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A pinch of Aster Pollen...! (or Running Elsewhere 4.0)

Frontera


It was only at this moment, when capturing this image, that I realized where I had just set foot. However, it was a place known from my youth. Place where I had already spent time, where I had seen things, felt things, place where I had memories. However, it was at this precise moment that I rediscovered this place with my adult eyes, my eyes as a grown-up, as a man. These eyes that have seen so much over all these years. A different mind, in a different body.


When I came there as a teenager and young adult, everything was different, I was different, obviously. Things change, as they say, but not as much as humans themselves. So I had already crossed these grandiose mountains, a buried memory, like in another life. I had loved this place once before. My family history had also already fallen in love with this part of the world. It was impossible for me at that moment not to think about it, not to think about grandma. My grand'mother. The one that left Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the Basque Country to go to Llansa on the Costa Brava in one direction, then in the other to connect its two humble homes by a twisted gold thread. Cross the entire Pyrenees in her white Opel with manual transmission. My grandmother who loved driving so much. This granny who before setting off on the big curved and hilly roads, took great care to put on her racing driver's hat. Cap with a short black paddle, then with black and white tiled fabric, like the checkered flag of the greatest Formula 1 circuits. The brown leather gloves fit well, open on the back of the hand, held on by a strap at the wrist, like a real Marlene Dietrich behind the wheel of her 1935 Cadillac Celebrity.


So it was only then that I realized that I had not just arrived, but that I was back. Back in these mountains of memories, back with a different look, that of a mature man, that of a man who has all this time become a simple trail runner, a humble mountain climber.



So I had to land in grandma’s hometown. Toulouse, the pink city. To take a bus towards Andorra-La-Vella (Andorra-La-Vieille). Toulouse, which I have had the chance to meet several times in recent decades. City with which I will always have a unique connection. Obviously because of blood ties, because of our common history. Our links, our roots. But Toulouse was also the landing point for my mother in 1962, once torn from her native Algeria, a torn adolescence. Then its irreversible starting point from this old Europe to the new continent a few years later.


It was with my head leaning against the bus window that I saw the landscape change rapidly once I passed this town of “Foix”. That’s when the heights started to present themselves to me. Of course, I remembered these mountains, these passes, these peaks, the altitude. But since all this time has passed since the time when I was a young, carefree, innocent teenager and then a young adult who was uncontrollable and thirsty for infinite freedom. So here I am back, an almost wise adult and now a summit hunter, trail rider, altitude seeker, devourer of kilometers. It was then with a completely different eye that this landscape was opened to me. As if today, I could see this same landscape directly with the curved and repetitive lines of a real-scale topographical map through the window of this same bus.

 


Each day of this journey was a new adventure for me, literally. Every morning a new direction. A new ascent. A new route. A new point of view. New encounters. A new story. Daily, during the long evenings and nights of work, I made my plans for the next day. Drawing imaginary lines on a topographical map one evening, and making them more than real the next. Then return to work as if nothing had happened. As if I had simply taken a health walk in the village, while on that same day, I had discovered an isolated farm where silence is a way of life, discussed with a shepherd dog of around one hundred and eight years old, nicknamed Nachos, that I had come across a herd of milk caramel cows, plunged my entire head into a water source as cold as my Abitibien streams, rubbed shoulders with a group of horses worthy of the Neverending Story, with hooves as big as my head, twisted along paths that had not been there for so long, climbed hundreds of meters of positive height difference by the strength of my legs, that I had seen points of view that people will never see in their lifetime . And then simply go back down to the Muggles (Muggle: Human who does not run in the mountains), at the height of the city, like coming out of a dream in the morning. Coming back to this real life. Opening your eyes, then closing them again, hoping to dive back into them. Immerse yourself in this dream above the clouds. Start everything from the same place. In the same place and above all in the same sensations.



One morning I discovered by accident a famous trail called “Pratt Primer”. On the slope along which this forest route with gentle relief runs, the Comella and Forn rivers flow. And by making your way through a fantastic glacial valley, that of Prat Primer. All these river courses are part of the Gran Valira basin. With each glance behind me, I was able to see the immensity of the places I was climbing. This is a striking observation for a Boreal forest runner like me, that of being permanently in the open instead of sinking into our forest trails which look more like underground corridors without light than climbing paths. which lead directly to the clouds. Finally, at the zenith of a very simple day, reach the “Refugi Pratt Primer” at an altitude of 2235 meters.



I was like a child on the playground. I was flying towards the heights. A pinch of Aster flower pollen and a happy thought, and off you go, ever higher and further. I realized during this period that maybe I was, maybe always had been one of those boys who never wanted to grow up, one of the “Lost Children” like in J.M. Barrie’s novel. Even as an adult, to my great surprise, this trip confirmed to me that I still remembered how to fly. Fly like "Peter Pan" over the valleys, over the refuges, over the gigantic scree, over the sloping fields populated with cows, chamois, sheep and purple Aster that occupy these mountains vertiginous that are the Pyrenees.



Climb higher and higher, as your body adapts to your new environment. Day after day. Gain speed, strength. Feeling your body adapt to this new reality of altitude and lack of oxygen. Feeling your heart rates finally return to normal rhythms rather than a percussion line from a “Raimstein” piece. Discover hidden villages, almost clinging to rock walls, villages suspended in the void as much as in time.

 


Finally reach the “Pic Negre de Claror” at 2642 meters above sea level. Always with this intoxicating feeling of racing on the roof of the world. Then being able to stand, on tiptoe, trying to catch the sky in the exact place where a few minutes earlier a Bearded Vulture stood. The largest raptor in Europe. Recognizable by its rusty-orange plumage. While I was a few dozen meters below, before reaching this peak, I thought I saw another human about five feet tall, the first of this memorable day. Perched on this promontory that I had already promised myself to reach. To suddenly see this same character let himself fall into the void by opening his three meter wingspan, and let himself glide majestically towards the bottom of the abyss.



Travel this line which serves as a path, this same line deliberately traced by time, by passages, by wear and tear. Follow this very small trace in this immensity. This scar left by man, left by the enormous desire of humans to be in contact with the elements that surround them. To be one with all that is greater than us. To be a simple free electron, more or less, in this gigantic universe.



During this period, I flew in all directions of the compass rose, south, east, west, north. Everywhere I could see from below a twisting line up there, in the stone, in the gravel, in the grass brushing against the clouds. Inevitably, this became my mission for the next day. Follow a new watercourse, to see the entire history of the region unfold like a lifeline. A bit like the line of luck that Corto Maltese did not have in his left hand at birth, a line of luck that he drew himself when he was ten years old, with his father's razor. Which throughout his life gave him rather incredible luck.


Light black. “Negro del Claror.” This is indeed the name of this dark rock which inspires respect. Nothing grows. Here only lives simple and harsh beauty. Only this absolute black, everywhere, all around. It's just surreal. Unfortunately the camera absorbs this immensity, the feeling of emptiness next to my body, the feeling of incalculable height. In this setting, I felt as small as a single pixel of this same image.



Then to return to earth, back to the level of life. Explore all the villages in search of a hidden photographic treasure. A stream, a cabin, a culvert. Everything is built of this brownish stone typical of this region of the Pyrenees. Houses, bridges, hotels, public squares… Everything.

 


Go even further, even higher, fly ever longer. In the morning, when I woke up, I got into the habit of carefully analyzing the weather conditions at altitude. Because in these heights we don't joke with forecast. When bad weather sets in, it's better to be heading down than up. Or even worse, being caught running from summit to summit along the ridges, totally exposed to the violence of the elements.

 


That morning, I knew that a storm was forecast above 2000 meters by mid-afternoon. So I had planned a route that would allow me to be on my return route at low altitude when the beast was due to appear. An incredible climb. Gorgeous. Majestic, the mountain in its wild state, at its peak. It was a journey of more than 35 kilometers. And the beauty of it all ended up delaying me in my ascent, a swim here, flowers there, animals here, fresh water to drink there etc... To finally emerge at "Tossa Plana de Lles" at all almost 3000 meters of altitude with a very simple emotion, but so grandiose and feverish. This emotion of having once again accomplished something, very small, but something that resonates within you. Something that will leave a perpetual echo somewhere in the subconscious.



But what this photo doesn't tell is that behind the camera, in front of me, everything was black. Dark clouds like stone “Negre del Claror”, “Noir Clair”. I saw the lightning burst inside the clouds themselves, since I was standing on this summit at the same height as these gaseous formations, on an equal footing. I then looked at my watch, and realized how much time I had wasted with these climbing sections so steep that I had to climb using the strength of my legs and arms, rather in climbing mode than in mountain running mode. It was then 3 p.m. Exact time at which the weather forecast announced this storm at altitude. So I was in a bad position, completely exposed. At this point, if I went back, it would take me ages to climb everything backwards. I was halfway through, there were no real known shortcuts, at least not on my maps. So I decided to continue straight ahead hoping to find a place to go back down as soon as possible. But in fact, everything is suddenly complicated. The sun suddenly disappeared. I suddenly found myself facing an extremely sharp rocky ridge, which I had to climb to cross. But climbing as in “I’ll need a rope, an ice axe, a helmet, a harness…and probably a teammate.” I tackled it anyway. To quickly realize that on one side or the other, the slightest fall could, without exaggeration, cost me dearly, perhaps even the cost of a life. On each side of my body, there was the possibility of a fall of several hundred meters. It was dark, and yet it was the middle of a summer afternoon. No supporting photos, which tells you that the moment was not one of fun and excitement. Thunder seemed to burst so close. So I stopped for a moment, to think about my options. I had come across a refuge a few kilometers earlier, but that meant running towards the bad weather and climbing everything again in the other direction. Continuing on my route, with no idea of ​​what awaited me further, and having to pass this completely stupid climbing section. Go down to the right, impossible, unless you really fly, simply from the void. Go down to the left in an almost vertical scree. With stones as big as me, which were simply crushed by the movement of tectonic plates millions of years ago and deposited there as mere crumbs. It seemed a bit risky for me to go down, but if I chose the less worst, that was my way out. It was at that moment that I realized that Peter Pan was only in my head, and that even with all my happy thoughts and a truckload of Aster pollen, I wouldn't be able to fly to the base of the mountain. I then began this long and arduous descent, where there was no longer any path. Nothing. Not even a human trace. Where one wrong move fractures your leg into three pieces, or fractures your skull into two. I slipped, caught myself, slipped again, caught myself again. The waliking poles, effective at one moment, became a handicap the next step. I still told myself that it was still so beautiful. Even in a moment like this, beauty never ceases to move. I must be missing a bolt somewhere, since it's in situations like this that I feel most in tune with everything. The most attentive to everything. I reassured myself by telling myself that when I got out of this situation, it would give me one more incredible thing to tell.



Time seemed to move very quickly and very slowly at the same time. It felt like it was taking forever to get down this scree, and this storm seemed to be traveling towards me much too quickly. Obviously without a trail of any kind my progress was not as smooth as I would have liked. Looking down, I then saw a stream, a good distance away. I was taught at a very young age that water had several obvious abilities. Including that of always being level on a calm body of water, and that of always following the path of gravity. This stream could therefore only descend towards the bottom of the mountain. There it is, my descent path, a path which is still not a path. But at least I had a direction, and a good direction, down, towards the natural shelters.

 


Once I passed the scree, I managed to get back into my running stride. Not as fast as I would like, since the terrain remained very uneven. Regularly what seemed to be a portion of field grass broke under my weight, sinking my legs up to the knee, with my foot in the flowing water. Exactly like when I persist in running on trails that are still snowy in spring, and the snow and ice give way under my weight. I try to minimize the risk of injury, since at the altitude where I am and the total absence of human encounters, an injury could complicate my descent even further. I studied the map a little more, I knew that I could reach a proper trail very soon.

 


The storm drummed the rhythm behind my back, but I had already found trees, taller than me. I was no longer completely exposed, as I was on that high ridge. The rain came suddenly. Weak, then quickly stronger, then powerfully. I ended up joining this famous path, which after all this seemed to me to be rolling like the “Metropolitain” (HighWay) at night. I then went full speed down. It was a race against time, against the storm. I then overtook a man, with his large orange umbrella and his two fully loaded donkeys. We greeted each other politely. Then I left him behind with his springy gait, and his two quadruped companions. The Storm finally caught up with me. But that no longer mattered, it was now just a storm.



In short, I ended up reaching the city and this Muggle world, after this race of around thirty kilometers, despite everything. A shower, a beer, maybe two. Then a good meal and already this day was classified in the category of good stories to tell... And then, surprise, back to work as if nothing had happened...


 


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