Thursday, November 22, 2012

Running the Camí dels Bons Homes: Part 3

Running the Camí dels Bons Homes (a.k.a. La Ruta de los Cátaros / Le Chemin des Bonshommes / GR 107):
A joint run report by Alicia and Maria

Part 3:  Bellver de Cerdanya to Porta, approx. 23 miles

It was the big day:  the border crossing day!  We were going over La Portella Blanca, which is right at the edge of Spain, France, and Andorra.  Once the trail crosses La Portella Blanca, you descend into France and end up in the very small village of Porta.

In the morning we said goodbye to our new dog friends and pocketed some packets of Crembo, an offbrand of Nutella, from the hotel breakfast, as emergency food rations in case anything should go horribly wrong on the run, and left Bellver.

Of course, border crossing day unsurprisingly came in conjunction with "really big mountain" day.  We had to do a long climb of about 1500 metres, which was mostly contained in the last 10k or so before the border.  I was nervous for most of the morning because there were some storm clouds heading our way and we expected the climb to take a long time.  We were also potentially going to end up right at the top of the peak around the time it got dark...

In the end, it didn't actually take that long--we must have finally been getting into mountain shape.  We did have to cross the Bridge de Fusta de Muerte at one point, though we were rewarded just afterwards by a herd of cows crossing the path; Maria got a quality video of this.

We loved the trail on the main part of the ascent:

On the way up to the steepest part of the border crossing, there was a largely-but-not-entirely decomposed dead cow in a stream.  A bad omen for what was to come?  We wondered whether we'd be joining the cow carcass if there was a lot of snow on the descent into France.

After a steep last uphill, we made it to the border!

We had thought we were suffering on the long ascent to the border crossing, but after the start of the descent, we realized how wrong we'd been.  *This* was suffering.  In the bullet point format in which we later wrote things down, the problems with France included:

Bogs.  Too many rocks.  Lack of defined trail.  Water everywhere causing wet shoes.  Mean ponies.  A rock bridge that we initially gave the French credit for building but which later turned out to have formed naturally.  Zonas de fang, lots of them.  False bottoms to the descents.  We couldn't see the village we were trying to get to until we were 5 minutes away.  Horrible steep rock road to descend.

In other words, we were not big fans of the French side of the trail.

We eventually made it to Porta and got a room in the village's only hotel, which also contained the village's only bar, the village's only cafe, and the village's only restaurant.  Despite it being about 5 degrees C at this point, none of the above had any heat.  Our room was mostly reminiscent of a prison cell.  The hotel owners were at least friendly, and the dinner was fairly good if not quite big enough for how hungry we were.  We ate, listened to a few podcasts, and curled up in bed wearing all the clothes we had with us.

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