlier than expected at 4 pm and went straight to the post office being very nervous. Would the package be there? Yes, it was and made me very happy. It contained a new pair of shoes and the maps for Spain. Now I could tackle the next problem: where to stay. I was thinking of staying three nights because Saturday would be used for shopping and I would not get a rest then. I had sent out three CS requests but like usual for touristy cities in Europe I did not even get an answer. But there were two gites in town and I had already made reservations at the Gite des Capucines. When I went there and peered through the window I could see an empty dormitory. Good, so it was low season here as well.

I went in, paid 15 € for the night and was told that there were five other German pilgrims. I did not think much of it, because after having seen the empty dormitory I would surely find a quiet place to sleep. Wrong! The dormitory doors were all locked and in order to save cleaning the owner had put me as a 6th person with a group of give in a 6 bed dorm. There was no way I could get out of this. All other dorms were locked and there wasn't even a lounge to crash. I don't mind female dorms in youth hostels as girls don't snore so often but five old pilgrims is another story. Luckily I had paid only for one night and I was determined to find a better accommodation for the next two nights. As it was still early I left my backpack on the only available upper berth and went into town to start doing my town chores and passed the tourist office. I might as well enquire about accommodation for tomorrow and went in.

Le Puy Cathedral
The staff was very helpful but did not speak English very well. They must have misunderstood me because before I knew it they had made a reservation for me at the other gite for tonight. When I realised that the other gite cost about the same but I would have a single room I didn't know what to do. I would not get my money back at the first gite, but was 15 € worth a horrible night for a snore-o-phobic like me? No, I went to the gite des Francoises and was immediately enchanted. The gite is in an active monastery and right next to the cathedral. The single room was cheerful and comfortable and I felt immediately at home. Screw the 15 €, I would stay here. I got my stuff from the first gite and have not regretted it. This was one of my few extended town stays and I needed rest.

Unfortunately, next day Saturday was anything but restful but a big shopping day. Although I had started this trip with what I thought was true and trusted gear I have already had a lot of gear problems that I would try to fix now. In order to help others to avoid the same problems I want to get into more details here:

GPS: The Garmin Etrex still has hiccups displaying tracks. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. As I don't know whether a firmware update from my 3.0 version will fix the problem I won't go through the trouble of finding a data cable and a PC to flash the GPS. As the problem occurs only after switching on the device I leave it running the whole day. And if the problem occurs in the morning when I switch it on or want to display a new track I know that resetting the system and rebooting it will eventually lead to a correct display - although it sometimes takes several nerve wrecking attempts.

View from my hostel
Tarptent Rainbow: This trip will probably be the end of my hiker life long love story with Tarptents. The Rainbow has let me down big time. The problem is an old one but it has struck me hard on this trip with lots of rain. The Rainbow has sewn in Velcro strips to hold up the mesh door and rain fly. When seamsealing the tent I have of course sealed this area specifically as I know that it is prone to leaking. But apparently I have not been very successful. During every little rain shower water comes seeping through the seams and drips down the mesh eventually pooling inside the tent. Four weeks ago in Metz I have already tried to fix the problem by resealing the area with my little spare tube - but to no avail. The problem persisted and had become a real nuisance for me. The Velcro straps funnel the water right in and I think it is a design fault to have them at an area where the leakage runs right into the tent. I decided to give it a third try and reseal it again. Decathlon was a big disappointment for not having Silnet glue. In fact, they did not even have tents. I ended up in a decoration store buying household silicone, paint thinner and a brush. I have now sealed everything again with diluted silicone, but I am not very optimistic that household silicone will do the job.

Backpack: I know that the GG G4 is not the most robust backpack and the sewing has to be redone in stress areas. But on this trip the pack started ripping on day 2 and I am afraid whether it will make it to the end. I therefore wanted to buy more repair tape. I stick it onto the pack and then sew it on. But again big disappointment: it could not get repair tape at Decathlon or any other shop.

Trekking pole tips: Another new problem. Although the tips have not sunk into the plastic casing yet, one of the tips has become quite rounded and has therefore lost its grip on pavement or slick rocks. Not a real big problem, just a minor nuisance which could easily be fixed by replacing the tip - if I could find one. Decathlon only sells their generic brand trekking poles and no spare tips whatsoever. There is no outdoor shop in town. Bad luck...

Platypus bottle: Again bad luck here. I have lost my second Platypus and wanted to replace it but no Platypus or any other collapsible bottle was available. I hope the one bottle I have will hold up for another 1,5 months. Then I will have another Platypus and all the other missing stuff have shipped from Germany with my next shoe resupply.

Petzl headlamp: The plastic cover has partially broke and although the lamp is still working it is not waterproof any more. Also the batteries die much faster than normal which has already resulted in a pitchblack night once. Petzl lamps have an indicator showing you how much battery power is left. When on red normally there is still several hours of weak light left but now it just dies within minutes. With less and less daylight every day the headlamp is an essential piece of gear for me and I can't risk a failure. I therefore shelled out 45 € and bought a new Petzl Tikka XP 2.

Canister cosy: With sinking temperatures my gas canister stove becomes weaker and weaker. The solution is a canister cosy but I had to find some insulation material. After looking out for packaging trash at several stores I finally found some bubble wrap at a camera store. But Decathlon had something better. For 2,95 € I found a cheap foam pad that I can cut into fitting pieces.

Bottom line: I have had an unexpected high amount of gear problems and unfortunately France is not a good country to fix them. I have not found any decent outdoor shop on this or my last trip through France. There is only Decathlon which is admittedly cheap but has mostly crap. I have to rely on makeshift repairs and have to have replacements shipped from Germany.

Le Puy also marks the one third line for me. I have hiked 1,250 km now and completed the first third of my trip. In about 10 days I will leave the last outskirts of the Massif Central and return to much lower altitude and higher  temperatures. Surprisingly I am still within my planned schedule. I will reach Carcassonne end of October and cross the Pyrenees early November. When I left the hostel yesterday morning it was snowing.... but I don't think that winter has come yet to stay.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for all your inspiring stories Christine, i really enjoy reading them. I just wanted to warn you that the petzl tikka xp 2 is not waterproof due to the diffusor cap in front of the light. If water should get in, your (rechargeable?) batteries can die on you, but the light itself should work again when it's dried properly. Again, thank you for your stories,

Greetings from Belgium.

German Tourist said...

Thanks for the warning, I was not aware of that. Had I known that I would have bought a waterproof headlamp.