“Remain humble on this road, or the road will humble you.”
– Kevin Codd, To the Field of Stars
I have a lot to say about my 13-day trip to Spain and the Camino Frances, but let’s start with the elephant in the room:
The plan was to walk for 10 days, from Pamplona to Burgos, a total of about 130 miles. I didn’t make it.
Things started well. As I walked out of Pamplona in the early glow of dawn two weeks ago, my pack felt comfortable. Everything felt familiar.
“It’s good to be back,” I whispered.
I walked across familiar territory, only it was all much browner than I remembered it. The difference between May and August is dramatic.
I was confident, maybe even a know-it-all. I’d been here before. I knew where we could stop for snacks and bathrooms, and what to expect from the climb (and descent) of Alto de Perdon.
Laurel and I took long breaks, met lots of people. It was good to be back.
I felt great as we cruised into Obanos and the lovely, private Albergue Atseden.
“It’s all much easier than I remember,” I emailed Eric.
And then the road humbled me.
The next day, five kilometers from our destination, I felt the foot pain. The sharp, aching, feels-like-I’m-walking-on-giant-bruises pain that plagued my first Camino.
The next day, I felt it earlier in the day. By Day 4, the pain was always with me, more intense than I remember it from two years ago. Resting didn’t help. Massage, changing socks, and ice packs only provided temporary relief.
I took Advil and kept walking through it, but it kept getting worse. I stopped being a pleasant travel companion.I started to worry that I was doing some kind of damage.
“I think I have to quit early,” I emailed Eric from Azofra.
His response: “Quitting is a dumb word in this context.”
He’s right, of course. This wasn’t a “through-hike” Camino for me. I wasn’t bound for Santiago. I’d already done the things I set out to do: I spent a few days with a friend as she settled into her own Camino, and I covered the 40 kilometers I’d missed on our first trip. I’d met a dozen fascinating and wonderful new friends from around the world, and I remembered the rhythm of walk, eat, sleep, repeat. I even had a new idea for how The Book would end. (The epilogue is giving me fits.)
My only reason to keep walking was stubbornness (I’m here to walk to Burgos!). Well, that and an uncertainty of what I would do if I wasn’t a Camino pilgrim.
The next day we pushed through 14 more kilometers to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, which was one of my favorite towns from my first Camino (read the story here), but even a short walking day was brutal.
I sat in the backyard of the albergue, next to the coop of backup roosters and chickens who would eventually grace the cathedral, and took stock. I arrived in town planning to walk out the next morning, but my feet were in rough shape. There was a bus from Santo Domingo to Burgos the next morning. I could jump ahead and rest there for a couple of days before going on to Madrid.
Was I done, just like that?
The roosters refused to answer. But while I sat there, undecided, a couple I’d seen on the path a few times came outside. They’d lost their Brierley guidebook sometime during the day, and were visibly upset about it. It seemed unlikely they could find another one in Spain.
I looked at the book in my hands, the one that said that I would have to walk 22-27 kilometers a day for three more days to reach my Burgos goal.
I looked at the couple, healthy and eager to walk.
I had my answer.
I gave them my guidebook and said goodbye to the Camino. The next morning, Laurel and I got on a bus for Burgos. (She has a limited timeframe to get to Santiago and has to skip a few stages along the way no matter what; it made sense for her to jump ahead with me.) The next morning, she walked on, into the Meseta, and I stayed back, watching to sun rise around the cathedral as the last pilgrim stragglers set out.
It wasn’t the Camino finale that I expected, but somehow, it’s going to be the one that I needed this time.
PS. Yes, I have already made a new round of doctor’s appointments to figure out what’s going on with The Princess feet.