When your body can go no further, what happens?
I found this out yesterday, when I walked from a small refuge outside of Captieux to the town of Roquefort (not the one that’s famous for the cheese, but for a different one).
I knew I had a long day ahead of me; previously, I had only walked this long once, on my second day from Varzy to La Charite-sur-Loire, and it was hard, but I managed to hitch a ride for the last six km so I was spared the full agony.
Yesterday was different in two major ways: between Captieux and Roquefort, the path was flat, straight, and surrounded by trees on both sides for literally the entire distance. Imagine walking for 7 hours and looking at the same thing. No change in scenery, no change in direction, no elevation, nothing to distract you.
What was the other major difference? Yesterday happened to be Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. One must fast for 24 hours and even avoid drinking water. I wasn’t going to stop drinking water, but I did want to fast for as long as I could.
So I set off before 9:00 AM, while the sun was barely reaching over the vast fields that lay on either side of the narrow stretch of trees that hid me in the mist.
I made good time for the first three hours, covering close to 20 km and keeping a good rhythm. At first my stomach rumbled from going without food, but I soon forgot about it.
I finally came to rest past noon and spread out my mat to lie on the gravel path. This was when the hunger hit me; I was almost dizzy from it. So I opened my pack and ate an avocado, a tomato, and the half a baguette I had leftover from the day before. That was all the food I had.
The big problem for me was that because the trail was secluded and didn’t really pass through any towns, I was out of water with another 17 km until I was done for the day.
So I set off at a slower pace, and this was when I felt the massive blister on my left foot develop.
The path was already starting to make me feel claustrophobic; add to this my thirst, my fatigue from walking the first 20 km, my unfulfilled hunger, and the sharp pain whenever I landed on my foot at the wrong angle.
It made sense for me to stop, but I was in the middle of nowhere. I could try walking down one of the small roads that occasionally intersected the path and see if a car would pick me up, but there is no such thing as a guaranteed ride when you’re hitch-hiking.
My best option was to carry on to Roquefort, and that was what I did.
I can’t really remember too much of the last four painful hours into town, but I know that my mind crossed a threshold I didn’t know existed. You go somewhere deep inside yourself in moments like these. There is an element of self-preservation in shutting off the world and ignoring what is around you. The blister receded to a muffled throb; my thirst and my hunger were like dust at my feet; my muscles and joints were reduced to faraway aches and pains. The road was both the question and the answer, and I hardly looked up for the rest of the way.
I think the word “trance” is a little too strong, but whatever level of consciousness I was at brought me somewhere primal that I had rarely encountered before—during summer training for football, which I played in high school, or during a rugby match my third year in college, when I dislocated my left shoulder, popped it in myself and continued for the duration of the game. It is the feeling of being alive in the most basic sense of all, of conquering one’s own body with nothing more than pure force of will.