Monday, July 28, 2008

Out of Water. Then in Poitiers.

Day 14: A day of rest. For I made it, here, yesterday, to Poitiers, over hills in the blazing sun and whenever the slightest of breezes would halt it seemed the earth gave off heat as I strode through vale, then over hill again, seeing only villages in the slight distance to the east and west shimmering through the heat rising from the earth and sunflower fields as the sun beat down along the ancient route of the gallo-romains which, by the by, does not get near much in its 35kms from Châtellerault. The pertinence of that is that as I dashed up and over hill and lane, the heat spitting dust and dirt up over my body and face as I panted and... ran out of water. My 2 liter gourd that had been full up was empty. And I was at a crossroads. Probably slightly heatstruck (if one can say that) and the map I had told me that nothing was close and I was about to march away from all paved roads, all potential refills. What to do? To march or not to march?

So there I stood, at the crossroads as if waiting to make some deal with the devil mid day instead of night, looking up into the clearest of skies (painfully so) and down the four directions of the lanes round me until there was a rumble of an engine from where I had come and then a total boys' boys of an RV drove up with two dudes who had just been golfing (I had walked along the course for ages, which was nice, and cool, as bordered by patches of woods) and who, slowing then stopping at the stopsign where I stood, leaned out, looked at my map and said--pointing stright forward to where there was nothing in sight at all but a slim dirt line through fields and fields (as in my picture of part of it here at the right!) -- "you are not going to find water for awhile yet". And they hopped out, went back to the back of their car and handed me a little bottle of water and said, with a hearty guffaw, "We'll we're going for beers. Good luck!" and pointed towards that long stretch in front of me where there were no more crossroads, no more chance meetings with the stray car of...yes, bizarrely, golfers!

And so, as they drove West towards some slightly distant village and awaiting cold beers, off I headed into dry, dusty, gravelly fields along the old sentier de St Jacques, rationing the bottle of 33cl of water. I knew I had about 6.5km to do before I should come up to some houses on the edge of a village. I knew I could stop there and get my gourd filled. So off I went. Having hallucinations of American southwest films with people trekking lost in circles without food or water midday in the desert, and I thought "Well, at least I know what direction I am heading in, how far I must go, where survival lives." I also thought of those silly people who go on trek-across the Sahara trips, even of the pain of dragging that cross around in the desert of yore for Christ (my bag certainly felt like a cross--and as you can see from my photos, the farther south I get, the more random religious relics and shrines one comes across, sometimes tacked to trees mid no-where, others, like the White Cross at the right are considered historical St Jacques monuments. Regardless, one cannot easily escape the sense of bearing a cross, or of needing to receive some sort of lift from some supernatural source. And no, "Burn" or extra caffeine are not going to do the trick out here mid no where in heat! But I also have not heard the voices of anyone, despite a plethora of Jeanne d'arc (Joan of Arc) sites, statues, artifacts and statures).

One becomes, in the process of walking for two weeks through various regions of France, aware of the body as such. It is animal, it has needs and functions that take over. It is timed and timing things. A process. But it is still the mind that makes the body carry itself over a stretch of arid land like that. The body, it wants to stop. It wants to lie down in the dirt and let the insects and birds and earth cover it over. The mind is what presses it on, reaches forward. Our will.

And then, the village which like a mirage (with its enormous "château d'eau"--water tower) seemed to always be moving farther away in the humid heat, laughing, taunting as it pulled away and away, was really there. Just after the almost comic post with shell and "phone"(--no, it would not really work to call for help) that I took a picture of, I came out off the path onto pavement and a small stretch of houses reached east into town. I looked down the stretch and thought of going down it, then coming back--of the body having to take extra steps. I couldn't.

Instead I rang at the first gate. A man and his son came out to see who was causing their dogs (two Irish Setters--the breed I would say is most common along the road thus far) to make such a ruckus. The father filled my gourd back up and asked where I had come from that day and in general, I said Châtellerault & Chartres. He told me they had not seen many pilgrims this year though they usually did. I thought that funny in a way--since I have seen none myself. I felt in the heat like some silly thing trying her hand at "extreme sports in solitude". And then he said "But Poitiers is not far off now." And that is what did it.

I had planned to stop in Chasseneuil, a village next to La Fontaine (no joke, that is the town's name--as if to tease folks like me). Anyway, I got there in little time after getting the water supply replenished, and so, with the adrenaline of almost being to Poitiers, my feet and body in peculiarly good condition, and the boost of having survived the hottest stretch of the day and of the past few weeks, I pushed on.

Down into another deep dale. The day was growing longer, the sun seemed tired of bearing down, and a small breeze had picked up along with the few fluffy clouds giving me some respite. Sure, I was tired. I had taken short pauses every 1h30 or 2h, and now it was going on 4pm when I had left at 8h30. It was a lot of walking and Poitiers was.... perhaps over the next hill. I could see the really peculiar angles of futuroscope adventure part off beyond the fields and towns on one side of me, and as I climbed a rather high hill I thought it must be there--and then, it was. The suburb, Buxerolles, came into view and by around 5pm I was there. I sat down on a bench for a rest just inside town and two old ladies, one with her mother in a wheelchair, the other her husband in his, came and sat next to me to talk for awile. We sat there for about 40minutes, and then I thought I should try and find a place for the night, and actually cross over into Poitiers itself. More than 35km walked, in the sun. I thought, I am ready now for the mountains. And I hope I am, because tomorrow I take the train to St Jean Pied du Port and walk about 5km in, to stay the night at a little village at the base of the moutain. Up and over. That is what you can all think of for me! No villages, just nature and paths, and likely many other pilgrims with me from this point out. And lots of higher and lower mountains as I cross into Spain. And head West.

1 comment:

Suzanne Allen said...

I love this picture of your pack and your shoes... your empty shoes, which make me think of your bare feet somewhere in the grass, breathing, relieved even if only for a moment.