HRP Chapter 20: The Wall

Day 37

There’s no point in sleeping in this morning since most of us were up half the night anyway. While leaving Las Ilas, we are serenaded by yet more dogs, including four overexcited juvenile patous that bounce around like lunatics as we walk past their yard.

I can’t believe it’s our second-to-last day on the trail. Where did the time go? I wasn’t even sure if I would like the HRP when we first started it, and the first week or two seemed to go by in slow motion. Now it’s almost over and I’m wishing I could turn back the clock.

Look! It’s Tania!

I ponder all of this as we make our way slowly toward Le Perthus, pausing every 90 seconds to pick blackberries from the heavily laden bushes that line the trail. 

Tom Martens warns us that Le Perthus is terrible and that we’ll be eager to escape the bustling frontier town as soon as humanly possible. It lives up to the billing. Within an hour of arriving, we’ve grabbed a quick snack, resupplied, and fled its hectic streets in terror.

Cork oak

Cork oak trees dominate the woodlands around Le Perthus. The bark has been harvested from many of them to make cork, exposing the dark reddish trunks below. The trees thrive from being stripped in this manner; their thick bark will regenerate within a decade, good as new.

The afternoon passes in a haze of cows, blackberries, and dirt roads. It’s hot but manageable, much to everyone’s surprise. The guidebook indicates that the last section of the trail is arid, hot, and exposed, so we were all expecting a much more difficult finale to the HRP. In reality, we’re still finding plenty of water and enjoying at least some tree cover every day.

We arrive at the stage end, Col de l’Ouillat, with plenty of daylight, but what’s the point of walking further? Tomorrow is the last day. I don’t want to rush through it.

So many blackberries in the foothills near Banyuls

Besides, everyone is staying here tonight. Emilie, Tristan, Tania, Gerhard, and Maike are all staying in the gîte. Arne has already set up camp by the time the rest of us arrive and is wandering around munching on a bag of soccer-ball-shaped Cheetos.

Word on the street is that a very mischievous fox haunts the bivouac area and will definitely steal our food if we give him the chance, so we gather all our smellables and hang them from a nearby tree. 

The whole group is sitting on the restaurant’s patio; Harv and I join in, squeezing into a pair of seats in the corner. From here we have a glorious view of the mountains, including Canigou. Was it really only three days ago that we were up there? It feels like a lifetime ago.

Harv and I are legitimately tired from last night’s poor sleep, so we excuse ourselves from the table before dinner and go off to bed. Powerful gusts of wind batter the tent all night.

Day 38

Final descent to the Mediterranean :'(

I don’t even know what to write about the last day. It passes in a blur of emotion, hot sun, and one adorable puppy.

By mid-morning, the Med is in full view ahead of us. It will still take Harv and me the better part of the day to navigate the low, scrubby hills to reach the town, but it’s always there in front of me, as undeniable as a brick wall.

Banyuls-sur-Mer: once 750 km away, now only 19.5

We break for lunch with the whole group at Pic de Sailfort and scramble all over the rocks, searching for the optimal combination of good views and shade from the burning sun.

Later, we take a short detour to explore Refuge Tomy on the advice of a GR10 hiker we met yesterday. Refuge Tomy is a tiny, rustic emergency shelter built into the mountaintop.

The refuge is well-provisioned with food, water, and wine, all packed in by fellow hikers who left whatever supplies they could spare after staying here. The shelter is tiny, but Tania shimmies inside while the rest of us peer curiously through the narrow entrance.

The descent from Sailfort is dusty and sometimes steep. I keep waiting to reach the point where we start descending consistently toward the sea, but we keep bouncing back uphill every time I think the climbing is over. Gah!

Maike near Pic de Sailfort

It takes about 90 minutes to reach a paved road at the Col des Gascons. We crisscross it a few times before finally joining it. The remainder of the day is just a series of road walks, sometimes on dirt and sometimes on tarmac. Our natural surroundings gradually give way to houses, buildings, and yet more roads.

Our arrival in Banyuls-sur-Mer is anticlimactic. We decided earlier today that upon reaching town, we would first go to the campground and drop our gear before heading to the beach.

The main promenade in Banyuls

We book one large site to share with Tania, Tristan, and Arne and set up our tents. This place has everything: laundry, showers, a big grocery store across the street, everything a hiker could dream of.

While our friends go off for a celebratory swim, Harv and I sit back against a low concrete wall adjacent to our campsite and talk. Six weeks ago, I had no idea what to expect from the HRP or whether I would even finish it. Now I’m here in Banyuls, and the trail has changed me in ways I never expected. Sitting here against the wall and reflecting on everything with Harv is surreal, almost dreamlike. 

Tonight we’ll celebrate the hike at a tapas restaurant by the sea with our friends. Tomorrow we’ll go down to the beach and swim in the Mediterranean like we did in the Atlantic six weeks ago, giving the hike perfect symmetry. The day after that, we’ll catch a train to nearby Perpignan and start laying the groundwork for the rest of our time in Europe.

But all that comes after. Right now is a time to sit still and take stock of everything, to gather ourselves for the potentially rocky transition back to civilized life. 

Would I change anything about this hike? Not really. I wish it could have lasted longer, but that would have altered the experience in other ways as well. No, it was perfect as it was. Instead of resenting the fact that it’s over, I do my best to accept that sometimes, the most beautiful things in life aren’t meant to last forever.

Anyway, it’s not like the HRP is going anywhere. Maybe I’ll hike it westbound next time, or maybe I’ll do it eastbound again but do more side trips along the way. And (obviously) I’ll keep the magic alive a little longer by blogging about it. 

Which brings us back to the present moment! Thanks so much for reading, everyone, especially my ride-or-dies who stuck it out from beginning to end. I appreciate your attention spans. 

And for those of you who are thinking about hiking the HRP yourselves – well, as you can probably guess, I highly recommend it. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions. I’m dying for the chance to talk trail again and possibly live vicariously through your hiking plans. 



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Comments 1

  • Jeff Greene : Nov 25th

    Thank you for sharing your story! You wrote very well, and it was interesting learning about a.trail.I’d never heard of.


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