La Fin

September 5, 2012

To get out of Carança, I climbed the Col Mitja at 2367 meters. I took it steady and strong to arrive at the top for spectacular views of the Cerdagne and the snow covered Carlit mountain range. It was cold up there, so I put on warm clothes again and stayed for a while, breathing in the scenery.

I recently spent a weekend back up that way, and from where I stayed in Les Angles, I could see the beautifully perfect Col Mitja, like a hammock between great mountains. To think I’d been up there, carried myself up there, like a tiny ant in a wide world, well that was something. This place runs in my veins now, mountains I’d never dreamed of before are an uncontested part of me. I don’t know how to express the renaissance that happened for me out there, how this small town Florida native found home in the Pyrenees.

After the Col Mitja I made my descent to the Refuge de L’Orri, a stone shepherd’s hut still in use. There I met Jean Marc and his herding companion Astuce. Jean Marc spends his summers watching over high ranging cattle and his winters working in vineyards closer to sea level. He made a coffee for me and we sat in front of his dirt-floored summer abode taking in his priceless view of wild mountains. Another man of little words, he shared his journal with me to fill the conversation. It was a beautiful story of life alone as a shepherd through the season. I knew it was a privilege to have this time with him, that he didn’t invite everyone into his world. I thanked him graciously and continued on toward the village of Planès.

I don’t know how it happened, but a good bit of my sadness from the start of this trip was replaced by gratefulness. I felt grateful, ever so damn grateful to be out there with such vitality. When I reached the village of Planès I saw a sign for an eco-lodge that offered tent spaces. There didn’t seem to be any other good place to tent camp so I walked through the quiet village and found myself standing in front of a beautifully restored stone mountain house. It was modern, but authentic, tasteful. There was an air about the place that clicked with me. When I met the owners, Arif and Marta, having coffee on their back porch, I knew I would stay the night and dine with them. I felt I was supposed to be there.

While setting up my tent, I talked some with Arif, who asked where I was from. I told him I was originally from Florida and he immediately dropped the French and said, “I thought I recognized some of your gear brands, I’m from Chicago.” I couldn’t believe it! Up here lost in the Eastern Pyrenees where I’ve never met another touring American, I find an American living and thriving. After living in my tent alone for weeks, this was the perfect transition back to the civilized world.

It being early in the season, I thought I was the only guest, until I came down for dinner and saw another recently arrived hiker sitting outside. He greeted me with a big smile and a friendly bonjour.  So I sat down and we started talking ever so naturally. Arif walked by and I asked if the house had any cold beers. My new hiker friend André enthusiastically chimed in on the request and the next thing I knew we were sharing two cold locally brewed beers in what must be the most charming lodge in all of France.

The French may be the most stylish people when it comes to personal attire, but Americans are the experts on home design and comfort. We know how to strike a balance between modernity, respect for original architecture and comfort and convenience. Arif, who is a trained architect, and Marta, with her Spanish origins, have combined these elegantly at their inn where hikers and nature lovers from around the world meet for respite and communion.

That night André, Arif, Marta and I shared a 100% locally produced, organic gourmet meal in our common language of French. After nearly two years in France it was surprisingly the first time I’d ever really managed a whole night by myself in this second language. I felt connected, I felt alive. I shared bits of my story and told them how I’d once owned an organic restaurant in the Florida Everglades. We swapped tales about making a life and livelihood in wilderness areas. We laughed a lot, we shared a lot, we savored the moment.

The next morning André accompanied me to the next village where we would part paths. On the way over I told him about some of my sorrow, why I was out there hiking the trail alone. It seemed right for some reason, to start talking about it. In the village of Cabanasse we swapped email addresses, shook hands and wished each other luck. As I walked off toward le Lac des Bouillouses for what would be my last leg on the GR 10, I felt a little bit more whole. I’d crossed mountains, really big mountains, to find a moment of solace among friends, new friends. It was the start of a new beginning.

I found this collage with Allison Kraus and Yo-Yo Ma on Youtube. It’s a Thanksgiving greeting and though it’s not yet the American Thanksgiving season, I feel like it expresses the gratefulness deep in my heart now, after my trek across my French department on the GR 10 hiking trail.

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10 Responses to “La Fin”

  1. Bizard andré said

    Merci à toi Avery pour cette belle rencontre. Ta force et ta fragilité m’ont touché et je me suis reconnu à travers toi. Tes mots me touchent.
    André, le randonneur…

  2. Judy Williams said

    Beautiful, Avery. Thanks for sharing. “…since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…” You touched on the Divine!

  3. Travis said

    Seems you’ve ended-up (for now) where I always thought you might.

  4. What a fantastic hike! I was directed to your blog by your father who I voluntered with in Athens. He raved about you constantly. Well, he’s right! That twinge of sadness makes your hike seem bolder. And I love the pictures!

  5. Thanks for reading. Dad can be persistent…bless him 🙂

  6. anne said

    opening up the base in the everglades and thinking of you! wishing you love and peace! this blog is beautiful. thank you for keeping it up. Missing you somethin’ fierce! we have been talking about all the good you have done over the last few days! xoxo

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