14 Sep 2019
One feature of Pilgrim life is that we often leave town quite early. It’s quieter and cooler, especially in cities, and we have to be out of most albergues by 8:00 or 8:30am anyway. I took the photo above while walking out of pre-dawn Pamplona.
Today I’m walking 24km, up and over the Alto de Perdon mountain pass and down into an area of wheat and grape vine fields, to Puente la Reina. Both the ascent to 790m and the descent afterwards are especially challenging. I have plenty of company, including pilgrims on electrically-assisted mountain bikes (not sure how I feel about the correctness of that).
It turns out that these hikes are hard and physically demanding. Yet there are all kinds of people out here, old and young, fit and not, small and large, and all are determined to make their goal. Some pilgrims, due to vacation constraints, make the journey in two week segments, coming back year after year until they’ve completed it all. We form a community based on shared desire and on endured hardship.
I finally reach the top of the pass and find my friends Laurent and Claude enjoying the view with a little lunch from a food truck.
Descents can be very difficult. They’re hard on the knees and the footing is often unsure. Carrying a backpack shifts your center of gravity, making it harder to react to the unexpected; slipping and falling would be disastrous. Use of trekking poles for support and balance is mandatory for me.
The Camino path features many different surfaces, but the one shown above, especially for a decline, is one of my least favorite. Those rocks range from apple-sized downward.
Unfortunately, some foot damage has been done and, when I get to my albergue, I find some serious blisters have developed on my feet. This is not unusual but it’s discouraging given that all of my training walks, sometime 3-4 hours long, didn’t produce any blisters and I had sort of hoped that I’d toughened up my feet and was immune. In addition, after taking 31,000+ steps today, my feet are just kind of bruised, so walking is painful.
A nice couple from Valencia saw my feet and offered me some soothing after-hike foot lotion, which felt good but didn’t do much for the problems. Naturally, on the the topic of foot care, every pilgrim has advice (solicited or not) to offer.
That night I experienced my first episode of uncertainty about being able to continue the Camino. That really shook me.
Luckily, I found that Laurent and Claude were staying nearby, so I hobbled over to join them for dinner, and temporarily washed away my concerns with some excellent Sangria. Laurent, an accomplished amateur photographer, took this portrait of me. It turns out I may have lost a few pounds on the Camino.
The next morning, I forced myself to not think about quitting and just went through all the usual pre-departure steps. And I soon found myself walking out of town with all the other pilgrims in the pre-dawn hour, instead of taking a taxi back to Pamplona.