Camino del Norte Day 11: Poco a poco

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Me, kicking this hill’s ass

 

October 11, 2015

Castro Urdiales to Liendo, 14 miles

 

Poco a poco. (Spanish for “little by little”).

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“Don’t quit before the miracle.”  (A quote from one of our fellow pilgrims and new friends, Philippe).

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Since the Camino is supposed to be a transformative experience, I’ll share some of the changes we are experiencing as we go along.

With that introduction, I’ll admit that a monumental issue came up for me over the last few days–whether I wanted to continue the Camino.

The problem is, I have a problem with suffering, as well as an inherent lack of faith in my ability to see this quest through.  Not a good combination when you’re trying to hike a gazillion miles across a foreign country.

Days 9 and ten brought these issues front and center and tested us both.  We had a lovely day off in Bilbao, too lovely, probably, because even before we were on the trail again I was having anxiety about where we’d find shelter the next night, whether my foot would give me trouble, and whether I could walk the miles needed in order to finish.  I had grown very comfortable very quickly in Bilbao, and fear of the unknown set in again.

This did not improve once we resumed hiking.  I didn’t have a complete meltdown like on day 3, but I failed spectacularly at any effort to overcome my fear of pain and of the unknown.  I needed a lot of encouragement from Dale.  In fact, he was doing everything he could to help me be successful, including carrying more than his share of our belongings and offering more rest breaks than we could really afford to take.  And yet still I struggled.  It was exhausting for him, because he himself was suffering his own aches and pains while also trying to boost me up.

After we arrived at the albergue last night, we talked for a long time about whether or not I wanted to continue the hike.  He felt that I was about one step away from dropping out and heading to the nearest beach.  While I wasn’t actually to that point yet, I wasn’t too far off.

I did a lot of soul-searching and decided that today was the day I would change my attitude.  I reminded myself that this is not just about me; this is Dale’s trip, too, and finishing is very important to him.  I had to figure out a way to do better, for him.  So when I got up this morning, I told myself, “My job today is just to walk,” not to worry about the future or those annoying “what-ifs.”  And so here’s what I did throughout today’s hike: each time a worry or a negative thought popped into my head, I dismissed it.

“Good god my feet hurt.”

Or, “When are we going to reach the top of this effing hill?”

Or, “I can’t believe we’ve been walking for 3 hours and we’re not even halfway there yet.”

These thoughts do me no good; the only effect they have is to make me want to throw myself onto the ground in despair.  So today, I worked on shutting them down.  When they popped into my head, I pushed them away, not giving them the time they needed to burrow into my psyche.

The hike wasn’t any easier today; there were steep hills stretching into infinity and lots of asphalt, but my attitude was better.  I got through the 14 miles exhausted but hopeful, filled with the knowledge that I can do this.  Day by day, step by step, thought by thought, (poco a poco) I can make it to Santiago.

Highlights of the day’s hike

The first few miles took us along the coastline and were therefore gorgeous.

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We then moved away from the water and into the forest.  After a time, we found ourselves walking on a busy road.

At the day’s halfway point, we were faced with two options: follow the traditional Camino route or take a short cut by continuing on the busy highway.  The traditional route was five miles longer but was described as “scenic and beautiful,” and since we’re doing the Camino to see beautiful terrain and not walk busy roads, we opted for the longer route, and because I have shifted my attitude, I agreed to add five miles to my hike.

It was so very, very worth it.  It took us through multiple small villages and striking mountain terrain.  The verdant fields had cows, horses, sheep, goats, and donkeys, and the tenor of their cowbells sounded like wind chimes.  Sadly, there were no ponies–we’re out of pony country now.  (Bummer)

The mountain scenery was some of the most beautiful we had seen in days, and if I had wimped out and taken the shorter route, both Dale and I would have missed out on something amazing.

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Not quitting.