‘Notes’ are some of my observations, thoughts and experiences during my seven weeks walking The Camino de Frances, one of the routes of The Camino de Santiago, also known as 'The Way'. Each day is overflowing with experience and it is my intent to reflect the (my) rhythm and feel of each day rather than to write a travelogue. As I said in my ‘preparing’ posts; I am not a detail person, if you are looking for ‘just how much was that elevation gain’ or other details, the internet is full of information for every step. (Here is a good place to begin). You are also welcome to follow me on Facebook for more photos and experiences.
My ‘miles per day’ includes everything. Walking into a town for mid-morning, cafe’ con leche’, going down a side path to a perfect picnic spot or even climbing up 3 flights to the top floor in an albergue (pilgrim hostel). It will differ from the ‘official’ miles between towns, yet perhaps better reflect an actual day, on your feet, on The Camino.
Also of note… This is my Camino. My Way. If you are considering ‘talking a long walk’… It will be different. I invite you to make it your own!
From SJPDP to Roncesvalles there are two routes. One that goes higher into the French Pyrenees and then down (Napoleon) and the other (Valcarlos) that goes directly up to the pass. Due to heavy snow the Napoleon route was closed and even though the Valcarlos is ‘easier’. I decided to take 2 days to get to Roncesvalles rather than one. The Camino is not a sprint. This was a very good choice.
Day one was a beautiful sunny cool day where the birds sang and puppies played at my feet. Literally! I cried several times out of simple awe. After all the thought and preparation… I was walking El Camino de Santiago!!! Physically I felt great and I settled into carrying my pack.
My plan was always to walk The Way by/with myself. I anticipated walking some with others but held the intent to lean away from doing so. I stayed in St Jean Pied de Port 2 nights in a lovely guest house and met 3 other pilgrims including Mark from Australia. The above said, I previously decided that perhaps I would walk with someone the first couple days as they are the most mountainous. Mark and I agreed to walk that first day together and share another guest house in Valcarlos.
Mark wanted to walk together that second day as we had a bit of walk along the road and ‘together we are seen by cars better’. Again, he was up and packed sooner than me and we decided to meet at a coffee shop to begin. While Valcarlos was small, I didn’t find the place he described so I ate my breakfast and once again began walking alone. It seemed that my intent was overriding my decisions. Interestingly both days, I was more ‘going along’ with Mark’s suggestion. Ahhhh yes, The Camino began reminding me early on!
I loved the French Pyrenees! It was a beautiful day of hiking and I say hiking rather than walking on purpose. It is a hike. Up. Another perfect sunny cool day. While day one was completely solitary (other than critters) day two began a wonderful bonding with other perigrino’s. Pilgrim’s on El Camino. Lots of stopping, chatting, encouraging each other on.
This was the day I found out my physical conditioning was good. I will not say it was easy, yet my body felt strong, my cardio conditioning responsive and my pack felt great. I continued to marvel at the beauty, the realization of the Journey and the sense that it all felt very shimmery.
On day two I experienced a lovely synchronicity. At one point I needed to find a place to squat. Yes, this is how it works on The Camino. In walking down a little path I found a magical place and had a remarkable experience. This is its own post and will follow another time… I will just say, I continue too hold the intent of being willing to stop anytime, anywhere and for as long as I want. I believe it is in these ‘called to’ places… The Way reveals Herself.
I woke up that morning feeling a bit sore but quite energetic. Another sunny cool day! Another day of walking with beauty, now in the Spanish Pyrenees and heading down the pass. This day felt like a bit of a repeat of day one. Joy, quick interactions with now familiar faces on the path and a sense of wonderment.
I felt so good in my body. After warming up, the soreness was replaced with a feeling of strength. Then… The last part of the day was a very steep decline on rocks, shale and granite. This is where my conditioning lulled me into a false sense of invincibility. Hmmmmmm… Dare I say I was over-confident in my ability?! I descended too fast. Rock hopping rather than careful stepping.
I have discovered that some towns will have a their own, slightly different version of the Camino Scallop Shell. Perhaps another bit of in-my-face synchronicity was, that on this day, I saw the Shell, Tree and (perhaps dog but I see) Wolf. The Earth Tree Dancing has long been my business logo. The BlackWolff, my addictive nature. There She was, on the street as I walked on my increasingly painful knee. Hmmmmmm!
Just before I left Portland I went to A Bruce Springsteen concert. It was an excellent experience to send me on My Way. This was his ‘River’ tour where he played the all the songs from his early album ‘The River’. When the concerts was over and the lights went on… This song sung by Alison Krauss was playing. Perfect. I love the song and the entire prior year in Portland of ‘walking bridges with the river’, was the way I ‘prayed’. I sang this song, walking with the river all day.
Physically I gave attention to the knee I ignored the day before. That is how it works… ‘Ignore the whispers, it will scream’. The good news is my knee only hurts with steep downhill grades. Walking flat or uphill was fine. The pain is on the outside and will tend to radiate down. The damage was my ligaments and the muscles they attach to, not to the knee joint its self. I spent the day figuring out how to protect it and not cause injury to anything else by compensating.
I also emotionally beat myself up a bit which is pretty easy to do while walking in the rain! Yet, self-pity and self-disappointment was not going to get me another 500+ miles. What else did I flow through my day? I do have a lot of self-confidence and if I place my attention on something, I can gather accomplishments well. That rainy sometimes painful day… I asked myself the question: How has my self-confidence served me and how has it not? Where is the difference and how do I recognize it? Day four of walking alone, I found myself walking with me…
I spent day five staying in Pamplona. Exploring, resting my knee, laundry, taking a couple hot baths in my private room. While I really enjoyed the city and spent time with some wildly fun Australian pilgrims, the busy, loud, city quickly felt uninviting. I also observed an interesting thing… Being around lots of people while being alone, somehow feels more lonely to me. For the first time on my Journey, I was wishing to share it with someone.
Once I was well outside of the city, breathing in the expansiveness, a wave of sadness enveloped me. The sadness was about my late husband Joe. Sometimes grief can still wash through me with a sense of ‘look at me now Joe’…. ‘Look at what I am doing!’ And an even deeper sadness that he is no longer in body to experience something he would have loved. For the first time on The Way… I cried a deep sobbing release from My Heart. And as the tears flowed then slowed, from that release came the peace of knowing that… Love Remains. All/Ways.
On day six, during my almost 13 mile walk over a mountain, I only briefly saw two other pilgrims. I met the first, shortly after my good cry. I had stopped to take my pack off and remove a layer of clothes when a man walked by, looking at me directly in the eyes and we wished each other a ‘Buen Camino’, he spoke with a thick accent. He had that feel about him that it seemed he looked directly into my Heart. I walked behind him a for a short while and then we entered a series of turns and bridges, where I passed him as he stopped to adjust his pack. We shared more sweet smiles. Then a few more turns and I never saw him again. Yet something about our brief interaction sent Peace flowing through my Heart. I saw Joe in his eyes. I have never seen him again, I still wonder if he was ‘real’ or simply a Camino Angel.
The day passed for me, walking in peace, walking with gratitude. I continued to learn how to tend my knee and to listen very carefully. It was a long climb walking up to an iconic sculpture and incredibly beautiful pass. Almost at the top, I saw a Hawk, hanging on the wind. Joe's totem was the raptors... Hawks, Owls, Eagles. I stood and watched this one for a long time.
I stayed on the pass, with the sculpture for quite a while. Feeling the difference of being alone in the city and being alone with views all around me as far as I could see.
As many times as I have seen this sculpture that depicts pilgrims over the ages… For the first time I noticed the dog. And weeds shaped like Hearts.
Yes, I am on the right path... And I am never 'alone'.
Unfortunately, what followed was a long steep downhill hike that made my knee howl. This was not good. At the end of the day I walked into an Alburgue and met a woman from The Big Island of Hawai’i. We immediately knew each others ‘language’ and shared a delightful conversation that evening.
Day seven I walked with Alaia from The Big Island. We both decided to make the day short. After the steep down, I wanted to again ‘rest’ my knee. I enjoyed our conversation while we walked, we have much in common and it was delightful to share with someone who has similar intent with walking The Camino.
This was my first time walking with anyone for more than 10 or so minutes. Interestingly while I enjoyed it, it also felt distracting. I don’t even remember much about what we walked through. This has nothing to do with her… Only my internal Journey.
More than any day since leaving Portland, I felt the presence of the life I left behind. And I felt growing a concern for my knee… A couple beers with dinner, and I went to sleep early. That night, even my dreams were of the past.
More to follow as GreyWolff Walks...