Day 5 – St.-Jean-de-la-Blaquiére to Lodève, 16.7km, 6.25hrs, 18 April

It’s beginning to feel a lot like a Camino! Today’s stage was short because of a lack of places to sleep 10km past here, rather than because we couldn’t walk further for some reason. We also met and chatted with a few other pilgrims. I’m actually surprised how many pilgrims we have met so far. That’s a good thing.

The day started out with a rather sad parting from the Les Mas des Quatre Saisons chambre d’hote. That home really is lovely and the host family are all stars. We had a fantastic gourmet beef stew dinner last night with half of the family and some of their friends.

We were sadder still when the marked trail headed out in a southerly direction instead of westward toward where the GPS and guide book said we would be on a direct route to the next town. It was a nice enough route until we were told to walk down the stream. We managed to tip-toe along the edge for several hundred meters and stay reasonably dry and mud-free before being dumped out onto a small road.

That road, sadly, led us immediately to a five meter wide river that we needed to cross. Where was the bridge? We walked up and down the side looking for a way across but found nothing. We tried throwing some small boulders in the middle to use as stepping stones but they all sank well below the waterline. Where the water crossed the road, it was only about six inches deep but flowing very fast. What to do? We gave in, took off our boots and socks and walked through the freezing water. Surprisingly, after drying off our feet and getting re-shod, it seemed as the cold water refreshed our feet. We’ll have to remember that trick.

Soon after that, we found ourselves on a nice dirt track that led northwards to intersect the GPS/guide book track. Unfortunately, we missed the signs where they joined and we walked several hundred meters before realizing our error. The good news was that this was our only miss-step of the day.

Back on trail, we were now ascending a steep 250m on a thin, rocky trail to up to the little village of Usclas-du-Bosc and then on a wider path beyond it. Jerry kept plugging away but was bringing up the rear. He didn’t mind my encouraging shouts of “keep on walking” but he did seem to take offense to the older French woman with the bad back who passed him when she tut-tutted and said “no physique”.

Soon we seemed to be headed downward and when we reached a road, we checked the GPS and figured that the road ran parallel to the the trail for about 3km before coming back together. Jerry decided to walk the road while Melanie and I walked the trail, figuring it would take us about the same time. We agreed to meet at a GPS point down the road in 45 minutes to an hour. As it turned out, Jerry saved us. The first kilometer for Melanie and me was on very tough terrain, a rocky wet occasional stream-bed. It took us 25 minutes just to do that first kilometer. At St Michel de Grandmont Priory, we bugged out and headed for the road to try to catch up with Jerry. We almost caught him but we ended up walking a bit further and faster than planned.

Just after rejoining and all walking on the track again, a nice young German caught up to us. Since he had passed us two hours earlier, I had to explain how we passed him without him seeing us. He told us that the section we missed was extremely challenging. He thought we were very lucky to have missed it although he cryptically said that he liked it because he is a “boulderer”.

We walked with the German until passing Soumont and reaching the point where we could look down over the city of Lodéve. There he walked ahead to find bus to Toulouse as this was his last day on the trail.

The rest of the way into town included a long section through the forest on a steep descent on loose scree. I should have packed my skis. After that was a walk through the narrow, shadowed lanes of the old town, through the Muslim district to the “grand” Hotel du Nord. I say “grand” because it probably was grand. Once. Back in the 1930’s. Now, it is more “quaint” but they do have wi-fi. It reminds Melanie of the Grand Budapest Hotel except it is a woman in charge here – though still with the pencil mustache.

One thing about the Caminos: you are always learning something about yourself. Sometimes you learn that you can do something that you previously thought impossible. Sometimes you learn that you can not do something that you thought was possible. Today, Jerry learned that, with a bad hip that limited his training and now pains him on every step uphill, he can not safely continue over the next few strenuous stages. Our expected days are 27, 28 and 23km with individual climbs of 550m, 770m and 700m as well as lots of smaller climbs. Jerry will stay two extra nights in Lodève and then take a taxi to meet us in Murat-sur-Vebre and then walk again with us the next few flatter stages after that.

Update: we’ve just returned from dinner at a Parisienne themed restaurant. We know it had a Paris theme to it because they served nice French food, it was a bit expensive and, finally, they had the snobbiest waitress I have ever met -outside of Paris. We often got the impression that she thought we were not good enough to eat her husband’s cooking. She should have told us that out loud before we went in the door and saved us all the aggravation.

That’s it for tonight. Tomorrow is expected to be a doozy. Peace y’all.

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