May - June 2017
  • Day42

    40 Days

    June 13, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    My plan was to reach Santiago on Wednesday. I'd already booked a room a few miles outside town, so I could get to the cathedral early.

    But when I woke up Tuesday-- just 25km left out of 800, and feeling strong-- I knew I'd be blowing past the hotel, and completing my walk in 40 days. Something good about that span.

    I headed out under grey skies, the Camino tossing one more day of rain at me. (Who knew a sweat-laden poncho could get that smelly after a week's confinement?)

    The crowds I'd seen a few days before were gone, and for several hours I had the damp forest paths almost to myself.

    As I passed Santiago's airport, the woods gave way to neighborhoods and the clouds lifted, revealing sunny skies two hours earlier than the dramatic cathedral square entrance I'd scripted

    The temperature rose quickly as I started the climb up Mt. Joy, the site where pilgrims traditionally got their first glimpse of Santiago. The rays remained strong on the downhill, and through the long westward walk across suburbs and new neighborhoods.

    Finally, I reached the Old Town, entering the cool shade of densely packed buildings. I wound through the ancient streets-- one blind corner, one yellow arrow at a time-- knowing that the cathedral square was close by, wondering when it would appear.

    And then, a final archway and I emerged onto a massive plaza, before a giant cathedral swathed in scaffolding, but sitting there confidently, as it had for years

    I smiled, and my eyes watered a little, but it was quiet satisfaction and not exhilaration that filled me. Was this because I was tired? Because the square was uncrowded, and I'd yet to reconnect with the friends I'd made along the way? Was it mixed emotions, knowing that this journey had ended, knowing that I was stepping back into the world without the grand "This is what I'm doing next!" insight I'd hoped for?

    I didn't know. Days later, I still cannot answer it clearly. What I do know is that I accomplished something big, something difficult I'd set my heart on, something that forced me to grow far past earlier boundaries. Maybe the answers will fill that new space, sometime, when I'm not looking for them.

    Thanks for sharing the journey with me!
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  • Day41


    June 12, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ☁️ 18 °C

    There are a couple ways to describe the days following O Cebreiro.

    One is as the guidebooks do. I'd now entered Galicia, a region in Spain's Northwest filled with small farms, large hills, and forests of pine and eucalyptus. Galicia's climate is influenced by the Atlantic, its culture by the Celts, its language (Gallego) by the Portuguese.

    It'd be no less accurate, though, to describe this stretch as something of a circus. Since anyone who walks the final 100km to Santiago qualifies for a Compostela, the number of people on the trail swells 10x practically overnight.

    The fresh enthusiasm of these new pilgrims wasn't altogether unpleasant, but it was a jarring shift from the weeks before. I often found myself feeling like a single car in a train hurtling west.

    That said, I have great memories from this time -- joining a couple from San Antonio on a roller-coaster descent from O Cebreiro via bike; three evenings with new friends from Italy; a song-filled dinner with a table of Aussies and Kiwis.

    I'm thankful too for those few hours I enjoyed relative solitude, cool mornings, and eucalyptus scents and shade. Thankful also for the challenges, and the feelings of strength and pride, as my legs and lungs chewed up hills that would have kicked my ass weeks before.

    One especially hot and long day from Melide to A Brea capped this time, and put me within striking distance of Santiago...
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  • Day35

    Climbing lightly

    June 6, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    If you'd told me beforehand that one of my favorite days on the Camino would involve a 2,000 foot climb, I'd have said you were delusional. And yet...

    After leaving Ponferrado I passed through El Bierzo, another of Spain's wine-growing regions. While La Rioja may produce the most famous wines, the landscape I saw here beats it hands down.

    I walked for three days alongside cold clear rivers, and up and down dramatic green ridges draped in zigzagging vineyards and fields.

    But O Cebreiro was always on my mind. I knew it would be the biggest climb since the Pyrenees. I didn't know just how much stronger I'd become in the past month.

    I started my climb on a crisp sunny morning. The first half was the steepest, but I climbed loose and strong, lifted by forests and grasses, and by air freshly scrubbed by a storm the night before. The slope lessened over the second half and the vista opened up, providing sweeping 40-mile views back to the east.

    When I entered O Cebreiro around noon, I was elated and surrounded by Celtic music; more than ready to enjoy lunch and a beer with two Italian friends I just met.

    This was a magic day, and a great lesson in learning to trust my strength more than my fear.
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  • Day31

    Over the mountain

    June 2, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    The climb to the Cruz de Ferro was challenging, but the morning weather and sweeping vistas looking back were lovely. I got to the summit well before noon, left a rock by the cross-- as is tradition-- and spent some time taking in the ambience.

    The hike *down* the steep and rocky trails was much tougher, and I found myself missing Honey Badger. A bike would have turned 2 hours of stumbling into a 10 minute glide.

    I stopped at the first town over the top, El Acebo, putting off the rest of my descent until the following day. Good decision. The place I stayed was great, and the rocky canyon below was hard enough on *fresh* legs.

    My day ended in Ponferrada, an ancient town once run by the Knights Templar. I was happy to be over one mountain range, and already thinking about the famously difficult climb I'd face a few days later-- O Cebreiro, gateway to the province of Galicia.
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  • Day29

    To the hills

    May 31, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    Heading west from Astorga the road rose, as I continued leaving the plains of Castile behind. I'd planned a fairly easy day to set myself up for tomorrow's climb to the highest point on the Camino, and a visit to the famous Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross)

    The albergue where I ask for directions to my hotel had a good vibe to it. I was happy to return when my hotel host wasn't around to greet me. Happier still to stay in a comfortable private room for half what I expected to pay.

    When I heard about a Vespers service being sung in Latin, I jumped. It seems like a fitting ritual before tomorrow's climb. While I didn't share the beliefs of many in attendance, I was moved-- both by the atmosphere, and a connection I felt to pilgrims who'd sung these same words a thousand years before.

    I left the small church to capture a few evening photos, enjoy a huge plate of pasta, and chat with a pair of Aussies I met several times along the way. Then I headed off to bed. Tomorrow would start early, and be a big day...
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  • Day28


    May 30, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    I pushed myself hard to get here-- 33km, about 21 miles. The countryside was lovely, and the rain gave way to a beautiful sky mid-afternoon, but I was wrecked when I arrived.

    The last few miles seemed to stretch on forever; the 4-story pedestrian bridge over railroad tracks at the town's outskirts felt like Everest. Maybe pizza and beer wasn't the best lunch choice.

    Between my condition, the lovely hotel-- and the knowledge that the coming days would be challenging-- it was an easy decision to stay an extra night.

    Astorga is a charming town, dating back to Roman times, when it was a key point situated on two trading routes. There's still a market set up every Tuesday, though the imports from China have changed considerably.
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  • Day26

    Rest...and rain

    May 28, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    In León I took an extra day to relax, wash clothes and play tourist. I admired the city's old center section and cathedral, but Burgos remains my favorite city.

    I got to see / hear rock concert put on by municipality-- and got only three hours of sleep my last night there, because of people singing and clowning outside my window till 3:30AM, and again at 6:30. (different people, I think)

    Tempting as it was to stay in bed, I headed out into a drizzly Sunday morning, and walked the dozen or so miles to Villadangos del Páramo. It wasn't much more than a wide spot in the road, notable only for the most interesting take on minestrone I've ever been confronted with.
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  • Day25

    Well, that was cool!

    May 27, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    After three days together, and 120 miles of riding-- through heat and rain and a few missed turns-- Honey Badger and I got to León last night. She was a great ally on roads and trails, heading straight into one storm without complaint, and helping me outrun two others. I'll miss her.

    Looking back, I'm happy with the choice to ride, and for reasons different than those expected. True, I crossed a less-scenic area five or six days faster than if I'd walked, and doing that let me see a few people I'd met earlier on the trip.

    But switching modes also gave me new chances to stretch. I used different leg muscles, practiced new skills, faced down new fears (like bombing down a rocky trail with a rack full of gear!) And that's a big part of why I came to Spain.

    Today I'll wash clothes, buy a few things, enjoy León and take pictures. Tomorrow I'll pick up sticks again, and continue walking west. I'm looking forward to it.
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  • Day22

    Phase Two begins

    May 24, 2017 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    I'm covering the next 200km, from Burgos to León, on an orange rental bike named Honey Badger.

    This part of Spain is known as The Meseta-- flat, agricultural, hot. Some say it's the favorite part of their Camino, with open skies and plenty of time to think. I'm thinking of it like crossing Kansas or Oklahoma in Summer, and want to get the f♧&: across it.

    Riding will shave a week off, but it's no cake walk. Pulling a loaded bike uphill-- it's not totally flat here-- is a bitch, especially on gravel in 90°-plus heat. But I see it as another chance to try something new, before switching back to feet and sticks to finish.
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