This was the day I dreaded most. Though it's inconceivable that it could turn out as frightening as the St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles day (May 22), it was my toughest day on my first Camino and I had much fear.
And yet I felt confident. I WAS tested last time. I WAS tested in the Pyrenees. I had been through the fire (and hail and mud) and put my trust in God and came out alive. Beaten up, cold, wet yes; but also alive.
And Stephen was with me this time. He was the one who now had much to fear on his first Camino. We dealt with that by sending his pack ahead to our hostal. I put my heavier items in his pack and the few extra pounds off my feet felt wonderful.
We walked 23km with just a stop for tostada (toast) and coffee (hot coco for me). In the meantime, we passed so many fields of grasses and trees and a never ending drizzle. We greeted several fellow travelers whom we've been seeing regularly and the drizzle seemed tolerable.
After 23, we hit the first of three steep mud zones. It's the worst. It goes up and up and up, and the rain just made the mud ever more miserable. The private vendor under a tent in the forest doesn't actually make things easier. Her presence is expected and you have to assume that she knows she can sell things to wet, tired, hungry, thirsty pilgrims facing a difficult walk.
Eventually we made it to the top at O Cebreiro. A wonderful moment is crossing into Galicia. You know you've walked awhile when you entered Spain and cross all the provinces and are in your final one. Only 100 miles remain.
We were soaked. During lunch, we sat with Dennis from Melbourne Australia who was having a tough time with the distances and language. After a look around at the church and stores, we continued to Piedrafita, 4km away and not on the popular part of the Camino Frances. We found the arrows easily and stayed at an hostal away from the touristy crowd.
We looked at Stephen's feet. He's got blisters forming so we tried to deal with them in a preventative way. Most importantly, for Stephen, we rested. He's never walked 14 miles then 5 up such steep hill of mud then 2 for a hotel. The downwards walks hurt his blister and knees a lot so we slowed for his health. But he made it and the long nap and sleep were welcome rewards.
As he slept, I thought of my own Camino challenges and how I depended on others to give me strength and courage, motivation and hope. I wondered if I am doing that for him sufficiently. I hope that I am. He says I am so I'll take his word for it.
I lit a candle earlier at the church in O Cebreiro for all we who need our prayers. The dim light pierced the dark stone church and for a moment, I felt connected with everyone in the prayer lists in a weirdly tangible way. I sensed what it feels like when a spark is shared between two people who are many miles apart. The spark keeps you connected no matter where you stand at the moment.
And in the mud, in the rain, in the sweat, in the scent of horses and cows, it's that spark of connectedness, of life, that keeps you marching ever onward, ever upward. May your journey, full of blisters and mud, also be filled with a light that pierced all darkness.
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