HRP Chapter 15: Lounge Music and Existential Dread

Day 28

We pack up silently in the dark, moving with purpose. It’s Town Day, baby! There’s no time to lose. Today we’ll enter Andorra and catch a bus down to rest and resupply in La Massana.

Harv has a need for speed today. Where does all this energy come from? One minute I’m right behind him, and the next he’s just a tiny grey dot in the distance. I’m happy for him in principle, but in point of fact, his pace is making me feel annoyed with him and bad about myself.

He’s climbing so fast he passes Lukas and Nathalie (non-trivial), accidentally loses the trail and gets behind them again, and then catches them a second time before they all get to the top.

Looking toward our morning climb

On the other side we make our way down to Arinsal ski resort. Although Harv is a stronger climber than me, I’m faster on the downhill; I set a fast pace and leave him behind because I am annoyed and petty and want to give him a taste of his own medicine.

The difference, of course, is that I’m doing it on purpose out of spite and he was just enjoying himself. I don’t like the way this makes me feel, so I pause to let him catch up and proceed more slowly when he does.

When we get to the bottom of the pass, we huddle in the shade of a big rock for a five-minute break. There’s a camper van parked on the nearby ski road with its door open and someone inside is going absolutely nuts on the accordion.

Looking down toward Arinsal from Port de Rat, our morning pass

“Arne! Arne!” Harv starts yelling at the top of his lungs when he spots someone coming down from the pass. We see the figure pause and look around, but we’re well hidden in the shadow of the rock. Harv seems to draw energy from Arne’s perplexity, so he keeps shouting while I cringe at all the noise because of who I am as a person.

Our SIM cards cover us in Andorra, but many European plans rack up expensive charges in the tiny landlocked nation. So when Arne finally locates our secret hiding place, we lend him Harv’s phone and he uses it to let his dad know he’s still alive.

We all hike out together, debating whether the bar-restaurant at the ski resort will be open this time of year. The place is either called “La Coma” or “La Goma,” I can’t tell which. The Coma or The Rubber. I’m not sure which is a worse name for a restaurant; they’re both pretty awful.

Yay, it’s open! When we arrive, Lukas and Nathalie are already sipping Cokes out of little plastic cups on the veranda. Side-questing for Coke is kind of their signature Thing, just like summits and beer are Arne’s Things and overbuying couscous is our Thing.

Nathalie tells me they’ve just booked tickets home for next Friday, so now they’re on the clock. When they get up to leave, we hug goodbye for real this time. They’ll be finishing in eight days, whereas we’ll take the better part of two weeks to get to Banyuls. This is where we part ways for good.

Eight days. Wow. A little bolt of panic lances my chest. We’re not hiking as fast as these two, but still, the end of the HRP will arrive all too soon, and I am definitely not ready for whatever happens after.

As an aside, can we talk for just a minute about the sheer quality of the friendships one makes during a thru-hike? Lukas and Nathalie are a perfect example.

Despite only knowing us for a few days on-trail, they will become a critical support for me and Harv as we reel from Major Life Changes in the aftermath of the HRP. They show up for us in our time of need as though we’ve been friends all our lives. Thank you, Lukas and Nathalie; you two are true friends. We love you both!

The rest of us don’t linger much longer at the restaurant because the food is overpriced and Arne is grumbling about the terrible lounge music. From La Coma/Goma, we accidentally get lured off-route by a gigantic parking lot.

We assume this is where we catch the bus to town, but we are wrong, so very wrong. Rather than backtrack to the trail, we decide to just road walk the 3km down to the actual bus stop. We leave Arne with vague plans to bump into each other in town.

La Massana

The pavement takes us through a long tunnel painted in Tour de France yellow. Apparently there were mountain stages here in 1997, 2009, and 2016.

Eventually, a small car picks us up, and we learn from the man driving it that Spain won the World Cup while we were summiting Tuc de Marimanya the other day. Harv proceeds to wow him with his detailed knowledge of famous Spanish footballers and cyclists of the 20th and 21st centuries.

La Massana is not at all what I envisioned. Most of the towns on the HRP are quiet off-season ski resorts or small mountain villages. La Massana, in contrast, is a literal bustling metropolis. My head is spinning. And there’s no way we’ll ever find Arne here; I wish we had at least hugged him goodbye.

We book a cheap hotel room and purchase ingredients for dinner from the grocery store. I even eat a little bit of meat. I’ve managed to stay more or less vegetarian on the HRP so far, but I’m giving it up for this last section: I need some gosh dang protein!

After so many days of couscous, the sudden influx of nutrition amps me up. It’s bedtime, but my skin is crawling with restless energy, so I end up wandering La Massana for hours. It’s a mild evening, but the city is dark and quiet. Where are all the people? This place is depressing.

My mind wanders up to the trail. As hikes go, the HRP is almost perfect, but its fatal flaw is that it is too fucking short. Maybe the AT isn’t as scenic, but its impressive length provides a lot more time for the wholesome and beneficial avoidance of feelings.

You see, the true magic of hiking is that it’s like being suspended out of time, outpacing one’s worries and keeping all future life-altering decisions forever out of sight around the next bend. I’m keen to keep that magic alive as long as possible, but reality is catching up to me.

All at once I’m overwhelmed by a bone-deep dread of my immediate future. I have certain decisions to make in the coming weeks and months, and I feel inadequate to the task. I wish the HRP would never end, that it would just go on and on so I could continue hiking and avoiding my problems indefinitely.

Ironically, my most immediate problem is that I am cold and tired and I want to go inside, and there is no avoiding that one. I go back to the hotel and slip quietly into bed without waking Harv.

I feel lonely and the kind of tired that has nothing to do with sleep. Two more weeks on the HRP, and then it’s over. It’s enough. It has to be enough.

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