Wednesday, September 12

Transpyrenea Off 2018 -Through the Path of the Pyrenees - France

More than a month has passed.  Having had the opportunity to set foot on the trails of the Great French Traverse will always be a life long adventure that I will cherish more than this life time.  I may not be able to recall every details on my day to day adventure on this trip, but there are those that remain vivid in my mind up to now.  A never ending walk only God knows how long my body can hang on to the challenge.

I mastered the art of walking in the mountains of Pyrenees, mastered the technique of using a trekking pole, learned a clean trick of peeling an orange without getting my fingers all sticky and learned that no matter how muddy a trail is, there will always be a hard section that runners/trekkers/hikers can pass through of not getting wet or muddy.

Ten days and 10 hours covering  almost 500kms. I did some running of course, but really it was mostly walking, day in and day out on different terrains on different weather conditions. Under the heat of the scorching sun, on a cold freezing temperature,  on a heavy down pour of  freezing rain, ice and  hail, on gusty wind and on zero visibility trail, on  shaded trails under pine forests,  on an open narrow trails with thorny vegetation on both sides, (that was just really painful to the legs that I tried avoiding),  the sound of the cowbells that really is a music to my ear, the traffic of herd of cows  along the trail (I am just too afraid to move despite the fact that not a single cow will hurt me, they are just too big), the herd of horses and sheep, when caught at the middle of a flock of sheep when a horse, a dog and a shepherd is trying to move hundreds of them to a different pasture land (what to do, I freeze), the hikers that we met along the way, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups and in family, with dogs and children even with toddlers that barely can walk, some of them who knows about the Transpyrenea race are in awe with what we are doing, the local people who showed their hospitality,  the different kinds of flowers of different colors and sizes (yellow, lavender, white, red, big and small), the alpine lakes, waterfalls, the streams, the snow and  the scree, the mountain huts and refuges.

On  picturesque trails that passes through charming villages, beautiful local communities, postcard perfect pasture and farm  lands  up to the high peaks of the mountains, on stunning and magnificent views and vistas of the unending beautiful mountain ranges that feed my mind, my heart and my soul,  I walked and walked and walked.   

A 16-day single footrace covering almost 900km in distance from the shores of Banyuls facing the Mediterranean Sea to the shores of  Hendaye, in Southern part of France facing the Atlantic Ocean. Two big oceans separated by big mountain ranges of the Pyrenees passing through France's GR10 routes (Grand Routes). Majority of the  hikers do the west to east,  Transpyrenea race do East to West of the same GR10 route.
GR 10 is a French GR footpath or hiking trail, that runs the length of the Pyrenees Mountains. It roughly parallels the French–Spanish border on the French side. Those attempting the entire trail often choose to walk it from west to east, from Hendaye on the Bay of Biscay to Banyuls-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean Sea. Hiking the entire route is estimated to take around 52 days for hikers who are in good shape and used to mountain hiking. Some stretches involve a lot of ascending and descending, including a few one-day sections that can climb and then descend 1,200 metres (3,900 ft), but the GR 10 is a hiking trail, and there is no actual mountain climbing involved. The trail covers a distance of 866 kilometres (538 mi), with 48,000 meters (157,000 ft) of ascent and given the coast to coast nature of the route the same descent.

I heard and know about the race in 2015 months before the first  edition in 2016. It took me a while to decide, until I let go the idea of doing the race that year. A year after in 2017, I finally got the guts to give it a go. July that year I signified my interest, submitted my letter of application. Got accepted and registered. The race was originally scheduled August 1-16, 2018.  

Transpyrenea Off 2018
It's hard to figure out how to prepare for the race but as I gather the papers that were needed to be
processed and be submitted,  prepared the long list of mandatory gears needed, one month before the race, participants received an email that  the race is going to be cancelled.  I don't know how to react, to be happy as I can concentrate on my UTMB race or to join the group of runners who decided to continue with the race non-official, self supported, on their own. There were around 100 runners from the over 270 registered  participants on this year's edition that decided to still go with the non-official race. Therefore the creation of Transpyrenea Off 2018. 

And My Long Journey Begun 
I arrived Toulouse late evening of August 6, on my own I catch-up the earliest train out of Toulouse, arrived at   Bagares de Luchon 9:45am. Mark met me at the Bus Station and joined Evelyn who did some grocery of food for the runners. At the camping site near the small air strip along the GR10 route in Bagares de Luchon, Mark and Evelyn set up an aid station, water, juice, soda, fruits, bread, cheese, cold cuts. etc. We patiently waited and after several hours the first 2 runners pass by. Already on their 9th day and covered almost halfway of the course, I can see they are tired, skin a bit burned, swollen ankle, torn and muddy shoes. Lily from Indonesia convinced me to start the following day as weather  forecast will have thunderstorm on this area in the evening, going to the very first heavy downpour of rain since they started. Runners who passed  that area had already covered 28km and already did  a major climb of a total elevation of 1900MASL for the day. There will be remaining 21km of another 1900MASL climb for the rest of the route. I did not thought of the thunderstorm (but hopeful for an inaccurate weather forecast)  nor the
remaining distance and climb for the day. When the 5th runner passed the aid station,  I grabbed my hydration bag and decided to start my adventure. I did not want to waste time, all I wanted was to hit the trail.  I took a slow start  as I get myself acquainted with the trail marker/trail sign to follow that we runners shared with the hikers, I need to know how to read them while slowly leaving the bustling village of Luchon until slowly the trail goes switching to the mountain slope under the shade of tall huge pine trees. Sunny but we traverse on shaded trail, until it reached an open area with snow peak mountain ranges visible from afar. Green scenery down below if one will look back where we come from.

As we are following the GR10 route, the only marker/trail sign that I need to search and follow is the white and red stripe painted on whatever is available along the trail, on the trees, at the rocks, some on a post, there are posts far apart purposely erected for makers to be visible on the barren open space,  on the walls of the houses or buildings, on electrical posts, etc. No additional markers that are visible on the trail, no reflectorized ribbons, no blinkers, no ribbons, no caution tapes that one can see on a normal trail race, even on first edition it has be been like this. The race is meant to be self navigating with the aid of the map and gpx file issued by the organizer. (Which I don't have both.)

As the trail goes higher now on an open route, along the way  is a Ski Resort of Luchon and to my surprise a support vehicle waiting for runners to pass by. A  refreshing drink after that climb was a real treat and some bread. That was a relief until a sudden a downpour of rain came. Could this be the start of a thunderstorm that they said? But it is still mid afternoon.  Continuing on,  the rain stopped, the horizon cleared a bit and the sun showed up. From the plateau to the mountain slopes until going up again to the Col ahead with the trail switching back and forth in the now open mountain slope. From one Pass or Col to the next, I was just enjoying pushing on the uphill and running a bit on the downhill with all smiles from ear to ear. I was just so happy and so at home with all the mountain peaks and valleys in between ahead of me. I want to fly. I am in so much awe as I start threading and weaving the trails along the mountain slopes,  seeing ahead and around me the grandeur of nature. I lost count even on day one how many climbs I did until late afternoon (or early evening, it gets dark as late as 9:00pm) I can hear the roar of a thunder. Traversing the mountain slope on a trail that switched back gradually down, what was a sunny late afternoon becomes gloomy again until the rain started to drop. With the goal of covering more distance, stopping never occur to my mind, but the rain becomes  heavier that the trail was slowly filled with water. Had to stop and put on the waterproof jacket and pants. The rain was just persistently pouring, now a freezing cold water. Navigating on a heavy down pour of rain  searching for the trail sign ahead as I continue moving down has now become a bit of a challenge. The immediate goal is to be out in this open space the soonest and hope for a tree line to appear.
But that never happened too soon. The rain drop now becomes painful once it touches the jacket only to realize it started raining with ice, hail came. The open horizon becomes dark and I can see nothing except that is within the range of the light of my torch. A roar of a thunder followed by a lightning many times. Cold and wet and scary maybe but the sight of the lightning that illuminates the lake ahead and below the trail really makes a beautiful unforgettable picture that I will forever remember.   Finally from the open trail it leads to the tree line but still raining with lightning and thunder. The trail now with running water becomes rocky thank god not slippery. I noticed some species came out on the trail, I got a company of unknown insects to me. One is a  shell-less snail (it looks like a snail of black or brown/reddish color) and a stripe black and yellow small lizard that turns out to be a stripe poisonous salamander.

Now endless down on the rocky trail with water flowing. Cold wet and hungry, looks like I will survive my very first day on the trails of GR10 that welcomed me with so much rain with matching flashes of lightning and a band like sound from the roar of endless thunder. Slowly few lights down below becomes visible. Somewhere in that community must be the bivouac area of the runners to rest for the night. Until finally no matter how long the descend is, the trail ends and merged the road that leads to the community. It's a small village with less lights apart from each other. The next challenge is to look for the campsite this late on a not so well lighted community. At around 10:00pm finally my initiation day ends. A bivouac site with kitchen and luggage area inside a barn. Thank God I have a partial impaired sense of smell, I did not smell much of the horse/cow dang. I am now with the company of some of the few runners who went ahead of me and with the volunteers/support crew. This area is already on higher elevation that it was really cold aside from the fact that it is raining. No toilet and no running water to take a bath. Finally I changed to dry warm clothes, eat a hot meal and finally get inside the tent and zip into the warmth and comforts of my cold weather sleeping bag.   

My daily commute from second day on-wards has been a routine of getting up early, changing to running gear, packing and putting back all my things to the duffle bag, packing my essentials for the day on my hydration bag including food and water, eat as much food as my stomach can take and carry whatever I can and leave for the day's task and target to reach the next bivouac area on time. Getting up early isn't on the same time every day. On days that has longer kilometer distance to cover, runners need to leave at the wee hours of the morning. Putting on a wet dump running attire, getting up so early and clearing the campsite reminds me of my long alpine expeditions in the past. Hydration pack needs to be replenished with what I think I will need for the day, the dried foods that I brought,  other essentials like wet ones and toilet paper, waterproof jacket and pants, mid layer long sleeves and thinner jacket, gloves, extra head wear, torches with extra battery, sunglasses, extra socks, a small sleeping bag which I decided not to carry on the latter part of the adventure.

More often than not, bivouac areas are not within the GR10 route. It can either be a campsite within the target village, or a big hall that can accommodate tents or a place that runners can sleep for the night. Most of the time this areas has water and electricity which is really convenient for us. It is the support team and the volunteers that identifies the place and will  put markers for runners to follow once it will reach the community. Since this is not part of the GR10 route more often than not leaving the campsite still dark, it has always been a challenge to get out and connect to the next GR10 destination. Same goes when  looking for  the campsite at the end of the day's traverse. We have our maps and GPS files but there were instances it took us few kilometers of looking for the right trail and still nowhere to be found. Once daylight  came, it becomes easier to navigate looking for the trail marker to the next destination. And as usual from the village to the trail will definitely goes up to a Col or mountain passes and goes down again to the next community. 

In between villages I rely on my own food that I carry in my Amihan go-lite fuel belt that was very convenient for easy access of food. I live on Cliff power bar  every single day (3 packs per day) alternating it with dried fruits and mix nuts, chocolate and nut bars, cookies and breads and sometimes fresh fruits like oranges, bananas, apple that I grab from the bivouac area. Reaching a community or village after a long traverse is a relief for it means getting something solid to eat, a cold or a hot drink and more importantly my most awaited time to rest my feet, my legs and my body for a while, while waiting for the food to be served. 

Arriving on  small villages with less visitors in between meal time means no more lunch or dinner food that will be served. A search for a next place that will serve food will always be the immediate goal. On the more than 10 days that I was in the adventure, I only eat rice ones, that was in the community 21km away from the finish line in Hendaye. A Spanish restaurant cooked a very good beef with rice. And at Col d'Ibbardin, 12km before the finish line, on a very cold rainy late afternoon, a fresh grilled shrimp with potato fries was a
real treat. At Larry, on a restaurant inside a Ski Resort that has lots of motorcycle riders, I got turkey strips  with mushed potato, at Saint Jean de Pied de Port, it was a fine dining dinner and at Ainhoa when the family offered the food in their house. The rest of those days, my food were French Sandwich, lots of it. I lost count the number of times that I had sandwich, but that was the most common food that was available and I had. Baguette bread with ham and cheese, ham not cooked, no vegetables like lettuce or tomato on it. I can't help but compare as I am not used to it back home. I learned to love it and carry the rest of those that I cannot finish and eat it along the trail when I feel like hungry again before or after a long climb, stopping on a spot with beautiful view as far as my eyes can see.   

Hydration is a combination of water and tailwind all through out the adventure. I carried a 20L Raid Light Hydration pack with 1.5L hydration bladder and 2pcs 500ml bottles, 1 bottle is my tailwind mix and carry 3 extra packs of 3 scoops each pack each day  and the other bottle is filled with water. On day 2 on wards I decided not to put any water on my hydration bladder anymore. As I started on Central Pyrenees  with high mountain peaks, along the trail is abundant with flowing cold clean water. On times that it feels overheating on a sunny day, a site of a stream is just rewarding. A chance to replenish cold drinking water direct from a stream mostly were every runner's source of drinking water while in the mountain and it was that clean that there was no need to cure the water with puritabs or live straw which I did not bring any.

It is common in villages that we pass by that they have free flowing faucet where runners and hikers can replenish water, in restaurants that we buy food, we make it a point to ask for drinking water before leaving. One that I cannot forget though coming from a Col, it was a steep descent on scree, until the trail passes a snowy part. I was hesitant of going through that part as I thought it is going to be slippery, I even thought of how I will go around that part, but I saw some footprints right through the middle to the snow, which I followed. Down that part was a flowing water from the melting snow. I cant help but stop and change the water in my bottle. I can vividly recall that portion that is lagoon of water and that portion that is snow. Beautiful. Too bad I did not have a photo of that.

It was on my fourth day that fatigue started to sink in. On the long ascents I cant help but stop and stretch my legs once in a while. Both feet started to swell already with hot spots started to form, a luekoplast plaster has always been reliable and constant rubbing of petroleum jell, if I had the chance, in order to prevent blisters from forming. It is now evident that my Lone Peak 3.0 has been worn out  from the sharp rocky parts of the trail. It has always been the goal to reach the campsite earlier to rest the now aching legs and swollen feet. But as runners were counting the days, there were nights that campsite was just too far to reach for me. On the technical rocky terrain on a pitch dark night on a typical European trail of very long descends,  it's just too impossible to move faster.

On  my fifth night, on another ultra distance day, while most of the runners were about to leave the campsite, arrived the campsite almost 5:00am. Been out for more than 24 hours already, looking for a vacant tent, I tried to rest my aching legs. I can feel the throbbing pain on my legs despite my weary body. I thought who am I to complain, most of the runners had been out for more than 10 days now. Not sure if I rested, while most of the runners left, I took a shower, change to new set of running clothes, decided to rest my Lone Peak shoes and put on my Olympus 3.0, which turn out to be not a very wise decision. I thought the thick cushioning of the shoes will help on the rocky parts of the trail. What used to be an always bigger size for me on a normal day, with the swollen feet now, I can feel the discomfort on the downhill parts of the trail early part of that day. I had to stop several times and thought of a remedy, taking off the in-sole but did not work, taking off my socks but was painful to my forming blisters either. I ended putting on my socks and insole back and just bear the pain on the swelling feet, hoping that I will still be able to catch up with the support team on a bivouac area and have access with my duffle bag,  but turn out I had to endure the pain 'til the end of the adventure.

That day, on my 6th day with less sleep,  the goal was to cover more distance,  turn out to be my very last bivouac area/campsite, the goal was to take a rest either at Refuge Jaendel or at the sports center at La Pierre St. Martin, 678km distance for those who took the entire route.  As described by the Volunteers, the sports center is  a facility with kitchen and food, shower and bath and bed that all Transpyrenea runners are welcome to come and rest. At the middle of a foggy cold night,  not knowing exactly where the Refuge or the Sports Center among the lighted establishments, with no one to ask from, the search took longer, a place with no people around. Roaming on a place that seems like a ghost town, all of a sudden all the lights closed except for 1 building that seems to be like a hotel and lights on the posts. And even the barking of a dog that I thought I hear earlier while roaming the area seem to become silent too. At some point I thought somebody must be playing a joke here, like hide and seek,  for finding the sports center or the refuge was to no avail.

Determined,  the only option was to go to the well lighted building which at first I thought was a hotel with guests that I saw from few lighted rooms.  On an uncertain path, going straight to the building through a dip drop of ravine was the only option. As promised by our support team before leaving the campsite for that day, there will be accommodation for all the  runners at the Sports Center with food. In fact they called the person in-charged to inform that there will be runners coming. I imagine it will be like a hotel with reception area with someone waiting, a bed to rest, a restaurant where one can order food. Apparently it was not what I imagined. As the search continued and finally found an open door on the well lighted building. I was just too ready to just sit down on the floor and take a rest  when along the aisle a signage  Transpyrenea Off 2018 was visible. Following the several signage it leads to a room at the second floor with Transpyrenea photos and tarpaulins. In the corner of the room is a kitchen sink, a water heater, microwave oven with unlimited coffee and tea, chocolate bars and cookies. There was a toilet and bath but cannot find a bedroom to rest. Taking off my hydration pack, had something hot to drink, putting all layers that were available to keep me warm, I lay my tired body on the floor covered with flattened table. The original goal was to take a short nap and continue to cover more distance for the day. But with no more food at hand, no food available to grab this early on this place and uncertain on what community will be the next food available,  decided to wait for day time and check what establishment will offer food. It turn out on the same building was a restaurant where  people come in to grab for hot drink, sandwiches and a french bread. After having replenished food, had to face another day on this adventure.

On my 7th day of the adventure, I was still hopeful that I will be able to catch up with the support crew and see you duffle bag, change clothes, replenish food, change to my Altra TIMP shoes, charge my phone and carry the charger and have a longer rest, but that did not happen until the end of the journey. I had to make use of what I carried from the 5th day. Even if the trail is now approaching to West towards the Atlantic Ocean, there are still several high Cols to climb and long deep descends to face. Passing by Lake Aisling, seeing families taking their sweet time resting, I wish I can do the same, relax and enjoy the beauty of nature. It was still a long way in between trails and roads until reaching a community was a chance to grab another French Sandwich. And stay for the night at Saint Jean de Pied de Port, a Unesco World Heritage Site, this pretty small charming Basque town has lots of tourists around. With almost a 100km left before Hendaye, I just take things one day at a time. Had a good dinner, replenish supply of food for the next few days, rest for few hours and left at the wee hours of the morning while the bustling old city was still asleep.

Another day, on my 8th day. My most unforgettable day that will lead me to the most sketchy part of the trail. Up to the Col traversing some long vertical drops, I had to rely my life on the rocks    making sure of my  hand grip and foot holds are secure on the rock face of the wall until finally I reach the very top. Following the trail marker, I saw an x mark on the left, same goes on the right side, I had no other means but to check in-front, which seem to be an  abyss ahead of me. A long drop true enough a trail marker was down right in-front, with the light of my torch I  reach the bottom part of this vertical wall which is more than two story building high with the aid of  two sections of ropes. I was scared and hesitant to go down, on the many days on this trail, for the very first time I thought, can I back out and look for another option, if only there was other option but I had no choice. I had to face my fear of heights and hold on to the rope. I made it down in one piece without injury. It was rocky terrain on the next few kilometers sometimes scrambling on big boulders. I can imagine this must be a beautiful place with rock formations on day time. Trail markers were quite challenging to find most especially on the rocky part.

Looks like a turn is missed, nonetheless hoping that a marker will be just above to be what seemed like a lighted community, on what seem to be a barren place with gravel on the ground. Upon reaching  the top was a structure with a ski lift, unfortunately marker was nowhere to be found. It was an empty Ski Resort on top of a hill with lights far down below. Hoping to see a marker a little further, decided to follow the rocky road that leads down below the never ending winding road. Apparently this place a Ski Resort without any snow on a summer. Few moving lights from mostly vehicles but not any closer. Moving slowly on a freezing night finally it leads to a community with few lights open but no people around. Decided to check on one establishment where few cars  parked. Trying a luck on a closed door, bingo, it's not locked, it is open and it  leads directly to a stairs to the second floor, on the right is a wall that one can hang things and to a kitchen with microwave open, refrigerator, water heater, dining tables and chairs, a toilet and bath with hot shower. I decided to take a shower, a short nap on top of the lined dining chairs. Apparently that place was a modern Rifugio up in the French trails. After less than an hour of nap its time to move on, still raining and still following the road below in between farm lots with few houses. Not really knowing where the road will lead, one guy came out of what seem to be a barn from outside. It is a shelter that hikers and campers can come inside and rest. There were 3 of them inside who patiently waited for the rain to stop. Too kind and generous they offered hot drink which was very comforting being wet and cold.

As it shows in the map, there should be a place to get some food somewhere, along the road is Chalet Pedro, the gate was closed, no one was around as it was still very very early but the gate was easy to open. From the wide green ground it leads to the houses but no sign of people until one door opened and offered some hot drinks, bread with jam and spread. They were group of friends one of  which had a chance to work in Asia. After few minutes, it was time to move under the rainy weather. Reaching a community on an early afternoon means real food for the day. It has been a long day of climbing under the rain  until evening of still never ending rain uncertain of where will the next stop to rest be. It was a never ending walk even at the middle of the night under the howling wind with no idea where the peak exactly ends. As the destination nears to an end, thank God Cols was never that high anymore but coming down uncertain of where the next shelter be. Upon seeing a Shepherd's Shed on the descend, I did not hesitate to stop, get inside and sit on the bench. I closed my eyes trying to rest my wet tired body from the never ending walk on a freezing cold rain and howling wind on I guess just around 4 feet by 2 feet shelter. Despite my closed eyes, I can hear the soft sound of the droplets of the rain as it collided on the roof of the boxed like shelter. Wind and rain did not stop and temperature remain to be freezing. Decided to continue hoping to get a warmer temperature as the elevation lowers. No sight of stars but pitch dark with fog that boils to very poor visibility with howling wind.

The traverse was long until it leads to a winding rough road with lights visible down below, it must be the next  community, Ainhoa. As the road continue going down on a flat part on the side despite being dark, I can see 3 huge  Crucifix which I imagine this could be the last of the Station of the Cross. And as the winding road continue to go down true enough on the side every after several meters are tall crucifix which I imagine is a confirmation that this ended is a way of a Station of the Cross in the place. Knowing that, this will definitely be a long way  down counting each station. As it goes closer to the community I can hear a lively music. Looks like there is a party in town. Finally reached the road leads to the community lighted through the posts. It finally is a village of Ainhoa, at almost midnight. A site of a bench on what seems to be like a park, despite being cold, will be more than enough for me to at least take a short break and rest for a while. But God was too kind. The lively music apparently was a night of celebration as part of the community's festivity. Probably like an intruder to a partly, a family offered and opened their house, served a hot complete
meal and warm bed for an hour of rest before continuing on to the very last stretch of this adventure.

One more day. This should be done in a little over few hours after 10 days for me. Down to a full marathon distance now from Ainhoa to Hendaye. How exciting could that be. Just as I thought it will be really be that close and easy, but really it was not. With all the drama came, and with a tired body, what seemed to be so close was like taking forever to reach that shore of the Atlantic Ocean. Reached the village of Sare just the break of day light,  decided to take a rest and eat something at an empty covered shed. It's cold. Eager to get this done after few bites of what's left on my food, continued with the GR10 route until unknowingly the trail leads to a GR8 route, without having noticed which part it started to divert to a GR8 marker. Backed track to the very trail that GR10 marker last seen and trying to figure out where could be the next GR10 route to no avail. Using the GPX file leads to rolling local road that leads to a private land with an angry owner that can speak no English and worst owns big dogs not friendly to strangers, left with no choice but left the site. Continued the adventure on a terrain that has no marker nor trail yet one can hear the vehicle on the other side where the GPX file is pointing. From one attempt to the next, several  turns made, with few queries to some locals yet with no luck, just when it was at the most unexpected moment, a turn leads to a trail that has a GR10 marker post that points to the next community where runners/hikers should be heading. A more than 3 hour wasted seems like nothing for what was more important is the right trail ahead. Reunited to the original route now down to the last 30km of this adventure from Sare to Hendaye. Eager for this long adventure to be done, yet I savor every minute that is left for me on this beautiful place. I recall the trail leads to an endless up and down on the side of the cliff, with much hope that there will be no trail that will lead to a vertical drop, and thank God there was none.
The trails was just up in the high elevation overlooking to a vast land down below as far as our eyes can see, all green. A lot of hikers of different nationalities and age on this part of the route, I can see big birds flying freely in the void up above the clear sky, and few hikers flying drone too. On few instances now, I wish I can just stay for a while, enjoy the beauty of  the place, take as many photos as I want, to relax and not be pressured with time. Already delayed as majority of the Transpyrenea Off Drop Bag Group already reached the end of the trek in Hendaye a night befere and expected to already had a victory celebration on that same night. Upon finally reaching the last known community to us runners (hikers) a decision of getting a good meal was the right choice in one of the Spanish restaurant.  It was a really good meal.   What seemed to be a really short distance remaining it was a long and winding road and trail  and finally seeing what seemed to be a huge community from afar. I never thought the last 12km of the GR10 will converge into this community that French and Spanish people meet, it is Col d'Ibbardin,  a Spanis-French shopping Meca, a community that boarder between Spain and France. That decision to stop and take another sumptuous meal right before the heavy down pour of the rain was a good decision.I may not be too hungry yet but those pieces of shrimps were just really good.

At around 4:00pm all set and ready to go for the final push, the goal is to reach that  shore of Hendaye with the last ray of day light for the day.  With longer day time on this French Summer season we have 5 hours left to finish the remaining 12km distance of the entire race.   Following the remaining uphill road until the very end while it was still raining, wet and cold I made a sharp left turn right infront a building structure, following the rough road with pine trees on both sides still with white and red paint stripes of markers painted on tree
trunks from time to time. A long gradual descend passing through farm lands and few houses until it reached a dead end, end of the road.  A house with kids playing outside on this rainy day finally gave a little hope, tried asking for help on this seemed to be very less populated place, a man came out but unfortunately cannot speak English nor French but Spanish. I was trying to communicate what ever handful Spanish left in me through the  lesson I learned in my college years more than two decades ago and finally realized this is a wrong trail, this part is already Spain and not France. That officially made me set foot on the land of Spain for the very first time without any stamp on my passport.

After few conversation and negotiations convincing the man to lead and bring us to the trail of Hendaye to no avail now left without option but to back track to that gradual descend trail, which is now going to be a slow uphill part. Passing through another house that has two barking dogs probably threatened upon seeing stranger, a man on his car came from behind. I moved faster and further following the rough road which the car followed me, after few hi and hellos, took the chance of asking where the right way to Hendaye is, despite his less English words he offered a help leading to the right way using his car. A bumpy ride while going back to the rolling uphill terrain that I freely run down earlier, until it lead to the very foot of the hill where I made a sharp left turn,. it was suppose to be a right turn after all. Indeed, it was a wrong trail from the very start of what I thought was the very last stretch of this journey. With a grateful heart the man left and continue  the adventure I realized indeed that Spanish man was right, there was no way he can bring this lost runner to Hendaye as it is all single track trail from the foot of the mountain at Ibbardin a slow uphill  trail up  in the mountain. The key now is run and cover more distance  hoping to reach the shore of Hendaye before the night falls.After few more kms at the the mountain top the trail now slow descend showing the bay of Hendaye. Despite the tired body and aching legs and feet no stopping now on the endless descend hoping to reach that shore soon. But really that stretch took me forever to finish. Slowly the street lights and lights from the community show up as I gaze through the horizon wondering where the finish line mark could be. At exactly 9:45pm finally the long downhill trail merged with the road of the Upper Hendaye. Setting foot on the road was like an achievement for me despite the fact that there is still a finish line mark to find. It took me another almost 3 hours to reach that shore, following the road at the upper part of another French city through local houses, churches and parks and establishments my eyes are still awe with how clean a French community is with few local people around. The road sometimes leads back to a trail then back to the road without sighting of the beach.

As I was about to end my journey in the Pyrenees, as I was still suffering and hoping this journey will come to an end, lots of things going through my mind, I cant believe I did such beautiful yet very difficult adventure. My feeling of admiration to all those brave runners who joined this race in 2016. My respect to those who finished this race during that edition. My salute to those who decided to do this race again on the suppose to be second edition, and my respect to those who decided to continue doing the adventure despite the cancellation of the event. All of them, those who has been to this race in the first edition (finisher or DNF) knows what they will be up to on this second edition again, yet they were up to the challenge again. For me, a first timer, this race was never an easy feat to tackle, infact it was a very very challenging one. And even on this Transpyrenea Off 2018 Edition, there were those who started the run/race but decided to stop along the way.

Upon finally reaching the beach, windy and cold and now dark, it is still a very long stretch of winding path way only God knows when exactly this stretch will end. I was just too tired and hungry that all I wanted was stop and sit down and take some rest, my legs are just too tired, which at some point I did, I just sit down and close my eyes on the side walk, until finally a group of Japanese runners who were way behind  days before showed up, its just nice to see group of runners from the same group, they just came from where the finish line mark is.  Without hesitation I gathered my things and really hope that finish line mark is not too far. Until the Japanese lady support team was kind enough to lead me and bring me  to where the mark exactly is. In a dark spot facing the Atlantic Ocean is a STAR that served as the finish line. On my 11th day of this adventure, at 12:am of August 17, 2018 I finally set foot at the very end of the GR10 French Traverse route at the shore of Hendaye from the mountain range of Louchon covering almost 500km in distance.

Thinking it now, where I had been was an endless nature beauty in all aspect. I wish I took hundreds of photos but I did not. I was just too focused with getting the task done most especially on the steep ascend parts and more so on deep descends with raven only God knows how many kilometers is the vertical fall.

Doing this was a lifetime opportunity I will forever cherish more than this lifetime. The experience was priceless. IT is hard to describe how breathtaking the landscape was, the few photos that I took and those few that I grabbed from my fellow runners that I had the privileged and honored to share the trail and adventure with does not do justice how magnificent the landscape all of us were in.

My salute to all those who joined the Transpyrenea Off 2018. I thank all of them for sharing the adventure with me. I thank the selfless volunteers who adopted all of us, who thought of the logistics for 16 days, for taking care of our food and campsites, they shared their precious time with us voluntarily. I also thank the Transpyrenea Organizer, for without them this race will not be formed. The event did not turn out as expected this year but  they were the brain of this all. 

As for me, no regrets I decided to push of joining this race. I know I will not be able to take that opportunity again, I know I could not have covered that long, had it be in an official race. It was an adventure I will always be glad I decided to take my chance on and I am glad it turn out just how I wished it to be, and I was able to spend it with great runners whom I know I will not have a chance of running with  in the future.

So was it really a dangerous course,  too much of a danger  for a single staged race?
No any mountain race or activity that does not involved risk, I think all do. In the case of of GR10 route, it has to be done with extra care on those sections that are treacherous but it is doable. I hope one day the Organizer will be given a go signal to do this race again. 

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