So with the kids on their first 2 week break from school Kyla and I got together to discuss what we wanted to get done, and of those things, what we should do together and when. It was Sunday and looking at the weather forecast we decided any outdoorsy things should be done the next day, on Monday. Something we both wanted to do with the kids was check out Montagne Sainte-Victoire and Croix de Provence so we quickly did some research, how do we get there, how do we get back, how long is the hike etc. The first decision we had to make was to go up the north or the south side. The north side was easier, but the south side was prettier. For those that don’t know me well, I love a challenge, which is stupid because I’m rarely fit to handle the challenges I take on (Yeah, screw you ski hill at mud hero), but I take them on anyways often leading to injuries, and a weird mix of regret and pride. South side it is. We figured out our route, decided to meet in the morning, grab enough food to last the few hours of our outing and head down to the bus that would take us out of town. All went well, we grabbed enough food for lunch an a few snacks, had plenty of water, a few first aid items, and were on our way. Navigating the bus felt like a great accomplishment, we made it to where we needed to be, on time with 4 kids in tow and were now leaving the city. We found our stop, found the trail head and started our day, it was around 10am and we knew it took about two hours for most people to get to the cross on the top of the mountain, but most people didn’t have 4 kids following behind. The first 45 minutes were awesome, the kids could actually run, jump and horse around, the weather was awesome and we had left the crowded city centre that was our new home. The smell of the unfamiliar foliage was amazing.
We made our way up to the first building an amazing view. We had a snack and water break, took it all in and we all felt really grateful for being there. Handed out some of the bribes (read: candy) we brought for the kids, adjusted our layers accordingly and moved on.
I don’t remember how long it was before we were faced with an option.
As mentioned before, I can’t ever bring myself to take the easy way. I always think I’m going to be filled with regret and wonder if I don’t go all in. Kyla made a good point, it had been pretty difficult (mostly very steep) so far, and we did have kids with us. I also made a point; We won’t know unless we try. Looking back on the day, this was the point that we went from a hike, to an adventure. We could have gone left, made it up to the top in two hours, had lunch and made our way back down, but we didn’t. We went right and did something else entirely. Not long after that we were looking up a rock face that was obvious we needed to climb. “we can do this” I said, and I went up first, took off my bag and stayed close to help the kids, for the most part, the kids were awesome little climbers, it took a little skill, but they pulled it off and we all went proudly on our way, feeling accomplished. Something I didn’t realize until later, was we just crossed a point of no return. It was a little difficult, but manageable getting up that rock face, it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible to go down without ropes.
We followed trail markers, which were not always obvious, occasionally we had to stop and send kids 20-30 feet ahead in a few different directions to find which way to go. It was a very rocky trail and so footprints or obvious paths were not always visible. We did cross the occasional hiker still, but maybe only 3 or 4 at this point.
At some point we hit an open, sunny slope. We basked in the light and had a bit of a snack. We packed up, and set out on our way to what we thought was the path. we were wrong. We did a bit of a scramble to cross the slope, and ended up on a lovely little cliff. We realized at this point we no longer saw trail markers, but there were a few flags around. I didn’t know what they were for. Alright, we stood on the cliff and tried to figure out which pass up to the ridge made the most sense. Couldn’t be that one, too much climbing, couldn’t be that one, it goes no where. Must be around this small ridge. Let’s go. We tried all of them.
A few hours later we stood back on that same lovely cliff and tried to figure out where we went wrong. We carefully weighed all of our options. We realized we would be unable to help the kids down that rock face we climbed up, the kids were tired, sore and hungry (at this point, we’d fed the kids the majority of the food we’d brought). As I was studying the ridge absolutely baffled, I saw two heads poke out from the other side of the slope. They seemed to be headed back down the mountain, I carefully watched their path and realized that was where we needed to be. And at this point, it was our only option.
We crossed the sunny slope, scrambling on loose rock, skinning knees and cutting palms of hands ever so slightly. I was pretty sure everybody in our group hated my decision for taking the difficult side, I did too. Once across the slope it was painfully obvious this is where we should be. Not easy, still very steep and we had to use our hands as we navigated up towards the ridge, but way easier than the cliffs, bush rock faces and the hell we just came from. Plus, look at all those lovely little trail markers. I missed you little guys.
As we made our way off the slope and up the ridge, Kyla had some truly adventurous news: She’s left her vest back across the slope from hell where we’d eaten last. While it was an expensive vest, and much needed for our time in Aix, it was at this point, disposable. Her apartment keys inside the vest, were not. The kids and I continued up the ridge towards the cross and Kyla headed back. Being on the trail again gave the kids a new level of energy and excitement I was grateful for. They weren’t complaining or fighting, and were moving as fast as when we first started on the trail head. We reached the buildings very close to the top and stopped to catch our breath. Here were some amazingly breath taking views, a bathroom, some great history, and a chance for the kids to goof around and be kids without being in danger. We decided to wait here for Kyla and finish to the top of the mountain together. The kids played games, ran around and smiled. I remembered why we were here, apartment life was starting to get to us, and we needed to be outdoors, and being with nature was even better. We didn’t need to make good time, we didn’t need to challenge ourselves, we didn’t need to be the best hikers we could be, we needed to breathe fresh air, move our bodies and get physically tired. We had reached our goal.
Eventually Kyla made it up huffing and puffing, and totally red faced. I cant imagine how much that sucked, especially since her vest wasn’t where she thought it would be, glad she did end up finding it though.
We made our way up the steep incline and all the way to the cross. It was beautiful. We drank our tiny wine bottles, ate the rest of our food and were happy. After a while we headed back down the path, of course this time, we would take the easy route.
Or would we?
After descending down for about 30 minutes Kyla spun me around and asked me to look at the path we were on. We were NOT leaving the same way we came for sure, but we were also headed down the OTHER SIDE of the mountain. Well, we decided the trail has to lead somewhere, and wherever that was, we were sure to find a bus to bring us back to town.
We had gone up the mountain on the south side, and we were descending down the north side. No longer a single file path, this path was wide enough to fit two cars (More than I can say for most of the streets in town), wouldn’t this be an easy way up the mountain? The kids ran, fell and hurt themselves, and I somehow managed to hurt my knee on the steep decline, I don’t know how, but it hurt like hell. I took some codeine and pressed on. I may have secretly shed a few tears from the pain, and I needed to slow down at some points, but we pressed on. After what seemed like another 3 hours we made our way back to humans. Farmland, anyways. We hit a few forks in the road and made our way, eventually using the help of some locals back towards the parking lot that had the trail head. We used our phones to try and figure out where we were and how the hell to get back to the city. Once we did that, we realized the bus was coming, RIGHT NOW or in an hour and a half. We rushed the kids up another hill, along a highway and towards the bus stop. Unsure if we had made it in time or missed the bus, we waiting at the bus stop full of hope (and a little despair).
Our hearts, our moods and our hope dropped into nothingness as we saw our bus speed by on the other side of the highway. We were on the wrong side of the road. I didn’t even think of that. Aix is thataway. Kyla and I were taking a moment trying to gather ourselves before we decided what to do, the next bus wasn’t for 90 minutes, we had to find the stop, the kids were tired, hungry (no more food left at this point), we could call a cab, but we were in the middle of nowhere, we’d have to figure out which of these properties had a house, and hope that somebody there would be willing to help us. Kyla said “The people in that car are looking at us like we’re crazy” I thought some very not nice things about them. After staring at us for a while, they turned around and parked in front of us. It was my Landlord and his wife. The only other people I knew in the entire country, and they happened to live at the foot of the mountain.
They rolled down the window and informed me I was on the wrong side of the road, and that the bus didn’t come for a long time. Thanks. He told us to hop in the back of the car, he was headed into town and could take us close to our apartment. What. A. Life. Saver. I’m not one to use the word fate, but I can tell you that was one of the most appreciated coincidences I’d ever experienced in my life.
We made it to the top of the mountain, and back home in well, I don’t even know how many hours. We left before breakfast and returned around dinner time, or shortly there after. We had a day full of fresh air and our muscles were properly used, all day long.
We grabbed some food from the patisserie (Guess who didn’t care about eating vegetables for dinner?) and headed home for the greatest sleep of our lives.
You know, maybe our next adventure we should go into the city.