From St. Etienne on to Bastide…

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The Abbey of Notre-Dame des Neiges, where “retraitants” tried to save Stevenson‘s soul…

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As Lewis and Clark headed home from the Oregon coast, they split their small group in two. (Though many in the Corps of Discovery wanted to get back to family and friends.) It was a bold plan; “separating into small[er] groups for over a month in such a vast territory was filled with risk.” (To cover more ground and explore more unknown territory.) But it worked out. The two groups reunited on August 11, 1806, where the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers met.

Something like that happened as we hiked from St. Etienne down to Bastide.

By the way, for myself I’d want to tell the captains, “the heck with more exploring, let’s get back home quick!” For one thing, it had been a year since they had a liquor ration. (Which definitely puts into perspective my one night without beer in Monistair.) But back to the topic:

Our destination’s full name was La Bastide-Puylaurent, and the Puy part indicates a volcanic hill. (Like Le Puy en Velay.) We had two ways to get to Bastide from St. Etienne, both made a lot easier by that ride we got from St. Etienne. It cut out that extra off-trail 4.9 miles.

From Luc, back on the Trail, the official GR-70 goes south past Laveyrune, then goes back-and-forth southeast to Notre-Dame des Neiges. Then heads back west to Bastide, for a total of 9.8 miles. But the straight-south route – mostly along highway D906 – is a bit over four and a half miles. Which brings up the connection to Lewis and Clark splitting forces.

South of Laveyrune came a difference of opinion. Tom wanted to “explore more territory” and hike to Notre-Dame des Neiges. (“Our Lady of the Snows,” a monastery Stevenson visited.) Carol preferred the shorter route straight south. (Based on how long the hike had been the day before.) When faced with a similar tie-breaking situation in O Brother, Where Art Thou, Delmar answered, “Well, ah’m with you fellers!” That wasn’t an option for me. I was torn. Carol took off south and Tom headed the longer way to “Notre Dame.” Filial loyalty being what it is – plus the fact that Tom made the reservation for the night’s lodging – I followed him.

Also partly a habit starting with the 2017 Camino.

Up the hill, turning southeast and off into the unpaved unknown, Tom turned and told me to turn back and go with Carol. I said something to the tune of a reluctant, “Oh, okay!” (While my Inner Me “did the happy dance.” Yesterday had been a long hike.)

Carol and I got to Bastide in good time, and found our lodging at Hotel la Grand Halt, Rue des Tilleuls. The website now says you can check in at 3:00, but I remember our check-in was more like 5:00. Either way we had time to kill, but fortunately there was a bar around the corner by Place de l’Eglise. (Named for Église Saint-Laurent de Puylaurent.) Carol and I set up camp – of sorts – up the hill at a picnic table on the other side of the Office de Tourisme.

After a while I headed down to the bar for a cold one (or two); Carol and I had agreed to spell each other guarding packs while we waited. I took my tablet to read some more of Stevenson’s book. The part about his visit to “Our Lady of the Snows,” where in due course he’d been castigated for a lack of faith. As Stevenson described it, as he approached the monastery the weather as desolate and inclement, and he experienced a “slavish, superstitious fear.”

Aside from the monks – generally sworn to a vow of silence – he encountered only two other boarders, retraitants. (A word that can mean “retreater,” retiree or pensioner.) One was a country parish priest, the other a retired “old soldier.” (He first came as a boarder, then decided to stay on as a novitiate.) At supper the first night the talk turned to politics, which led to a brief flareup. Next morning over coffee they “found out I was a heretic.” (In his 20’s he rejected Christianity and declared himself an atheist.) What followed? “Now the hunt was up.” He tried to defend himself but got instead a long lecture on the “harrowing details of hell.” The haranguing went on until finally Stevenson protested against “this uncivil usage.” That led to a comment that the two had “no other feeling but interest in your soul.” All of which is a reminder: “Never discuss politics, religion or the Great Pumpkin” with people you don’t know.

With that protest, “there ended my conversion.” Which led me to think, “What would I say in that situation, getting harangued like that?” In my 20s – like Stevenson at the time of his hike – probably nothing, or a lame apology. At 72 I’d have a ready answer: “Romans 10:9 and John 6:37, thank you very much!” (Though not necessarily in that order.) At any rate, Stevenson waited until after supper to saddle up Modestine and set off for Chasseradès. (Our goal for the next day. I.e., the former commune which merged with Mont Lozère et Goulet in 2017, southwest of Le Bastide. “And we too will stop at Chasserades, on our way to Le Bleymard.”)

After my libation(s) and reading I headed back up the hill to spell Carol, guarding our packs. On the way I found Tom sitting in the shade of the post office, La Poste Agence Communale, reading a real book. He’d had a pleasant enough hike to the monastery, though longer than ours, and didn’t get harangued. From there the afternoon passed. We checked in and had dinner:

Dinner tonight at La Bastide PuyLaurent. Only one choice, but what a choice. French lasagna to the right, and a weird but wonderfully tasty salad to the left. And for dessert… “What is it?” I had no idea, but it was yummy. “Got to hike some calories off tomorrow.” That’s the thing about these Camino hikes. You eat so well over here, then work it off, so it’s hard to break the habit when you get back home.

Some explanation? I took two photos of that meal, as I usually do when it’s really good, then post on Facebook. (Some of my few devoted followers call such pictures “food porn.”) You can see the picture of that yummy dessert below, and it was goooood! Which makes it that much harder to get back to your usual healthy Spartan meals once you get back home.

So all in all that Sunday, September 24 turned out very pleasant. (Among other things, and not for the last time we saw a lot of locals out on the trail looking for “mushrooms.” Though I’m sure they have a lot fancier name in French.) Today’s hike was short and pleasant, and we had passed the half-way point; the third of our six straight days hiking. Coming up? On Wednesday we get to climb Mont Lozère. (What the guidebook from Le Puy called Sommet de Finiels.)

But first, “Tomorrow Is Another Day.” Our goal, another camping-in-cabins in Chasseradès. (And heads up: Another communal meal with fellow hikers and shared wine.) Stay tuned…

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The upper image is courtesy of Abbey of Notre-Dame des Neiges – Wikipedia.

On Lewis and Clark dividing their small group into two even smaller groups, on July 3, 1806. (Before crossing the Continental Divide, having stopped in Camp Chopunnish in Idaho.) See Dividing Forces at Travelers’ Rest – Discover Lewis & Clark, The Lewis and Clark Expedition Separates at Travelers’ Rest, and Lewis and Clark Expedition – Wikipedia.

The Corps of Discovery “disposed of” their last rations of liquor on July 4, 1805. “Sgt. John Ordway‘s journal reads, ‘it being the 4th of Independence we drank the last of our ardent Spirits except a little reserved for Sickness…’ Having thus exhausted the supply, the Corps was forced on this special day to become ‘independent’ of spirits for more than a year.” See Alcohol Rations – Discover Lewis & Clark.

See a clip of “I’m with you fellers” at O’Brother Where Art Thou – I’m With You Fellers – YouTube.

I borrowed from the post Stevenson Trail – from Le Puy to La Bastide-Puylaurent for the stuff about RLS staying at Our Lady of the Snows.

The Wikipedia article on Robert Louis Stevenson includes a section, “Rejection of church dogma,” including this: “Stevenson’s rejection of the Presbyterian Church and Christian dogma, however, did not turn into lifelong atheism or agnosticism.”

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