Day 2: Roncesvalles to Zubiri

Again, no pictures yet. But here´s today:

Despite sleeping in a humongous albergue (seriously – 72 people on 1 floor, and 3 floors altogether), I slept in this morning. i was sure that I would be awakened early by other people getting up, but my ear plugs and eye mask seriously did the trick.

I was on my way probably around 6:45. The first walk was quite a nice way through wooded areas and two small towns.  We walked literally through the middle of a farm. I was quite interested to see the farm equipment and animals! Gates block animals from wandering off, and there are signs for pilgrims to close these behind them.

Despite the fact that my guidebook made it look like things would be more or less flat until a medium climb (can´t call it big after yesterday!), there are of course lots of hills. Up, down, up, down.  I was complaining mentally about this, but had a change of attitude later. My asthma does not love the incline, but taking tiny steps at a medium to slow pace works so much better than trying to speed up only to have to stop every ten steps.  At my slow pace, I can more or less keep climbing the whole time. We were in the valley for the beginning of the day, but crested another mountain around 10. Then down, down, down quite a ways. My poor arthritic knee does not love the descent!

People walk at many different paces, and I tend to be a little slower. I know my hips will appreciate that more than speed, and I don´t need to risk any blisters (which are a bigger risk on the hills and very uneven terrain). It´s hard not to get up in a competetive spirit when people are passing you all the time, but I figure there´ll always be some place to stay.

Around noon, we were heading down the side of a mountain, and I could see pilgrims making their way up the next mountain across the valley. Not an encouraging sight! But I ended up with a very friendly walking companion, and that made the time and distance pass much more quickly. It was also incredible to be able to turn around at multiple times through the day, look back at the mountains behind, and think I just hiked through all of those! Over all of those! Quite the sense of accomplishment.

Finally, at about 1, we started our final descent for the day. It was incredibly steep, and on loose rocks. Quite the challenge! Again, so glad for my trekking poles! We made our way to an albergue in Zubiri, crossing an ancient Roman bridge. Legend has it that if you made an animal cross the bridge three times, it would be cured of rabies. (Wonder how many people were bitten by rabid animals, trying to “cure” them!) Our albergue is a former school. I sat in the shade for a while, and then came to find internet to post.  While I was waiting for the one computer to be free, I met a lovely couple from Ohio who had just cooked some food.  They offered me some of it, and we had a great time together. It´s so nice to meet people and talk, even it you´re quite certain you´ll never meet again.

Well, I´m off now to explore Zubiri. Some good stretching is in store tonight, too. Walking uphill and downhill really uses different muscles than walking through flat Toronto.  Still glad I did those training walks, though – I have no blisters like many of my fellow pilgrims!

Day 1: St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles

How to even begin to describe what life is like here?

Yesterday I woke up before 6, had breakfast, and was out the door before 6:30. If you know the Camino at all, you know that there are two options for walking on your first day.  One is all the way up and over the peak of a mountain; the other follows a valley before being up and over a mountain.  The first is more climbing, and more popular. I had been praying that God would help me decide what route to take, but when I woke up I was still unsure.  Then at breakfast my hospitalera (the woman who runs the hostal) was talking about how it would be rainy, so you wouldn´t see lovely sights, and really, really windy.  She said people often break their legs falling when it´s that windy. She had once seen a girl fall over and remain unable to get up because of the wind and her backpack.  She had seen a man bracing himself against the wind and running a few metres every five seconds or so, while everyone else turned back.

Since I do not have a death wish, taking the Route Valcarlos was an easy decision. And, hey – if it was good enough for Charlemagne, it´s good enough for me!

Starting out, there was lots of happiness.  The route followed a river, and was off the main road.  All around me were lovely Basque houses and birds singing. Euphoria!

Eventually it started raining. It didn´t stop for most of the day.  Then there were also hills involved. What killed me was that every time the road went down, it felt like a waste of altitude gained – I knew I was just going to be going back up again later.

I found a walking partner in a young man from Korea. This was really a gift from God. Even though we didn´t do much talking, it was great just to have a companion and not be alone.

We crossed over into Spain, and I actually didn´t even know that we had until we crossed back into France. Then along the river for a bit until back into Spain for good.  It´s crazy that you can just walk across a border and not even know it. And people there are probably living in one country and buying their groceries or gas in another on a regular basis.  If you´ve ever crossed the border Canada/USA – it´s just so the opposite of that experience.

Then came the mountain(s).  Up, up, and up.  Sometimes we were walking along a path literally carved out of the mountainside, with a rushing river beside.  I almost fell over the edge once. Walking poles were great for balance and to help drag myself up.

Finally, finally, finally, we crested the peak. And then a swift downhill to the albergue.  Where I showered, and then pretty much sat exhaustedly.  Met some nice people, though!

I am paying for internet on a computer in my albergue right now, so no pictures yet.  People here know how to get money – pilgrims need a place to stay, and it´s more money if you don´t offer free wifi! I´m sure I´ll find one eventually where I can post, though.

In Which I Practice Walking

Last night I packed up my backpack with everything I’m taking to Spain. Well, everything except my passport, which I left on purpose, and my nail clippers, which I left accidentally. I doubt that extra weight will be the straw that broke the camel’s back. (I guess you never know, though!)
This morning, after a terrible, restless sleep, I took the train downtown and started walking home. This has become my regular Saturday schedule, but today was significant because my backpack was finally at its full weight for the summer. I made it home successfully, without collapsing, without crying, without wishing for a swift and sudden death, AND without a sunburn. Yippee! I CAN do this!
30 kilometres is farther than I’ll walk in the average day on the Camino, so that makes me feel good about the summer. That helps balance out the knowledge that today’s walk was quite flat and on smooth sidewalks, as opposed to, say, up the Pyrenees. And it was just one day. Not 35 days in a row of walking. Woohoo! (Why do I take weird vacations?)

In Which I Make a Difficult Decision Regarding Hair Gel

Somehow, when deciding to walk the Camino this summer, it never occurred to me that I would be backpacking.

Please understand: I am pretty much the least outdoorsy person I know. My small group drags me camping most years, and I do begrudgingly enjoy it, but it is never something I would choose to do for fun if I were the one choosing the activity. Hiking and backpacking are something I NEVER would have imagined doing. But the dream of the Camino drew me in, and I had bought my airline tickets already before I realized that I would essentially be backpacking across a country.

What followed was a huge learning curve about all things outdoorsy.

Now I am all outfitted with my outdoorsy belongings: hiking boots, backpack, water pack, hat, trekking poles, good quality clothing… it’s a new experience.

I began training – walking to work and back each day was not nearly enough mileage, so long walks on weekends have become a staple. 25 kilometres on a Saturday is now a new normal. On a Saturday when I only walked 12 kilometres, I marvelled at how short that seemed, AND at how I have become a person who says things like, “I ONLY walked TWELVE kilometres yesterday.”

Amidst the training, I quickly learned how weight in a backpack is relative: the longer you walk, the heavier it gets. Walking with a backpack weighted at 25 pounds is a good way to realize that I only need to take the absolute necessities and nothing else. For the most part, this is easy to discern – one change of clothes, my hat, sunscreen, the barest of toiletries (seriously: comb, nail clippers, toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo, hair elastics), flip-flops, and headlamp.

 

And then there is this tiny bottle of gel that keeps making it into the box where I’ve been gathering my supplies.

Hair gel.

My hair is a little uncontrollable if I don’t do something with it. This is what I tell myself when I put the bottle in.

Then I remind myself that this trip is definitely not about what I look like, and every bit of extra weight is dumb. I take it back out.

A few hours or days later, I think about how nice it would be to feel like I look presentable after a long day. The bottle goes back in.

Again, after a while I tell myself how ridiculous it is. I will wear my hair clipped up or in a ponytail. It’s a pilgrimage, for goodness’ sake.

 

This is such a dumb story, right? A bottle of hair gel – it’s almost inconsequential. And yet even though I know how inconsequential it is to have with me, I can’t help but keep trying to pack it, against all logic. This has made me wonder how much of my life and my decisions are controlled by, essentially, vanity. In the Case of the Hair Gel, vanity over my appearance. But in life in general, vanity of all sorts – how I appear to others. I want to appear like I’ve got all aspects of my life together, to look perfect to any outsider.

I can’t help but remember God’s words to Samuel: “For people look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

 

May I continue to learn to be unconcerned about how I appear to others, and learn to be right before God!

 

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down… (Hebrews 12:1)

In Which a Girl Timidly Plans a Pilgrimage

I feel like there should be some really wise words that I have to share on this first blog post.  I don’t really have any that feel particularly eloquent.  And all my “wise” thoughts that I have while walking seem to disappear when I try to put them into words on paper.

So let me jump right in to the point!

 

This summer I will walk the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James.  It is an ancient pilgrimage route across Spain.  Each day will consist of lots of walking.  Besides that, I’m hoping for lots of good conversation time with God, and good conversations with the other pilgrims I meet. And that’s pretty much it.

 

There are generally two reactions that I get from people when I tell them what I’m doing.  One is approval – anything ranging from jealousy from people who want to go themselves, to excitement on my behalf from others.

 

The second one is more like shock.  “You’re doing what?!” isn’t uncommon to hear.  I realize that this vacation is a little unorthodox.  In fact, I would suppose that my own emotions run to excitement 90% of the time, while the other 10% is what on earth am I thinking?  I’m not really an outdoorsy sort of person.  Camping is my idea of one of the worst kinds of vacations a person can take.  And now I find myself researching backpacks and hiking boots from MEC, and taking really long walks to train.

 

Not to mention, I’m going alone.  I won’t have anyone else to drag me along, pull me out of bed, talk me into walking just five more kilometres.  I don’t have guaranteed companionship and conversation.  A small part of me is tempted to be plagued with self-doubt. What if I don’t make any friends? What if I get injured? What if I hate it… and keep hating it all summer long? What if I feel like my relationship with God is stagnating, instead of being deep and rich and meaningful? What if….

 

Today in The Banner I read, “Above all, Jesus is called ‘The Way’, which denotes walking with, a relationship. Experiencing changed circumstances is an invitation to get to know him better. He says, ‘I stand at the door and knock.’ The image is of our opening the door of our hearts to him so that he can spend time with us, as one does with a friend over a meal.”

 

That, above all, is what I hope for this summer.  To walk with Jesus, getting to know him better.

 

2 Corinthians 5:7 – For we walk by faith, not by sight.