HRP Chapter 13: Good Vibes and Lasagna
It takes several years to finish our giant pot of peanut butter oatmeal, so we don’t get moving until about 9 a.m. I’m a little sluggish still, but I feel better than yesterday. We finish the climb to Curios and Calberante in half the allotted time.
The ascent is steep and rocky, so I’m surprised to find like 15 cows casually grazing up top. How?! There are sheep and cows absolutely everywhere in the Pyrenees. Just when you think you’ve gotten someplace far too wild for livestock, you turn a corner and hear the telltale jingling of bells drifting on the wind.
On the far side of the two passes, it’s lakes, lakes, lakes all the way down. Picking our way past each one is a fun puzzle; I relish each challenge as it comes. At Refugi Enric Pujol we find Arne. What on earth is he doing here at 11 a.m.?!
It’s Mont Roig’s fault. He got up at 5 to do the summit, but it was a bit of a shitshow and took him longer than expected. Something about starting up the wrong couloir. Now that he’s back, he’s kind of beat.
The three of us lounge in the shade of the refuge, eating and debating how few kilometers we’re going to get done this afternoon. I lay back for a few minutes and close my eyes. I’m better than yesterday but definitely not feeling 100 percent yet.
Descending is hot, uneventful, and a struggle. Harv and I decide to stop when we reach a meadow with a stream running through it. It’s not a great site; there’s horse poop everywhere and it’s fairly slanty. But it’s nice and cool in the shade by the stream, and I’m in no mood to be picky.
Harv naps the afternoon away while I soak my feet in the water and reread This Is How You Lose the Time War. Someone told me recently that reading the same books over and over is a sign of social anxiety. This checks out, but honestly, I’m comfortable with it. I am what I am.
We get started around 7 and continue downhill to Noarre, a rustic hamlet with no road access whatsoever. It’s quiet when we arrive; some of the buildings sit empty, while others have been fixed up as vacation rentals.
The town’s aesthetic is unique because there are no roads between the old buildings, just narrow dirt paths. Although lovely, I wrinkle my nose at the strange stench of decay that lingers over the village.
Continuing downhill, we soon find ourselves hugging the contour of a lush grassy slope. We spot a miniature white tent on the floodplain far below. Could it be? We never saw him pass us yesterday afternoon. But sure enough, there’s Arne emerging from the woods.
“Hey buddies!” he calls, raising a hand in greeting. We wave back, delighted.
Soon we start to climb. The ascent is unremarkable except for one very forward horse that follows us up the trail, hoping for treats. At the top we stop for a snack by a still lake. I debate going for a swim, but there are too many people around for a skinny dip. We keep climbing, slow and steady.
I finally feel strong again today. I’m contemplating my mustache – should I pluck it, shave it, or style it into a handlebar? – when I hear the click, click of trekking poles behind me. I glance over my shoulder. It’s Arne.
He jumps on the back of the struggle train and we chug all the way up to Col de Certascan with Harv setting a strong pace up front. We stop at the pass for a breather with a dark-haired guy from Sort and a Frenchman wearing a pink hat.
No one wants any of our couscous, even though Harv cranks up the charm and really tries to sell it. What can I say; it’s tough to put an exciting spin on couscous. Arne and Sort are going to bag Pic de Certascan. Meanwhile, Harv and I head down toward Refugi de Certascan for lunch.
When we arrive, Pink Hat is already sitting out front with a glass of wine and a bowl of olives. “There’s couscous for sale in there in case you need some more,” he says with a wink. I laugh, thinking he’s joking. But sure enough, just inside the door they’ve got big boxes of couscous and ramen and Corny bars for sale.
We don’t buy any, obviously, but we do order vegetarian lasagna and quiche from the kitchen. We plug in all our electronics and go back outside to sit with Pink Hat while we wait for our food.
A tall Dutchman comes up and joins us presently. I have to be honest: this guy is super annoying. He is so loud and self-important and – I don’t know how to say this in a non-judgmental way – he is far too clean to be a thru-hiker. No, he’s not one of us. Shun the outsider!
The refuge is run by a pair of women. They come outside to sit with us and smoke and talk. They’re very friendly. One of them accidentally spills her beer on Harv, but he laughs it off. “I’ll probably smell better now!” Everyone sits around chatting; Harv keeps ordering more and more lasagna.
“Arne! I ate all the lasagna. There’s none left for you,” says Harv happily when our friend arrives. “This is not something to joke about, Harv,” Arne replies. He’s smiling but also looks kind of mad. And Harv isn’t joking – he literally ordered the entire lasagna. (Those of you who know my partner know that this is the most Harv thing that could possibly happen.)
Fortunately there’s also quiche and hummus and a few other things on the menu, and Harv gets Arne a large piece of chocolate cake by way of apology. The afternoon wears on and we can’t drag ourselves away from the picnic tables.
People keep appearing as we sit there. Sort comes by after stopping for a swim in the lake, and to our delight, Silvan and Valerie also show up. I’m very excited about this because I didn’t expect to see them again. We greet each other happily.
“Do you all just know each other somehow?” asks one of the Certascan women, raising her eyebrows. Other than Arne, the HRP hasn’t been all that social of an experience for Harv and me compared to some other hikes we’ve done.
But today, perhaps by some perfect alignment of the cosmos, it’s like everyone we’ve gotten to know in the last few weeks is parading through Refugi de Certascan.
I’m very glad. Suddenly, I realize how much I’ve been missing this sense of community. Another couple comes up to the refuge presently, and these two we don’t know. They greet Raquel, one of the two women manning the refuge, as an old friend. Their names are Lukas and Nathalie and they’re from the same city in Belgium as Arne.
We all stay together in this happy little cloud for a while longer, but there’s a storm brewing on the horizon. Gradually, everyone starts departing the refuge in ones and twos and threes, hoping to get to lower ground before the sky opens up.
A bunch of us buy HRP/Refugi de Certascan t-shirts before leaving. Harv and I exit the refuge almost 100 euros lighter than when we arrived, but our insides are full of good vibes and lasagna so I guess it’s fine.
I keep a nervous eye on the gathering storm as we descend from the refuge alongside the impressive dam outflow. We have one last short, steep climb to do today, and I can see its switchbacks looming on the horizon.
As we near it, a literal funnel cloud snakes down over the ridge to the east. Probably no one will believe me about this, but I swear it’s real! I would stop to gather photographic evidence, but I’m too busy running away from the possible tornado. Fortunately, the rotation dissipates within minutes and we power up and over the climb.
We attach ourselves to the three Belgians when they overtake us and follow them all the way down into the valley. All three of them are unstoppable badass hiking machines. Lukas has thru-hiked Te Araroa and a bunch of other stuff, Nathalie is a literal pro volleyball player, and Arne is, well, Arne. We stumble along trying to keep up with them while acting like everything’s fine and we hike this fast all the time.
At the bottom we all hug goodbye but then, awkwardly, we immediately discover a giant flat meadow with plenty of room for everyone and all five of us end up camping together. Valerie and Silvan are down here as well, but in a different meadow on the other side of the river.
Everyone starts making dinner in the gathering dusk. This is when I discover that our spoons are missing. Oh no! We must have left them at Certascan. Is this karma because we ate all the lasagna? Lukas lends us a spoon so we can cook, bless him.
The five of us sit around in a circle eating and talking about vanlife and hiking and relationships and things. God, it’s been way too long since I laughed like this.
We all head off to bed after dinner, but my mind is buzzing and I don’t fall asleep until after midnight.
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