The altitude heading out of St Jean Pied de Port is right around 170m.
Six or seven hours and 20km later, as you cross Col de Lepoeder at 1450m, you may find yourself wondering if it is possible to climb that long or if you have started hallucinating somewhere on the route.
It was at this point, after pausing for a minute inside a quiet storm shelter near the top of the pass, that we realized how cold and windy it had become. While we were still managing with our light wind breakers, the air around us seemed frigid and loud. A perfect time to start heading down towards Roncesvalles.
Of course, one should remember that what comes up must also come down. And so it was, as the trail turned almost laughable at times, sending our spent legs and backs down 500m over the next 5k.
What seemed like a never-ending climb now turned into a never-ending descent.
Muscles, required to work in new ways, had been doing the same thing for so long that they became angry. Toes started yelling, knees starting pinging. Ankles and calves worked in unison to try and bring the machines to a halt.
It was a blast.
9 hours and 24.8km later, after a day that provided ridiculously beautiful scenery throughout, from a sun sparked start to a cold howling finish, we found ourselves in Roncesvalles, Spain.
The emotion is hard to describe, especially when you are aware that exhaustion is half of it. But here we were. Our packs could be dropped for the night, our shoes could be taken off, and we could do something else other than walk for at least the next 13 hours.
So that’s what we did. For €10 we got a place to drop our stuff, take the best shower ever, relax, stretch, relax, stretch, and sleep.