We continued in this fashion all through the night. Poor John Katsaros, my partner from Paris, was having a terrible time trying to climb with only one arm. The other arm, as I said before, was badly shot up and of no use to him. I broke a branch from a small tree and used this to help pull him up. Of course, the only time we had to do this was when it was very steep. He never complained, but I knew it was very painful for him to twist and turn in attempting to climb the hills. As daylight approached, the guide located a barn. We spent the day there sleeping in the straw. At nightfall he roused us, and we went at the mountain again. Everyone was so hungry but there was no food. We were able to get water from the many streams we crossed, but after taking a drink and climbing a while one got thirsty quickly; we had no way to carry water with us.
How do you keep going like this? I dont know, but go we did. If it was tough on us, imagine the older people. Imagine the old man. How did he do it? I dont know, but by God he did. The will to live is powerful. As I look back on this, I am amazed at the lack of conversation that went on during this trip. It must have been because it took all our strength just to keep going. But Ill tell you one thing, our guide never once faltered. He walked as easily at the end of the day as he did in the morning. We later felt that he must have made this trip many times an that as a matter of fact, he probably was a smuggler in peacetime and had made his living carrying contraband over the borders. This was conjecture but quite believable, and it at least seemed like a good guess.
I could belabor the journey, but suffice it to say it took four days and four nights to get over into Spain. One day was quite like the proceeding, a lot of hard climbing by day and luckily sleeping in barns at night. It might help to mention here that although there were barns to be found, there were no farmhouses. It seems that the natives, in the summer, take their live stock up into the mountains for grazing but do not stay there with them all the time. The barns are not large and are used to store hay, straw, feed and other incidentals that they do not want left out in the weather. So there was no one to bother us and, moreover, it was early in the season so nothing had been brought up as yet. Our next worry would be when we approached the border where we might be seen by German guards with dogs because they were on continual patrol looking for anything amiss.
The third day out we had a catastrophe. When we got up in the morning and left the barn we had slept in, we thought we had roused everyone from the straw before we set out on that days climb. Around noon, as we rested, we discovered we had left one of our men behind. There was nothing we could do for him at this point, only agreeing that in the future to make a good head count before leaving for the day. We could only hope the poor fellow could find his own way into Spain. Rested, we continued climbing. That day we climbed above the tree line as well as the usual mountain streams we used for drinking. By the end of the day we were all parched with thirst. We continued up until finally the guide called us together and pointed out some huge rock piles banded together with chicken wire. When you stood by one and looked off into the distance, you could just make out another one. These were the markers for the boundary between France and Spain. He indicated that we must be very careful of planes flying the border as well as soldiers patrolling on foot. The planes, if they spotted us, could notify the soldiers by radio of our position. He also indicated that they would come into Spain after us if we were seen. He waved us to go on and turned and walked away from us and down the mountain to our right. He obviously was finished with his job, and now we were on our own. It was late enough in the season, so there was no snow for us to deal with, but there was a large depression in the ground maybe 50 feet around, and it was full of water. We made a beeline for this and dropped to the ground and drank the stuff. We didnt even stop to think whether it might be poisoned or at the very least, dirty. I guess it was good water because no one got sick. We gathered ourselves together and proceeded to climb past rock markers so as to be in Spain as quickly as possible. We continued up for several hours, made it to the top and proceeded down into Spain. We had it. We kept walking down the steep hills but couldnt see any sign of life. We walked until it started to get dark and, as luck was with us, we found another barn, the first we had seen that day. We spent the night as we had in the others. When morning came, we would have to devise a plan of action because we were now without a guide.