letters from Iberia – Growing pains

letters from Iberia – Growing pains

First days are often complicated. You’re not yet acclimated, not yet used to the process.
Growing pains I guess.


First, what I thought would be a faster way to reach the start of the trail turns out to be a huge detour. Yes, it was shorter on the map, but I didn’t pay attention to elevation, and as a result it took over an hour to complete what would have normally taken 15 minutes top. Waste of precious time in a period when days are already too short.

Second, the limitations of my GPS create confusion, and I often end-up selecting the wrong option, which again turns out costly time wise. No matter how precise I try to be on Google Earth, it doesn’t translate to my Garmin, so many waypoints lost in the transfer. I should know by now how to get better results to avoid in the fields complications, but technology is not really my thing, my bad…

Here is an example to illustrate my point:
I am faced with two trails while on my first steep mountain climb. One seems to be going up, while the other seems to be heading down. They both run parallel, and my Garmin, only showing my own trace represented as a straight line, makes it impossible to know which option is correct. I have to make a guess. A or B ? Left or right ?.. I’m thinking that since I have been climbing so far, and stand only half way through, I should then keep on climbing. Sounds logical ? Maybe. As such I engage left and keep up on a very narrow and technical track going towards the summit. I’m going really slowly thanks to bad track conditions when finally it takes its first sharp turn and expose my mistake. I’m turning right while the trace featured on my Garmin is still heading straight. I should have gone down instead.

But how to turn around now ? It’s too narrow and the side is so steep I can’t even dare looking. I’m praying no car will come down and forced us to pass one another is such conditions, particularly since I’m on the wrong side of the maneuver.

By now it’s almost too late to correct my mistake. Instead of making a U-turn, I feel like staying the course, climb some more and take the next track down. I see a possible option in the distance. One I will actually never reach, as I come to a dead end where cows enjoys the last warm days of alpine pasture before going back to the valley for the winter months. The track I missed was my only option down, and I passed it over an hour and a half ago. I now need to turn around and go back to it. Overall I wasted two and a half hours because I don’t have a map and only rely on a digital device lacking precision.

Add up a track closed, thanks to “maintenance” issues, locals blocking another track with a truck parked on a narrow bridge to haul in cows, all causing unplanned detours, and I stand at 4h30 pm, where I thought I’d be by 10h30 !! Not good.

cow alpine pasture
Grazing in the Alpine pastures

Before I get to Third, let me say a word about what used to be called “Transhumance”. As I just explained earlier, local herdsmen have their cattle, sheep, horses, etc… go up high in the alpine pastures during the summer, it has been like that since the beginning of times.

The journey up late in the Spring, and back down, late in the Fall is what “Transhumance” refers to. It was a tradition, the reason for ceremonies, as the ones staying in the valleys would cheer those leaving and celebrate them upon their return. It is a strong pastoral way of life, well documented in literature, reminding us of the beauty of the mountains.

So, how disappointed was I, to see that it has been replaced by a procession of heavy trucks, going up and down the mountain roads to pick up and discharge the animals. The way it goes is as follow: The driver of the truck chooses a narrow bridge to park. By doing so, his truck is blocking the way. Shepherds are gathering the animals in a field next to the bridges, then once the truck is is place, lead the animals toward the truck. Those have no other options than to get in. Once in, the truck can go and be replaced by another one. I can guarantee that this way of doing things will generate no reasons to celebrate shepherds or boost the local tourism ! Might be more efficient, which I dare doubt, but it sure ain’t interesting to watch !

Third now. I always try to take pictures along the way. This time I thought it be nice to shoot a video. Do I know how to film ? No ! Do I know how to use a Go-Pro ? No ! Is it as easy as it pretends to be ? Hell no !I started by placing my burrowed camera on the hood of my car, using a special mounting unit. First shot ever ! Starting the camera, starting the car, realizing it is a bit complicated to focus on your driving through the bumpy ride and check what you were filming at the same time, only to see that camera go fly off my hood and slam into the rocks, because I “probably” didn’t mount it right !! First take and already I had damaged my equipment !

A bit wary from that experience, I did continue filming, but obviously not as much as I should. However disappointments didn’t end there. How frustrated was I, when at the end of the day, I realized that nothing I had filmed had actually recorded !!! Why ??? I still don’t know ! But needless to say I had some learning to do before going any further !

In the end, this first day deserved a mulligan. It had to be done again. I had no real pictures, no video, and I had gotten lost so often, it’s hardly if I had cover any ground ! I decided to turn around and start over, not knowing then it was the only sunny day I was gonna get for a long time on that trip ! Unfortunate I wasted it that way. Growing pains, growing pains !!

Make sure to check our dedicated guide for the Spanish Trail where you’ll find all the informations you’ll need to complete it on your own.