Day 21: Cruising 

Cabane de l’Artigue – St Lizier d’Ustou

Distance: 35kmElevation: +1716m, -2338m

Fuel: Pain au chocolat, peanuts, dark chocolate, goats cheese (Mat), apple juice, crisps, baguette and mackerel, cafe au laits
Climbing over the first pass of the day, everything felt just right. We woke in a dry tent, the sky as blue as it gets, and the trail waiting for us. 

One thing about the Ariege is that the trail isn’t as manicured as it has been elsewhere. We often have to force our way through nettles and bushes that really don’t want to shift. This comes with swearing (me) and screeching (Mat) as we are attacked by bitey flies and stinging nettles. But our reward is the incredible scenery. The landscape here is raw and magical. There are times when it’s all we can do to stop from just pitching our tent and calling it a day… five kilometres into the journey! So, we’re taking more stops to soak it all in, to appreciate where we are and why we’re here. 

Today was one of those days. The hiking and running seemed easy (and there was more running than the past couple of days has allowed). For lunch, we were heading to Rouze where a famed gite and farmhouse promised coffee and sustenance. But when we got there, after a sweltering 5km ascent, there was nobody around. Except the dog, who seemed intent on keeping us out of the farmhouse. After a free minutes looking around and calling out for the owner in our best French, we tried our luck at the gite building – the door was unlocked. We took our shoes off (as is customary in a gite) and sat at the long wooden table. Still no sign of anyone, but there was a menu of drinks and snacks and a sign that instructed to serve yourself and put money in the box. 

The fridge was full of beers and homemade apple juice – nothing else. So we took a couple of apple juices, a couple of bags of crisps and chocolate bar, and put our coins in the box. It still felt a bit weird that nobody was around, but we needed a break and some energy to get up and over the next Col some 600m above us. 

We left the perfect room as we found it, thanked the non-existent owner, and started up the trail. 

We totally underestimated the climb. Remember when I was cursing switchbacks a week ago? Yeah, so I was wishing there was at least one switchback on this trail! It went STRAIGHT UP. 

After an hour and a half, we rounded over the pass and started a beautiful runnable descent into the villages below. Coming into St Lizier d’Ustou, there was only one thing on our minds: a hot shower. 

There’s something about sitting in the village bar confident we don’t smell. It makes the beer taste better…

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