Sunday, 11 August 2013

Modane to St Etienne De Tinee - Day One Hundred and Eleven to Day One Hundred and Twenty

The Bee Gees played whilst I brushed my teeth in front of a mirror. My lips had cracked from the sun and wind, and on my chin sat a bird's nest of hair. We left Modane up a steep, needled path, appreciative of the fading sound of the town. I noted Jake's composed, regulated breathing compared to my open mouthed, gormless expression, which allowed air to come and go as it pleased, and flies, for that matter. Just past the tiny hamlet of Les Herviors, whose gardens were coloured with pastel-yellow foxgloves, Jake ground to a halt. The vaseline applied earlier in the day had done little to reduce the friction between thighs and berries (if you know what I mean). Thus, in an act of experimental desperation, Jake found himself taping something other than his toes. For those interested, it seemed to do the trick and, yes, we have applied for a patent on the design. We gained 1,200 metres then ate jam sandwiches whilst watching a cyclist undress to his tan lines, before washing himself with devoted enthusiasm for what must have been half an hour. We left the splashing gentleman, soon cresting the Col de la Vallee Etroite, where a more rugged, scree dominated view took our eyes. An old lady stepped by as we rested, "Bon journo". This, it seemed, was an Italian valley. That night we slept by a flume of cascading water over quartzite.

In the days that followed we pushed south through forests of larch, windswept cols and prairies thick with tussocks of grass, like the manes of a hundred sleeping lions. On the Col de la Lauze we looked west through a frame of two mountains. Crows flew the valley, doubling their numbers with shadows that matched their owners' acrobatics. Through a particularly clement valley my unintentional weight loss programme finally got to me as the map case, which used to fit snuggly between my arm and body, slid out for the umpteenth time. "Fucking map", I raged at the inanimate object that, to be fair, took the critique on board like a true professional.

Our Modane food supplies were running low - we squashed breadcrumbs between thumb and fingers and dipped the unconsolidated structure into a pot of jam before rushing it mouthwards. Our arrival, therefore, into the medieval town of Briancon, which boasted both ancient forts and not-so-ancient supermarkets, was all the more welcome. We ambled the bunting -clad, cobbled streets and then checked into the wonderfully cheap Pension de Ramparts, where a sign forbidding eating in the room was contradicted impressively with the provision of our own kettle and microwave. When I returned from the shop, Jake revealed, through words as opposed to the more visual option of physical matter, that he had been vomiting. He spent the day in bed and the following day in considerable discomfort as we crossed over the Col de Ayes. In fact, it was not until we dropped our bags on the south side of the Col that Jake finally showed a smile following a mountain -splitting trump. "I have been waiting five hours for that!".

We had been promised bad weather by a "meteo" report slapped on the window of a closed Office D'Tourisme. The prediction came to fruition as we rounded a bulbous crest to strong winds that blew the hat off my head. White dust swirlled across the path from the crumbling Ravine De Ruin Blanche below and conifers slouched at their bases, as the gale played their woodwork like an eerie orchestra of pipes. When the rain came it didn't stop for a day and a night.

I unzipped the tent the following morning to valley walls awash with bands of cloud. A lack of resupply points over the following one hundred kilometres left our packs filled with four days' worth of food. To accompany, Jake was still carrying the heavy weight of illness. We were thus grateful for the magnificient Ubaye Valley and the Parc Nationale De Mercantor that distracted our tired minds. We swam, as bare as the day we were born, in the turquoise Lac D'agnel, where unsuspecting walkers diverted their eyes. A golden eagle soared and the chamois scrambled along the scree.

With just ten days of our walk remaining, we lay inside the tent, pitched (with permission) on the grass of a cemetery. Starring at the tent ceiling I began characterised our bed-sharing insects. Zany Zac appreciated personal space, Nostalgic Nigella lived forever in the past and Timid Tina had joined a dating agency in a bid to improve her self-confidence. As I drifted off to sleep I heard Jake blasphemise firmly at Tina; her new found confidence had put her dangerously close to a hand not afraid to swot.

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