55km Bois des Bartres – Col de la Croix de Berthel
When we started this trip, I wanted to do “round the world by towpath” — in other words, flat!! Now, nearly 4,000km down the road, finally I am learning to love the hills. And a good thing too because today’s 55km (short by comparison with most of our distances) was nearly all straight up a mountain! True, our initial start in the morning was down through the last of the forest where we’d camped, but not long after reaching the small town of Besseges around 10am we started to go up and the climb didn’t end until we topped Col de la Croix de Berthel at 1088 meters around 3pm. If someone had told us that we would even attempt climbs like that a year ago I would have said they were crazy. Now we both almost look forward to them, knowing that the scenery and the exhilaration of reaching the top are worth the sweat to get there. Thankfully plenty of waterfalls and rivers as well as communal water fountains in villages meant we were able to refill our bottles regularly. We drank at least twice as much as normal and if we were doing this in the summer we would certainly have jumped in a few rivers on the way to the top! The scenery of the day turned definitively towards southern France, with cacti and palm trees starting to appear in gardens and roads that feature more pine trees and rocky outcrops than the leafy forests of more northern Europe. The weather is also staying relatively mild, around 15 degrees during the day, although the nights can still be chilly and we are glad we shelled out for warmer sleeping bags that we thought we’d need. We decided to camp at a little park just down from the peak. Even though wild camping is illegal in France, we will not leave a trace of having been here and tucked away behind some trees we think it’s unlikely anyone will find us, especially this being low season. We have hardly seen any cars at all today, let alone fellow tourists.