Our longest day of walking began at the edge of the French countryside outside Rambouillet. Within minutes we were out onto small roads that skirted fields and forests. The weather gods were taunting us with threats of rain, but rewarding us with extended views of glorious rainbows in the distance.
We soon came to a crossroads where, true to form and myth, we had to make a decision that would shape the rest of our walk, and possibly determine whether we’d make it at all. Two road diverged, one a country road, one a path into the woods. We set down our packs for a few mintues to rest and take stock of our situation… The path into the woods looked to be heading in the right direction, but would it take us to where we needed to go? Sticking to the road made good navigational sense, but might mean dodging traffic all day. In that moment, it felt that danger lurked in both directions, so we opted for the the road less travelled, and headed into the forest.
The skies were clearing, and our walk was beautiful and peaceful, though we weren’t completely sure exactly where we were. We were off-road and off-map. Mythologically, walking into a forest is stepping into something unknown where all manner of adventure and danger might lurk. My imagination was active, and and I half expected to see a wolf leap on to the path or a crazed woodcutter appear from behind a tree. Aware that my inner and outer journeys were mirroring each other, I knew that whatever happened would have import, that whatever crossed my path would have meaning and significance. An hour in, we came to another crossroads and another decision, one that didn’t feel at all clear, and here the technology angels stepped in with gentle encouragement. My mobile pinged with an incoming message from a particularly tuned-in friend: My prayers support you as you discover the path you are on!
A moment later we heard an odd sound, and a small four-wheeler putt-putted into view. Noticing us, the driver turned in our direction. With English that was much better than our French, he pointed us in the direction we needed to go and told us to head to Emancé to find an épicerie where we could buy food for our lunch. We were to walk until we found a red pump, then turn left and walk down the hill….
Angels of all sorts were supporting our journey that day!
Our guide was the only person we saw in the woods that morning, and we weren’t sure why there would be a red pump in a forest, so we weren’t completely certain what we were looking for, or whether we had understood him correctly. But there in the forest, beyond the rusted tractor and the old sprung gate stood, as promised, a bright red fire pump and just beyond that a turning in the road. We began to see signs of civilization again as our forest path gave way to pavement.
Emancé was further than we had expected, and we were very hungry by the time we arrived. This was not a road with frequent villages containing friendly patisseries and épiciers. Things felt quiet and sleepy as we walked among silent trees, only occasionally passing clusters of picturesque cottages. When we eventually arrived in the little village, we found the épicerie that time had clearly forgotten… a bell tinkled as we opened the door and walked into an odd little shop tended by a crooked old woman who looked like she might have stepped out of fairy tale just to serve us.
She sold us some ham, cheese, and apples along with bottled water and invited us to sit in an adjoining room to eat our repast (which seemed delicious beyond reason). We were left alone until a slightly younger woman came in with her arms full of flowers cut from her garden just as we were finishing our meal. I inquired about a WC, and she told us there was one, trés rudimentaire. Curious as well as desperate, I followed her to an old and crumbling outhouse in the back garden. How I wish I had a photo of that little shack with its tankless toilet sitting with only a jug of water by its side, for flushing. Rudimentary, indeed! But totally adequate, and completely apt.
Refreshed and relieved, we shouldered our packs and headed into our afternoon, walking up the hill that lead out of Emancé and into the fields beyond.