Friday, September 30, 2011

Pitch Pine Tri

This past Saturday was our last triathlon of the season.

The day started out well—we had to wake B up at 6 AM to head up north for the race, and she just yawned and stretched and said, "Is it time for the race?" What a good little sport she is!

This race was also the New England Club championships, so we had a BIG turnout from our awesome team. Alex and I got to set up in transition right across from each other, and he was sandwiched in between two more teammates.

For the second race in a row, I felt really comfortable in the water...though this time I had to cope with Alex's wave storming by me at the second buoy! (He was right out there in the front of that wave along with a couple of other familiar faces from the team.) The bike was fun, though not as many hills as I'd like. And the run was partly on dirt roads, which was very pleasant, and though out-and-backs are a bit boring, I got to see TONS of teammates out on the course, including Alex.

Alex would like to note that hiking in the Pyrenees (or perhaps more precisely eating rich French food in the Pyrenees) is not the best preparation for a 5K run.

Our team won second place overall, and I turned out to be third in my age group and brought home a cute glass mug as a prize.

Here's our fabulous crew:

Time to start training for next season!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Packaging FAIL

I swear, I just opened up the box and took the photo. Seriously, Amazon???? Seriously????

Yes, that's one tiny Timex watch box, stuck in one corner and surrounded by plastic balloons.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Girls Were All Right

Here's the 10-point update on what B and I were up to while Alex was off gallivanting in Europe. We sure are glad to have him home!

1. Doggies, doggies everywhere
Cee Lo the dog joined us for an overnight shortly after Alex left. Cee Lo belongs to one of my classmates, who was on call. The most remarkable thing about this dog is that even though I had never met him before, he let me waltz into his apartment and take him home with me! The pups had a great time together, but Jasper did spend much of the night humping Cee Lo. Brynna kept running over to me and saying, "Mommy, Jasper's on top of our new friend again!"

Jasper unfortunately celebrated his visitor by having an episode of gastrointestinal distress during the night. On the carpet. (WHY always on the carpet???) And yes, I know it was him. Because the fun continued after Cee Lo left the next day.

2. This is NOT an emergency room!
The day Alex left, I sent two patients from the clinic to the emergency room. In a row. Both via ambulance (which is a little funny since the ER is right on the other side of the hospital campus). It was the same EMT crew both times! And they were from the firehouse right behind our house. As they were wheeling the second patient out, one of them called back, "see you in five minutes, doc!" I still owe them some cookies.

3. Good friends are priceless
Two weekend mornings in a row, P and N from down the street knocked on the door and whisked B away to play with her friend C, allowing me a couple of hours of rest. Well, sort-of-rest...I spent most of that time triaging patient phone calls for the clinic, earning a little extra money.

4. One-trick cooking
Our garden was very busy producing tomatoes and basil, and I was too tired to do much complex cooking, so mostly Brynna and I ate tomatoes and basil and mozzarella on varying carbs: sometimes with noodles, sometimes with rice (she LOVES risotto), sometimes just on bread. Adorably, B refers to mozzarella cheese as "gorilla cheese." I would like to proudly announce that we only ordered out ONCE in the twelve days that Alex was gone.

5. Mini-reunions
My dear friend Sara came to stay for five days. This was awesome in many ways—I got to hang out with her, Brynna got to hang out with her, and the day that Brynna slept until 1 PM (yes, really, 1 PM...I didn't realize she'd suddenly become a teenager!) Sara was able to keep an eye on her at home so that I could see my clinic patients. In the end, we decided that she was super-over-tired rather than actually sick.

Kristin also came up to visit while Sara was in town, and she brought her Great Dane Poe. He walked into the kitchen and immediately swung his head over to the center of the island, sniffing out the stick of butter I'd laid out. Yikes! Great Danes apparently require an entirely new level of dog-proofing. Here's a photo of him drinking from the kitchen sink. Amazing!

Jasper was in awe—though he eventually ventured out for some tentative sniffs.

And finally, our friend Katie came to visit while Sara was in town, too. These fabulous college reunions are going to continue shortly, as we're all headed to a wedding this weekend!

6. Good times on a Saturday morning
Brynna and I had a lovely, chill time doing our regular Saturday morning thing. We biked downtown and left our bike and trailer with the farmers' market bike valet parking (yes, seriously). We went to the coffee store, the bagel store, and did our sweep through the market. Brynna enjoyed one of the first apples of the season:

And then played in the wonderful climbing tree on the State House lawn:

We ended the morning with a library trip, where we found some Madeline and Frances books that we didn't already have at home. Sadly, the copy of Toy Story that we checked out had scratches all over it, so I still haven't seen the movie.

7. Swimming and biking and running, oh my!
Our YMCA puts on a triathlon every year, and though it was a bit lonely to race without Alex, there were a bunch of people there from our tri club. And even more people from the hospital—I was walking over to the sign-in area with one of the ER guys, when we heard someone shout for a doctor. We both ran over, and then a few seconds later I looked over my shoulder to see one of the ER docs joining the crowd, and a couple minutes later another ER provider showed up. I left to sign in for the race at that point!

This has not been a great summer for training, but the race was lots of fun anyway. I left right afterward to take Brynna to her swim lesson (which was awesome!), and while we were in the locker room a nice lady came up to me to tell me that I had finished third in my age group...turns out she was the wife of one of my team members, who had called her from the race and asked her to let me know about the results. Concord really does function like a small town!

8. Doctors have to go to the dentist too
Finally got to the dentist for a checkup. Was told that "it looks like you're one of those people who needs to floss twice a day." Once I stopped laughing, I vowed to try to floss ONCE a day. So far, so good.

9. Ice cream!
There was one night that Brynna and I were having so much fun that I let her stay up late and we ended up going for ice cream around 9:00. Here's a photo I took of Brynna with her ice-cream moustache:

And one that she took of me:

10. Party time
I had forgotten that when you take a toddler to a party, there's very little grown-up time. I also hadn't realized that there was a pool, so Brynna ended up swimming in her underpants, and then running around the yard naked to dry off. The hammock was a particular hit. 

Finally, my favorite Brynna quotes:
"I wish we lived in the ice cream store!" (So do I, kid, so do I.)
"Am I still wearing pants?" (She was wearing a tutu over leggings, and I took the tutu off so she could ride her bike.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Trip Report: Mt. Pemigewasset (Indian Head)

It was a lovely afternoon on Sunday, and we decided to head out for a bit of a hike. We chose Mt. Pemigewasset because it is fairly close, quite short, and has a great view from the top. What a difference a couple of years make...the last time we hiked it, Brynna had just barely started walking!

Brynna, luckily, napped in the car on the way up I-93 to the White Mountains. Jasper supervised carefully.

Here are the creatures posing in front of the sign.

Brynna hiked quite a bit on her own at the beginning...probably about a mile of the almost-two-mile route. She absolutely adored the bridges! As you can see, Jasper takes his own path.

Eventually, B got tuckered out and we popped her in the backpack for the last bit. Her energy returned when we arrived at the open summit. She and I ventured out quite far toward the edge...we borrowed Jasper's leash and clipped it onto her pants for a little extra security.

Then she did some climbing on the ledges with Alex:

After some snacks, we set off down a different trail. Brynna again hiked for quite a long time—more than halfway down. Then it was back in the pack to finish off our day as the sun went down. You can see the mountain (and the non-PC "Indian Head" outline) in the background.

Quote of the day from Brynna: "This is so cool, hiking!"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Like Father, Like Daughter

Me thinks she's gonna be an engineer!

How did she get it up so high????

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Brynna: Can I have some of that, Mommy?

Me: Some of what?

Brynna: Some of that chocolate in the box over there on the table!

[Let's note that this box has come from Barcelona, it has not been opened, Alex told me about it when Brynna was not around, and it does indeed contain fancy chocolate but there is no way that B could know this, since it doesn't look like any other chocolate box she has ever seen!]

Me, innocently: How do you know what's in there?

Brynna, with withering look: I just KNOW that there's chocolate in there.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Barcelona Nights

Yesterday we did a final cleanup of our place in Lescun - Maison Willert - dropped odd the key, piled into the car, and drove back to Barcelona. I rode shotgun for the latter half of the trip, and so got the job of navigating Holly through highway, boulevard, one-ways and back-ways to our hotel near Plaça de Catalunya, just north of the main pedestrian (and tourist) way - La Rambla.

After Mark and Holly returned the car, and a bit of siesta, we headed out on the town. From earlier in his career, Paul knows a woman who lives in Barcelona. She is from just outside the Bronx - born and raised from Sicilian heritage. She met and fell in love with a Colombian in NYC, who is an expert in traditional Iberian music and instruments. They have lived in Barcelona for five years now, and their daughter is becoming trilingual: American English from her mother, South American Spanish from her father, and Catalàn from everything around her. These were our amazing hosts and tour guides for the night.

Because it was early by Spanish standards (7:00), we met for a brief drink of Grazinados (iced lemonade) in a square in the town-within-a-town of Gracia.

After a quick drink and some wandering, we came to a tapas bar for a small bite (pintxero) and a round of Basque cider. This cider is fermented, but not too heavily alcoholic or carbonated, and has a nice bite at the end like ginger beer. Here is a sampling of what we had to eat:

The roasted octopus didn't make it into the picture.

After tapas we did some more wandering until, at 9:00, it was almost a decent hour for a Spanish dinner. We went to a Navarran restaurant well known to our hosts, and essentially requested a tasting menu of the chef. What followed was round after round of small platters of all manner of delicious food: the Spanish variant of bruschetta, white asparagus, seafood chowder, egg tortilla with potato and peppers, lettuce wedges with pan-fried garlic and vinegar, meats in a wide array, and wine, endless wine! We toped it off with a liqueur of berries and anise, espresso, and a few luscious desserts. When we arrived we were the only ones there (naturally), when we left around midnight the place was packed with locals enjoying themselves.

As we stumbled away, we passed through a neighborhood street festival and dance party. Paul danced with our hosts' daughter, and it made me miss B terribly. They walked us back to the Metro with many heartfelt partings and thanks, and we made our way back to the hotel, exhausted and full to the brim with enjoyment!


American Tune

Many's the time I've been mistaken,
And many times confused.
Yes, and I've often felt forsaken,
And certainly misused.

But it's all right, it's all right,
For we've lived so well, so long.
Still, when I think of the road we're traveling on,
I wonder what went wrong.
I can't help it,
I wonder what went wrong.

We come on a ship we call the Mayflower,
We come on a ship that sailed the moon.
We come in the age's most uncertain hour
And sing the American tune.
But it's all right, it's all right
You can't be forever blessed.
Still, tomorrow's gonna be another working day
And I'm trying to get some rest.
That's all, I'm trying to get some rest.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pic d'Anie

For a finale, today's goal was a local high peak: Pic d'Anie. From the side facing Lescun, it appears only to be reachable using rock climbing techniques. However, by following a mor circuitous route, you can come around to the gentler west and south faces that aren't much more than steep trail over scree. At over 8,000 ft (2504 m), it is definitely one of the highest climbs I've done - higher than anything in the Whites by a fair bit.

The hike starts at the Refuge L'Arberouat, which is like a hut you could find in the Whites, although a little less rustic. A purist might have walked the extra 1:30 from our doorstep to get up to it, but I got a lift instead.

I was hardly alone: the parking lot had many vehicles and hikers lacing up.

This is not Pic d'Anie. This is le Billare - the hulking massif that looms like Half Dome over the Cirque de Lescun. I just like the dog hanging out near the refuge.

Pic d'Anie is the hulk just right of center. Trust me, the stuff in the foreground is all shorter.

The walk started with by following the GR10 northwest through some ups and downs in forest before opening up into a long open valley bordered to the north by a spine of limestone called les Orgues de Camplong. Although the trail shows the trail running right past Cabanne d'Ardinet, I didn't notice it until I got nearly all the way to the next landmark of Cabanne Cap de la Baitch. (I have to resist the urge to pronounce it as "Be-atch").

Here is Cap de la Baitch and the Orgues, looking back the way I came up.

I did not linger to hobnob with the shepherd there selling cheese, but instead pressed on and began to ascend in earnest up the head of the valley. For this I broke away from the GR10 and instead followed the HRP: the High Route of the Pyrenees. This is another trans-Pyrenean trekking trail, but as you could guess from the name, stays pretty high up.

The hike up from the Cabanne to the Col passed through numerous distinct rock strata. This layer really caught my eye.

Before I fully realized, I was topping out at the east edge of Col des Anies. This is a broad, mostly flat, large expanse of broken rock, fissures, clefts, and intertwined routes. It is, I expect, much like traversing the broken end of a glacier. Wayfinding was difficult and, were it foggy, almost impossible. Although the HRP travels a good ways west before hitting up a trail to ascend Pic d'Anie, I and another guy started heading up the slopes much sooner to the east, under the shadow of Pic de Countendè. Following cairns, he and I threaded our way around the broken rocks and clefts, passing an 8-foot wooden cross planted into some boulders on a promontory, to pick up the main trail.

This made a long sloping traverse around the north face. As we reached the west face, there was a little scramble where handholds were both necessary and plentiful, before we started switchbacking up to, eventually, the windswept summit.

Yours truly at the summit.

From here there was a spectacular view! Of course one can see down into the Cirque de Lescun, but also northwards into the bulk of France. Lescun is actually close to the northern flank of the Pyrenees - within a few miles of here everything becomes flat to the horizon. To the east and south: mountains as far as the eye can see. Directly south: bits and pieces of the hikes we have done earlier this week as well as peaks I've seen on the map but didn't get a chance to climb. Not too far to the south is the Spanish border: a day's walk on the HRP.

Looking down on Lescun (and about half the hikes I've done this week) from the top.

Coming down I ran into a spot of trouble on the Col. As I mentioned, it is a broad expanse of crumbling limestone: a patchwork of small ridges, fissures, and gravel piles. I knew the way I had come up, and I knew in which direction the descent to the Cabanne lay. But, for the life of me, I could not locate the trail I had taken up. Perhaps with a bit more time it would have presented itself, but instead I followed the blazes for the HRP, which took me much further north and west from where I wanted to be, and probably added a half hour to my descent. No matter - i got down without any further trouble.

As I passed the Cabanne d'Ardinet and re-entered the trees, I turned my back on the mountains. I have now done five solid hikes in five days, and really am ready to hang up my boots for a bit. Plus, on the last mile or two of walking through the woods, the thought that had crept up during every hike became dominant: Hilary really ought to be here to do this with me. Next time, I suppose.

Tonight it was a smorgasbord or leftovers, build up over the previous week by Paul's excellent cooking. He has been doing many of the local dishes which, while delicious, are quite heavy. But for that, I'm sure I could have dropped 10 lbs on this trip!

Tomorrow morning we are packing up and heading out. It's the first step on the way home to see Hilary and little B! But before I fly out, we have a day and a half in Barcelona!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chemin de la Mâture

Today's outing: a climb up the fabled Chemin de la Mâture, a very curious construction of geography, man, and war. Then we come up over the Col d'Arras, and looping back down to where we began at the Pont de Cebers parking area.

First, the geography: the Chemin is a deep, narrow gorge in the rock. The man: Louis XV. War: France had a substantial navy in the 18th century, and needed tall, straight trees to provide masts for such trees. More geography: this region of France had such tall straight trees. What was lacking was a way to get them from where they were happily growing tall and straight to where they would be turned into masts for warships. Some idiot decided that this gorge would be a fine way to get the trees from up high down to the Aspe river, where they could be floated downstream and made good use of. The problem, however, was that the gorge has near-vertical, very high walls, and so getting the trees down was a little difficult.

The solution: carve a walkway into the gorge, span it with logs and ropes, and send the 100-foot logs right down the middle of the chasm. Brilliant! If you say so:

It is difficult to convey in words and pictures how terribly exposed we were during the hour-or-so ascent. The walkway was mostly only 1-2 meters wide, and paved with crushed/broken/exploded stone. In other places the underlying carved rock poked through, and had been polished smooth by the boots of many passing walkers. Trip, stumble, or slide over the edge of the walkway and nothing would stop you from a fatal 500-foot fall. What is more, the path lies on the northern wall of an east-west gorge, meaning that we were in the full sun for the entire ascent. It was much like ascending to the rim of a very steep canyon in the American Southwest (Zion comes to mind), complete with the heat and little scurrying lizards.

After reaching the top of this harrowing stretch, we had a lovely 1/2-km hiking on a gentle slope, under stately trees, hearing the river below, upon a rockless dirt-track covered with the remains of years of leaves. Compared to the decidedly uneven and rocky paths we have scrambled on this week, it was like strolling through shag carpet!

After this lovely break, we turned a corner and headed back up towards the Col d'Arras. It was difficult to know when we arrived. After heading up and up, we emerged from the trees and had views of the gorge we had been struggling up earlier, though now a few hundred meters higher. We could also see back to the Gave d'Aspe and, on further to the west, the slopes I had descended down to Borce two days ago. The trail flattened out and eventually started down, with narry a sign or landmark that would indicate that, yes, you have arrived at the Col.

Wait, now you guys put up a fence? WTF?!

After this somewhat disappointing high-mark on the hike, we began our descent. Unlike most of the walks we have done so far this trip, we did not simply turn around and go back the way we had just come (a good thing, neither of us fancied going down Chemin de la Mâture). We actually had a loop to do today.

The route down was, thankfully, also under the cover of trees. However, the trail was rather steep and rocky - reminiscent of hikes in the Whites. After losing most of our elevation, it ran into a small road that services some of the small farms in the area. This we followed back down to the trailhead we had started at. But, with over an hour until Holly was supposed to meet back up with us, we decided to hoof it back into Etsaut, to the cafe we stopped at two days ago, and have a beer while we waited. Not ten minutes after we sat down, Holly swung through, saw, us, and joined us.

There is one last hike in the area that Mark has scoped out: an ascent of Pic d'Anie. However, he's been battling off a cold for the last few days, and hiking. So, it is up to this young whipper-snapper to take a crack at it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


The day's hike was to get driven to the trailhead at Pont Masousa and hike up to the Cabanne Ansabère. From there we would push up the ravine just south of Petite Aiguille and just over the border into Spain before heading back.

Yeah, we get it. Wow!

The first section of the hike is along a rough road up to Pont Lamary, and then on to the Cabanne itself (hey, the need to get the cheese down somehow).

Some distance after Pont Lamary we came to a pasture with lots of livestock. Ahead we could see the Aiguille peaks: Petite on the left, Grande on the right. These are excellent rock climbs for those who can.

The Cabanne is like many Huts in the White Mountains, except that it is the quarters for the shepherds during the season. These guys apparently make some cheese up here and offer it for sale. Alas, there was no one home, so they missed out on a sale.

The Cabanne is located at the bottom of a large bowl. There is a very large pile of boulders and other debris just uphill from it, which I suppose means that they are just outside the zone for serious avalanches and rock fall. Still, why chance it? Single photos alone cannot describe the scale and verticality of the space around here. I'll work on some panoramas when I'm back at my computer in the States.

We headed up those slopes to towards the Col above the Cabanne and just next to Petite Aiguille. Turns out there was a trio climbing it today (right between the two main fingers of rock, but not visible in this image).

The trail sloped steeply upward along the abundant scree. After a climb of over 500 meters, it abruptly leveled off and presented us with a broad moonscape of shattered rock. A little ways beyond, we saw a sign of two that were the only indication that we had crossed over into Spain.

In my most awful accent, I strung together a bit of Spanish to ask a nearby couple "Aqui esta la frontera, si?" They assured me that, yes, I had arrived.

Although it was quite cool and windy at the pass, the heat from the bowl had turned Mark's crunch bar into Goo de Nestle.

After not very long at the pass, we turned around and started the steep and slidy way back down. Over the next 1-1/2, we would descend nearly 1100 meters - our feet were aching.

We passed plenty of grazing livestock on this trip: cows, sheet, and horses. This ram's horns make me wonder if he ever has trouble getting low enough to the ground.

We passed this car on the way up. Little did we know it would be so popular with the locals.

This evening we are hosting a dinner for some local British grad students. We had met them fishing around in Lac de Lhurs for a lost datalogger, and are headed back to London tomorrow. Being vegetarian, we will be having a markedly different cuisine from the past couple of (meat and animal-fat heavy) dinners. No matter, we are all well acquainted with vegetarian cooking.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lhers, Barrancq, and Borce

Our originally planned hike for the day was held off - Mark was feeling a cold coming on yesterday and wanted to rest today to beat it off.

Still when I looked outside the window this morning and strode the terrace and saw only blue sky I felt the need to get out.

After consulting the map and guide books I came up with a plan. The main hiking route through the French Pyrenees is the GR10. It goes right through town, across the valley to a small plateau and the town of Lhers, up and over the ridge that forms the southern border of the Cirque, and down the other aide to the small strip of buildings that is the village of Borce, which is wedged against the Aspe river, which parallels the main north-south road in the region. This segment from Lescun to Borce is a moderate day for a thruhiker. Many go a bit farther and cross the Aspe to the equally small village of Etsaut.

Lhers is verdant flat area directly across the valley from where we are staying. When we hiked the local Belvedere walk two day ago, we had an excellent view of it. By hopping a ride from the others and being delivered to the trailhead in Lhers, we all got the reverse view of Lescun, and I skipped an hour or two of preliminary hiking.

I got dropped off at the designated trailhead and set off around noon. I kept a look out for red and white stripes: the blazes that signify the GR10. After a promising start and one such blaze, the trail became a quagmire - a thin track with brambles on either side, and steady stream of water, and muck of who knows what kind underfoot. Re-reading the trail instructions, I knew I needed to start heading uphill and, seeing a break leading up, started moving that way.
A hundred feet on the way, this steep climb became impossible. The ground was soft underneath, and steep, and I was wading through a dense forest of grass and 3-foot tall ferns. Deciding thy this could not, in fact, be one of the prominent trails of the whole continent, I headed back down and tried the muck sluice again.

The muck panned out, eventually, into a farmers field with a beaten dirt path. Following it to the fenceline, I was greater with a red-white blaze: I had regained the trail!

An so I began the ascent for real: switchbacks up a sun-beaten slope up and up, merging with a rough-hewn logging road, branching off, merging with another. Below me, viewing off to the north, was most of the cirque. I could at times see Lescun. I was able to find the cleft we ascended to reach Lac de Lhurs the day before. With the scree, the dusty trail, the low vegetation, the heat and sun, the smell and sight of livestock, the countryside reminded me of places I had been in the American Southwest, although much greener and less arid.

Up and up, with never a downward step, until I crested the Col de Barrancq, at which point the trail would start heading down. But in had been in the trees for a bit, and wanted the views from the ridge I had just reached. Following a trail along the ridge, I soon broke out into a sloped pasture. This trail heading up the ridge is not part of the GR10, but rather a side trail that, after another few miles and 2000 ft of elevation, reaches Pic de Labigouer. That would have been a gorgeous hike under other circumstances. It is an exposed trail out on the ridge, with no place to retreat to in case of injury of weather. Plus, I was hiking solo in unfamiliar territory. It would have been a much longer hike than I had planned for, and I was running on a deadline: I had made arrangements to get picked up at the bridge into Etsaut at 5, which allowed me book time for the route plus about a half hour. I had already consumed most of that slack time mucking around the trailhead.

But I am a swift hiker, so I figured I could spare a little time and get up a bit higher on the ridge. Twenty minutes of steep uphill got me high enough on the ridge to be above all the trees and have a nearly 360-degree view. Near to me on the east and west the ridge dropped away steeply.

To the west I could easily pick out the major peaks of the area: Pic d'Anie, Table des Trois Rois, and the several peaks of Ansibere. I could also see all the way back to where I had started in Lhers and, if I had binoculars, the house we were staying at in Lescun. To the east were new ranks of mountains whose names I knew not.

Having spent too much time in sightseeing and refueling, I lengthened my trekking poles and took my first steps of a loooong charging descent. The trail downward passed in an out of the pasture before returning to the forest.

Along the way I saw a bush that had clearly been set ablaze (what, no prophet?), the ruins of an old cabane, a herd of grazing cows and sheep, and a few new farm buildings.

Didn't I see these rocks in Lord of the Rings?

In the woods more strange sights awaited. I found this tree with a deep cleft - possibly two trees that had merged and separated. Where the trunks parted, in a saddle of deep moss, was a short conifer sapling.

The trail exited the woods and come out onto the open slope of a steep gully. I lost many hundreds of meters in switchbacking through more fern-forest under a baking sun. I could see Borce below, and hear traffic on the main road. But it was still far below, and I could not have gone quickly if I wanted to - the trail was too narrow, and my feet too worn, for fast trail running.

I passed yet another visual wonder: a tree that had clearly been hit by lightning and eviscerated by the blast. Despite the fact that 2/3 of the trunk had been cleaved off, despite the charring around the edges, what still stood was most definitely alive!

As the ravine settled out the trail merged with a twisty road that led down to the village. As I had been able to see the village from on high for most of the last hour, I was growing increasingly frustrated with each plodding footstep on pavement. Can I please be down now!? Eventually, of course, I was, and took a stroll down the main drag (the only drag?) of Borce.

Another footpath took me down farther and onto a footbridge that crossed over the valley highway, followed by a short stretch alongside the road. I walked across the bridge to Etsaut just a minute or two after the local church rang 5:00. But there was no one there! After all my worry about arriving in time, there was no one to chastise me for being a minute late. After a few minutes waiting, I took a stroll down the main drag (the only drag?) to Etsaut to a cafe/post office/convenience store, figuring I would have a beer and wait. As I approached I saw the car with my companions, who had been seriously mislead in Borce about where to find the bridge.

And so went my solo hike in the Pyrenees. All in all a good time. Paul asked me how the pain-to-reward ratio worked out on this one. It would have been better had I not had the confusion at the beginning. After a few days of clouds and cool temperatures, I had no reckoned on being out in the hot sun half the day. An actual summit would have tipped the scales nicely as well. But I saw a number of wondrous things and had a nice bit of quiet hiking that avoided disaster. So I'll count that a pretty good day.

The day was made still nicer once we returned to town. We had made reservations two days before to eat at a local restaurant. We had to make the reservations so early because they are a small operation, and only purchase and cook a set menu each night for confirmed customers. We sat outside and watched the shadows creep up the hillsides, until only the peaks were illuminated. Could it be much finer?