Narbonne – Les Carbanes De LaPalarm
I considered heading back to Carcassan to fix the fuck up of the previous day. In all honesty, not going back is something I will undoubtedly regret for years to come but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. The heat and the, what I now know to be called, “wind of the North” (even though it blows from the east between the Pyrenees and some other mountain range I’ve never heard of) was one reason but physical capability is really not that much of a concern to me anymore. Simply put, I didn’t want to! I couldn’t bring myself to. I was down, hard! I needed to find some way of getting back up and heading back on myself wasn’t going to help one bit. Further punishment when I’m already feeling the pain of a thousand lashes simply isn’t a solution.
The conditions were a good enough reason in many eyes, the headwind the following day back in Carcassan were 63mph gusts, enough to take me off my feet, let alone my board. But it was still possible. My health was good regardless of my mental state and I could have completed the distance still gripping onto a rod of safety. It was possible! But I just couldn’t do that to myself. I can harp on about how disappointed I am with this screw up. I can blame myself and I can blame others for sending me down the slippery slope but the journey continues, just for other reasons now.
Narbonne was probably a lot more welcoming that I experienced. I was back to hunting for negatives and all I wanted to do was get the hell out of there, find somewhere quite and try to count several flocks of sheep but I decided to stop at a McDonald’s to charge my phone. This new frame of mind is just another part of the story, I’ve now got a lot to write about and I needed the extra power.
After 3 mins of questioning for answers I already very well knew in the vein hope I’d get a pity meal for free (“what is the cheapest burger you do”) I ended up buying a hamburger which I devoured with tiny nibbles, watching the power bar on my phone raise way too slowly as the battles continued in my mind. This eventually got to 99%, the battles weren’t anyway near finished.
I decided to sort my kit out ready for the short push out of town towards the Med and overheard two ladies chatting in English. Now, ok, so my spirit was floored but that doesn’t mean I’d forgotten how to be polite – “Bon appetite ladies! Enjoy your holiday”. Wrong assumption! Oh, no, they were definitely ladies and two of the finest! But they weren’t on holiday, they lived in Narbonne now and had done for many years. Two more London escapees that had chosen a slightly more comfortable evacuation process that my leap out of the top floor window.
A pleasant goodbye turned into a half hour chat and although I was a far cry from the upbeat, full of life nature I’d found buried away, covered in 10yrs of dust at the back of the bottom corner of my personal larder, putting a brave face on did me good, it helped me back up a little, a temporary plaster you might say as, for that half hour, I stopped bleeding internally, the fight was at cease fire. They’d obviously made a good choice in life as I managed to borrow a little happiness from them, for that moment.
They were impressed by my journey but I’m not out to impress. They took pity of course – an impression I’m actually getting very uncomfortable with but it’s a human nature that isn’t to be snarled at no matter how fuelled with rage you are, because it just means they care. Of course, they wanted to know more, why I’d decided to do this, what on earth brought me to this point so I shared my contact details and we parted ways after they’d told me about a few “must visit” places that I knew I couldn’t afford or even appreciate in my frame of mind if I had all of the money in the south of France.
I checked the map, I pushed on, the cease fire ended.
More mistakes followed, by the time I’d found a private enough place to camp for the night, I’d covered a pathetic 22 km, 8 of which were retracing my pushes due to missing the turnings. I waited for the cars to stop and jumped into a hedge whilst nobody was looking.
13, 14, 15, 16, 17… No, I’ve already counted that one. 16! 16 fucking mosquito bites in the 11mins it took me to set up my tent. I had covered my body with repellant with the excess of a Romford boy using a bottle of CKone ready for a Friday night out on the town. So a lot of those were on the face. I was glad I didn’t have a mirror because it would have shattered in my tent at the horrific sight of Quasimodo de Bairacli Levy. That day will be one I will try my hardest but most likely fail at erasing from the books.
My alarm went off at 5:10am. I was slimey from the repellant and itching all over from the bites but that wasn’t going to get me on my feet. It could have been Christmas morning but, as the soldiers woke up with me and sharpened their swords, I wasn’t interested in whatever was under the tree. I slept for another 2 hours. The battles didn’t stop though, they just became more vivid as I dreamt.
The pack down was a lot less harsh, only 4 bites in half an hour. 20 according to my arithmetic, 220 according to my nerve endings but I did wake to some pleasantries: one of the two Mels I’d had the honour of meeting at McDonald’s had posted some info about me on a local forum and several offers of showers, coffee and even a beer had landed in my inbox overnight! Another example of the generosity of strangers. I couldn’t take half of them up due to location but I can’t wait to get clean. A good start to the day!
I chewed through a coffee, fed a proportion of my Lidl croissant breakfast to the giant ants and pushed south towards the Narbonne lagoons. The first day on the journey that I’d forgotten to do my morning stretches, my mental state now putting me firmly in the danger zone.
A dead end! Another canal to follow but some friendly advise from an elderly French cyclist informed me that it wasn’t skatable for another 9.6km, a distance I was happy to cover on foot and a level of accuracy I certainly admired.
I tried to focus on Guy Garvey but it seems his dulcet tones had been replaced with the sounds of gunshot and metal on metal. The battle raged on as I trekked, board underarm to avoid the fine dust contaminating my bearings, griptape wearing the hole in my shorts a little more. I managed to pull away from it for one moment as I pictured sipping a pint of orange juice and soda at the bar in ibiza where I used to attend my daily team meetings all those years ago but that vision ended with an argument over the price. SNAP OUTTA THIS MICHAEL!!!
A flock flew overhead, if that’s what you call the collective term for a shit load of flamingoes – yeah, I kid you not! Flamingoes! Pinker than an Essex girls heels. One of the Mels had informed me of this annual visitation to the salty lagoons but, as much of the twitcher that I am, I shrugged that one off with a level of disregard that could only be possible when wallowing in the spittal left over at the bottom of the barrel. I got a few pics, that was it! I should have been completely elated with this life experience, I wasn’t. Metal on metal distracting my emotions. I hiked on.
I’d missed my turning by 20km. More than treble the distance without even knowing it. My stroll must have been effected by my mood as the first blister of the journey pops up on the underside of my little toe, not big enough to drain, not small enough to ignore.
I had reached the other side of the lagoons by about 2pm and got back on the board as quickly as possible to avoid any more damage to my feet, skated into the village centre and stocked up at the somewhat over priced “SuperU”, shortly before skating past a Lidl with no room left in my pack. What’s that now? Blow 39?
I followed a cycle route map I’d found online which took me onto a main road with no verge. I started to trek again. I stopped off at a campsite that had a welcoming advert outside, written in English, “€5″ being the biggest attraction but I left shortly after still clutching onto my board and the €10 they’d requested.
I hadn’t done enough to please any part of me and what i had achieved had brought more physical damage than the previous 2200km combined.
I stopped for a breather, checked the map for all of 3.1 seconds and let out one almighty “fuck this shit!”. I didn’t notice the campervan sat next to me at the time so I said a friendly “bonjour” and “pardon” to show the lady in the drivers seat that I wasn’t an animal. She raced to the rear open door and that’s when I found out that this was no ordinary lady. Wavy, long, brunette – check! Red high heels – check! Tight mini skirt – check! Chest hair… er! Stubble – oh!
The first person I’d met that was considerably more interested in striking up a conversation me than I with them! I said my bit and made my way. Oh no, don’t think I’m discriminative to this please! I had enough to try and figure out for this one to sit rather uncomfortably in my lap with his/her worrying twinkle in the eyes. I was at what seemed to be an abandoned campsite. Yes there are picnic benches but nothing that hadn’t been vandalised or graffitied. I found a spot out of sight and worried a little more when I noticed an abundance of empty condom wrappers on the floor. I think I’d found the French equivalent of Hampstead Heath.
Once again, I’m writing in the past tense but, in reality, I’m sitting in my tent right now worried about being bitten by more than mosquitoes this evening.