Monthly Archives: May 2024

Our first day off, no hiking – and a beer!

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We saw this walking back to Langogne (without packs) – True GR 70 hikers…

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Welcome to the “Georgia Wasp…”

This blog is modeled on the Carolina Israelite. That was an old-time newspaper – more like a personal newsletter – written and published by Harry Golden. Back in the 1950s, people called Harry a  “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.” (For his work on the Israelite.)

That’s now my goal as well. To be a “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.”

For more on the blog-name connection, see the notes below.

In the meantime:

May 21, 2024 – It’s been quite the adventure so far. Getting to Paris, then to Lyon and finally down to Le Puy en Velay. That’s where we started our 150-mile hike on the Stevenson Trail. (GR 70.) From there the adventures continued: A night without beer or even wine in Monistair, closed down tight for Sunday night. On to Bargettes, then to “Camping Above the Clouds,” with its wide-open freedom-spaces. And finally making it to just east of Langogne for our first day off, after four days’ shakedown hiking. (To be followed by six straight days of hiking.)

Then there was the glitch – covered in the last post – of “losing” my 2023 journal. It had lots of descriptive-detail notes, but I didn’t find it until last May 7. But the long and the short of the hike so far – for me anyway – was I hadn’t had a cold beer – at night – since leaving Le Puy. (Despite defining a Camino hike as, “At the end of each day you look forward to a warm bed, hot shower and a cold beer.”) Then the place east of Langogne turned out to be the Promised Land.

But first we had to get there.

As the last post said, we got to Langogne in good time and hiked through mid-town, then on down Avenue du Gevaudan. Past the southern outskirts and on a bit until we finally realized, “We’re going the wrong way!” Then back to the middle of town, stopping for supplies including a heavy bottle of wine for the night. (For at least two of us.) Langogne was and is full of nice warm places to stay, but we left it all behind to head into a seemingly deserted countryside in the fading daylight. (My thought, “Will we end up sleeping under the stars, out in the country air?”) But we found the lodging, a 40-minute hike east of town, and it was worth the wait.

The destination was actually a cute little hamlet, Brugeyrolles, a mile and a half east of Langogne. A “Gite,” rental apartment. Not MUCH of a hamlet, but there’s a cafe bar right across the lane… And the nice lady owner said she served beer! (I’ve had more than my share of beerless nights, though wine will do in a pinch.)

I didn’t get a beer that night – we had that big heavy bottle of wine – but I did the next night. (And it was great!) But first, about that “Chambres d’hotes, Gite d’etape.”

It’s a big stone building – stone floor, stone walls – with two stories and separate bedrooms upstairs, for Tom and I, along with a full bathroom. Carol opted to take the couch downstairs, in the kitchen-dining-room area, and not for the last time on the hike. (She seemed to like being close to the kitchen.) Dinner in our lodging was subdued that night; we were tired. But there was that promise of sleeping late, and maybe a hike back into town – without packs. Then a nice relaxing afternoon, and even a beer or two at dinner tomorrow night. I felt in heaven…

Next morning Tom and I hiked back the 40 minutes to Langogne, to sightsee a bit and get necessaries for the six straight days hiking coming up. On the way in we saw the cute couple with their own rented “Modestine,” hiking a la Robert Louis Stevenson. It was indeed “cute” but I didn’t envy having to groom and feed the critter, not to mention the added expense.

As we say back in Georgia, “Bless their hearts!”

After a light lunch I spent the afternoon curled up in a cozy bed. “At 3:35 this afternoon laying in bed with a comforter against the chill.” The weather so far was much colder than expected and not at all like our earlier Camino hikes. (Stevenson himself went through really cold weather, plus rain, high wind and hale, all while having to camp out many nights in only that 6-by-6-foot sleeping bag.) Anyway, in that cozy bed under the thick comforter – nice and warm – I sipped hot tea, read Kindle books on my tablet, took some notes and pondered the hike so far. One note: “So far little resemblance to RLS’s travels with Modestine.”

Another thought that afternoon, snuggling in the comforter against the chill. “The pack. It weighs you down on the Trail. Holding all your worldly goods for a month in a strange land. All strapped to your back. Then when needed – or when you settle in – it lifts you up. Like when you need to break out the heavy but solid yellow rubber rain jacket.” Among other benefits, that big yellow rain jacket provided a surprising amount of warmth.

And about eating in France: “You eat what you can, when you can. Like yesterday’s three-course lunch in Pradelles. Way too much food! But at the store yesterday afternoon – on the way here – I got a small pre-made packaged salad. That and some wine did me for the night.” Then after a bit of yoga on the stone-cold floor – with the comforter as a yoga mat – I got back in bed. “I’m shifting between laying full down and reading the tablet, or half-sitting up propped by the pillow, or full sitting up in bed as I am now. (Do I hear Tom snoring in the second-floor room down the hall? Carol insisted on the couch downstairs in the kitchen area just by the entrance.”

Then at 4:26 p.m., “after a bathroom break and some more yoga, I read more of Three Months in the Southern States, a PDF file on my tablet.” (Meaning I don’t need internet to read it.) That was an interesting read, there in rural France, written by Captain Arthur Fremantle of the Coldstream Guards, “upon his return to England from his three-month stay” in the Confederate States in the middle of 1863. Talk about an adventure…

And a definite distraction from being 72 years old and about to start hiking the rugged Cévennes Mountains in south-central France. (On the “south-east edge of the Massif Central.”) For another distraction I checked out the place, Les Cremades, One sample: “Everyone needs a place to lay their weary head. For travellers visiting Langogne, Les Cremades is an excellent choice for rest and rejuvenation.” And to that, “I couldn’t agree more.”

Another source of rejuvenation was the chance to finally get a beer at the end of the day. So we crossed the dirt lane to another big stone building, for what turned out to be a dinner with four other hikers, plus the hostess. (The nice lady owner from the night before who said she offered cold beer.) And I was jonesing for a rewarding, day’s-end cold beer.

Entering the lobby I saw there was quite a selection. I chose a Bière La Stevenson (shown below), which seemed highly appropriate. Which brings up the wonderful communal dinner we shared that night. A long, wooden-slat table covered with plastic sheeting. I sit at one end, Carol at my left, the hostess standing to my right, Tom at the other end taking a picture. One “mature” lady hiker to the right of the hostess, with two more sitting on the other side. All three mostly spoke French, and between the two on the other side sat a blonde young man, wearing glasses and sporting hair down to his collar. He spoke fluent French and English, which seemed to happen a lot at those shared dinners that came up later. (“The Camino Will Provide.”)

I don’t remember much about the conversation that night, except that it was pleasant and charming. (With the young man interpreting French to “American” and back again.) And that I only had that one beer before I switched to sharing the two large bottles of wine the nice-lady hostess provided. Which may explain how I wrote in my journal later that night:

“A most enjoyable evening [I think I wrote] across the lane. 4 other hikers. I forgot my tablet [indecipherable]. 4 courses including fromage and coffee at the end. One beer, two types of wine. I’ll be interested to see how this [handwriting] looks in the morning.”

From the looks of that handwriting I think I had a really good time. But I was in France, the real France, away from big cities and among the the salt of the earth, including four fellow Stevenson Trail hikers. (“Clearly called to influence, improve and make the world a better place.”) And besides, in the morning we’d be starting six straight days of hiking…

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My first-ever Bière blonde artisanale La Stevenson..And it tasted great!

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I took the upper photo. I originally FB-posted this caption: “Greetings from Langogne! After four days, a day off from hiking. Our place is east of town. Hiking back in – sans pack – we saw this cute couple doing the REAL Chemin Stevenson thing. Thus the donkey…” And speaking of a first day off, “no hiking,” I define walking as not carrying a 20-pound pack. See also Walking – Wikipedia, on “one of the main gaits of terrestrial locomotion among legged animals.” Then there’s “rucking,” as in A Beginner’s Guide to Rucking – Verywell Fit. “Rucking involves walking or hiking with a weighted backpack and is an exciting way to combine strength, endurance, and the great outdoors.”

The Camino Will Provide.” In this case referring to the 2011 book by David O’Brien: “Learning To Trust the Universe is one man’s journey of body, mind and spirit. The adventure begins with a valiant leap of faith, as the author, David O’Brien, heeds the final words of a dear friend ‘Follow your heart… life is brief’ and embarks on a 500-mile walking pilgrimage across Spain.” (From St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago, not the mere 450 miles from Pamplona.) But we three knew the saying beforehand. (Perhaps as a variation of “The Lord will provide,” spoken by Abraham in Genesis 22:14.)

On mixing beer and wine. Apparently it’s not as bad as some of those old wive’s tales say. See Is Mixing Alcohol Bad? RDs Explain the Wine Before Liquor, and Can You Mix Beer and Wine: Guide to Compatibility. Then there’s that line in the film Midnight in Paris where Scott Fitzgerald tells Ernest Hemingway that he’s been “mixing grape and grava,” or what sounds like “grava.” But I haven’t been able to find any word like that for beer…

Re: Salt of the earth. See What Does “Salt of the Earth” Mean in Matthew 5:13?

The lower image is courtesy of Bière blonde artisanale La Stevenson : vente en ligne.

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Re:  The Israelite.  Harry Golden grew up in the Jewish ghetto of New York City, but eventually moved to Charlotte, North Carolina.  Thus the “Carolina Israelite.”  I on the other hand am a “classic 72-year-old “WASP” – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant – and live in north Georgia.  Thus the “Georgia Wasp.”    

Anyway, in North Carolina Harry wrote and published the “israelite” from the 1940s through the 1960s.  He was a “cigar-smoking, bourbon-loving raconteur.”  (He told good stories.) That also means if he was around today, the “Israelite would be done as a blog.”  But what made Harry special was his positive outlook on life.  As he got older but didn’t turn sour, like many do today.  He still got a kick out of life.  For more on the blog-name connection, see “Wasp” and/or The blog.

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We get to our place in ‘Langogne’ – finally!

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We didn’t see any horses, but this gives a clue about the ambience at the place “east of Langogne…

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May 12, 2024 – We had an exciting time just getting to that place east of Langogne, and to our first day off from hiking. But before I get to that, I need to backtrack a bit. It has to do with what I said earlier about not taking enough “descriptive notes,” in Finally, we’re hiking:

Looking back … I didn’t take as many descriptive notes as I should have. But I did take lots of pictures, using a system I’ll describe in the next post. (Another thing Hemingway didn’t have, besides Google Maps; a tablet to take pictures and post them back home.) I’m hoping those photos can jog my memory enough to paint some vivid word pictures…

Actually I did take descriptive notes, but they were mostly in the 2023 journal I somehow mislaid but eventually found, just last Tuesday, May 7. Here’s what happened. I thought I took my regular journal along on the GR-70, but hadn’t seen it since the turn of the year.

In mid-April I went to find it, but it was nowhere to be seen. “Where did I put it?” I searched all over the house, repeatedly, then thought about all those past hikes when I left the journal at home. (Trying not to take up too much pack-space.) I’d take notes on loose leaf paper, then fill in the journal pages back home. (I also went back to some on-the-trail Facebook posts.) Then came the memory lapse, when I thought maybe that’s what I’d done this past September. But there still was that missing 2023 journal. “Where the heck could I have put it?”

At the very least there might be some interesting observations I’d missed. Plus I didn’t want to lose the ’23 version of the journals-in-cursive that I’ve kept since 2014. So I ran around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, wondering where I put that danged thing. As it turned out, I couldn’t find it because I was looking for the wrong book format.

All earlier journals were size 8×10 inch, but somehow – when I ordered one for 2023 – it came in a smaller, six-by-8.5 inches. That’s why I packed it along. I could avoid all the post-hike transcribing. Finally, on a hunch, I checked two smaller black-bound books I use to take notes when space is at a premium – like during that canoe trip back in March. And there it was, my journal for 2023. And the memories came flooding back to me, on that marvelous May 7. 

I really had taken along my regular journal for the hike on the Stevenson Trail. Just smaller.

Since then I’ve been retooling, both on these posts and on the manuscript I’m writing on my “exciting 2023 hike on the Stevenson Trail in France.*” So, now it’s time to catch up on some of those Hemingway-like observations. Plus in the last post I did say I’d write more “about the pleasures and pitfalls of the actual hike later,” and this is a good place to start.

Like with some notes from late Monday, September 18 in Bargettes. I wrote of that day’s hike, “Sometimes sandy, slippery and rocky but some smooth parts mostly at the end. Patches of plowed, rich dark brown volcanic soil. Few places to stop.” As in, places for a cold drink?

Since 2019 we’ve called such places “coffee cups.” That’s because the Brierly Camino Guidebooks use small symbols on their maps, to show what you can expect along the way. A small pink coffee cup signifies a cafe. So looking ahead to a day’s hike one of us might say, “I don’t see any coffee cups along the way. Maybe we should pack some sandwiches.”

Also from Monday the 18th, “Many slippery rock parts of the trail. End of day, ‘Where is this place?'” (Which set a trend.) Then there were the notes I wrote on Tuesday evening, the 19th, while enjoying that Camping Above the Clouds in Arquejols. That’s when I reveled in the wide open freedom, away from the restrictions of the first two nights. “Great view at 6:30 p.m. off to the south,” as I sat on the porch of the kitchen cabin after dinner. “The laundry is chugging away, and hopefully will dry by morning.” (It didn’t, but you deal with it.)

I also noted that the great view made up for no WiFi; “Back to nature, definitely in touch with rural France. Farmland France. Got passed twice today by a giant manure spreader. Rich aroma.” And of hiking into a different kind of country that Tuesday. “Ponderosa pines? Some here look like Christmas trees.” And that despite the campground’s “rough look,” by that evening I’d fallen in love with the place. “Elbow room, fresh air, a wash machine, shower, and a seven-Euro IGP Cevennes Blanc 2021 wine. (A good year.)” And that the wine did indeed help me wax poetic. (In some ways that I shan’t share here.) And that while I prefer to drink beer, the Cevennes Blanc (2021) and the campground ambiance “was a good substitute.”

Next morning, leaving the campground, a lot of my clothes were still wet. (They hadn’t dried on the line.) It was quite chilly, so I put on that sweatshirt I’d packed, and over that the heavy Gorton Fisherman rain jacket that kept me surprisingly warm. Then stuffed some of the wet clothes in the pocket of the rain jacket, and strapped some other wet clothes outside my pack. As the day warmed up I started peeling off layers, first the rain jacket then the sweater, both of which also ended up rolled up and strapped outside my pack.

Back on the Trail we had that nice late lunch in Pradelles, as described in the last post. Which I ended be saying that, back on the Trail, “Langogne was only 3.5 miles away, a short hike, so ‘what could go wrong?’ (Unless it was some more of that ‘gang aft aglay’ stuff.)”

And I’ll be darned if we didn’t have more of that “gang aft aglay.”

We made it to mid-town Langogne – home to some 3,000 souls – in good time. (Considering it took two hours for the great lunch in Pradelles.) But thanks to that “iffy” internet coverage, we ended up hiking all the way down Avenue du Gevaudan, until we finally reached the southeast outskirts. We kept on hiking a bit, then figured out, “Hey, we’re going the wrong way!” Then we had to hike back to the middle of town, and from there east “into the unknown.”

I can say from experience: There are few hiking experiences worse than backtracking, at the end of a day when your feet are swollen and your back is aching. Unless it’s leaving a big town with all those nice warm lodgings, into a pastured cow-country that looks more deserted than you want to think about. “Who wants to sleep under the stars, out in the country air?”

To top it all off we stopped for groceries, including a big bottle of wine, “and it got heavier by the mile.” But eventually we found the road east to our lodging, at what turned out to be a “Chambres d’hotes Gite d-etape.” Officially it’s part of Langogne, but in hiking reality it’s in “Brugeyrolles.” (Another small town – like “Bargettes” – that’s hard to find on your search engine.) We clocked it at a 40-minute hike east of town, but once again, “worth the wait.”

The destination was actually a cute little hamlet, Brugeyrolles, a mile and a half east of Langogne. A “Gite,” rental apartment. Not MUCH of a hamlet, but there’s a cafe bar right across the lane, where we’ll dine tonight. And the nice lady owner said she served beer! (I’ve had more than my share of beerless nights, though wine will do in a pinch.)

I didn’t get a beer that night – we had that big bottle of wine – but I did the next day. (And it was great!) I also spent that afternoon-off curled up in a cozy bed under a thick comforter – the weather so far had been chillier than expected – and pondered the meaning of the past four days hiking. That day off was wonderful, and in the morning it included Tom and I hiking back to town – without packs – where we saw this couple really follow in Stevenson’s footsteps…

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Next post, this and more detail about our first day off from hiking.

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The upper image is courtesy of Les Cremades Langogne – Image Results.

Re: Packing the 2023 journal along. Aside from loose-leaf paper and – in 2023 – that journal, I also take a smaller notebook, 3.5-by-5.5 inches, and less than a quarter-inch thick. I fit that in a pocket in my carry-case, which also holds my tablet. I take the carry-case with me on neighborhood jaunts through big cities like Paris and Lyon, without the backpack. That way I can stop at a sidewalk cafe, enjoy and cafe creme, admire the passing scenery and jot down notes “a la Hemingway.”

Re: My manuscript on the GR-70 hike. For the book I’ll refer to these posts, but mostly put the added notes in chronological order, not “hodgepodge” as herein. Which brings up an independent memory of the hike down to “Camping above the clouds.” We were heading downhill, toward the place, and the wind was gusting. Not for the first time those first few days, the wind blew my hat off. This time it blew it off into a nearby pasture. I had to clamber under some wire barring the way in, awkwardly, pack and all, get into the field, get my hat, clamber back under the wire again, then do some quick-step jog-walking to catch up with Tom and Carol. As I recall they didn’t notice any of this, which could be a sign that I’m “pretty shifty.” As I also recall, we came on the site of the tipi a short time later.

I “sprung for wine” both in Bargettes and at “Camping Above the Clouds.” I’d had no evening beer since leaving Le Puy, but like I said, you learn to deal with it.

A note about our stay at Camping Above the Clouds, finding my 2023 journal, and “waxing poetic” after a bottle of 7-Euro IGP Cevennes Blanc. In that section of the journal I noted a difference between Hemingway’s style of writing and mine. He famously said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” Which never made sense to me, and still doesn’t. But I just found this site, doing this post, What might Hemingway mean by his quest for the ‘one true or perfect sentence. What caught my eye? That Hemingway “sought the perfect sentence to the point of almost obsessive behavior.” Which sounds right, but I remember one photo of him, late in life, standing before a typewriter atop a dresser, bare-chested, only shorts and sandals, unable to find that one true sentence, and so he was stuck. As for myself I revel in today’s word processors. They let you become – as I wrote in that part of the 2023 journal – “more of a word sculptor. Bulk up, pare down, like some body builders do.” (See Bulk Up or Cut Down: Tailoring Your Bodybuilding Approach.) And by the way, I’ll save this rabbit-trail link for future research on how to improve my writing. As in:

Hemingway sought objectivity and succinctness … a sentence that would, through its “cadence” and subtle “culminating word,” unsettle the readers just enough to make them take notice of a different way of saying something.  Hemingway sought to communicate an almost metaphysical experience in a simple, but intimate sentence.

See also Langogne – Tourism, Holidays & Weekends – France Voyage, “a strong green holiday resort with a dynamic commercial fabric and craft with a varied offer to meet all projects… The heart of town, circular form, ‘circulade’ has kept its medieval aspect and visiting spinning Calquières delight the whole family.” Some of which we experienced the following day off.

About the ellipses ending the main text. See How to use ellipses in your writing – Writer: “Think of an ellipsis as a punctuation mark that can be used to cut the fluff out of your writing… However, [it] can also represent a mood shift, thoughts trailing off, hesitation, pause, or suspense.” (As in, “wait ’til the next post to see how we spent that wonderful day off from hiking!”)

I took the lower photo. I captioned it: “Greetings from Langogne! After four days, a day off from hiking. Our place is east of town. Hiking back in – sans pack – we saw this cute couple doing the REAL Chemin Stevenson thing. Thus the donkey…”

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From Monistair to “East of Langogne…”

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A section of the Stevenson Trail, from the first day or two of our September 2023 hike…

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The last post noted that my two fellow travelers and I finally started hiking our 150 miles on the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail in France. (From Le Puy en Velay to Le Monistair on September 17, which came after my adventures in Paris and Lyon – two days each – before getting to Le Puy. Also after a first-day-hiking foot blister and a “no beer Sunday” in Monistair. )

Our second day – Monday, September 18 – we hiked 11.5 miles from Le Monistair to Bargettes. (But type that town in a search engine and you invariably get Baguettes, the “long, thin type of bread of French origin.”) But Bargettes is a small town right on the N88 highway, halfway between Goudet and Le Bouchet-Saint-Nicolas. Then on Tuesday we hiked 11 miles from Le Bouchet to “Arquejols,” and on September 20 (Wednesday), 10.5 miles to “east of Langogne.” That totaled up to our first four days hiking, and after we got to “east of Langogne” we got to take our first day off – of two – on the 15-day hike. And we were ready.

Besides, after that one day off we had to go for six straight days of hiking, which included one day of close to 14 miles. (Actually 13.8, but it felt like 14. And BTW: You figure how far to hike in a day according to how far it is to the next available lodging.)

And now for some housekeeping notes, including our normal line of march. Tom takes the lead, since he made the reservations and knows where we’re headed. Then comes Carol, and then I bring up the rear. (That habit is so ingrained since the 2017 Camino that I get nervous if Carol sometimes falls behind; she likes to take pictures of all the exotic doorways we see along the way.) And speaking of pictures, I use my 5.5×8-inch Amazon Fire tablet.

I can take fairly good pictures with it, and then once we settle in for the night I can post the pictures on Facebook, along with some written notes both “to the folks back home” and for later use. (As when writing a travel book.) I carry the tablet always at the ready in my “it’s European” small carry-case. (It only looks like a purse to some unenlightened folk.) With the backpack on I sling the carry-case over my shoulder, hanging just above my waist. In town, without the pack I shorten the strap and wrap it around my waist. (Also for easy access.)

But back to the second day’s hike, from Monistair to Bargettes. From what I remember there was no internet in Bargettes, so I had to wait until Tuesday, September 19, to post this:

Good morning from Le Bouchet St. Nicholas. A nice change of pace, hiking here from Bargettes. Relatively smooth path, for a BIG change. Made good time, maybe two miles an hour, not the usual mile and a half per hour the first two days. Once here, [I had] a cafe creme and tiramisu. (I’ll burn off the calories.)

Which gives you an idea how fast you can expect to go on a Camino hike, if the path is smooth and level, as opposed to steep and strewn with rocks. Also, I find that going down a steep and rock-strewn path is a lot tougher on the knees than going uphill. Which brings up “fear of falling.” Somewhere along an earlier Camino I came up with the idea, “If you do fall, fall backwards. The pack will cushion you.” Which turned out to be a bit of foreshadowing…

For another thing, there aren’t a lot of outside influences to occupy your mind on a Camino. But that’s one of its main charms, for some of us anyway. Back home, all the phone messages to check, projects to complete, people and deadlines to meet. But on a Camino, life is reduced to an utter simplicity. You have lots of time to think, to ponder and to remember, at least when you’re not occupied with planning your next step so you don’t slip and fall. Then there are those awe-inspiring mountain vistas (for which you pay a price). But the highlights tend to be stops along a day’s hike, or the end of a day itself. Like that cafe creme and tiramisu in Le Bouchet, or earlier that day, a late lunch in Goudet. Of “sliced tomatoes, hard salami, along with bread and some gray mystery stuff. I didn’t know what it was, but it didn’t have much flavor.”

Still, I did get to enjoy a beer in Goudet, nestled as it is right next to the headwaters of the Loire River. (Narrow and rock-strewn, before it widens and flows northwest to Orleans, then west to the Atlantic.) I could do that because it was after the noon hour, according to a hard and fast rule I now have; “never have a beer on a Camino hike before the noon hour.” (Possibly because of that incident on the 2017 Camino Frances when – after a before-noon liquid lunch – my mountain bike ran me into a steep-sided ditch with lots of brambles.) But we digress.

One thing I do remember from those first two night-stops was the rules and regulations we had to follow. In Bargettes we had to leave our shoes and packs downstairs, and the lady who ran the place was a “light fanatic.” (I wrote a more spicy term in my notes, but “discretion is the better part of valor.” Plus I might want to go back there some day.) Anyway, you had to turn off all lights when you left your room. I forgot – one time – and Tom got no little grief about that. All of which led to this post on Wednesday morning, September 20, at “Arquejols:”

No restrictions like the [first] two nights. Turn off all lights when you leave a room, leave your pack downstairs, wipe your feet, or [having to] climb four STEEP flights of very narrow stairs, with your 20-pound pack scraping both sides of the stairwell, all on feet and legs sore from hiking all day. Not that I’m complaining mind you! It’s just that I appreciated the wide open space for a change.

Which brings up Arquejols and “camping above the clouds.” One much-appreciated part of that third-night stop was “much room to spread out.” And I well remember how we stumbled on to that place. It was Tuesday afternoon, the 19th, getting near the end of the day’s hike. As always I depended on Tom or Carol or both to guide us in to our lodging, which this night (I’d heard) was some kind of campground. The sun was bright, the day had warmed up nicely, the path was smooth and heading just slightly downhill. There were grasslands on each side of the path, when looking off to my right I saw what looked like a tipi, which seemed out of place. Tom and Carol had hiked on ahead when something clicked in my brain. I’d seen my share of tourist-friendly campgrounds back in the states. I called out to Tom, “Could this be it?” And it was.

From what I can tell there is no town of Arquejols, which doesn’t have a French-to-English translation either. The website for the place is Camping | Camping Au-Delà des Nuages | Rauret. It speaks of eco-camping “beyond the clouds,” along with living in harmony with nature. What I saw was four wide-set-apart cabins, two to sleep in – one for Carol, the other for Tom and I – along with one with a kitchen for meals, and the fourth combining a shower, wash basins, “WC” and a clothes washer. I noted that it was “too primitive for some, but for me the camping spelled ‘freedom.'” Still, I didn’t get the “above the clouds” bit until the next morning.

Wednesday morning, the 20th, was chilly as it had been. (Fortunately that Gorton Fisherman raid jacket provided a lot of warmth.) Then, gearing up and getting ready I stepped outside and looked to the south, where we were ultimately heading. Look south past the dirt path, through the wheat-grassy camping-yard area, all you could see was blue. The distant Cevennes Mountains beckoned, cloaked in deep blue, and in between us and our ultimate mountain-path destination was a thick layer of level clouds. (We were a lot higher-up than I’d thought.)

It was lovely, that morning, being above the clouds as we were, but it was time to get moving along. “Tomorrow we get to take a day off from hiking!” And we were ready.

I’ll write more about the pleasures and pitfalls of the actual hike later, but now it’s time to get on to “East of Langogne.” Incidentally, Google Maps has the distance between “Camping Nature Beyond the Clouds, Arquejols” and Langogne as just a tad over nine miles. And supposedly taking a mere three and a half hours to hike, but I’m not sure that’s the GR-70 way. (When driving I always add 20 percent to Google Map estimates. I figure they figure you’re driving like a bat outta hell and there are no traffic tie-ups.) But we had a very nice lunch on the way.

That highlight-nice lunch was in Pradelles. Of that town Stevenson wrote, “Pradelles stands on a hillside, high above the Allier (river), surrounded by rich meadows.” He experienced an “ungustly smell of hay” the day he passed through, on a “gusty autumn morning.” (Indeed.) He was now “upon the limit of Velay,” the district, and beheld “wild Gevaudan, mountainous, uncultivated, and but recently deforested.” And home to the Beast of Gévaudan, the “Napoleon Bonaparte of wolves.” But we saw no such terrors. (Not yet anyway.)

According to Google Maps, Pradelles is a little over 5.3 miles from the campground and 3.5 miles to Langogne. (Called one of France’s “most beautiful villages” and in fact the only “most beautiful village” along the Chemin de Stevenson.) For a total of 8.8 miles, but Tom calculated the distance at 10.5 miles. Either way, we ended up getting lost and having to backtrack, but that’s a tale for a bit later. First, one of the gastronomic highlights of the hike.

In Pradelles we stumbled on a mom and pop restaurant, Brasserie du Musée. A lot of locals go there, but the day we were there there was “only one poor lady waitress.” We had to wait a half hour, but it turned out worth the wait. If I remember right the first course was a salad, but the second course was rice and something like pork loin. Carol talked to the waitress and learned the dish was called: “Araignee de pore sauce tomate.” Otherwise known as: “Pork spider marinated in thyme, lemon and fresh green pepper & sautéed tomatoes and onion.” (There’s a link in the Notes.) I thought that was delicious, but then came the dessert course. I noted, “As often happens this trip, not sure what it was, but tasted GOOOOD!” But then Carol talked to the waitress, who indicated it was something like “pate apricot crème sucre???”

Carol said the second course and dessert were both authentic regional dishes, and I believed it. “That’s why we ‘hike for many days in a strange land!’ The challenge, the adventure, the food.”

But then it was time to get back on the trail. Langogne was only 3.5 miles away, a short hike, so “what could go wrong?” (Unless it was some more of that “gang aft aglay” stuff.)

But that’s a story for next time…

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https://tmrichmond3dotnet.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/picture1_0.png
Is this what we headed to, “east of Langogne,” away from all apparent civilization?

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The upper image is courtesy of my Kindle tablet. (I took the picture.)

The “East of Langogne” in the title is a nod of sorts to the Steinbeck novel, East of Eden. Which is appropriate because that day off in Brugeyrolles really was “heavenly,” like the Garden of Eden.  

Re: “It’s European.” From an old Seinfeld episode where Jerry has a carry case that New Yorkers keep saying looks like a woman’s purse.

Back in Le Puy to Monistair – finally, we’re hiking. I wrote there that, “Looking back on the hike I didn’t take as many descriptive notes as I should have.” Actually I did, but those notes were in a journal I just discovered, on or about May 7, 2024. I had been running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off, wondering where I put my journal for 2023 journal. As it turned out, I couldn’t find it because I was looking for the wrong book format. All my earlier yearly journals have been 8×10 inches, but somehow – when I ordered one for 2023 – it came in a smaller format, six-by-eight-and-a-half inches. That’s why I opted to carry it along in my pack, rather than writing things in a smaller notebook, then transcribing all that into the regular journal once I got home. And as it also turns out, I did write a lot of usable notes in the smaller journal. The long and short of all this is that I’ll have to update that “Le Puy to Monistair” post, and also go back into the Stevenson Trail book I’m writing up for Christmas, adding in all the interesting details from the journal that I left out before finding it.

The Loire is the longest river in France, according to Wikipedia.

On the plus at Bargettes, “Dinner was good and filling. 3 courses. Salad. Pork loin and veggie dish, saucy and good. And fruit cup. BIG fruit cup.”

Pradelles stands on a hillside.” From page 18 of my Kindle PDF of the Stevenson book. Back on page 14 Stevenson wrote that the “auberge of Bouchet St. Nicholas was among the least pretentious I have ever visited, but I saw many more of the like on my journey.” A two-story cottage, “cheek by jowl” (my phrase, meaning crowded with people), a sleeping-room with two beds; he slept in one and “a young man and his wife and child” slept in the other. (Or as in “positioned very close together.”)

See Pradelles (Chemin de Stevenson) – I Love Walking In France. The “pork spider” link, cookpad.com/…/15462173-araignee-de-porc-marinee. The dessert link, lacuisinedegeraldine.fr/en/apricot-tart-almond-cream.

The full title in French for the place we stayed east of Langogne was “Les Cremades Chambres d’hotes Gite d’etape.” And “Brugeyrolles” is not to be confused with Brugairolles, a commune in the way-south of France. Wikipedia. But that comes up in the next post…

The lower image is courtesy of tmrichmond3.net/2014/02/07/here-be-dragonsa blog with one sub-title, “Reflections of a Tamed Cynic,” including this thought:

Sailing into uncertain waters was dangerous, and not everyone who set out came back. Mutinies were not unusual, and interactions with the locals was sometimes fatal. But the worst part was moving ahead, and not really knowing where you were going.

(Emphasis added.) Which BTW is how I felt after leaving Langogne – later that afternoon, after lunching in Pradelles – and heading somewhere into the unknown, seemingly uninhabited “east…”

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Le Puy to Monistair – finally, we’re hiking!

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Stone church with a flower topped water fountain
Le Monastier – the goal for our first day’s hike, and where Stevenson started his hike…

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Welcome to the “Georgia Wasp…”

This blog is modeled on the Carolina Israelite. That was an old-time newspaper – more like a personal newsletter – written and published by Harry Golden. Back in the 1950s, people called Harry a  “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.” (For his work on the Israelite.)

That’s now my goal as well. To be a “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.”

For more on the blog-name connection, see the notes below.

In the meantime:

Just to review, lately I’ve been posting mostly about the 15-day, 150-mile hike I did on the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail last September. (In 2023, in the Cévennes mountains of south-central France, described in his 1879 book, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.) The early posts dealt with flying over to Paris, taking a train down to Lyon, and finally getting to the town where I met up with my hiking companions – brother and his wife – coming up from Spain.

That is, the last post saw me finally get to Le Puy en Velay, where we started our long hike down to St. Jean du Gard on the what the French call the Chemin de Stevenson. (15 days including two well-earned days off.) And of finding out that on the weekend we arrived, Le Puy had scheduled a massive Renaissance Fair. That explained why the town was so packed with people, and why one bus wasn’t enough to bring all the visitors on my train down from Saint-Étienne-Châteaucreux station. (And why half of us had to ride in cabs to Le Puy, three at a time.)

So, the Saturday before we left Le Puy, I found a 4×8.25″ pamphlet at a tourist office, “Travels in the Cevennes on the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail.” I used that pamphlet to “get stamped” at various stops along the hike. I did that because I didn’t have an official credencial like the ones you get on a Camino in Spain. (One of the first stamps was from the BRASSERIE DU MUSEE bar and restaurant in Pradelles, but that comes later.) The pamphlet called Stevenson an “avant garde” hiker – a pioneer, first of his kind to go “hiking and camping for fun” – and it included useful tips for the hike. (Including how to hire a donkey to really follow in his footsteps.)

The pamphlet also had a lot of useful maps-on-paper. That’s why I kept it handy in the right side-pocket of my tan Magellan quick-dry, water-repellent pants. And which finally brings us to Stevenson’s book, and some differences between his hike and ours. For one thing, while we started in Le Puy, he started in Le Monastier-sur-Gazelle. (Where he got his donkey “Modestine,” mostly because his 6×6-foot sleeping bag was too big for him to carry on his own.)

On the other hand, his first chapter in the book is titled “Velay,” which needs some explaining. It doesn’t refer to the town of Le Puy. As Stevenson used the term, Velay referred to the larger “historical area of France situated in the east Haute-Loire département and southeast of Massif Central. No longer a separate district, it now forms part of the department of Haute-Loire.”

In other words, Velay used to be an autonomous administrative district, but after the French Revolution it got “disassembled,” blended into a whole ‘nother French department. So as fully translated into English (and maybe “legalese’) the term Le Puy en Velay would translate to something like “the town near that volcanic hill in the district of Velay.”

But back to Monistair: Stevenson described the town as being in a “pleasant highland valley fifteen miles from Le Puy.” (Tom’s calculations had it as 12 miles.) Stevenson said the town was notable for “the making of lace, for drunkenness, for freedom of language, and for unparalelled political dissension.” I found it notable mostly for its “iffy” WiFi and the fact that we suffered a “dry” Sunday. (“No beer!” So much for Stevenson’s “drunkenness” problem.)

That is, we started hiking on the 17th – a Sunday – and covered the 12 miles to Le Monastier. (Verified by Carol’s step-counter.) We ended up at a “Files de chamber,” at 25 Rue St. Pierre, and I remember the town – “even to this day” – because by the time we got there Le Monastier was closed down. Or “closed up tight.” After dinner Tom and I went out to find someplace to get a beer, but couldn’t find a single place open. Which is rare on a Camino, but there was still that “warm bed and hot shower” part of the equation. Besides, I figured the discipline was good for my soul. Then too there was no internet. Which explains my Facebook note-entry at the end of the day on September 18, after we had hiked the 11.5 miles to Bargettes:

Sorry about the two-day incommunicado, but WiFi here in France is iffy at best. And we now have two hiking days under our belts, with me only developing one big blister yesterday, on the ball of my left foot. Thanks in large part to hiking over slippery-rock trails… And today, tip-toeing – not through tulips – but trying to NOT step down hard on that one blister-foot.

I also noted – not the last time – that the scenery we saw was spectacular, “full of awesome vistas, but you paid a price to see them.” I also remember – about the place we stayed that night – that the “lady at the mom and pop b&b insisted we leave our shoes and packs downstairs.” That meant we could only take “essentials” up to our second-floor rooms. (“But if everything you own is in a 20-pound pack, how many non-essentials are there?”) On the other hand, the evening dinner that “mom and pop” served up was delicious. (Even without beer.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself. To be a good travel writer “a la Hemingway” I need to add some vivid descriptions of that first day’s hike, and that brings up a problem. Looking back on the hike I didn’t take as many descriptive notes as I should have. But I did take lots of pictures, using a system I’ll describe in the next post. (Another thing Hemingway didn’t have, besides Google Maps; a tablet to take pictures and post them back home.) I’m hoping those photos can jog my memory enough to paint some vivid word pictures, so here goes.

But first, here’s what some other hikers have said. One said the first day’s hike features a “short and relatively steep descent into the Upper Loire Valley,” then through “charming hamlets and across volcanic plateau.” Another said you hike through forests and farmlands, the “quintessential rural France, dotted with small towns and farming communities.”

I took six pictures of that first day’s hike. The first one shows a path strewn with large rocks, intermingled with fallen leaves, which could – I could foresee – turn very slippery if we got any rain. There’s a waist-high rock wall to the left, and more rocks – “unorganized” and tumbledown – on the right. Trees shade each side. The climb is steep. The second shows the trail narrowing, with a few less rocks but crowded in on each side with thick underbrush, along with thick trees and a small patch of blue sky ahead. Much the same in the third picture, but much steeper and with bigger rocks clogging the trail, which is a bit wider.

In the fourth picture we finally hit a wide smooth trail, with more blue sky and taller trees. Much the same in the fifth photo; though the trail is not as wide, the trees seem taller and there’s less blue sky. Finally, the last picture shows a return to a steeper, boulder-strewn path that looks – and often was – slick and slippery. And quite a struggle to clamber up.

Which seemed to set the pattern for the whole hike. At the end of each day, when you were most tired, footsore, and thinking “where the hell is this place…” That’s when we seemed to hit the rockiest, steepest, slipperiest part of the path. But you kept on, knowing that fairly soon you should find that warm bed, hot shower and cold beer. (Unless you hit Monistair on a Sunday.)

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So, that first day’s hike was pretty much a shakedown cruise, both in terms of the hike itself and in what I’ve been able to write about it. (That is, a preliminary activity that serves as a test or trial for how something will work on a larger scale or under more rigorous conditions.) But at least I and my two hiking companions are finally on the Trail, and on the way to more adventures. (And with my first-day blister out of the way.) Coming up, an “interesting” lunch in Goudet, then on to Bargettes and in time, “camping above the clouds.” Next time…

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A Credencial, like you get on the Camino de Santiago, with stamps…

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The upper image is courtesy of Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille (Chemin de Stevenson) – I Love Walking in France. See also Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille – Wikipedia.

More about the district of Velay, from Wikipedia:

At the beginning of the 16th century, Velay was wealthy, but the religious wars ruined the country. Le Puy was ardently catholic but the extreme south east of Velay was deeply Protestant. It is still nowadays the most Protestant area of France… Velay ceased to exist after the French Revolution… The department of Haute-Loire was created from the former county of Velay, on top of it a portion of AuvergneGévaudan and Vivarais are added.

According to Departments of France – Wikipedia, a “department” is an administrative district, of which there are 96 in metropolitan France, “further subdivided into 333 arrondissements.”

Re: Shakedown cruise. Also called a sea trial, which according to Wikipedia is a testing phase that can last “from a few hours to many days.” Which explains that first-day blister.

Sources detailing the hike include Robert Louis Stevenson Trail GR70 – The Enlightened Traveller®. It said you start from Le Puy “with a short and relatively steep descent into the Upper Loire Valley. Then climb over 400 metres, through charming hamlets and across volcanic plateau before arriving at Stevenson’s first overnight stop,” Le Bouchet, not Le Monistair. Another, Walking the GR70 Chemin de Stevenson – I Love Walking In France, said this:

For the first few days, the GR 70 passes through forests and farmlands and the countryside appears deceptively gentle (although your leg muscles will likely disagree!). This is quintessential rural France, dotted with small towns and farming communities. The clanging of cow bells heralds the beginning and end of each working day and cattle choke the quiet country roads as they make their way to and from the milking sheds. Life here feels productive and purposeful—and relaxed!

I’ll be referring to those two sites in later posts, as I did before and during the hike.

The lower image is courtesy of Credencial Stamped Camino – Image Results. See also The credential and Compostela – Way of Saint James in Galicia.

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Re:  The Israelite.  Harry Golden grew up in the Jewish ghetto of New York City, but eventually moved to Charlotte, North Carolina.  Thus the “Carolina Israelite.”  I on the other hand am a “classic 72-year-old “WASP” – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant – and live in north Georgia.  Thus the “Georgia Wasp.”    

Anyway, in North Carolina Harry wrote and published the “israelite” from the 1940s through the 1960s.  He was a “cigar-smoking, bourbon-loving raconteur.”  (He told good stories.) That also means if he was around today, the “Israelite would be done as a blog.”  But what made Harry special was his positive outlook on life.  As he got older but didn’t turn sour, like many do today.  He still got a kick out of life.  For more on the blog-name connection, see “Wasp” and/or The blog.

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