I’m standing at the foot of a dirt path leading straight up the side of the mountain. The heat is bearing down. I keep telling myself, “all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other.” Today’s hike is only 9 kilometers, but it’s rumored to be one of the hardest days on the Camino because of the step elevation climb – 900 meters in 7.5 kilometers. Even with our two week warm up, I am not prepared for this.
All I can do is take about 10 steps at a time before I have to stop for a quick breather. Although I want to give up, I continue on because I know that Eric is ahead of me, and he’s probably waiting. To keep myself distracted I put on my earphones and listen to the new playlist I made last night.
I climb on, stopping every once in a while to take my pack off and get sip of water. With each step, my pack feels heavier and heavier. I start to wonder where the crap Eric is. Usually he would check on me, because he would know I’m struggling. I keep scanning the ridge to see if I can see him at the top, but I can’t make out tell the difference between sheep and people at this point because I am still too far away from the top.
I try to push the thoughts of, “I’m going to be lost out here forever, because Eric and I are separated” out of my mind. I remind myself that we are on a well marked path, that he’s just waiting for me up there, and I can’t see him. I push forward, because there’s nothing else I can do.
When I finally reach the point where the dirt road meets up with a paved road, I put my pack down and check our guide book. I still haven’t seen Eric so I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing. While I’m checking the guide book, two frenchmen who I saw earlier in the day pass me. So I start following them.
I notice signs the guide book mentions so I am confident that I am on the right track. I speed up a little. Since I haven’t seen Eric yet, I am convinced that he’s been waiting for me for at least an hour and most likely either worried, annoyed, or a bit of both.
But with every step I take, I start to get mad at Eric. We didn’t say we were hiking separately today. He’s not supposed to go off for so long without checking on me, unless we say we are hiking alone. On top of that, this is known to be the most challenging day. How could he just keep going without even turning around to make sure I am still there? It just didn’t make sense.
Right before I had started climbing up that dirt path, I had seen a sign that said Orisson (the place we are staying) was 5K away. It starts to get to me that I am not there yet. How can I not be there? 5K is only 3.2 miles. How is it taking me so long? Damn elevation! I’m trying to not to be angry. But I’m mad at the Pyrenees, mad at Eric, and mad at myself for not being stronger.
Finally, I round a corner, and see the Refugee Orisson, the only Albergue in The Pyrenees. We’ve already made our reservations, as it books up months in advance. I’ve heard it’s a special and unique place to stay. My spirits lift when I see it. I think to myself, “Eric must be waiting for me there, because he would never want us to finish such a challenging day without one another.”
However, when I enter the refugee, there is no sign of Eric. Now, I feel the panic rising. Because, there’s no way he couldn’t not be here before me….unless something happened to him.
When I ask, the woman at the Refugee who is checking people in if Eric Broussard-Buneo has already checked in and she responds with a, “No”, I try to hold back the tears. I can’t keep the anxiety at bay now. All the worst-case scenarios start to run through my mind at all at once. Are there bears out here? Could he have fallen off a cliff? Did he break a leg? Maybe he got dehydrated? Or seriously lost?
The woman who works there can clearly see that I am worried. She asks me if maybe he went the other route. I say, “The other route?” She replies in her French accent, “Yes. There are two routes that both meet up. One is longer than the other. Maybe he didn’t take the dirt path and he took the longer route.”
I then start to worry not that something has happened to Eric, but that he thinks something has happened to me. As soon as she tells me that there’s two routes, I realize, he must not have known to take the dirt path. I had the guide book and we never discussed a plan. He had to have stopped to wait for me. But that was hours ago, so I just know he’s worried about me at this point. He’s out there thinking something happened to me, just like I am thinking something happened to him.
When I tell the the woman this, she says in her broken English, “You are worried. You want to take my car and go looking for him?” When I tell her I can’t drive stick (all cars in Europe are stick), she turns to the two older French men who passed me earlier and in French, explains to them what happened. She asks me if I am comfortable with them driving me down the mountain to look for Eric. When I say yes, she hands them her keys and off we go.
So now, I am in a beat up old car, with two Frenchmen who speak no English, on the Pyrenees, looking for my lost finance. Of course this would happen to me. I’m crying. The Frenchmen have no clue what to do with me, because the can’t comfort me due to our language barrier.
As we drive down the mountain, I look closely out the window, convinced with each curve we round, I will see Eric sitting right there. We drive down about 6K and we don’t see him. At this point, we’ve driven past the last point where I saw him.
I’m a hot mess – convinced that he’s fallen off The Pyrenees, but since I don’t know what else to do, and I don’t speak French, I say “let’s just to drive back up.”
We’re about a half a kilometer from Refugee Orisson, and I see him. There’s Eric walking up the road, nonchalantly without a care in the world. I scream, “There he is!” and then Jaques, the guy driving, starts honking his horn at Eric. Eric turns around and motions for the car to pass, before he sees me and says, “What are you doing?”
I hop out and yell, “Looking for you!” The guys motion for us to get back in the car so, but Eric says no. I thank them profusely and tell them, “I’ll walk with him.” They shrug and drive off.
As it turns out, Eric did miss the dirt path and he took the road route, which is steeper and longer. When he reached the top, he found a rock to rest on. He waited for over an hour. When I didn’t show up, he worried I was hurt and decided to hike back down to find me. He hiked all the way to where the dirt road started climbing up the mountain and realized his mistake. He knew I had taken the right route, while he had taken the other. As he was climbing up the dirt path, I was coming down the road with the Frenchmen, so we missed each other.
We hike the rest of the way hand in hand. Maybe I could have been more logical. Maybe I could have waited at the refugee for Eric 30 more minutes. But, I’m not sorry for being dramatic because you just never know.
When we get back to the refugee, I thank the woman for her help. I explain everything to her. She says, “Now you are together and you can enjoy and be happy. Don’t worry. This happens every year. The husbands walk ahead and take the other route. The women get here first and worry.”
Comforted by the fact that I’m not the only crazy significant other to go through this, we head off to enjoy the views and rest up tomorrow’s hike.
That night over an amazing group meal, the French guys ask one of the other pilgrims who can speak French and English to translate what happened for them. We recount the entire thing to our table, and everyone has a good laugh.
A feeling of happiness and fulfillment washes over me. I mean, I’m sitting at this amazing place in The Pyrenees and I’ve just completed one of the most challenging hikes of my life. I know tomorrow, will bring new challenges, but for now, I just want to feel this.
Distance: Somewhere along the path today, I lost my Up Band. I didn’t realize until I got back to the refugee. I think it fell off at some point when I took my pack of to rest. 🙁
Location: Orisson, France
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