“There is something else I am after out here in the wild. I am searching for an even more elusive prey … something that can only be found through the help of the wilderness. I am looking for my heart.” ~ John Eldridge, Wild at Heart
If the Pyrenees are where a pilgrim tests his body, and if Galicia is where a pilgrim tests her resolve, the Meseta is the place where they test every other thing that exists in their pilgrim spirit. The mask comes off and you look yourself squarely in the mirror along the Meseta. You are completely exposed here. There’s nowhere to hide.
The Meseta is one, big, wide-open space. It’s the home of the Old Roman Road used 2,000 years ago for transporting gold across the heart of the empire. It sounds so romantic.
I cursed the Old Roman Road on a day that seemed as if it would never end. You don’t really realize the importance of reference points until you’re in a place where there’s a complete absence of them. It’s a place much more defined by the skyscape than the landscape. There’s an occasional tree every few miles, and the openness of the region means you bear the brunt of searing sun, howling wind or whatever element Mother Nature offers up that particular day.
The Meseta’s the point where I realized how thankful I was that our minds aren’t really set up to comprehend the enormity of long distance. If they did, few of us would ever set out on such expeditions. Your mind just doesn’t compute what your feet, or your soul will experience across 500 miles. It escapes imagination. This is the place where one of life’s greatest clichés is actually lived out. Every day, you get out of bed, and you just keep walking.
Reaching the Meseta was a mixed bag of good news, bad news. I was thrilled that all
signs of blisters were almost gone and completely healed now. Unfortunately, there was the onset of a familiar feeling I hadn’t experienced since marathon training almost eight years ago. Shinsplints hurt, and there’s not much cure for them. You walk through the pain, or you stop walking. Those are your two choices, and the latter wasn’t an option.
I have a single distinct memory from the 170 kilometers of the Meseta. It’s the only occasion when I felt ill-at-ease on the Camino.
Sahagún is a milestone on the Meseta marking the halfway point of pilgrimage along the Camino Frances route. I passed through it mid-morning on Day 20 where I bought a few snacks and paused for a quick photo that supposedly marks the exact midway point. My destination for the day was Calzadilla de los Hermanillos in an effort to move onward across the plains. My eyes and spirit were ready for new vistas, and my introspective, self-examination was at maximum overload. I was literally sick of myself.
Such a wide open space is the last place you think you’d ever get lost, but somewhere that afternoon I found myself on an unintentional alternate route and probably walked an additional three unnecessary miles. Shinsplints and extra, unnecessary miles are bad companions. I was completely turned around and frustrated when a Camino angel appeared from nowhere. A local man passed by and recognized I was lost. He pointed me in the direction of town which was about as far away as my eyes could possibly see.
When the visibility is good, there are places where you can see 15 miles in any direction on the Meseta. When this happens, and you look around and can’t see another person anywhere, you know you’re really alone. There are times when the Meseta seems completely vacant – totally void.
It was approaching sundown when I walked into Calzadilla de los Hermanillos. The town was quiet, almost completely inactive and I was lucky to find a woman on the street who pointed me in the direction of the only open albergue.
With the exception of a single long-bearded pilgrim who refused to speak and was seated on a bench outside the donativo albergue, it seemed completely abandoned. There was no hospitalero in charge, no written instruction – nothing. It had a musty odor and pots and pans were scattered about as if whoever had been there last left in a real hurry. I waited 20 minutes for someone in charge to show up. They never did. I’m no scaredy cat, but the place was downright creepy.
I weighed the possible options of which there were zero. It was too late to walk on to the next village, and there were no other places to stay. I slept with one eye open all night. It just didn’t feel safe. It was the only time that feeling came over me, and I was up and out early the next morning, thankful to put it in the past.
I was only two days shy of Leon now, the place, that in my mind, marked a completed two-thirds of the journey. The landscape during the final one-third would change radically, and I would welcome it.
It’s an understatement to say there were times on the Meseta when I was less than excited to be there. But if you’re going to walk from St. Jean to Santiago, it’s a part of the process. The Meseta taught me the intensity of our faith is far less important than the object of our faith. I was beginning to think about the object now.
The object was to finish, and stand at the Cathedral of St. James the Apostle. That’s what was important.