Camino del Norte Day 22: The longest day

Hipster peregrinos


October 22, 2015

Aviles to Soto de Luiña, 23.5 miles

Today was all about endurance.  It was going to be our longest day yet.  Earlier we’d had two long days (21 and then 20 miles), but both times it was because we’d had to hike further than we’d expected to find shelter.  Today was a planned long day that would help us get back on schedule after our rest day and several short days earlier in the month.

These 20+ mile days were bound to come, and I was nervous about them.  In theory, I knew I was capable of finishing such a long day, but still, think about it.  Twenty miles.  Of nothing but walking.  I know people run marathons and ultra-distance races, but I’ve never been one of those who aspired to complete one.  I found the idea of a 20+ mile day daunting.  And given Dale’s recent drop in motivation, he wasn’t looking forward to it either.  But both of us gritted our teeth that morning and threw ourselves into the hike.

Despite our initial reservations, we had a great morning.  We moved fast and took very few breaks.  By 1:00 we were over halfway through.

At some point that afternoon, the fatigue set in.  I was trying to maintain a positive attitude, but my feet hurt.  And Dale was still struggling with his motivation toward the walk.  When we came to El Pito, about seven miles short of our target, we sat for a time, gaining nourishment from Peanut M&M’s and trying to decide whether or not to go on.  El Pito had several places to stay, and past El Pito there were no other options until we reached Soto de Luiña, so it was tempting.

Ultimately, we decided we wanted to be true to our goal.  I think I would have been disappointed in myself if we quit now.  So we made the decision to keep going.

It was during these last miles that Dale finally regained the energy and emotion he had felt for the hike up until a few days ago.  Neil Diamond should probably get some credit for that; Dale normally listens to much heavier rock (Metallica, Rush, Iron Maiden, etc.), but today called for the unremitting energy that Neil Diamond offers, so Dale put his headphones on, tuned into Neil, and was all of a sudden bellowing, “Suck it, Camino!” and powering up the trail.  He was thoroughly motivated to kick each hill’s ass.  My enthusiastic hiking partner was back.

I also listened to music, everything from heavy metal to pop to old favorites such as Journey.  At one point around the 20-mile point, we were both suddenly so giddy with the fact that we were out here, in northern Spain, doing this crazy hike, that we actually started dancing and singing.  I tried to skip but the weight of my pack almost brought me to my knees, so I didn’t try that again.  Anyone who might have seen us from afar would’ve thought we were completely nuts.  We were both at the point of near hysteria that comes with exertion and exhaustion and the joy of being alive, and it was totally awesome.

Finally we arrived at the albergue, triumphant. I told Dale, “We can do anything!”  And we believed it.

I picked up a piece of quartz shortly after we started the last leg of the trail and carried it with me until we reached the end, where I triumphantly placed it on a trail marker.

Our friend Choy, a young man from Korea, had arrived a few hours earlier, also weary and happy to see us.  Choy had a remarkable story, but one that’s actually not too unusual for people we’ve met on the Camino.  Until a few years ago, he had a good job in Korea, but he was unhappy, so he quit and decided to travel.  First he volunteered in South Africa so that he could learn English.  Then he began to travel in earnest.  He has since been to over 20 countries, including much of Europe, and his next big destination is India.  He had also hiked the Camino Frances twice.  He seemed incredibly happy to be exploring the world.  Choy was skipping ahead by train, and so we wouldn’t be seeing him again, but we felt gratitude that we had an opportunity to spend a few days getting to know this interesting and inspirational man.  (Note: Choy is his nickname, as his real name can be difficult for people outside of Korea to pronounce!)

Dale and I with Choy


I should add that there were some very interesting sights along the hike, which we tried to take note of when we weren’t focused on our suffering!

A beautiful little church near Castrillón
A gorgeous view from the top of a hill.
Seen from a distance: the walled medieval castle El Castillo de San Martín, built over the ruins of a Roman fort.
A strange sight in the middle of rural Spain: a palace! The Quinta de Selgas palace was built in the 19th century by the powerful, wealthy Selgas family. The palace is in the town of El Pito and contains priceless works of art from the Spanish artists Goya and El Greco, among others.
A church that is part of the Quinta de Selgas palace
Finding our way with a little bit of help.

We’ve written a lot about Camino del Norte!  Read more of our Camino blog posts here.