Transpyrénéa race report - Stage 3, Luchon - La Pierre St Martin

This is, quite officially, the half-way mark. Once there, one can legitimately think "I'm on my way back". We're less than a hundrer to leave Luchon (96, as far as I remember) and only 78 of us will finally show up on the finish line. One could consider if your feet and body frame caried you for 250 miles, including Ariège, now famous for its rocks and black mud, and if you're ready to go for this once more, then, the odds are with you, you might claim a finish. There's only a detail left: 250 miles to go.

Yet another dog... you dogs, please leave me alone!

No big surprise, out of Luchon, we need to climb. But there's still, a surprise. Another dog is following me. This has to be a bad joke. No? This time, I know what to do, following the advices I've been widely given at CP2, I yell at him, throw stones, and make it as clear enough as I can that I don't want his company. I'm openly hostile. But even big stones, that hurt him and make him make those awfull noises while filling me with guilt, do not seem to deter him from following me. Hey, dog, are you totally stupid or what? He follows me through the whole climb. He's thin, and looks sick. People ask me "is that your dog?". Hell, no! A hiker informs me this kind of dog is used for hunting and his master is probably looking after him. I don't know, I just want to walk the mountain in peace, without being bothered by lost animals, let that dog free me and let me go my way! But the dog sticks with me. I try to scare him with my poles. By doing this I almost break them and they are now simply ruined, bended in a dangerous way, right in the middle. Oh great, I'm destroying my equipment trying to get rid of lunatic dogs which, for no understandable reason, pick me out as "the guy to follow". I do not have enough guts to throw stones anymore, let that gentle dog follow me, we'll see what to do about him at the next CP.

Light tricks
Sometimes, even if I'm tired, even if I'm on a big hurry: I take a picture.

At some point, he starts barking like mad and goes straight up the mountain through the rocks. Now, what the hell is going on? I finally get it. He's seen, or heard, or smelt some wild animal, a bird or a marmot, whatsoever, and he's hunting. Don't you ever take a rest, you dog? I wait until that crazyness is over, then we are back on the trail. Yes, I do wait for him, I don't want him lost in the middle of nowhere, it's soon going to be dark, and, you know, I don't like the idea of letting that animal right there where only a few trailers are going to pass before hours.

Doesn't look in great shape now. Poor dog.

Rudy, Paolo and François catch me up. I try and follow them but it's just too hard. The day is over, we switch our headlights on. I'm in zombie mode. This area, this trail, reminds me of something. I had this feeling already at La Ronda del Cims a few years ago. But digging my race reports and papers, I found no trace of a previous event that would confirm that feeling, and prove I indeed had been racing here before. I read somewhere that when one is very (very) tired, one can have this feeling of "déjà vu", a feeling that you've already lived what you're living now. For sure, I'm very (very) tired. My friends get to the Granges d'Astau (CP12) a couple minutes before me. When I push the door, alone, I'm just out of this world, completely worn out. I need a rest.

There's here a lady, who has a twin sister (or conversely?), and a man whose name is Jean-Pierre, I think. All of them are just so nice with me, take care of everything. I fill my stomach with raviolis and go to sleep, asking to be awaken within 3 hours. I swear I slept here already. Am I becoming crazy? Am I already crazy?

Thursday, July 28th. 2016 - Day 9

Waking up is a nightmare, I believe I slept in a wild jungle, there's some dense opaque vegetation over my head. I need time to have my mind work the right way. Put the sleeping bag back in its pack, stand up, go to the restrooms, eat, fill up the bottles, rework that bandage over my left toe. Then get out, and move. Oh yeah sure, I've been there already! Stop it Christian, you're getting totally nuts. I climb with a decent pace, as it seems. Yet another splendid sunrise on the mountain.

Then, once I'm on top of the climb, a runner catches me up, his name is Massimo Scribano. We chat. He seems happy to have met me as, since the beginning, he's been mostly alone. His English is very good, so we can talk for real. He owns a business in Sicilia, from what I understood, he seels suits, costumes. Hell, I need to ask him to give me card, I never wear those, but should I have one nice piece of clothing in my wardrobe, let it be one by Massimo Scribano, Sicilia! The advantage of being together is that it minimizes the risk of taking the wrong path. Our paces are similar, sometimes I feel I slow him down but he assures me no, this is very fine.

I have a look on my road-book on the next villages we might encounter downhill. I do a little calculation. Hear Massimo, I think this is it, with some luck, we might stumble on a f*cking bakery down there, and this is going to be something we never forget. So the crime happens in Loudenvielle. I buy tons of croissants and the likes, filled with chocolate or marmelade. Mostly, fat and sugar. Just what we need. Meanwhile, Massimo has gone to the café just the other side of the road, and comes back with two warm coffees. Now, this is life, for real!

Gulp (Massimo in the background)
Perfect fountain.

We leave with strong minds. In that sector, all the villages are named something-vielle, it reminds me of my childhood, with my parents, we had spent a few days in a village called Sacourvielle. Must not be very far. The trail is much easier here than in the previous sector "Ariège", we meet hikers, casual walkers, and, generally speaking, the area is much more developped as far as tourism is concerned. At least, that's my feeling. And this gentle summer sun, this is just holiday time. I sincerely enjoy this. Oh, here's a fountain. We drink plenty and realize someone from the race is taking pictures. Cool.

Now we're in Vieil-Aure, CP13. I read somewhere that "if you make in to Vieil-Aure, then, honestly, the hard part is behind you". I'd like to be sure of that. At Vieil-Aure, we meet François, slightly ahead of us. Rudy and Paolo are not far behind. The lady with the red hair is here again. I eat, clean myselft a bit, but I'm very concerned with my right foot. Somewhere near my right heel, I can feel the beginning of something that looks like tendinosis. Aouch'! Taking the sock off, and looking at it, yes, it's bigger than usual. It's not critical yet, but I have more than 200 miles to go, so I'd better fix this quick. People offer me various pills to reduce the pain or inflamation but I refuse. I mean, I have days to go on, I need to find the root of the problem, its cause, fixing the consequences won't take me very far. Meanwhile, I have my feet in cold water. Massimo suggests: "could it be those new shoes?". Hey, he might have just nailed it. No problems for 250 miles. Change shoes. Run 30 miles. Then problem appears. Now there's something.

And then, I remember what Philippe, the owner of that sport shop in Luchon, told me about lacing the shoes. Have them tight when going down, but keep the two upper laces loose when climbing. I, for one, have a strong tendency to always keep everything tight, as it seems to me it's no problem to go uphill that way. But now, I'm getting injured. So I change my way of doing it: I now keep the laces quite loose on the upper part of the shoe (the area arround the ankle). After all, in 2013, at Le Luc, I ruined a race because of a lacing mistake (too tight, again...). There's no problem with making mistakes, everyone can do things wrong. The problem is when you repeat the same mistakes over and over. This, is stupid.

We get news about what's laying ahead, as far as the route is concerned. We have, at hand, just sitted in front of us, Mister GR, in that GR. He's responsible for keeping tidy 300 miles of trail around here. Oh yeah, that's a man. I ask him quickly how all those paths are maintained. Apparently, it's easier than what I initially imagined. But I do not have much time for questions either. By the way, that guy has tights and calfs. I mean, you could almost what his job is about, he's clearly not sitting behind a desk 8 hours a day at La Défense, Paris.

Call of the trail
It's impossible to resist, isn't it?

We leave together with Massimo. We often cross the same heads. François, Rudy, Paolo, Vincent Hulin too, not as demonstrative as others, but very nice. The course, here. is trivial to follow, it's really your typical sunday walk path, people are just out for a small walk. I wonder what I'm doing here. This family, there, with the little boy. That could be me 30 years ago. It's typical of the areas I spent some of my summer vacations when being a kid. I feel assaulted by nostagia. Why am I fighting against some abstract time limit in this race? What for? Am I really enjoying the mountain? It's hard to tell. At the same time, should I be walking around, and meet people racing and explaining me "We've done 250 miles but still have the same to go, this is a race!", I would just tell myself "why the hell am I not in this race?". So well, I guess I'm in the right place, doing the right thing.

3 stars hotel
Here I leave Massimo hike the mountain alone while I'm going to have a glorious rest in that palace.

Rudy, Paolo and François believe they can find a bar down there. All practical and logical clues are against that belief. No hikers, nobody, no cars, no nothing. Of course there's a bar. But it's closed. Probably open in winter only, when the ski resort is open. I stay with Massimo. A refuge is noted on my road-book but as I understand it, quite late, it's sligtly off the main path, so it would require extra walking to reach it. I'm not in for extra mileage. Where are we going to sleep tonight? That's the question. When we arrive at the Oule lake, I see a basic, primitive shelter. Night is coming soon. There's another shelter at Aygues-Cluses, after Madamète, but this sounds too far for me. Massimo wants to keep going, but I prefer stopping here. Sorry Massimo, we were a good pair, but I must stop now. I get ready to sleep in my little palace.

Friday, July 29th. 2016 - Day 10

As I wake up, this is no surprise, other trailers are sleeping with me. One must acknowledge the spot is perfect. I swear I've played here when I was younger, I should ask Jean-Paul, but I'm quite sure of it. For real.

This sector is familiar and friendly to me, it really reminds my early hikes as a kid and it's no suprise, I've actually been there. OK there are stones but they have a much more round shape that in Ardèche. I don't know what rocks the Néouvielle is made of, but sincerely, it's largely less hostile than what we had up to here. Now, the Madamète pass is not totally easy. I might consider it as the "first friendly rocky area on the course" it's still... rocks. I did sleep, but the fatigue accumulated during all these days starts to require its toll. At some point, even knowing I'm quite high in the mountain, I spot a little corner, well protected from the wind, between two big giant rocks, and use that place to make a power nap of 15 minutes. I feel better. I keep going uphill, go through the pass, and start downhill. It's still pitch dark. And then, while going down, my brain stops working. I can't find my way. I go backwards, turn again, retry. I'm moving but I can feel I'm dead slow. I see a white and red cross. This means this is not the trail. So the trail is not far. But I can't find it. I'm dead, it's 5:30 am, I've been wandering for hours. OK, Mountain, you won that one. I stop just right where I am. I do not put an alarm clock. Daylight will wake me up. Or coldness. Or both. I don't give a damn, I'm done, I let it go.

As I wake up, it reminds me of my 3rd night. I deny reality. This can't be true. I'm going to wake up in my bed and realize that this was a bad dream. Only, this is plain reality. I'm above 6 000 feet of elevation, alone, I slept amoung the rocks, barely protected from the wind, and now I have several thousands feet of elevation to go down before meeting cililization again. Curse that race! Never see me on the starting line again... Hopefully, the sun rises. And then, everything becomes easy, including, but not limited to, following the GR. During that downhill, I meet campers, hikers. It's just crazy how the night really changes the whole deal. At the same time, I have no choice: given my small base speed, if I want to make it within the time limit, I need to move at night.

I arrive in Barège, and I think I should 1) buy some new poles and 2) eat vast amount of food, that is, have an orgy. Because, you know, my poles are half-broken since the second dog story. Hopefully, that second dog did not follow me after les granges d'Astau. Now as far as food is concerned, I can reasonnably say since Luchon, we entered a new era. I mean, before, we were hungry, but reasonnably hungry, hungry "like on a ultra". But now, we (I say we, because it looks like other runners feel the same) eat like pigs. Permanent hunger, I can fill myself with raviolis at each CP, accept any proposal, double every share, I'm always hungry. At Barèges I buy 4 sandwiches and a giant "brioche". All gone within 20 minutes. I also find an Intersport shop, where I buy wonderfull poles. They are made of one solid block (no foldable-and-breakable junk), painted bright yellow (easy to spot when they're on the ground) and they have that long section of grip on top of them, which allows you to grab them in low or high position instantely. So here I am, I ate, I have a brand new working equipment! Only, I get lost. No laugh please. I spend 30 minutes to get out of town, we're supposed to use a new version, which is a shortcut, of the GR10, which goes on the right side of the river. For some reason I take the old route, turn backwards, get on the right path, then back again, then... What was supposed to save us time did not really work well for me. But this section is very nice, it's been enhanced with wood panels which explain the beauty of the local plants and animals. Your ideal early afternoon walk as a family.

Then I loose the GR once again before reaching Luz St Sauveur. I get a wrong turn near some not-very-romantic waste disposal, as I understand it. So I enter Luz on the road. Which is wrong, so fearing that I would miss the CP, I go back to get the right trail way upwards. Lost time, again... then, after 50 minutes, I realize the CPs are cleary marked, identified, on the supplied GPS track. Now I got it complicated for nothing, I could have just avoided many switchbacks in town by just aiming at hte final target. At least, I had a complete view of the camping site.

CP14 then, at Luz St Sauveur. I'm informed we are allowed to use the swimming pool. This is tempting but sounds like pointless luxury, I resist. I'm served pasta, and many other stuff, and also have (hushhh, this is a secret!) a giant juicy steak. I eat and eat and eat. This is madness. The good news, we know this since CP13, is that we're going to take a major shortcut from here to Cauterets, not going through Gavarnie and the Vignemale area. Looks like we save about 30 miles. Or, put another way, a complete day. Maybe even more, up to 30 hours. Since I do not have such a big margin with the time limit, this is honestly good news. Part of me is still disappointed. Will we be able to claim we really crossed the Pyrénées? I mean... this is all too easy. We had 20 miles cut down at the start because we started from Le Perthus instead of Banyuls (legal reasons...) and now 30 more miles taken away. Gast, the father of Christian Landresse, a racer from Luxembourg I'm regularly meeting for the past days, considers we would have been unable to finish within the time limit, should we have had to do those extra 30 miles. I disagree. I mean, with more miles to go, we might have just pulled a little more energy from ourselves, get a kick in the butt, period. Anyway, since several days, my view on the time limit is this: I go to Hendaye as fast as I can, without jeopardizing my capacity to finish. And we'll see in Hendaye wether this "as fast as I can" is within the time limit. Gast is doing a hell of job with all these numbers, he plans everything, and he does it very well. But this is too much for me. I'm a very simple fellow, who follows simple advices and motto. And here, the most powerfull driver I know sums up to: "move on"!

The climb on Ardiden is quite boring. I find it ugly. I cross a trailer who's doing downhill speed work here. Strange. There are so many beautiful areas over here, why would you pick this one to train? Mystery. I arrive in Cauterets at the very end of the day. Just on time to sleep in a tent. I like tents, I sleep very well in them, and thinking of it, I think they are superior to common dormitories built inside "real walls". At least when it's not raining hard. In the tent, you're alone, as at this stage of the race there are few runners per hour, since a lot of racers did quit, and the remaining are spread on... 3 or 4 days.

And yet another good piece of news for this Friday: my toe nail, the big one on my left foot, does not hurt any more. It's probably not attached any more by any "strong" point. It's not gone yet, I can't pull it away, but at least I can take a bad step and hit a stone with my left foot without singing like an Austrian yodler. This is a real relief, it's going to make downhills much easier.

Saturday July 30th. 2016 - Day 11

When the sun meets the moon
Little morning pleasure.

Speaking about Cauterets, I have covered with positive messages such as "you've done the hard part, the rest is easy". Frankly, I'd really like to believe this. But it's going uphill... uphill... OK this is not a very remarkable uphill, not that steep, no that technical. But uphill all the very same. Now I'm just going my little way up when I meet... Rudy and Paolo, coming back from the top. What are you guys doing? Lost again! This is becoming funny. Once more, I offer them to follow me. I think they are simply tired, because honestly, there's no good reason to get lost here.

I don't feel so small, after all.

Going down, we notice a start line, or a finish arch, whatever that is, but it's clear there's a race here! A trail race, as it seems. I pray they don't start too early, I don't want to have to have crazy super-fast 8 minutes miles runners to step on me while I'm gently hiking my way over here. We laugh together, with Rudy and Paolo, imaging what people might think about us when they see our group. "Oh, those do not look in great shape, do they have proper training?". It's true our top speed might be around 4 mph. This Estaing lake is beautiful, we get a chance to see beautifull horses, it's a real pleasure. At CP16, I do as usual: plenty of food, foot care, and gone again.

Carpe diem. The rest is futile.

Next stage is Gourette. I hope I can make it there before the night, I would like to be able to buy yet-another-pair-of-shoes. It's stupid but I fear my hiking shoes might play me a trick at the end of the course, being way too hot, if the sun and heat are back again. Because, yes, a pair of hiking is hot, and as I anticipate on its very end, the GR is getting easier and easier and at lower altitude. So I figure standard trail shoes would fit better. In truth, my mind is just wandering. But you need to understand the context: I'm alone, no assistance, and we almost never cross any shop, so when there's one, it's a chance not to miss.

A random landscape
And even if you pick it randomly, the landscape is still beautifull. That's the trick.

This being said, we keep going quite often as a group, always the same ones: Rudy, Paolo, et al.

Cooling down
We use that stream to cool down our feet. Because the air is so hot and the sun is somewhat aggressive.

At Gourette, CP17, the atmosphere is sad, according to me, at least. The crew at the CP do their best, but we're stuck in the fog, the place does not have any big window, it's dark... I sleep a little bit, say 20 minutes, just to have a clear mind before the night, and spend some time in town to check out for shoes. There's nothing interesting. I still buy a pair of hiking sandals. I imagine I can always use those for a couple miles on easy parts and let my feet cool down that way. They are sort of heavy, but honestly, I do not really care about the weight. I do have the general physical ability, this is a moot issue.

Point of view
Now this is what trailers really see. All those pictures are plain bullshit, we never take the time to look at anything but our feet.

The climb after Gourette is... a real climb. I quit the last campers near a lake. I'm above cloud level. Temperature goes down slowly. A little wind shows up. I catch up Rudy, Paolo and Joao, a very nice Portugese guy I already met during the descent of Madamète. So there are 4 of us. We go through the pass (top of the climb) before the sun is completely set. It's a good think. Bad weather seems to be back again, and I wouldn't have appreciated to be up there in dense fog at night. I will learn afterwards that some people have been temporarily stopeed in Gourette, race director judging it too dangerous to go out in that context and try and pass the Hourquette d'Arre. Last gloomy detail, I've good reasons to think it's exactly in that area that poor Gérard Dufour died a few feeks ago, as he was hiking the GR10 the other way. Cautious, be cautious.

Rocky rock
Did I ever mention to you that there where some stones around here?

We do not know where we're going to sleep, but I read my road-book "Cabanes de Cézy", even if it's not factually marked as "shelter", there might be hope. Hope keeps you running. And we need hope, because this is no gentle run. We stay packed as a group, and it's the least we can do as the elements are, say, hostile. We're in deep fog. I can't see. I'm in front on open the trail, I've my eyes 50% on the GPS, 50% on the 6 feet corner of "viewable things" I have in front of me. This is so thick, between the night, the cloud (fog...) and that pouring rain, it's really a challenge to know what's ahead of us. At the same time, there's other option, we must leave that place and move on, it's the only solution we have.

Bad weather
Night is coming, and we're going downhill. So in those clouds, we might not see very far. It can be a real pain.

Now, the culminating point of bad lucky: Rudy's shoes are falling apart. They opened themselves around the toe box. He fails to understand why. 10 days ago, they were brand new! No but Rudy, have you noticed something during the past 10 days. Weren't you hiking all day long? I mean, 300 miles of moutains, that reasonnably can kill a trail shoe, be it a strong one... So well, his shoes are worn out, and his toes can see the sky (well, no, because of the fog, but you get the point). Hardly believable. But hope keeps your running. So we move forward in the night.

When, at last, we reach what we think is a shelter, we stumble on some wooden signs. OK, there's a shelter indeed, 400 meters on the right. I try and follow the faint trail. One can see only a few yards ahead, maybe 5, not more. We could walk just on the side of a giant building and miss it. 400 meters it said. There we are. We search around. Oh, someone saw something. Yes, it looks like a small house. We try to open it. Closed. Dammit. Oh no, there's someone in there. The door opens. Only we were wrong. This is no open shelter. This is the local sheperd's house. Doh. We just woke him up, right in the middle of the night. He tells us the shelter is just a few steps in that direction. He also tells us we get absolutely no chance to find it in that fog. This is our lucky day, he offers us a night in his house. That kind of encounter that convinces you Humanity is great.

And in his hourse, just imagine: it's heated! Unbelievable, a couple minutes ago we were freezing outside in the cold and rain, and now we're just in a dry place, on a comfortable wooden ground. And then, without hesitating a minute, Paolo starts working on Rudy's shoes. He borrowed my one of those pins designed to attach race numbers, and uses it as a needle. I also gave him some string, but he finds a better one just here, in the sheperd's house. And after an hour of work, which means sacrificing an jour of sleep by the way, after an hour of work, he manages to make the front part of Rudy's shoes stick with their main bodies. I mean, he fixed them. Well enough so that Rudy can use them to go to the next village. Now you Mc Gyver watch out, there's a challenge for you over here, and that challenge has a name, it's Paolo!

Sunday, July 31st. 2016 - Day 12

We all agree: this comfortable night is the most fantastic stuff that happened since the beginning of the race. I note the sheperd's address, I mean, we need to thank him the right way when we come back home. During the night, several trailers knocked on the door. Some of them he redirected toward the shelter, and eventually, some of them found them. Some of them just passed by. We were lucky. Sometimes, you need luck.

Now we continue downhill. At least, we did sleep well, and the sun should show up soon. But it's still quite dangerous in some places, for instance I'm very happy not to go through the Corniche des Alhas path alone. There you can take one bad step. Only one.

At Gabas, Rudy decides to go through the village, leaving the GR10 but maximizing the chances to cross someone, hikers, shop, whatever, anything that could help him in his quest for new shoes. Then, out of luck, the family of François, as well as Gast (the father/crw of Christian, from Luxemburg). And among all those people: Rudy finds someone with a spare pair of basic hiking shoes! Oh yeah, this is not your perfect trail shoe, only basic low profile hiking shoes. But they are the right size and are not falling apart as Rudy's former shoes, which are worth nothing by now, even partially repaired by Paolo. This is a relief for everyone, I would have hated to see Rudy give up because of a stupid shoe problem.

Bar in the mountain
Best place ever to have a "crêpe au Nutella".

Then, to be honest. I fail. I fail to move. No nore energy. I need calories. With Paolo, Rudy and Joao we enjoy a frozen piece of bread and some dried meat we gathered in Gabas. This is good, but not enough. A car comes by. Hey? It takes me 10 seconds to react and move on the side of the road. Oh dear, I need something to eat. My personnal food is quite gone now, out of the 6 000 kcal, most has been eaten when... this is a miracle, at the Bious-Artigue lake, there's a bar. And this is not just a simple bar. It's a bar with a crazy boss! She's unbelievable, full packed with energy, firing joke after joke, this is just what I needed. They do sell "crêpes au Nutella". I buy 5 of them. I eat 3, and stick 2 in my bag for later use. My initial plan was to eat 5 just now, but the dough is so thick and tasty that 3 is enough. I could spend the whole morning, afternoon, day, here, but we need to go. So we leave.

Yet another stream. I like them all.

At some point, I get to hike alone. I think I was a little fast, and needed to be alone, simply. I'm heading towards Etsaut, and follow the Chemin de la Mâture in full daylight in the middle of casual walkers, families and all. Hey, some guys are climbing with ropes and helmets down there. For those who enjoy vertical rocks, this is close to paradise. I think I really like this Pic du midi d'Ossau sector, with all those canyons. It's unbelievable how the Pyrénées have changed since the start. It's quite progressive, but the place where I'm now is very different from where I was 50, 100, 200 or 300 miles ago. This end-to-end extra long course does have something special.

Chemin de la Mâture
Chemin de la Mâture, You can't get wrong and choose the wrong path. Well, if you do, you do it just once. Then you never make any more mistakes for the rest of your life. Which is over.

At Etsaut, I consider buying stuff in the village, stop in a bar, but I finally just eat one spare "crêpe au Nutella" and use the time to take care of my feet, which I'm always taking care of. My left toe still requires attention, even it remains in a stable state which is, in itself, good news. The three others catch up while I'm playing foot doctor.

For some reason, my race number was written there, on the ground.

I start before them. I decide to hike uphill fast. I move quite fast in my opinion. Only they catch up when arriving on top. They must have started just after me. No. In fact, they started quite a long time after me. Only it took me 30 minutes less to reach the top. Oh dear, I'm just so sad and disappointed. I mean, I try hard, sweat, do my best, and then learn they are just plain 30% faster than me. Oh, forget it.

Now downhill to Lhers, CP18. It's a camping site. Most runners do not sleep here, prefering to wait unil BV3, which looks quite close on the paper. I like camping sites. And there's nobody here, it's going to be quiet and comfortable. And I have sandals, which, to move within the camping, is just a plain must-have. Paolo decides to stay with me, after having spent almost a complete hour shivering with Rudy, sitted on a chair right in the middle of the common tent.

Monday, August 1st. 2016 - Day 13

Cool start, I go together with Paolo.

We sometime have trouble finding the path, but globally, it's easy. The weather is still a little humid, foggy. Not enough rain to draw the poncho from the bag. Not enough? Yes, enough. But we could have gone without it. It's not that bad. Oh, surprise, this is a secret control. I wish there were more of those, because, you know, sometimes, se see strange things... Indeed, some runners you always see them, I mean, we all know each other know, VIncent, Charles, Paolo, François, Christian, Joao and some others. This is logical after all. But some other runners, you just meet them at the CP, and then hooosh they vanish. OK, not everyone has the attraction power and ever-chatting-attitude of the famous Paolo, but still, there's something.

Pas de l'Osque, view from the top
Paolo going down.

I have strong regrets concerning this night. I have been, I think, way too rude with Paolo. It was just not my day (or night). I mean, I'm usually quite talkative and enjoy exchanging jokes on the road, but on that night I just close myself like a clam, and do not give their right chances to Paolo's repeated and sincere tries to start the conversation. Paolo, if you read those lines, just know I'm sorry, I beg your pardon, next time I try and don't act as a fool, I just wasn't there. It's hard to move forward. At some point I need to sleep for 15 minutes. It takes 5 minutes to set up the alarm clock on the phone. I need time to start over, because I fall asleep on the Android interface before being done. Start over once. Twice. 5 times. A real pain, one can barely imagine how tired one can get on those races. Meanwhile, Paolo is getting cold. I feel guilty...

Pas de l'Osque, view from the bottom
A sunday walk with your family, they told me. Mmm, let me check. Are these ropes?

Then, at last, the sun rises. One of the race officials told me: "between CP18 and BV3, it's just your typical Sunday hike with the family, very easy". We do not have the same Sundays, nor the same family. I mean, the "Pas de l'Osque" is not something you run over without noticing. I need to slow down like mad, there's a rope, we watch our steps! But who cares, because that rising sun over the Pic d'Anie was... totally magical. Just for this, it was worth sleeping at the previous CP, it's so beautiful that fatigue vanishes, I'm flying.

Near the Pic d'Anie, let the magic happen.

Down on Arrête, I try and follow the GR, we spend time finding the right path near that skiing equipment but then, finally, ooops I did it again... we're off track. So we're going down a ski path, flat and digged through the mountain. I admit I do not have the courage and energy to go all the way back to find the real path which is slightly on our left, when following this we're 100% sure to reach the ski station. And as we reach the station, we are just before Vincent and Massimo, who have probably followed the real genuine path. OK, we're moroons, let the guilt and shame cover our miserable selves. I, for one, was talking about cheating just before. Now how do I sound like?

At BV3, I try and be quick. Charge batteries, take a shower, change clothes, foot care, and food, food, food, more food. Then I leave. Looks like I'm gonna see the end of that story, and it could be a happy end.

Last page: Stage 4, La Pierre St Martin - Hendaye

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Updated on Tue Aug 16 2016.