I remember my second day of walking. The plan was to leave early from the monastery at Roncesvalles and get a bed at Zubiri. Almost all of the 200+ pilgrims finished their breakfast at the same time and rushed out to the trail. The race was on. I managed to beat the coming rain and enough pilgrims to ensure that I’d have a bed in Zubiri.
My pace is slower these days; I don’t race anymore. A few days ago my left foot started to hurt. I’ve escaped any major blister problems, but each morning is a mystery concerning when my foot will start hurting. Some days I make it 10 kilometers without popping an ibuprofen, but yesterday it hurt from the moment I woke up. It’s just sore from overuse, so today I walked just five kilometers and am resting it by keeping it iced, compressed, and elevated.
When I run a race, I’m used to passing people, not being passed. On the Camino, I haven’t passed very many people lately. The other day I was limping along towards the end of the day and a lot of retirees passed me by. Let me tell you, it’s really humbling to be passed by an old woman walking with a broken arm!
The pain is very manageable, so I’m trying to turn this foot problem into something positive. I go slower, so I appreciate the Spanish landscape more and I literally stop to smell the roses. But of course I keep dwelling on the negatives: I’m one day behind in my itinerary and my Camino companions are a full day or two ahead of me now.
There’s a phrase along the Camino: true pilgrims suffer. Two days ago in Logroño I met plenty of these “true pilgrims” that put my problems into perspective. Our crowded bunks were filled with the infirm and wounded: rolled ankles, knees that couldn’t climb stairs, and so many blisters. In the bunk next to me was a boy recovering from infected blisters - a condition that would probably end my Camino. Logroño is a sizable city, so many of these people opted to bus there and rest their injuries for several days.
In hindsight I should have rested there instead of this smaller town. Despite everyone’s pain, spirits were high. Although the tour wasn’t in English, a local volunteer showed a group of us around the city. It was a very special fiesta weekend, so the streets were alive with booths, crafts, and people dressed in medieval costume. I may have only caught bits and pieces of what my tour guide said, but he clearly had a great love of his city and the pilgrims he served.
I’ve discovered that the best places to stay are often the ugliest on the outside. That donation-based hostel in Logroño looked a field hospital; its floors didn’t sparkle and its beds were jammed together with broken people. Nevertheless, the communal dinner was joyful and the conversations were spirited. Regardless of health or not, people happily shared their stories and struggles with strangers from around the globe. My table alone had representation from America, Slovakia, Mexico, the Philippines, Uganda, Ireland, and Scotland. I love listening to the different perspectives about life, the Camino, faith, and (always a popular topic) American politics. Compare that to tonight’s 10€ albergue in Najera: I have a sparkling clean bathroom and plenty of space, but only have an older gentleman who doesn’t speak English for company. I’d rather be cramped and have good conversation than alone and physically comfortable.
I’ve tracked about 117 miles so far. That’s nearly the distance between Omaha and Des Moines and leaves roughly 380 to go. Still following that star all the way to Santiago de Compostela.