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Day 19 - The perfect wall
rest day evaporated in a jiffy when I reckoned that the rain, so
certainly forecast, might amount to just a few sprinkles. Taking a rest
day today, and then finding rain for tomorrow's hike, sounded like poor
A big plus was that I'd already arranged to stay at Le Perigord until Monday, so any hiking today (Sunday) might just as well (hee-hee) be without a pack again. I'd hike from Tonneins to Marmande and take the train back from there. Conceiving this plan after accessing the latest online weather forecast at 6 am, I breakfasted, bought a baguette enroute to Agen station, and was on the ground at Tonneins by 9 am, and heading west in a mild drizzle, umbrella in hand. By 11 am, the rain was over, and blue patches appeared. It really was quite a nice day. I stashed my lightweight Totes umbrella with the polka dots.
A twelve mile hike in good weather without a pack is not a stretch for me anymore. But I had time, and thought I'd take a proper lunch break today. I had the remnants of a round of Camembert cheese that I'd bought in Agen two days before, I had a baguette, and I had water. What I didn't have was a bench. The wet grass didn't entice. Nor did some jagged rocks. What I came across instead was a perfect wall.
Now a perfect wall needs some explaining. A perfect wall is just the right height for your feet to touch the ground and your legs not bunch up at your midriff. A perfect wall is wide enough to cushion your entire butt. A perfect wall has soaked in the sun awhile so it's not too cold. A perfect wall is set back from any traffic. A perfect wall has some pillars to lean against.
Above all, a perfect wall has no snarling dogs behind it.
I found such a wall between Longueville and St-Pardoux-du-Breuil, and it quickly qualified as perfect except for one nagging worry. It wasn't quite on the street as much as it was set back and clearly on someone's property. And, just as I had the Camembert in one hand, the baguette in the other, and my butt on the aforementioned wall, the owner arrived in a Citroën - followed by a matronly lady in a Peugeot.
Now, to explain this scene a little, I need to backtrack. It wasn't that long ago that I had been sitting on a public bench canalside at Villeneuve-lès-Béziers. Come to think of it, it was a Camembert and baguette day also. With my meal preparations in full swing, a man I'd never met rode by on a bike, greeting me with an ear-to-ear smile and a cheerful "Bon appetite". You see, the French not only like eating, but they like others to like eating, too. It's just their thing. Mealtimes are a ritual that unites them as a people.
So here in Longueville, I had the perfect defense against trespassing. If I'd just been sitting there resting, the owners would probably have tolerated me. But to see me there eating - why, that made them my hosts. Both cars drove past me with their owners smiling. I waved; they waved back. Once parked, one of the drivers walked back and said he hoped I'd enjoy my lunch, but he was concerned that he hadn't seen me with a drink - and would I like one? I replied that I had my water here somewhere, and I was very happy because the weather had turned out fine, and I was enjoying a bon repose thanks to their nice wall.
At that moment, the world was exactly as it should be.
Marmande is a fine town, with a history that I need to read-up-on and describe later. It figures in tomorrow's hike as I've now got that planned.
Hobson got downright nasty today when he saw me inspecting my hiking pole, which is on its last legs (hmm) at the bottom end this time - the handle is fine.
"Now what?" he snapped.
"I reckon this hiking stick has just about had it," I said, levelly. "And I won't be all that sorry."
Now I've developed a lot of respect for hiking sticks. They're scientifically proven to reduce the load on your legs. They've also helped me with stability on banks, crossing streams, and getting up from rests with my backpack on.
But that stability matter - it's been a plus and a minus.
"Tell me about the minus," said Hobson. I knew he'd head right there.
"All right," I said. "I will, but you'll need to listen carefully."
"Imagine," I said, "that your hiking stick is in your left hand. You plonk it on the ground behind you, just as your left foot is about to spring you forward. Got that?"
"Uh huh," said Hobson.
"Well," I went on, "the stick is just to the left of your left foot, and it's also just in front of it. Got that, too?"
"Uh huh," said Hobson.
"Just occasionally," I explained, "the stick will hit a rock or something - and then skidaddle to left or right. I'm thinking of a time it skidadled to the right."
"Right, left, what's the difference?" asked Hobson.
"When it skidaddled to the right," I said, "and just in front of my left foot, remember . . . well, my left shin hit it just as that foot was trying to spring me forward."
"And that's when I got a nasty contusion on my left shin," I said.
"Aw, shucks," said Hobson. "Is that all?"
"Well, not exactly," I said. "With the hiking stick nicely plonked, when my shin hit it, I also tripped."
Hobson's interest was rising every second. "You mean you sort of hop, skipped your way out of it."
"No," I said. "I went flat on my face. That's when I got an ugly contusion on my right forehead."
"Ooh," said Hobson. "Tell me all."
"Of course," I said. "First I grazed my left-hand knuckles on the ground as I went down gripping the hiking stick."
"Ugly contusion?" asked Hobson.
"Nope. More like pieces of gravel stuck in the bloody wound."
"What a terrible accident," said Hobson happily.
"But that's not all." I said.
Hobson was radiant. "There's more?"
"You haven't asked me about my left forehead."
"I thought you said it hit the ground and you got an ugly contusion . . ."
"No," I corrected him, "that was my right forehead. My left forehead didn't hit the ground. It hit the hiking stick."
"Another nasty contusion?" asked Hobson, hopefully.
"More like a gash," I said.
"So all 180 lb of you went flat on to the gravel?"
"Nope," I said. "All 205 lb of me."
"I didn't think you weighed that much."
"The weight of the backpack added to my own weight," I explained.
Hobson was clearly impressed. He was quite lost in thought as he replayed the sequence of events. Eventually he surfaced from his contented musings, and asked me about my knees.
"I skinned them," I said. "But you should have seen my elbows."
"Well, Daryl," he said. "That was quite something. If you should do it again, do you think you could give me some warning? Maybe I could take a photograph of you going down!"
"Nope," I said.
"Why not?" asked Hobson. "It won't make much difference to you one way or the other."
"Nope," I said firmly.
"Why not?" he pleaded.
"Because I just won't," I said.
"Because," I said, "that's an accident that I'll never, ever let happen again."