I am so happy to not be walking today. This body has made it 90 miles in 6 days through rain, wind, mud, hail, and heat – I deserve a break. My Camino de Santiago journey is in full swing – however, my body still seems to be rebelling against the idea.
As you recall, I started this 450 mile journey knowing very little about what to expect and with very little preparation, but in 6 days I have learned a lot. I have learned what NOT to do with blisters (through my own trial and error unfortunately!), how to find my way on the trail, how to find lodging and food, how to know when I need a break, how to stay (somewhat) dry, and how to maintain a positive attitude when you feel like you can’t go any further. Rayo Travel has been a huge cheerleader for me contacting me daily and assisting me with anything they can. I’ve been utilizing their iphone application to find lodging, food, and pharmacies on the way as well as stay connected online. In addition, the wonderful men at JacoTrans who are transporting my luggage daily have been a God send. Showing up and having access to my bag and clean dry things at the end of a day is wonderful. Plus – lessening the weight of what is on my back is essential. I have an amazing team behind me!
I won’t lie; it has been a struggle for me on a grand scale. As a pilgrim walking the trail in essence you are really stripped of your normal life accouterments and your life is simplified on a grand scale. I consider this a type of hard reboot of life– as if you were a computer humming along with a myriad of applications open and running and someone suddenly pulls the plug. Boom – darkness. Start over. Food becomes simplified and suddenly you get great joy out of eating tuna out of a tin can with bread. A shower is pure bliss and having a bed to lie down in is a whole new type of high.
This first week I have spent dreaming about all of the great gear that is perfect for this type of journey and thinking about how it is all sitting back in my storage unit in NYC. I have been walking in trail running shoes, which are ok for about 75% of the time. But the 25% through rain and mud leaves me dreaming of my hiking boots in storage.
I’ve gone 90 miles in 6 days leaving from Pamplona. I shocked my body by climbing over Alto de Perdon (a historic high pass) the first day and if that wasn’t hard enough Mother Nature decided to throw hail down upon us and kick up the wind as we climbed. Gail force winds joined me the next day but luckily they were at my back most of the day pushing me along. I walked through fields and fields of green wheat grass that would blow as if it were a giant wave in the ocean – a mesmerizing sight. The following days provided a little sunshine and then a lot of rain. I realized the challenges of walking the Camino trail in running shoes as opposed to my hiking boots as the water soaked through. But – you make the best of what you have and keep going – with plastic bags on my feet! The rain left rivers of mud as an obstacle for the next day. The mud was caked on my shoes and I slipped along slowly trying not to lose a shoe. After two 20 mile days in a row in tough weather and trail conditions, my body was screaming for a rest in Santa Domingo and I happily obliged.
It feels as if my physical body and mind are no longer working together, instead they are struggling against each other in a battle of the wills. It’s as if they’ve gone through a messy breakup and are trying to sabotage each other in a myriad of ways.
My body just aches. I walk gingerly and often find odd noises coming out of my mouth as I try to move through the aches and pains. It’s worse than when I used to run marathons as there’s no end in sight. My heels are screaming for me to stop – they have formed two big blisters on them in an attempt to try to convince my mind to stop. My mind isn’t listening though – it just keeps putting Band-Aids on the blisters and keeps going. I’ve actually developed a number of blisters and have to sit and try to treat them in the lovely process of popping, draining, and disinfecting them – a nightly ritual. If you want to actually see the blisters you can view them on my Facebook page – I’ve named them Jack and Jill.
Beyond the blisters my heels are just absolutely sore. My knee was screaming in pain for the first couple of days, but with better stretching of my calf and hamstring it has seemed to fall into line for a little while. I’m sure I will hear from it again though. On day 3 my shoulders and back decided to make itself known to me and started screaming at the weight I was carrying. I tried to tell them that it could be worse if it wasn’t for JacoTrans transporting my other bag and then I satiated their hurt feelings with Tiger Balm. Yes, I’m back to using Tiger Balm and you can smell me coming down the trail. As a final blow, in the evenings my rash on my legs flares up caused from the constant friction burn from my walking pants – joy. I think my most visited shop is the pharmacy.
The one thing to realize about such a physical, long distance challenge is that it’s 50% physical and 50% mental. Your mind will get you through many hardships and the mind is the most powerful and integral muscle in your body. My mind has been stretched to the limits and it has surrendered to the trail. It tells my achy limbs to keep going no matter what, and it provides me with lucid thoughts to get me through the times where I want to just give up.
My mind’s natural tendency is to worry. Worry about everything – my shoes, my feet, my knee, my gear, my lodging, my food, my lack of understanding of Spanish, my lack of training, and of course about what is ahead of me. But after 6 days it’s getting closer to kicking into ‘present’ mode – the mode where it just deals with the moment and doesn’t project. This is a good place to be. It simply knows that it has to keep me walking right now, right here.
The beauty of the Camino is the variety of amazing people you meet along the journey and in 6 days I’ve made friendships which I know will last my lifetime. I’ve heard stories that have made me cry, gasp, and laugh. People are walking this journey for a number of reasons and no two seem to be alike. I love meeting/seeing people, checking in for a few miles, and then knowing that you will see them again sometime in a few days. However a day doesn’t go by where I don’t wish I had brought my father to do this with me. He would have loved it and I’m already plotting in my head how I can bring him ‘next time’.
I met a beautiful Spanish family (mother/father/daughters/son-in-law) from Madrid who are walking together for a week and doing the whole Camino trail in sections as family vacations. And it was a lovely German man, Manfred, who helped me treat my blisters and Sabina (Danish) and Larry (American) who brought my spirits up when I needed it most one night. Sue from San Diego has inspired me with her story and I look forward to seeing her along the trail every day to see how she’s doing.
But it is one person who has lifted me up and got me through this week – Katherine from the UK. This is her 2nd Camino journey and her wisdom and humor is worth more than gold bars to me. We briefly met the first day I walked and then came back together on Day 4 and have been walking partners ever since. We have bonded in this journey and I wonder if I could have got this far without her support. Sometimes friendships just click and an immediate rapport is achieved – I feel like we’ve known each other for years, but it’s only been a couple of days. We take care of each other when we need it – and I am thankful that she was sent my way.
Tomorrow I walk on…and on and on. I wonder what and who this week will bring!
You can follow along in ‘real time’ on my Facebook page – OttsworldTravel
Please leave comments and questions as your support as I walk is greatly appreciated and just knowing people are out there following me keeps me going!
View my first week photography on the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage: