We left Navarreux around 9:30 which is very late for us. We knew we had a relatively short 15 km walk and we wanted to walk around this cute town of 1500. It is surrounded by Renaissance era fortifications of the Italian design. These were the first of this type in France. They would become standard fortifications in the 17th Century. We enjoyed a relaxing stroll on the ramparts before returning to our room above the bar for our bags.
The rain started shortly after we left town. The whole idea of walking in the rain is scary for Californians. But with the proper stuff, rain is merely an irritation. The proper stuff includes the batons, boots that don’t generate blisters and a poncho.
While some folks insist that an umbrella is sufficient, I have not seen anyone actually using one on the Camino. The universal solution is the poncho. I do believe American innovation is superior to anything we have seen so far. Our ponchos are from a cottage industry manufacturer in Virginia who produces a product he calls the Packa. His design is inspired by the conditions on the Appalachian trail. It is a work of genius.
Basic ponchos are tossed over your head with some kind of head cowl that is built in. They are worthless in any kind of wind as they quickly fly up in the air and expose your pack to disaster. The other common solution is to use a pack cover and a raincoat. The big problem is that water finds its way down between the pack cover and the back of your neck. The result is a wet pack.
Poncho makers have tried to solve this by adding sufficient material to the back side to allow the pack to be covered. This design works but at the cost of creating a huge balloon in the wind as the poncho fills to the size of a small dirigible. These styles also need to go to your ankles to have any hope of not becoming airborne.
The Virginian designed his poncho with a zipper in the front to cut down on the balloon effect. The design includes a pouch for the pack with a draw cord to cinch up around the pack. This allows you to unzip the front and take your arms out to walk with your pack still protected. In conditions like today with constant showers and periods of sunshine, it is handy to quickly transition to rain mode unlike the traditional poncho people who must stop and do the poncho-on dance.
Our poncho is only mid-thigh length to allow for a draw string at the bottom. This eliminates the dirigible effect but can require rain pants in a continual down pour. We have only used those twice as they are not real comfortable and our pants dry very quickly.
Instead of having sleeves that are huge flaps and let in the rain from the side, our design has fitted sleeves with drawstrings at the wrist. When you are using sticks to navigate the mud, the drawstrings keep the moisture from the raised wrist from trickling down your forearm.
A huge problem with water proof gear is the moisture that your body generates. Traditional ponchos don’t have this problem in the wind as the poncho is flying all over the place and body moisture is the least of your problems. Our ponchos include pit zippers under the arms which can be opened and closed to generate some breathing under the poncho. Of course the zipper in front allows you to open the poncho if conditions allow like a light rain or between showers. The only option for a traditional design is to be on or off.
You might conclude that we like our choice and you would be correct. Even the French acknowledge that our unusual design has merit.
Conditions today were not optimal. Mud made a serious comeback. We walked about 6 Kms through a forest with plenty of muddy tracks. Saw some hunting blinds in trees that would be the envy of many Big Hill residents. Even though the hike was relatively short, the mud makes the miles seem twice as hard. During brief periods of sunshine, the scenery was wonderful. We even saw the snow in the Pyrenees.
As we crossed the gently rolling terrain we could clearly see the mountains, it is not hard to imagine what the American pioneers crossing the Great Plains felt. They were covering about the same amount of ground each day as we are. Presently we are 40 Kms from St. Jean where we start the climb. We have covered about 690 Kms of French dirt and soon will be trodding Spanish soil.
The Gite we are at suffers from being off the main GR 65 route because of right of way issues. Nonetheless, the place is full. The old guy who runs the place has a supply of food items for us to buy and cook. Not the usual but we will make do. He also runs people into town in his van for a restaurant meal but I think we will stay put. Known conditions are better than the maybes of going into town and then figuring a way back. We were also the first hikers to arrive and got our showers early. Not sure about the hot water supply. We passed most of our fellow occupants on the way in. I guess we are actually getting better at this stuff.
The countryside is beautiful, but the mountains in the distance look formidable. Hard to believe you’re almost out of France! Very impressive. We are cheering you on!