Fresh start

The first part of the way

Waking up at 6am on a sunday during holidays, what a fucking idea. I spent my time yawning in the subway and at the train station. My backpack felt heavy, too heavy; is this what they call being out of shape, or did I simply forgot how having 10kg on your back feels? And I thought this would be as easy as the last weeks of the previous camino… Maybe next time. I made my way to my seat and napped during most of the journey to Châteauroux.

The friend I’m joining is walking the via lemovicensis, better known after the town where it starts, Vezelay. Right away, the way splits in two branches (Nevers and Bourges, the former being the one that my friend took) that merge together in Gargilesse. I had guesstimated that she would be a couple of days away from this town, and so Châteauroux (on the Bourges branch) looked like a good starting point to meet her while spending a few days on my own.

I arrived in town around 10am. After a short walk in the center, mostly to see the cathedral, I found what I was looking for: a coffee ! Can’t start hiking without one. I wasn’t sure I’d find one on a sunday. Once done, it’s officially time to start.

The first part is a classic exit-of-town path, asphalt roads, suburbs houses, and all in all not that interesting. Châteauroux is small, though, and it goes by quickly. At some point, the track goes into a field lounging a tiny forest, but the path was not properly maintained and after barely two minutes, I had to go back to the main road.

After going through what looks like some fancy suburbs, the next part of the road goes through the forest of Châteauroux. I welcomed the change: the weather was cooler and everything was nicer, except for the mosquitos and flies. Since I was barely beginning, I was very conscious of how time felt slow: It only about four hours of walk to get to my destination of the day, but if felt like a whole day had gone by.

The stadium

And since it was around 4pm, I wasn’t entirely wrong. The town was called Velles and I had planned to stay there for the night. I could have gone a little bit further away, but there was no point in reaching the meeting point too early; better to take easy and let my body get used to hiking before doing longer days.

While I was getting near the town, I kept hearing increasingly louder yells. I kept wondering what caused them until I got out of the forest: it was two soccer teams playing against each other! Yep, we’re sunday. I needed a little break, so I went to watch the end of the game and enjoyed some shade.

Once the game came to a close, I took a quick walk around the town. As expected, nothing was opened and nobody was in the streets. I went back to the stadium: I had the impression that some people would still be there and it would be a good occasion to ask if it was ok to set up my tent next to the field. Once there, I learned that the match was the last of the season and the two teams of the town were moving to the higher division the next year. They were getting ready to celebrate!

Though it was just a coincidence, I couldn’t help but think yep, that’s the camino: not only they didn’t mind me sleeping next to the field, they also let me to use the locker’s showers and invited me to spend the evening with them around a barbecue. We drank and ate together, we shared stories and laughs, and at some point there even was a sheep running freely on the stadium (in context, I swear it made some sense)… That evening was just about perfect.

On my own

I woke up fully rested around 7 or 8am. It came as a surprise: I remembered the uneasy nights spent sharing the tent with Loïc the year before; it looks like being alone makes it easier for me to get a good night’s rest. After packing my stuff I headed to the center of the city and grabbed my morning coffee.

When walking a camino in spain, there’s shells and arrows everywhere, making it hard to lose your path by accident. Here though, the markers are scarce, far from one another and very easy to miss: I had to improvise my way more than I would have liked, especially that day. Both this and the lack of maintenance on some paths made this hike a little bit annoying at times, even though I knew this could happen.

But that’s enough whining. Those two points notwithstanding, I was having a blast. A good mix of asphalt, fields and forests, and just enough clouds over the head made the day very enjoyable day overall, and I spent it mostly lost in my thoughts. I made a conscious choise of not listening to music: the sound of nature is not one I get to listen to a lot in Paris. Better take it in fully; the music will still be there once I get back.

I arrived in Argenton-sur-Creuse in the middle of the afternoon, where I briefly run into two irish pilgrims at the tourism office. I spent the rest of the day and the evening thinking and relaxing, either in the city or at the campground. The latter was setup with the river just next to it, enough to make you forget that there is a whole city just a few steps away.

Tick of the clock

Once again, I had a good night. I was starting to think that I could get used to sleeping in a tent. I had received some news from Krista (my friend) who was still a bit further away: I would reach the meeting point at least one day before her, maybe more. So I took my time and had breakfast in the city before leaving for Gargilesse.

While I was in Velles, everytime I mentioned Gargilesse people told me oh, you’ll see, it’s a beautiful small village, and my guide book said it was supposed to be one of the prettiest town in France. I was quite intrigued to see what it looked like… With a clear blue sky above my head, I left Argenton and went on my way, following a beautiful path close to the Creuse.

Again, the day was a mixture of different kinds of path: very green until Le Menoux, a regular road until the dam and a track going uphill in a forest until the arrival in Gargilesse early in the afternoon. I walked around for a little while, and that place was indeed very lovely and also smaller than I’d have pictured. I could see myself spending some time away from everything there…

I then went to the town’s bar to take a break away from the sun. I caught up on my writing, and I was curious about a woman I had noticed earlier, who busy drawing the town’s castle. I nicknamed her in my head the drawing lady, and when I stole a look at her drawing, I was impressed by the quality of her art. Some people really are good at their stuff.

After, I tried to actively do nothing for a little while. How often do we take the time to simply do nothing at all? Not often, in case you were really wondering. That’s when I noticed a black spot on my leg. A bloody tick. Looks like doing nothing leads to do something… I had probably caught it when I took a short nap earlier in the afternoon.

All I had to remove it was a pair of lame plastic tweezers. Obviously, there was no pharmacy or doctor in this town, so I would have to do it the hard way. After half an hour of being careful I finally removed the little bugger without smashing it or cutting its body from the head : I really felt like I deserved at least a couple of beers. I stayed a while longer at that bar, smiling at the other customers and talking with some of them about my hike, until I proceeded to the camping site right outside of town.

The kindness of strangers

A couple of minutes after I started walking away from the bar, I ran into three women that I had seen while walking around town and earlier at the bar (one of them being the drawing lady). After a very quick chat, they invited me to join them for beers; I figured I still had a few hours before I needed to go back to the camping site so I joyfully accepted.

They were sisters on holidays with their mother, all of them here to showcase their work in an art exhibition during the whole week. One was crafting jewelry (you can see her work here), one was working metals, and the last one was mostly into drawing and painting, while the mother was making puppets.

There was a bit of activity in the village that evening: a tv channel was airing “the favorite village of the French” and Gargilesse was one of the thirteen contenders. It was quite the event: the inhabitants had set up a viewing party with wine, cakes and other snacks. We joined them for a little while, but went back at the house to have more wine when it started raining lightly.

It was starting to get late and I was thinking that I should really go to the camping site before it closes. Luckily for me, they had a spare bed and they didn’t mind me staying there for the night even though we had just met. The kindness of strangers always amazes me… A little bit later we were visited by some neighbours: the town had finished at the 12th position, second to last. They were a bit sad, but I could only be satisfied since the town in first place was Kaysersberg, a town maybe 30/40 kilometers away from where I grew up.

Rain & pain

Four days in and first hangover. I had intended to walk in Krista’s direction instead of waiting around to meet her in the evening, but I was not so sure anymore… Sitting and waiting felt like a very good idea. I spent the morning with my hosts but around noon, I decided to give it a try and started walking. The headache would have to go away at some point.

But time went by and I was barely feeling better. Each step I took felt like a blow inside my head, and on top of that, maybe 5 or 6 kilometers in it started raining. I looked at my map and saw that I had read it wrong: the next town didn’t have a pharmacy, it was the one after. I was too tired to keep going on, so I took the easy way out and walked back to Gargilesse. The tick bite would have to wait for its inspection.

As I was reaching the town, both my headache and the rain were stopping. I was comforted in my decision of walking back when Krista told me she had got lost and wouldn’t go as far as planned that day. Even if I had kept going, I would not have seen her that day.

The bar was closed that afternoon. I went behind the castle, at my hosts’ exhibition. Only Annie (the mother) was here at the beginning, but one of her daughters soon joined us. We talked for a while, then went for a long walk outside of town, near the campground and following the riverbanks. I once again spent the evening and part of the night with them, drinking and laughing. Around midnight or so, I found the courage to look for a patch of grass to set up the tent and get some rest.

There and back again

No hangover that morning! Once was enough… After I had a coffee, I was set on doing something of my day and started walking towards the next town, Eguzon. I needed food, pharmacy, and activity! I still had to decide wether I would wait for Krista there, go back, or move on; but that could wait until I reached the town.

Close to three days in the same place was not having a good effect on me. Hiking is not complicated: one foot a time, one road a time, always forward. Simple enough, right? But having to work around somebody else’s pace, either having to rush or wait can feel like a burden or a drag. In this case, I tried to see it as a good opportunity to test and train my sense of patience, but I could feel myself getting restless.

Luckily, the path to Eguzon shoved those feelings aside. Right away the path was quite steep, though only for a short time. Then it was a regular road until a little town, Cuzion. After, a very nice path going down a forest: it required to be focused, but it was beautiful, even as I kept worrying about ticks.

I lost my cool during the next part. We were still alongside the Creuse and the camino was leading to a forest track, one which had its entrance blocked by a large tree. After I looked and wandered around to confirm it was the right path (and a few minutes of intense reflexion), I decided to give it a try. I was still wary of ticks and spiders but short on temper, so I threw my bag on the other side of the tree, then manage to jump over it.

The first thing I noticed was that there was no going back this way. The tree was too hard to climb from this side. Oh well, then I must go forward, I was thinking. And I did, only to get block by a second and then a third tree not even two minutes in. I felt stuck: I had no idea how long this would keep happening and I really did not want to be stuck in a worse place than the current one.

It doesn't show in this picture, but those trees were a-holes.

After considering my options, I had a fuck this moment and decided to walk the steep mountain side from where I was to what I hoped was a car track, and I was lucky since it was only a few minutes away. I was panting by the time I got there, but at least there was no tree in the way and the track was flat. A few minutes later, the first path was merging with the car tracks: now I felt like I wasted the last hour.

The next part was barely better: a regular road going uphill at first, with the cars driving right next to you, then the same thing, except in a straight line and flat. It was the beginning of a heat wave in France, so this early in the afternoon was the worst time possible to be out in the sun…

I was in Eguzon around 2pm. I was so tired of mind and body that I was seriously considering staying there for the day. Were I to walk back to Gargilesse, I would have to endure this road a second time, and then a third the next day… But if you ask my friends, they will all tell you the same thing: I’m too dumb for my own good. So after a few errands and a quick check-up at the pharmacy, I started walking back. This time, I avoided the forest alltogether and stayed on the main road, which quite frankly was boring. But my knee has started hurting when reaching Eguzon, and the road looked flatter than the alternative.

The last night

I was limping when I reached the campground outside of Gargilesse: my legs were telling me enough with you. Krista had texted me that she would be reaching the town that evening and aimed for the campground as well. After a quick shower, I went to the bar right next to the camping site and met two pilgrims, Diego & Bastien.

Both were from Paris but had started around Bruxelles more than a month earlier. They were mostly walking, and from times to times, when they were not enjoying their current location, they hitchhiked. Both had large backpacks, with a tent and guitars. I was not surprised to learn they were doing shorter days than I was, but wondered how much weight they were carrying.

We had a few beers and then lunch together, and while talking I learned they were into alchemy, as in changing stuff into other stuff alchemy. As much as I would like to, I honestly cannot tell you more about it since that conversation was a month ago and we did not go very deep into the details: all I remember was thinking why not, as long as you don’t ask me to believe in it.

A short while after, the family that had hosted me came to the bar as well and joined us. The pilgrims started playing music and singing, and around 9pm Krista finally got there! She was exhausted, hungry and in need of a shower, and she ended booking a room in order to have a better rest, so we barely saw each other that night. After the bar closed, we all stayed out near the river and kept drinking and having fun until 1 or 2am. We then all went to our respective accomodations for the night, but not before I had bid farewell to all of them since it was unlikely I’d meet any of them again.

That was not the plan

I woke up rested but in a weird mindset. I joined Krista and a fellow hiking friend of hers in town for coffee only to find that she had a similar feeling. I felt odd having had to wait for her, and she had felt pressured into having to rush to meet me, while neither of us actually asked the other for anything. Not the best feelings in the world… We were finally in the same place, but it didn’t feel as good as it was supposed to. That feeling lingered as we walked away from Gargilesse. On some level, it felt like going home after some holidays; I did spend three nights there, all in all.

Being back on the same road as the day before and knowing that I wouldn’t enjoy any of it probably acted as a trigger, as I ended up thinking only one thing : I am not supposed to be here. And the more I thought about it, the clearer it was: this was Krista’s journey and I had invited myself in, even though she was completely ok with the idea. As much as I enjoyed the past few days, this was not my camino.

I shared this train of thought with Krista and she was very understanding. Though she was at first looking forward to me joining her, she was a bit worried that she would lose some freedom of movement once we’d meet, and I could absolutely relate. So, I gave myself the whole road to Eguzon to decide what I was going to do next. Krista’s friend must have been wondering what the hell was wrong with us!. He had known her for a few days and knew we were meeting up, and there we were, talking about going in different directions in a matter of hours…

As we reached Eguzon, I had figured out my next move. I would take a train to Paris right that afternoon. I had a few things to do there: a concert (one I had forgotten about) to see, a friend’s birthday to go to, and another friend who is living abroad was in town. As I made my goodbyes to Krista and wished her well, I also had the next part of my holidays figured out… After all, I still had two weeks left to enjoy.