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Day 17 - Fast walk to a slow train
March 19, 2010                            Agen to Port Sainte Marie                                14.5 miles
Agen canal bridge over Garonne
Agen canal bridge water view
Above and top: The Agen canal bridge over the Garonne, a national monument
Below: Two blah scenes from a blah day on the "Canal Lat" today

Canal vegetation
Road bridge over canal
Agen is famous for its prunes. I learned that from signs on the hotel walls and in the elevator. My otherwise-basic breakfast included a few. There's nothing like civic pride.

After breakfast, I set out without my backpack, and easily accessed the canal right at the station. The station is always near the canal. Almost at once I crossed the Agen canal bridge over the Garonne. It's one-third of a mile long, and is the second-largest in France. Completed in 1843, it's now a national monument.

And then the canal got blah. I suppose there are just so many miles of canal you can walk before you've seen all shades of them. But today's canal was bordered by unattractive trees and even-more-unattractive thorn bushes. Though insulated from the brush on a civilized towpath, there wasn't  much to see. I just hoofed on. In fact, after some email discussions about hiking speed with the hikers in Illinois and California, I was curious to revisit this subject without a backpack. Including rests, which I kept short, it seems I did the first ten miles at 3.1 mph, whereupon I slowed down and completed the 14.5 mile day at 2.9 mph. More typically, with a pack, I average 2.2 mph.

The big-toe hurt a little, but probably didn't affect my speed.

Arriving in Port Sainte Marie, the local farmers' cooperative had a special sign for me, as pictured.

I got to the station at Port Sainte Marie in time for my 1.52 pm train back to Agen, but I found no one there, and the ticket counter closed. There were, however, numerous warning signs about disruptions due to maintenance. And they were quite bewildering. One sign said that the 1.42 pm train to Agen would stop on track 2 and not track 1 - but no such train is in the current schedule. Another sign said that the 12.25 pm train to Agen was to be replaced by a bus - but no such train was on the schedule either. That sign was the one in lights on the platform, yet it was now 1.30 pm, by which time  the platform sign should have been discussing my train.

Yet it all worked out in a French way. A man arrived and seemed to operate some track controls at a console right on the platform. (I considered changing a few points myself.) When I asked, he said that my train would, indeed arrive on track 2 (which usually is reserved for trains in the other direction). Later, he corrected that to track 1. The ticket window wasn't scheduled to open until just after my train was due to depart (go figure), but opened early. Another couple of passengers arrived, quite as bewildered as me. The train arrived just a little late, and was very smart and comfortable. But when I reached Agen, with its very much larger station, the scene was chaotic with passengers trying to figure out when their trains might leave.

Weekend train schedules are pretty sparse, ticket offices are often closed all day, and there's rain scheduled. I have a sinking feeling thinking of myself stranded alone in the rain thirty miles up the line with my backpack at the hotel in Agen. Accom and logistics - the bÍte noirs of hiking.

When I got back to Agen (just ten minutes on the train), it was raining. I told the hotelier I was going to be here for a while.
Walk alone sign
Above: The Port Sainte Marie farmer's cooperative welcomes me
Just below: "Are you sure they'll find out if we drag-race?"
Bottom: Narrow street in Agen

Agen street 2
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