Week 3: Day Trips to Muxia/Fisterra and A Coruña

I’ve always wanted to stand in this very location. If you’ve seen the movie, The Way, this is where Tom Avery spread his son’s ashes in  the final scene. There was a gypsy in Burgos who told Tom to go to a little seaside church in Muxia. “This has nothing to do with religion,” he said. “Nothing at all.”

A rental car is SO much faster than walking.

In week three we found ourselves with several consecutive days off work and we decided to rent a car for some travel to  one place I’d been previously, and two I’d never seen.

Observations about driving in Spain.

(1) Open roads are great and well maintained. They should be. We paid two 6.40€ tolls on a round trip less than 120 kilometers.

(2) Driving through any downtown (centro) means you’ll maneuver  lots of narrow, one-way streets. You’ll encounter roundabouts within roundabouts, and oftentimes there will be stop lights within the inner roundabout.

(3) You think gas is high in the US? 1.60€ per liter here and it takes about four liters to make a gallon.

There probably aren’t as many photos here as there should be after visiting three locations, but it’s really hot in Galicia now and the touristy part of me was a little impatient and edgy.

In A Coruña, the Tower of Hercules, the oldest working Roman light house in use today.

Walking up toward the Tower of Hercules

 

This is some sort of seaside compass pointing to all the regions in Galicia.

 

Standing on the Camino in Muxia.

A 360 view seaside at Muxia.

This small, but important church was destroyed by lightning a few years ago, but has been fully restored. It’s beautiful inside. Perhaps the westernmost church of the Old World.

Standard cold beer shot on a very hot day.

Someone trailing up the rear thought it would be funny taking this shot. NO, I was NOT going to Burger King. Three minutes IS pretty close though!

Pilgrim Strong Book Party in Nashville

Thanks to pilgrim friends Hal Humphreys and Kim Green for all the gracious hospitality at their home last weekend as we kicked off the Pilgrim Strong Book Tour. Thanks also to REI CO-OP for hosting our Getting Pilgrim Strong on the Camino de Santiago class. We’ll end our book tour right back where we started in Nashville this November. Until then, onward!

A few photos from Hal and Kim’s.

 

With Hal. True pilgrim. Fantastic chef!

Spanish cuisine so authentic we thought were in Navarra!

On the ride from Jonesboro to Nashville. Of course she takes a great photo of her. Meanwhile, I chew on jerky with a large, blurred head.

I love this photo. Just makes me feel good.

I get so much credit, but no will will ever know how much a part of this Dana has been. This is a “we” project, as is pretty much everything we do.

Chapter 31 – Home

“Travel does not exist without home. If we never return to the place we started, we would just be wandering, lost. Home is a reflecting surface, a place to measure our growth and enrich us after being infused with the outside world.” ~ Josh Gates

Few experiences will bring a person to a full knowledge of their senses as traveling alone. Maneuvering a far-away land will heighten your awareness at every level. It’s the thing I’ve learned over time that brings me most alive. It’s not so much the getting away from things as it is the freshness of new, uncharted experience. Traveling alone builds confidence, character, and offers a perspective on the world that is achieved no other way. Comfort zone boundaries are demolished and necessarily overcome when you have no idea what to do next, and no other choice than to figure it out. But there is nothing that stirs the blood as standing at the helm of your destiny.

Solo travel can also have a life-changing effect on how a person thinks about home.

After a walking a million and a half steps across Spain it was comforting and exhilarating thinking about the familiarity of home, but I was petrified of the conversations surely ahead in future social situations.

Somewhere over the ten-hour North Atlantic flight home it occurred to me. People are inevitably going to ask you to talk about this. And most of them are going to say, ‘Well, how was it, and what was it like?’ As surely as the sun rises, people would ask that question just as if it had been a long weekend vacation on the beach. I feared my any given trigger reaction to the empty questions.

All of a sudden there was a keen awareness of an inadequate fragility that goes with returning home after a hallowed and humbling experience that has changed you in ways too early to understand. Never speaking of it again would have been perfectly fine. That’s how it felt at the time, anyway.

***

Wheels down in Memphis concluded a remarkable seven-week odyssey. As the reverse engines roared I exhaled deeply blowing out what seemed every emotion God ever made.

Stepping out from the aisle seat on Row 10, I reached to the overhead bin and strapped on my backpack a final time. A text from Dana brought a wide smile. I’m here! The Delta captain stood at the cockpit’s entrance as passengers deplaned. I thanked him and shook his hand for the safe trip home.

The C concourse for arriving flights at Memphis International Airport is simple and uncomplicated with the feel of a regional terminal. From the furthest arrival gate it’s no more than a five-minute walk past security to the point where friends and family await weary travelers. At the last left turn there’s a final thoroughfare short enough you can see past the TSA checkpoint and make out faces in the eager crowd. Home always happens when I see my wife’s face there.

Just before the turn my hands went automatically to their familiar spot on the backpack straps and a sequence of images from the last seven weeks raced vividly through my mind. It was incredible what had happened really, and the fragility came full-bore.

Fifty yards down the concourse she was smiling the purest most familiar smile I know. It easily came to mind what a blessing she’d been and how much I loved every single thing about her. Reaching around her neck I began crying unexpectedly and couldn’t let go. It was so hard, I remember choking out and holding her tight. It was just so far, and so hard but I didn’t quit. The embrace must have lasted a minute as travelers walked politely around us. Home can be anywhere for me as long as Dana’s there.

At home, a long hot steamy shower with fresh smelling soap and a soft towel was a momentary rejuvenation from three consecutive days of non-stop travel, but short-lived from a desire for sleep in my own bed. For the next twelve hours things went black.

We avoided people for days and Dana kept me well insulated from the outside world, aware of my desire to stay clear of people and conversation. Eventually visitors came. “We want to hear all about it,” they said. The predictable sweeping nature of the question made me ill.

“You’ll have to ask some more specific questions,” Dana jumped in. “I don’t think he really knows how to answer the big open-ended questions yet.” She saved me.

The truth is that most people ask these questions only for the sake of polite social chit chat. It’s required decorum, and the only thing we know. They really don’t care, and it’s not really their fault because they could never understand. Some have labeled it the Seinfeld Effect. You’re telling a story answering someone’s question about one of the most unique experiences of a lifetime, and in five minutes, they’re staring off into space, completely uninterested, wondering which Seinfeld rerun will air next. This happened countless times and it’s one of several reasons the story of pilgrimage is so personal and private.

In some ways I was completely prepared for what came next. In others, I’m still figuring it out today.

Day 3: Nate and Faith Walter

Published today on my companion blog, noteaday.com

Note A Day

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Dear Nate & Faith:

It was such a pleasure meeting you both in Santiago de Compostela last November. Lucky for us Dana made us keep searching the narrow, crowded streets, and that we finally came upon you at Pilgrim House.

I had my reservations. Not sure why, but I did. I thought Pilgrim House might be some mystic out-of-the-way place, the smell of incense burning from the back, full of strange people I wouldn’t connect with all discussing their karma and listening to tracks of buddhist chant music playing about. I’m not sure why I presumed that, but I did, and not that it would’ve been the end of the world. It’s just not my comfort zone. Of course, to my great pleasure, it wasn’t, and to our great fortune, we had the pleasure to meet you both.

Thank you for being so kind to us, for washing our clothes…

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Camino 2016: Some Fave Photos

Dana celebrating at the end of the world

Dana celebrating at the end of the world

Near Finisterre in the last 2k.

Near Finisterre in the last 2k.

Our friend, Kathy McLeskey from Florida who followed me last year and went for her own Camino this year. We met for the first time in Santiago. She's a great pilgrim.

Our friend, Kathy McLeskey from Florida who followed me last year and went for her own Camino this year. We met for the first time in Santiago. She’s a great pilgrim.

Andrew Suzuki producer of Beyond the Way and Don't Stop Walking. I've always been a fan, and we bumped into one another for coffee in Santiago, then had dinner that night. A real creative talent and super nice guy. Such a pleasure to meet him.

Andrew Suzuki producer of Beyond the Way and Don’t Stop Walking. I’ve always been a fan, and we bumped into one another for coffee in Santiago, then had dinner that night. A real creative talent and super nice guy. Such a pleasure to meet him.

We made it!

We made it!

You'll find "monument art" like this all along the Way. This is my very favorite as you enter the final kilometers to Santiago. It really speaks to me as in, "We have arrived!"

You’ll find “monument art” like this all along the Way. This is my very favorite as you enter the final kilometers to Santiago. It really speaks to me as in, “We have arrived!”

Entering Arca.

Entering Arca.

Dana on the famous (sometimes infamous) rock bridge on the stage near Arzua.

Dana on the famous (sometimes infamous) rock bridge on the stage near Arzua.

Not sure where this is.

Not sure where this is.

Jesus said: I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.

Jesus said: I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.

Very typical November morning.

Very typical November morning.

I got 2 or 3 shots this trip where the light was perfect. This is one.

Sometimes you shoot a photo simply because the light is perfect, regardless of the content or composition. I got 2 or 3 shots this trip where there was perfect light. This is one.

Leaving Portomarin and the beginning of one of the final ascents on the Way. I love this photo. It says so many things to me.

Leaving Portomarin and the beginning of one of the final ascents on the Way. I love this photo. It says so many things to me, and reminds me of a prayer by Thomas Merton.

After a really long 16-mile day, this awaits in Portomarin. Ugh.

After a really long 16-mile day, this awaits in Portomarin. Ugh.

I believe this is my #1 favorite photo from our trip. Dana walking with Darla from Minnesota as we descend from O Cebreiro and enter Triacastela. It was a long hard walk and we were really tired and hungry about this time.

I believe this is my #1 favorite photo from our trip. Dana walking with Darla from Minnesota as we descend from O Cebreiro and enter Triacastela. It was a long hard walk and we were really tired and hungry about this time.

Also near Triacastela. Somehow on this trip I got into the habit of shooting photos where it appeared we were talking through a tunnel. This is one.

Also near Triacastela. Somehow on this trip I got into the habit of shooting photos where it appeared we were talking through a tunnel. This is one.

Us with Steve and Darla, friends from Minnesota.

Us with Steve and Darla, friends from Minnesota.

Another favorite in the church at O Cebreiro, the oldest church on the Way.

Another favorite in the church at O Cebreiro, the oldest church on the Way.

A beauty of a day in Galicia. The snow wasn't far behind.

A beauty of a day in Galicia. The snow wasn’t far behind.

A toast to ourselves at a little bar in Ponferrada at the Castle of the Knights Templar.

A toast to ourselves at a little bar in Ponferrada at the Castle of the Knights Templar.

More beer. Ha. You'd think we drink all the time. Not true, but a cold beer sure does taste good after a long day of walking.

More beer. Ha. You’d think we drink all the time. Not true, but a cold beer sure does taste good after a long day of walking. Actually this is a cerveza de limón, half beer, half lemon juice.

Dana at daybreak at Cruz de Ferro. It was amazing to watch the sun bring the morning light and I was lucky to get this shot. The light at this elevation is amazing. If I were in charge of Foncebadon I'd rename it Fuego del Cielo (fire from heaven).

Dana at daybreak at Cruz de Ferro. It was amazing to watch the sun bring the morning light and I was lucky to get this shot. The light at this elevation is amazing. If I were in charge of Foncebadon I’d rename it Fuego del Cielo (fire from heaven). The iron cross has been in this location since 1530.

The tokens we left behind at Cruz.

The tokens we left behind at Cruz.

Leaving Foncebadon for Cruz de Ferro. Early and cold, but it was worth it.

Leaving Foncebadon for Cruz de Ferro. Early and cold, but it was worth it.

The final Ks of the stage entering Foncebadon. Another long day.

The final Ks of the stage entering Foncebadon. Another long day.

Enjoying time in the square at Astorga. We got a hotel that night. So nice to have clean sheets and towels. Plus, I'm sporting gentleman's cap I couldn't resist in Burgos. My one big splurge for 60 euros.

Enjoying time in the square at Astorga. We got a hotel that night. So nice to have clean sheets and towels. Plus, I’m sporting gentleman’s cap I couldn’t resist in Burgos. My one big splurge for 60 euros.

Another top five favorite photo entering Astorga. This one framed up nicely.

Another top five favorite photo entering Astorga. This one framed up nicely.

I trail named her, "Rookie." It stuck.

I trail named her, “Rookie.” It stuck.

Stamping the pilgrim's credencial, proof of the journey for your compostela upon arrival in Santiago.

Stamping the pilgrim’s credencial, proof of the journey for your compostela upon arrival in Santiago.

Another tunnel.

Another tunnel.

Ahhh ... Burgos. The 200-mile mark for those walking the full Camino Frances.

Ahhh … Burgos. The 200-mile mark for those walking the full Camino Frances.

More beer. More perfect light. HA!

More beer. More perfect light. HA! But seriously, look at that frosty mug.

Fuente de Irache, where the wine flows from the tap.

Fuente de Irache, where the wine flows from the tap.

November really is a lovely time on the Camino.

November really is a lovely time on the Camino.

We did have some bad weather days, but for 30 days of walking the conditions were extraordinarily good.

We did have some bad weather days, but for 30 days of walking the conditions were extraordinarily good.

Tapas in Pamplona. Buen provecho!

Tapas in Pamplona. Buen provecho!

A pilgrim walking through a tunnel not far outside Uterga. Another photo that makes me think about a lot of things.

A pilgrim walking through a tunnel not far outside Uterga. Another photo that makes me think about a lot of things.

 

A Memory Made Permanent

After three hours of torture, this is what I walked away with. At least I won't have to buy a shell next camino.

After three hours of torture, this is what I walked away with – the scallop shell that pilgrims have carried for a millennium. At least I won’t have to buy a shell next camino.

On the day Dana and I left for Madrid, and one year to the day when I embarked on my first pilgrimage, a friend published a blog post that captured my attention.

Beth Jusino and I connected as friends through the American Pilgrims on Camino forum when I was on that first walk. It was just a few months after she and her husband, Eric, completed the Le Puy route – double the distance of the Camino Frances. She’s a gifted writer and editor and someone whose opinion I value when it comes to all things literary. And she’s kindly help guide me in an important direction or two as I work to complete my book Pilgrim Strong. That process is indeed, a marathon to itself.

Her October 20 blog post was about a commitment, of sorts, that she’d made to herself. A commitment that once made, would permit no turning back – a little like that moment when you walk away from the Orisson refuge to battle the Pyrenees – but deeper, and perhaps more personal.

Beth got a tattoo. And what she wrote about it resonated deep as I read, waiting to board a flight at the Memphis airport.

These are the first three paragraphs from Beth’s post:

“I live in Seattle, where tattoos are practically a requirement for entry. And yet, whenever the subject would come up, I’d shrug. There was nothing I could imagine that I would want to commit to having on my body forever. Surely I would regret that quote/image/memory when I was 90.

But then I walked a thousand miles in a single spring. It was the biggest, hardest thing I’ve ever planned and completed.

I wanted to commit it to being part of me forever.”

I understood exactly how Beth felt.

People who’ve experienced the camino say a lot of things about it, chief among them that “it will change your life.” Some speak of it as a magical, mystical place and a journey whose conclusion will take all your problems away.

Truth is, the Camino de Santiago is just a place. It’s a place of historical significance regarding the spread of the first-century gospel, but it’s just a place. It doesn’t whisper to you or bring down some supernatural life-changing light at the zero-mile marker. What happens there is entirely up to you as you walk the path.

The camino didn’t change me at all. To the contrary, it refined me, and made me much more of who I already was. It was, and is, the extension of a journey I’ve been on for many years. It confirmed for me that I’m headed in the right direction, no matter the mistaken turns and shortcut detours I’ve wrongly or selfishly taken along the way. And so I walk still, pressing on to the prize. A wise Frenchman told me last year, “The true pilgrim never stops walking the path.”

Still, it was a big deal for me, both times. Words may never adequately explain how big a deal it’s been and how I carry the experience with me daily. The lofty opinion I once carried of myself as a young man has given way to the truth that we’re all just walking each other home.

I’m a better person for experiencing the camino. It’s helped refine much of the way I think about the world, people, ideas, and even myself. When I need to reach deep for determination I think about the camino. “If I can walk across a country, surely I can rake the leaves today,” I’ve told myself. And that parking space WAY across the lot at Target doesn’t seem nearly so far now.

The camino is special to me in so many ways, and above all, has connected me with new friendships that I value immensely.

And alas, it’s drawn me closer to God.

I knew exactly what Beth meant when she wrote about the desire to make the experience a more permanent part of her life.

So I did the same. And the walk goes on.

(Blogger’s Note: I asked Beth’s permission to replicate the art that was her original idea. She graciously granted that request.)

-30-

Care for a Leg? Or Eight?

Thank you, dear God, for this good life and forgive us if we do not love it enough. Thank you for the rain. And thank you for the chance to wake up in three hours and go fishing: I thank you for that now, because I won’t feel so thankful then. ~ Garrison Keillor

 

Sorry, we're all out of white meat. Care for a leg?

Sorry, we’re all out of white meat. Care for a leg?

With a life expectancy of 78.8 years, and using estimates suggesting we hear about 30,000 words every day, most Americans’ ears will take in some 900,000,000 words in a lifetime. It must surely mean there’s something special about the few phrases and tidbits that push through the clutter in our instant daily recall.

I still hear certain choice phrases my father frequently used, and recall the one time nearly 40 years ago when he uncharacteristically broke out in a verse of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, as we chopped cotton on an oppressively sultry Arkansas morning.

Never forgotten is the moment my young, always dramatic, attention-loving, middle-child daughter saw a pro-life billboard on the highway just as she was learning to read, and cited it out loud for us all, so sure of herself as I drove, yet misreading, “Life begins at constipation.”

Lonesome Dove, the television mini-series based on Larry McMurtry’s novel of the same name is so special to me, I know every line of the dialogue.

But it’s a recollection from an intentional meeting I uncharacteristically arranged during a bout with depression just a few years ago that’s helped broadly shape so much recent thinking, even if it is a daily challenge, still.

***

Dean Jacobs’ name regularly popped into my social media friend suggestions until one day I took a look. The algorithms linked us through a mutual interest in Ecuador, I’m sure. Among his credits, Dean’s traveled the 4,000 miles of the Amazon River basin, brings attention to environmental causes, and has a passion for helping the youth of an Ecuadorian indigenous tribe called the Achuar. He’d dumped life in the corporate world to pursue these things, and that got my attention.

His current adventure would bring him close to home on a canoe trip from the Mississippi River’s source in Lake Itasca, Minnesota to its terminus at the Gulf of Mexico. I dropped him a line and offered to buy a nice lunch in Memphis when he passed through. He wrote back, quickly accepted, and we targeted a tentative date.

Everything about Dean fascinated me. He drove an old, compact pickup truck nearing 200,000 miles, enjoyed successful careers in higher education and the pharmaceutical industry and dropped it all before heading out on a 22-month adventure taking him through 28 countries. Beyond traveling, he dedicates time educating stateside children toward a greater understanding of a big world.

There, in the West Memphis Cracker Barrel, we discussed world affairs and talked philosophy. As we neared the end of a late lunch, Dean shared an idea that made me glad I’d gone beyond a comfort zone and reached out to a total stranger during a time when I was pretty down.

He said, “I’ve learned that depression and gratitude cannot co-exist in the same space.”

I’d heard similar sentiments, but Dean really nailed the idea for a visual learner like me. And while some of us never completely conquer depression, the visual picture of gratitude pushing depression outside a physical space makes a world of difference in how I see certain things.

As much as anything maybe, it’s had an effect on how I pray.

The truth is, I’m a lousy warrior when it comes to focused, intentional, purposed prayer. While I feel as though I’m in a constant, companion-like conversation with God all day, most every day, and have good discipline with daily Bible study, my prayer life is less than I know He desires. And I’d like that to change.

It’s not that my prayers were so wrong for so long, as they were out of order. What I found is that I’d jump into a prayer and ask God to protect my children, and keep my family safe, and help me be more of this, and less of that. It was a laundry list of things I needed Him to do. And more times than not, I left out the most important thing. I left out my gratitude.

What’s most important to me now, much through Dean’s revelation, is a genuine acknowledgment of God’s glory, and grateful thanks for keeping, and using me for His purpose. Above all, I just want to give thanks.

***

Weary peregrinas checking in on Thanksgiving day.

Weary peregrinas checking in on Thanksgiving day.

There’s nothing about the Thanksgiving holiday I don’t completely love. Early in the week I love buying a cart full of groceries, oblivious to the cost, sparing no expense for all the perfect ingredients. I love waking up at 3 in the morning thinking through the strategic plan for how it must go, chopping the onions, celery, organizing the seasonings, all the prep work.

All morning, satisfying holiday aromas mingle and dance together as music blares through the house and I move back and forth from cutting board to oven to sink. And as with other monumental tasks that seem so ominous in the beginning , there’s the moment late in the morning, an hour before the first guest arrives, when you know you’ve conquered the assignment. It’s like mile 25 in the marathon. When lunch is served precisely at 1 just as the invite said, it’s a would-be chef’s sweetly savored victory.

Then, just as it has for centuries, food on a table brings people together in an especially communal way. There is happiness, peace and deep-down satisfaction. There is football, naps and complaints of gluttonous indulgence. Then, supper, of course. It’s an exhausting day, but I love it so.

***

The original plan called for my Thanksgiving day arrival in Santiago de Compostela, and for more than three weeks I was on schedule to do just that. The reality was that I spent most of Thanksgiving day walking alone, hobbling slowly in a heavy mist, missing home, and three days behind plan. Once again, I hoped I’d catch up with my walking partners somewhere in Melide, but hurt too much to put in extra effort finding them if it wasn’t easy.

Hungry, a bit irritable, and entering the city’s outskirts around 2 p.m., I stopped for a late lunch at a cafe where I was the only guest the entire hour. A plate of grilled chicken, papas fritas and a fresh salad was close enough to a traditional Thanksgiving, I reckoned. It was surprisingly fresh and satisfying, lifting my spirits for the final walk toward Melide’s centro.

A text from Aida an hour later gave me a general idea of my partners’ location, and after more city walking than I intended, I found her and Naomi checking in at an albergue on the far side of town.

Melide, Spain carries an international reputation for its pulpo. Some United States restaurants will have octopus from no other place. The Way takes pilgrims through Melide’s main thoroughfare where they encounter a walking tour featuring some of the world’s finest pulperias, many of which are open-air. Aromas just walking down the street are an epicurean’s delight. I was enticed by it all, but too out of the holiday spirit to much care.

Luckily, Naomi had a keen understanding for how opportunities like those in Melide can lift a pilgrim’s spirit. After showers, bunk selections and a longer than normal post-hike rest, she insisted we go out for a culinary experience in what makes Melide famous. My heart said no, but somehow the mouth said yes, and we began an early-evening stroll in search of our Thanksgiving dinner.

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Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 1.41.46 PMThere’s almost nothing I love more than when a meal is surprisingly excellent. At the Garnacha Pulperia, Naomi, Aida and I enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal I’ll never forget. The pulpo was spicy sweet and so fresh you could still taste the Bay of Biscay. Hot caldo gallego and stewed potatoes gave comfort. There was a green salad with young asparagus so tender and crunchy, it delighted every sense. And pimientos de padron addictive enough you could eat them by the dozen. It was all served family style and we passed plates, served one another, poured wine, laughed, shared stories just as millions of other families did that same day. Family comes in so many forms.

I said my prayers that night, thankful for a simple experience I knew I’d always remember. And from a top bunk wrapped tightly in a sleeping bag, I asked Him if he’d walk beside me just three more days.

-30-

Monotony’s Glory

We all try to camouflage the monotony, but it takes a lot of energy – to insist on being special all the time, when we’re so much alike one another anyway. Our triumphs are the same. Our pain. Try for a moment to feel what relief there is in the ordinary. ~ Peter Høeg, The Quiet Girl

 

100K to go. Truly a welcome sight.

100K to go. Truly a welcome sight.

In Sarria, we marked a milestone.

One hundred kilometers to go. It’s the westernmost origination point where a pilgrim may begin her walk on Camino Frances and receive a compostela. It stands to reason foot traffic picks up here. Though I knew I’d reached a point where a finish was within grasp, my shin hurt at new levels and I wondered frequently to myself if this was an exercise in permanent physical damage. It’s never good when you feel your heart beating in your leg.

Departing town, I took Naomi up on an offer to buy bandage supplies in a local

Getting wrapped. I told myself this made me feel better. Not sure it really did, but I pretended anyway.

Getting wrapped. I told myself this made me feel better. Not sure it really did, but I pretended anyway.

farmacia and let her create a support wrap for me. Even if a placebo effect, I welcomed the chance to pretend it felt better.

Thirty-five days in, the farmacia also gave me the first opportunity to step on a scale. Now cinching a belt up four notches from where it all began in St. Jean, I knew I’d lost weight and Naomi told me she’d watched my face shrink even during the last 10 days. But the actual number bewildered me. The 105 kilo figure meant nothing until I did a quick calculation. In 35 days, I’d lost 28 pounds. Three additional pounds fell off by the time I entered Cathedral Square.

As we moved out of town, I encouraged my partners to walk on without concern. I’d be along slowly. We’d catch up in Portomarin at the end of what I already knew would be a long, lagging, grueling trudge.

***

Most of our life gets lived in a monotonous zone between two extreme margins. We mark our time with lesser milestones along the way, but real life plays out mostly by way of routine.

It’s between these two margins – life’s peaks and valleys – where we learn just exactly who we are and the stuff of which we’re made. If you can handle the monotony of everyday life, and learn humility, you can handle the next big thing. In time, God will bring that thing to you. You can’t become someone, until you’ve been someone, and that often means that you wait, listen and learn. And it’s here where you grow.

As a beat newspaper reporter for 10 years, I’d wager my authorship of at least 5,000 obituaries. I could write an obit without turning on a single brain cell. My job required tediously checking the federal court filings every single day, a task I would have gladly deducted money from my meager paycheck for someone else to do. And if I’d been required to write just one more summary about the local gathering of the Craighead County Extension Homemakers Club – well, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

There were other times when my byline was on the front page for weeks at a stretch. I covered presidents, governors and led months of daily coverage about one of the most bizarre cases in higher education’s national history.

But it was the time between obits and EHC clubs – that monotonous daily grind – when I discovered my gifts and talents, and ultimately started thinking how they might one day be used for a higher, greater purpose. Once I understood my giftedness for interviewing others and telling readers their stories, and my own, in relatable, transparent fashion, everything changed. A calling was born in the messiness between the margins.

That’s exactly how I felt about walking to Portomarin on Day 35. There was nothing really sexy about it, and I was tired and felt awful, but it had to be done. The kilometers were down to double digits and the finish was in sight.

***

In Vilachá, just two kilometers short of Portomarin, I stopped for a rest before the day’s final steps. The pain and monotony of the day was not a good setup for the next exchange.

***

Above: It pains me to listen to this video, remembering how much my leg hurt.

It was a point in the journey where I’d tell myself regularly, “…just keep moving.”

A few meters into Vilachá, a small, but well-organized donativo stand with fresh fruits, cookies and two plastic chairs was more than I could resist for a moment’s rest. Mostly, I wanted to sit. I slipped off my pack and set my walking stick aside. The fruit was enticing, but I was too tired and grumpy to eat, instead just taking an occasional sip from my water bottle. It was quiet, and there was no indication of a soul anywhere around.

My next encounter was about to get off to a bad start very fast, and it was completely my fault, the combined result of exhaustion, pain, frustration, and bad timing. I’d really mismanaged my monotony that day.

From nowhere, a thin woman with long, unkempt, dull gray hair, passed through a door into the common area where I sat, and she greeted me in Spanish, asking my primary language. “English,” I said, not really looking up.

“Bound for Portomarin?” she inquired, clearly indicating a heavy English accent.

“Yes, ma’am. I just need to sit here a moment,” I replied.

“Do you have a booking?” she asked, the accent seemingly heavier, and pressing for conversation.

“A what?”

“A booking.”

I lifted my guidebook to show her. “Yes, I have a guidebook,” I responded, knowing she was trying to help, yet not wanting help. I didn’t realize I’d misunderstood.

“NO. A booking!” she raised her voice, frustrated with my misreckoning.

She was asking if I had a reservation ahead. I didn’t. I never made reservations, and just took things as they came. We were in a cultural misunderstanding with escalated tensions before I knew what happened. My response was not a good one.

“No, I never make reservations ahead. I don’t plan things. I have friends ahead and I need to find them wherever they are. I’m very tired, hurting and just wanted to sit here a moment.” It’s that tone I get when I’ve already turned someone off – a bad habit, indeed.

“Well, you’re not being very sociable, I can tell you that. I’m only trying to help, and I can save you some steps on those weary feet if you’d only be agreeable.”

“Am I really in this conversation?” I wondered to myself, head hung low.

It’s never good when you begin a sentence with “Lady…” As in, lady this, or lady that. The addressee never hears anything subsequent. Understood.

“Lady, I’m just sitting here, not really troubling anyone, but I’m going to move on down the path now and get out of your way. I’m sorry to be such a bother,” I said.

I threw my pack over one shoulder and scurried away, but before getting too far, she got the best of me on our unfortunate exchange. She threw the last knockout punch.

“Well, you’re the most unpleasant pilgrim I’ve come across in weeks!” And she slammed the door bidding me good riddance.

Sometimes you fail in the midst of monotony. I’d embarrassed myself and walked off ashamed. She told me – and good. And I pretty much deserved it.

***

A tall staircase on the eastern outskirts of Portomarin adds insult to injury for every pilrim at the end of a long day. If you want to gain entry to town, the stairs must be climbed, surely a hundred, if one.

Finding the albergue where I believed Naomi and Aida had set up for the night, I checked in knowing I’d see them sooner or later. Jeannick was there. So was an Aussie friend and others with whom I’d walked from Sarria. I found a lower bunk, tossed my belongings there, and went for a drink just as Naomi called.

“Where are you?” she asked.

“I think I’m where you are.”

“No, you’re definitely not here.”

I described my location and she said she was on her way.

When she came in the bar, Naomi could tell I’d had a bad day. She told me about the albergue where they’d settled and described it as a quaint, homelike bed and breakfast with one of the nicest hospitaleras on the Way. She’d even placed a portable heater in their private bathroom and encouraged them with much tranquillo.

To top it off, no one else was there. They had the place to themselves.

“You need to come join us. You’ll never believe this place.”

I told her I was just too tired to take another step.

Naomi’s a Spanish teacher by profession, but she writes for pleasure and has a descriptive, unforced way with words that comes natural to people who travel the world. In another 10 minutes, she’d sold me on their location. I grabbed my things and walked that way. I think she had me at “portable heater,” actually.

The heated bathroom was ecstasy. It was one of the longest, hottest showers on my Camino, and the hospitalera, was in fact, a Camino angel if there ever was one.

Naomi prepared a fruit and cheese tray for us that night, and Aida washed all the dirty clothes. We set up in a separate room with a real fireplace and had a virtual smorgasbord. We were clean, satisfied and almost deliriously happy with the accommodations.

The end of an extraordinarily monotonous day, ended in glory, albeit with ups and downs. It goes that way sometimes.

Most times.

-30-