Day 9

Well well well, if it isn't my old blog. (Terrible way to start, I'm really out of practice)

I know it has been a few months since I have written anything. The truth is, I'm lazy. But I'm getting back into the swing of life again so I'm going to catch you up on some things that happened over the summer.

Today's blog is sponsored by the country of Spain.

Last fall, my friend Megan and I had this really brilliant idea for how we might spend our summer together -- we decided that we should walk El Camino de Santiago. If you've never heard of it, it's a pilgrimage across Spain. We knew we wouldn't have time to do the whole thing, so we chose a 300 mile long section to tackle.

Here is a view from El Camino. It's really long.

I don't know what comes to mind for you when you consider hiking 300 miles with all your supplies strapped to your back. I didn't really think much about it at all. Megan would send me links to blogs about the Camino (for mental preparation) and lists of quick-dry items that she planned to pack (because she's practical like that) and I was all, "Hey, could you buy me one of everything you're getting and I'll pay you back in Spain?" Like I said before, I'm lazy. Furthermore, I tend to plan for failure rather than for success. In my mind, I was thinking about how I would justify backing out of the trail three days in by turning my hiking adventure into a gloriously relaxing beach vacation on the shores of Spain, all by myself if need be. That's just how my brain works.

Anyway. The school year finally finished and I headed to Spain. I was fairly out of shape because I had recently been suffering from stress fractures in my feet, but I was really excited to give the Camino a go. My negative thoughts were at a minimum because our friend Sarah had also decided to join us for our Spanish adventure and she doubled as an on-staff doctor and a positive ray of sunshine. So worry I did not. For the first three days I flew through the miles, practically jogging with my backpack.

Meanwhile, everyone I met had a story to tell. Some of the stories were delightful anecdotes about life in different corners of the world. Some of the stories were about heartache and loss and figuring out how to deal. But most of the talk was about injuries. Specifically, Camino related injuries. It was totally common for every pilgrim on the Camino to rip off their shoes and socks at each and every public bar and restaurant and massage their bloodied and swollen feet. Everyone I met had battle wounds wrapped and covered, bandaids and compeed and thread hanging out of and off from blisters, swollen joints and angry red skin  -- and all I could think was, "Man, I am lucky to not be hurting like all these people."

Amidst all the tales of pain and Camino woes came an onslaught of unsolicited advice. As it turns out, I really hate unsolicited advice.

As people would share their precautionary tips to prevent future hardships, I smiled and nodded and then inevitably ignored them. In my mind I sang, "Ain't nobody got time for that."

Fast forward. Here is a passage from my journal on Day 9:

"...both shins have swollen to insane proportions, I got heat rash in three new spots and it's not going away, we walked on a freeway for six hours and I was the slowest so I cried a little, I got on a scale and it said I gained five pounds since yesterday, I accidentally ordered three sandwiches for breakfast which cost 10 euros, made me feel fat and sluggish, and proved to me that my Spanish comprehension is sub-par. There are bedbugs in my albergue..."

I would be lying if I said that the Camino didn't break my spirit. It did. I have many joyous memories of life on the Camino but I also spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself and wondering why the hell I would choose such an atrocious way to spend my summer. Sometimes after long bouts of silence on the trail Megan would ask me what I was thinking. If I responded truthfully by saying that I was "meditating on loneliness and pain" she would inform me that I was not meditating, but rather I was wallowing.

Sometimes I would sit down on a rock and say sullenly, "Just leave me here to die." Typically I followed this up with hysterical and/or irrational laughter.

One day as I was sitting with my swollen legs dangling in an icy cold river, an Irish fellow made an astute observation of me without even asking my name. He said, "It looks like you chose the wrong holiday." This man happened to be the winner of the Irish Voice. (I have included this random piece of information and one of his music videos not because it has any relevance to my story but because I think it's funny.)

Don't judge me Pat. I may have been lame but so is your video.
Take that.

So you might be asking yourself, "If the hike was so terrible, why didn't you just quit and escape to your magical beach vacation that you had elaborately planned in your mind?" Well, judgey reader, I will tell you. I didn't quit because everybody else kept going. And I didn't want to be the loser that couldn't hang. It became a principle of stubborn pride. That was truly the only thing that kept me going for a solid 15 days. That and the fact that I really liked all the people I met along the way and I suffer from a condition called FOMO - fear of missing out. We would do really fun things like drink wine and sing in Italian. Even if I was the weakest link, I wanted to be some link.

Luis posted his advertisements for failure everywhere.
I considered calling him each and every day.

From time to time I would find talismans on the trail.
Typically, I took these types of signs as harbingers for more pain and desolation to come.

Sometimes my friends would lure me through particularly tough spots by waving candy in front of my face. Literally. They would tell me that they would take a break with me and give me candy if I would keep up a human pace for a certain distance. Since I function like a small child, this worked.

Well, I'm happy to say that I made it all the way to Santiago and did not sustain any lasting injuries. In fact, by the last five days or so I felt fabulous. Apparently the old adage, "No pain, no gain," is correct. It felt super awesome to make it to the end despite all the troubles throughout. 

My take away from this experience was this: There were times on this trip where my very worst self came out. However, even though I complained a lot, I feel like I laughed more. And at the end of the day I always felt blessed to be surrounded by friends -- new and old. I know that sounds cheesy and contrived, but it's true. It's really hard to ask for help and to slow down. It's even harder to keep on going once you've lost your original pace. But then you do it. And everything always ends up okay.