Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Day One - Over the Pyrenees Mountains...

Day One - Monday - March 25, 2013 /// St Jean Pied-de-Port, France to Roncevalles, Spain /// 18 miles

Strava data:
St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Roncevalles, Spain
26kms and 1,450 meters of elevations gain (approx. 18 miles and 5,000ft)

 Signing in to the official pilgrim log the night before starting the run just after receiving my Pilgrim Passport.

 The pilgrim office entrance the morning after arriving in St. Jean Pied-de-Port after several train and bus rides across France after flying into Toulouse, France from Basel, Switzerland on Easyjet for 40 francs.  You'll notice the distinct yellow sun symbol indicating this is part of the Camino de Santiago and in this case it is the beginning location.

The Camino de Santiago volunteer in the pilgrim office, yes, volunteer, completing my pilgrim passport paperwork indicating I'm an official pilgrim beginning the Camino Frances and from where I am starting the journey and on what day.  They document and track pilgrims on their progress as a safety measure to ensure no one goes missing.

The pilgrim office stated the original route of Napoleon was closed due to deep snow and someone dying in the snow and cold atop the Pyrenees along the trail just the week before my arrival on the night of March 24th.  I was shocked to learn the weather and snow was a factor at this time of year making the trail nearly impassable and that someone found their end on a path that represents a finding of peace, comfort and enjoyment in life.

I came to the Camino de Santiago with a plan and a major part of that plan was to climb over the Pyrenees mountain range.  The pilgrim office mentioning the unfortunate news that the original Napoleon route over the mountain was closed was not in the cards for me.  As stubborn as I am I didn´t want the easier, lower altitude route.  Just the thought of the alternative route rounding past the high peaks and endless views of France and Spain was a disappointment.  My excitement and expectation from day one on the Camino was certainly not this.  Therefore I went ahead and took the risky challenge of the Napoleon route. 

After a warm, comfortable night in the Albergue Municipal in St. Jean Pied-de-Port I was greeted by sunshine and relatively warm weather.  Such a perfect way to begin the Camino!  The initial group of us pilgrims that had registered in the pilgrim office together the night before and walked together from the office to the Albergue enjoyed an included breakfast of coffee and toast with butter and local jam.  After a short breakfast we gathered our belongings and prepared ourselves for the day ahead on the Camino.

To start off the day, I visited the post office (Correos) to mail the remaining clothes and items I would not need during my trip across Spain to a friend in Madrid.  There I met another American from Oregon, Bob, and two women from the UK.  We all shared a brief conversation of what would be the usual of the Camino of where each of us were from and why we were on the Camino.  While we waited to mail our respective packages I had a moment to weigh my running pack, the Salomon Skin Pro 14+3, which weighted in at five kilos or 11 pounds.  Both women from the UK took a look as I weighed my pack and exclaimed, "Wow! That's great!  We have around 12 kilos."  Of course I responded, "I need to keep it as light as possible because I am running the Camino."  Neither were all that shocked at my response considering it was easy to see I was planning to run when I was wearing running tights, shoes, a merino wool running top and hat from San Francisco Running Company.

My box being shipped to my friend's apartment in Madrid, Spain of things I did not need for the trip.

I spoke with Bob from Oregon a bit longer and helped him with French and the postal form since I had a week to get more familiar with a few words in French during my time visiting Kate and Michael in Switzerland before beginning the Camino.  We traded information and wished each other a "Buen Camino" and I headed off to find a market to buy a few snacks and something for lunch on the mountain pass and to fill my 50oz water bladder in my pack.  As I strolled the streets of St. Jean Pied-de-Port I came across an older gentleman wearing a hanna hat and walking with a walking cane, very common among older folks in Europe, and asked him, "Où se trouve le marché?" (Where is the market?).  He responded with something in French and pointed up the street.  I didn't understand him, but understood his gesture of pointing toward the small hill near a park just past the center of town.  "Merci", I told him and made my way toward the market.  Turns out it was an outdoor farmer's market with local fresh produce.  Perfect!  I purchased an apple, two oranges and two bananas which cost 1.80 euros ($2.35USD).
An old sign showing the way out of St. Jean Pied-de-Port into the Pyrenees mountain range 
via the traditional Route de Napoléon.

Taking in the view before running up to the ridge top of the Pyrenees mountains!
Nursing the early blisters from the steep climb heading to the ridge line high atop the Pyrenees mountain range along the Napoleon Route of the Camino de Santiago. 
I had no idea what lay ahead for me…..

The short of it is that is was fine and the mountain tops appeared clear until you get over one ridge to the next where knee to waist deep snow greets you.  It also goes on for 12kms or 7 miles.  Slowest, coldest and scariest 7 miles on the trail in my life thus far because I was caught in a snow storm with winds that ripped my rain poncho apart in minutes.

Made it to Roncevalles and the amazing hostel partly frozen, cramping and out of water during the final 2kms where I drank from mountain snow melt streams.

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