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Day 2 - A glimmer of hope
March 1, 2010                                Portiragnes to Béziers                                        9.5 miles
Due to an early start in Agde, followed by an early train to Béziers and bus back to Portiragnes, I was back at Day 1's stopping point by 9.20 am. There the bus stop mocked me with a tart "Think you'll do better this time, eh?"

But I did. I covered about 9.5 miles (13 km) to Béziers, arriving there at about 2.30 pm. Béziers was the only convenient stopping point (read that as accommodation center), and it was a fair distance as far as I was concerned. I felt well, and not too fatigued. I had lightened my load in Agde, mainly by shedding the black bellypack that I pictured earlier. It didn't feel right, and it was heavy in itself. With some of my belongings also offloaded, I think I was down about 3 lb. My pack now held everything that I didn't carry in my coat pockets, namely some papers, phone, mapping PDA and camera. I still needed to double-up on the rain protection for those items because the coat will surely leak.

The weather was cooler than before, but winds were light and not in my face. The canal tow path was now a bike track, very even though hard underfoot, and it ran for several miles through interesting scenery. A flock of flamingoes at Portiragnes covered some acres of wetland, a joy to see. Those in the picture actually flew in before my eyes, though at a distance, appearing as fiery flecks against a dark cloud.

The canal had boats, though none moved, and a Dutch skipper struck up a short conversation with me. There were a dozen or more bikers and joggers, probably because I was close enough to three villages to be within exercise range of the villagers. A few walkers, one with a baby carriage, one with a dog. No one seemed to be in a hurry except for three teenagers, all mounted on the same motorbike, determined to prove that a bike track was a training ground for accidents.

In two or three hours, I reached Villeneuve-lès-Béziers, which was my original aiming-point yesterday. At this point, I had walked about as far as I had yesterday, too, and I felt ready for lunch. I bought the ingredients, and some bread and fruit for tomorrow's lunch, at Gérard et Christine's, literally a hole in the wall just south of the lock, and ate it on a bench. I try to buy lunch like this and save my iron rations (typically, a can of sardines) for when bought food doesn't present itself. This lets me keep food in reserve, and not have to find it every day. Remember that weight and space don't let me carry more than about a day's emergency rations.

Beyond Villeneuve, there is a risk in following the left bank of the canal that you won't be able to cross it when you need to in order to get to Béziers. A late crossing places some rather enormous railroad yards in the way, and that's where the canal veers left with Béziers on the right. On the other hand, my short stint on the right bank proved heavy going and dead-ended anyway at Ecluse d'Arieges (Arieges Lock), where I was ushered back to the left bank again. I knew there had to be a way to get to the right side of the canal and Béziers before the railroad yard got in the way, and sure enough a road bridge followed by a road underpass (under the rail lines) showed up. They'd been evident in an ambiguous way on my maps, but were for real.

And therein lie many stories of maps that mislead and lure a hiker deep into doodoo. What I feared in this instance was that the underpass under the rail line was wholly on railroad property, i.e., wasn't publicly accessible at all. Quite often, small-scale maps show infrastructure on private property without making it clear where the boundaries are. In this case, I stayed on public property and crossed to the main - and only - road into Béziers uneventfully.

Moving upmarket from the Hôtel le Terminus (my first night-stop in France), I found the rather better Hôtel le Revelois at a similar price. The room was larger and it held a nice warm radiator. I seized the opportunity to do my laundry.
Looking east from Villeneuve
Arieges lock
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