It was a brilliant morning! The clouds are far, somewhere on the horizon, the sun is strong and warm, the Mediterranean gratefully puts on her best colors.
Without question breakfast, purchased at the staid but exquisite bakery...
... is outside today. I take it at the big table and I almost do not want it to end. The warmth seeps in, your muscles relax... But, I have plans.
Knowing that there would be good weather, I put on the agenda another hike -- it would be in fact, my last big hike of the trip. I have a booklet of trails and loops and I see that at least three start right from the village along the coast immediately after La Napoule. The plan is to take the train over (a long three minute ride! I could have walked it!) to Theoule-sur-Mer and from there, I will do one of the suggested loops.
But which one? And here's where ambition and chutzpah get the better of me. Initially, I think the 2.5 hour one would be just fine. The guide rates it as "moyen" -- meaning middle of the road in terms of difficulty. But as I head out, the sun starts playing tricks on my reasoning capabilities. Why not the bigger one? I'm feeling sportif, not moyen and besides, the bigger one has three peaks with beautiful views. And my booklet tells me - the highest peak is only 440 meters. That's not quite 1500 feet. Baby steps!
And wouldn't it be grand to end with a bang? To match my first hike along the Cornish coast? So why not go for the big one?
Here are a few reasons "why not," which came to me just as I was halfway up the first peak on a particularly challenging ascent: I'm in my cross over shoes. In an effort to reduce luggage, I've taken to wearing shoes that can handle a simple hike and, too, not make me feel dorky on city streets. They're not meant for climbing rocks or going down shifting terrain. Whatever grip they had was lost on my first walk in them many trips ago.
And there's this thought that kept running through my head: why am I doing something difficult? Why not the simpler, the shorter? In three weeks I can start claiming my Social Security if I want. Shouldn't that slow me down?
But perhaps the most looming "why not" is a very practical one: I did not take water.
For a shorter hike, while not perhaps the wisest of moves on a sunny day, it would have been okay. Ed drinks a ton when he hikes. Me -- less so. And so I leave the water bottle at home.
But these reasons do not make themselves present as I set out. Once off the train, I admire the tiny village of Theoule-sur-Mer...
...and then I search for the trail head. My little booklet, though in French, provides exact detail and besides, I have found trail markings in this region of France to be excellent. As good as in England and that's saying a lot!
Half an hour later, I am at the beginning of the official hike.
The first segment takes me through a forest of mimosas. They're mostly past their flowering period, but every once in a while I'll catch one late bloomer and it is so very lovely...
...especially as against a blue sky!
(Numerous violets, especially pretty with a dusting of spent mimosa blooms...)
As I leave the forest and increasingly come out into the sunshine I begin to have trepidations. Can I really do this without water? Shouldn't I go back and do the simpler walk? The devil on the other side begs me to continue. It's sunny, but not hot! I'm out of my jacket pretty quickly, but I'm not overheating. Besides, it's so pretty here! And I haven't even gotten to the panoramas!
Still, when a rough road intersects the trail and I come across two workmen talking about taking a lunch break, I approach them and ask -- do you have extra water you might want to sell?
They look. They really look hard. Finally one says - I only have this in my canteen. But go ahead, have some of it!
I gratefully accept the offer. We exchange mutual germs and I get ready to move on, thanking him profusely.
He grins apologetically -- I wish I had a bottle of water for you, but the only bottle I have is with wine and I need that for my work day!
Perhaps he was joking. Probably not.
I feel refreshed. I try to not think about water. I am an hour into my hike. I have roughly four to go. People have walked longer miles under tough circumstances without water. I am not thirsty. I can do this.
(I ask myself: if I get really thirsty, what would be better -- drinking from a creek or pouncing with force on a fellow climber? It is in fact reassuring to pass other sportif types every half hour or so.)
When I reach the first peak, I exhale. Loudly. I even shout out to myself: no more ascents! The worst is behind me! (I feel somewhat foolish when I see a hiker sleeping near the peak's tower. I will feel even more foolish in a few minutes, when I learn that I am wrong.)
This (Col de la Cadiere) is the highest of the three summits and I celebrate with taking time out for a time release selfie. If ever there is justification for this kind of photo, it's when you've reached a summit after a particularly hard ascent.
When I leave, I am dismayed that the trail is heading straight down. And it's the kind of down that requires me to get on my butt and help myself with my walking pole (at least I had that -- I would not have been able to finish this hike without it), tree branches and anything else within reach. This is where I thought a lot about being nearly 62.
And of course, since there was another peak, there was to be another ascent. And another selfie after a successful scaling of a particularly troublesome set of rocks.
But let me not neglect the panoramas. Because truly, they are sublime! Volcanic rock formations jut out to the north and east...
... mountains of the Var and the Alpes-Maritimes run along the length of the horizon. Forget about my troubles -- enjoy the views!
(north: with a hint of Alps at the horizon)
(east: Cannes and Nice beyond)
And again I descend and then climb up the third and final peak. This time, I really feel the selfie is in order. I know now I will not perish from thirst. And I know I have not wilted nor shied away from adventure.
When the trail once again intersects with a dirt road, I see again a pair of workmen (not the same as before). They've driven up in a small truck and are inspecting something or other at the side of the road. I wonder if they have water. I no longer feel I need it, but still, it would be a refreshing little moment. The two men glance up and regard me curiously as I peer closely inside their truck. I feel a need to explain -- I was just wondering if you were maybe carrying some water with you... forgot mine... it's been a long hike... I foolishly set out without it...
They are sympathetic, but they don't have anything. I wave and walk on.
A few minutes later, a fellow hiker -- another solo female, though quite a bit younger than me -- catches up.
I heard you ask about water.
Yes, you know, stupid of me... hiking mountains without it...
I have some. Would you like to take some of it?
She has a small bottle and it's half empty. I refuse it. I know I'm okay now. Probably not more than an hour left and the sun is so low by now, that we are walking in cool shade.
But she insists. I must look more wistful because she hands it to me and unscrews the cap. She explains -- I don't need it at all now. I have an apple in case I still get thirsty.
And so for the second time I rely on the kindness of strangers and help myself to a big swig which in this case I try to accomplish without imparting my germs onto her bottle, just in case she is fussy about that and as a result I spill it all over my face and shirt, but in the most delightful way.
My very last touch of adventure happens in the last hour of my descent. I hear a rustle in the forest. I pause. I listen quietly. Sure enough, another movement. And then a big loud grunt. Do I come closer for a photo? I do not. I speed down the path as if I had legs of a true French athlete. (It's likely to have been a wild boar. I'd seen their diggings in one of the forests. Usually not a danger, unless there are little boarling piglets near by, in need of protection...)
I topped five hours on this hike, beating my first day out on the Cornwall shore path (in more ways than one!). You feel so capable when you do something that is just a touch beyond your reach. You look up at the summit that you scaled and you tell yourself -- okay, I can still do more than I allow myself to think.
Only next time, please don't let me forget the water.
I return to the apartment, chat on my computer with people back home and pretty quickly notice that it's dinner time. Having had nothing besides bits of bread and a croissant, I am properly hungry and so I go up three Euros and settle in at a restaurant that is quite a bit more proper than yesterday's (in terms of setting). It's called La Pomme d'Amour and again I strike gold. It is, in fact even better than all the previous ones (or is it that I am that much more hungry for dinner?). The main course of duck breast with mashed sweet potato, all bathed in honey and ten spices (I asked the waiter to name them and he did!) is perfect enough, but the dessert -- a simple poached pear -- isn't so simple at all: it sits on a biscuit, with a florentine cookie on top, it has a layer of pistachio filling, and along with a pear sorbet and a chocolate mousse, it rests on a drizzle of raspberry coulis. It is, in other words, heavenly.)
I meet the chef Jeanette and her husband Marc (who oversees the dining room) and I tell them how wonderful their food is. Like most of the eating establishments here, they go through a very slow period in the winter. A pair of women (mother-daughter?) are with me during the meal and though I admit I am again on the early side (at 7pm), still, I doubt that they will have a flood of customers on this day.
Much will change after this weekend. Like in England and Italy, April and specifically the week before Easter starts the holiday season for many places in southern France. There is a beauty to the off-off season of course. So when would I come back? Because after the hike today, there isn't a doubt in my mind: I'll have to come back, if only to do the other hikes just west of La Napoule.