Monthly Archives: April 2018

A Short Camino

My Camino is over. I painfully walked about 31 miles over three days before realizing that I needed to stop. Perhaps I should say, “I walked 30 miles painfully” because only the first mile out of St. Jean Pied de Port was without some distress. Once the road started to ascend, the struggle began.

Initially it was difficulty breathing on the continuous climb that gave me concern. Stoping every 400 yards to catch my breath soon became every 100 yards and finally every 10 feet. I didn’t remember feeling this distressed on the accent last August; however, I just assumed that I wasn’t in top shape anymore since I had not been running lately. I rationalized that only walking 6 or 7 miles most days on a relatively flat surface was not enough conditioning for the Camino.

By the time I reached Orisson at the 4.8 mile mark, I was totally exhausted. There was no physical way I could have continued. Then after arriving in Roncevalles, I noticed the discomfort in my left calf as I walked around the village. I thought nothing of it and fully expected to make good time on the much more level surface to Zubiri the following day. Yet from the outset on day two I was hurting. By noon my normally steady, 3 mile an hour pace had been reduced to less than 2 miles an hour. And my normal gait was transforming into a limp.

Since I had only sparingly used the one trekking pole I bought in St. Jean for my first Camino last year, I had decided to forgo poles this time around. Realizing how desperately I needed something to lean on, I quickly regretted that decision. Momentarily alone, with not a Pilgrim in sight ahead nor one behind me when I stopped to look over my shoulder, I remember offering up a short prayer for assistance. Gazing to my left, I spotted a Godsend just off the trail. A slender stick, about five feet in length, protruded from a small pile of tangled vines.

Even though I had to walk down a slight slope to retrieve it, the slender, almost straight limb became my companion for the remainder of my walk. I smiled as I left it standing in the corner of my hotel room early this morning. It almost had a glow about it, as the light from the streets of Pamplona shone through gossamer sheers, onto its bark, in the pre-dawn hour. It had served me well over the final 20 miles. But much occurred between the finding of the stick and the leaving it in my hotel room.

Yesterday morning I spent about two hours contemplating my options, and there were many. While enjoying two cups of “cafe y leche y tostado,” I even tried to book an Airbnb for four nights to rest in Pamplona. Without results, then I looked at train schedules thinking I could skip ahead and reduce my Camino to maybe 200 or 300 miles after several days of rest. I even considered the possibility of leaving Spain and traveling some in other European countries. Finally I got a bag of ice from my waitress and returned to my room.

While lying on my bed and icing the calf, on what would have been a beautiful day to hike, I read articles on my phone that related to my injury. I had treated a strained calf from running more than once, but something made me think that maybe there was more. I also re-read some encouraging emails from friends. In one, the line, “but maybe (please!) think about seeing a doctor” caught my attention. At that moment I thought that maybe I should.

A very long, almost 9 hour afternoon, and early evening, began as I asked the clerk at the hotel directions to the University Hospital. She recommended a nearby clinic instead that was close enough to walk to. Clinics in Spain aren’t unlike those in Georgia. There was paperwork, a consultation, a wait, and finally an examination of the injured leg. The young female doctor spoke very good English. I was grateful since I had relied on my Spanish with the registration and the consultation.

After about fifteen minutes of a thorough check of the injured area (by clinic standards), she told me I needed to go to the emergency room at the hospital. One of the nurses called a taxi, and I waited outside for about ten minutes for it to arrive.

When I walked into Hospital de Navarra, and saw the almost full waiting area, I reminded myself that I really had no place to be and to be patient. Like at the clinic, there was registration, an initial examination, blood tests, an extended wait for results, an ultrasound, a diagnosis by the radiologist, another wait, and finally, an explanation of the diagnosis with the doctor, and a strong suggestion that I discontinue my Camino and return to the United States. So I am taking the doctor’s orders.

I have a deep vein thrombosis running from just below my knee (where my initial discomfort began) to my lower calf. I was injected with medication and given instructions for treatment of the blood clots.

Sometimes as a fit athlete, even in our later years, we tend to overlook possible life-threatening signs. My leg was sore, it was swollen, it had a very red coloration, my resting heart rate had increased, I was de-hydrated, and the symptoms weren’t markedly improving. The decision to seek medical help was obviously the right one.

For six months I have checked my Delta app almost daily to see how many days until my flight to Madrid. I’ve improved my Spanish quite a bit and learned more about the pilgrimage. I’ve had the opportunity to speak on four occasions about my journey across northern Spain last year. And I’ve tried to learn more about the Catholic Church and Mass. Now, only six days after I flew from Atlanta to Madrid, it is over. But most of all I am grateful for the medical people who treated me in Pamplona. With God’s grace there will another Camino. When that will be, I do not know. What I do feel is that one day I will walk again, as a Pilgrim, along the Way, and stand before the Cathedral of St.James… Santiago.

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Zubiri and Pamplona

The difficulties I encountered on the first day of my Camino increased on days two and three. Walking away from Roncesvalles at 9:00 yesterday, the very mild soreness in my left calf only slightly detracted from the beautiful spring morning in Spain. Unfortunately, “mild” became moderate and then severe before I reached Zuribi late in the afternoon. It took me almost eight hours to cover the same distance I walked in just under five last summer. The final three miles could be considered more of a limp than a walk.

Still I did enjoy the company of several other pilgrims. I walked a good way with Tom, a judge from Portland, Oregon and mother and daughter, Margaley and Avin from Venezuela. Mother is a pediatrician and daughter is an engineer. Both speak some English, so Tom and I enjoyed practicing our Spanish as the ladies responded in English. Since they were traveling at about my pace, it felt good to have some company. In fact, I think my leg hurt less while sharing stories with my new friends.

I also met two ladies from Asheville, Alicia and Tinker, and several Germans whose names I didn’t get. Despite the very warm day and my maladies, it was a good day nevertheless. Had it not been for my discomfort, I would have been hiking faster and probably never would have met any of these good people.

When I finally reached Zubiri, I got the last room at Pension Amets. The proprietor even gave me two ice packs for my ailments. After a brief rest, I walked about a block for supper and then returned to my room to rest some more and ice again. It was not the way I had hoped to begin my Camino, but the fellowship with other pilgrims and the beauty of the Way have still brought a smile to my lips often.

Today I awoke with high expectations after feeling a slight improvement in my legs. First I joined Annette and her son, Keith, from Ireland, Micho from Germany, and Gabbriel from Switzerland for breakfast at the pension. Annette has four grown sons, and all have done the Camino. Wanting to do a week herself, Annette convinced Keith to join her. She has also persuaded him to stay in hotels and pensions rather than hostels, although Keith says he would prefer the albergues.

My walking day started off well enough as I crossed the medieval bridge over the Arga river. The trail parallels the river for much of the walk today to the outskirts of Pamplona. I walked briefly with a young Korean who said his American name is Bill. Speaking excellent English, Bill said he had been to the US several times and that his father, a professor, had received his undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut. Bill is traveling with a group of about fifteen.

I also met pilgrims from Norway, Australia, Brazil, California, and Ohio.

The highlight of the day was a stop at Zabaldika and the Iglesia de San Esteban, (St. Stephens church). I, along with other pilgrims, was also given an explanation of the altarpiece by one of the Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Heart. We then visited the bell tower. Zabaldika is on one of the alternate routes of the Camino Frances which I didn’t travel last year.

After leaving the church the remainder of my day was a struggle. I was barely walking at 1.5 miles an hour when I reached the suburbs of Pamplona. I rested often, but still the pain from both my legs was agonizing. Upon reaching the city center, I quickly located my hotel and checked in for two nights.

Later I walked to Plaza de Castillo and had supper with Spencer, a Pilgrim from England. Then it was back to my room for more rest. I plan to really take it easy tomorrow and hope that I will be walking without a limp soon. Yes, I’m a bit disheartened; however, I am in Spain, slowly walking forward Santiago.

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A Challenging Beginning

It has been a challenging beginning to my second trek on El Camino de Santiago. I’ve been dehydrated, sleep deprived for two days, and nursing tightness in my upper calf behind my left knee. Because of these setbacks, I have decided to re-start” my Camino on Thursday from Roncevalles. Having already completed the Camino Frances in its entirety in August and September, 2017, I’m not that concerned that my Compostela will state that I walked 774 kilometers rather than 799.

After all, all that is actually needed to register a completed Camino is 100 kilometers, which I why a large number of pilgrims begin from Sarria and only walk five or six days into Santiago.

My difficulties began early in my walk yesterday on leaving the town of St. Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees. On the initial significant climb, I labored with breathing and immediately felt the soreness in my calf increase. It was going to be a tough morning for hiking. To somewhat alleviate my physical issues, I rested often which gave me the opportunity to admire the absolutely stunning scenery on a picture-perfect day in France. Mountain ranges, some whose peaks were still covered in snow at the higher elevations, were visible over fifty miles in the distance. At least I was sharing the beauty will several new friends that I had met the night before at the hostel.

My plan for the day had been to walk the entire 15.6 miles to Roncesvalles because I had purposely avoided making a reservation at the poplar Orisson, 4.8 miles from St. Jean. As I struggled for three hours covering the mileage, I quickly realized that there was little opportunity to make it all the way to Roncevalles by late afternoon. So on the first day of my Camino I chose the only option that sounded sane. With no beds available at Orisson, I opted to be driven from Orisson to Roncevalles with some other pilgrims. This was not what I expected to do earlier in the day; however, given the extremely warm (low 80s) conditions, my lack of energy (most likely due to my approximately total of five hours of sleep over the past 48 hours and inability to consume enough water), it was definitely the correct decision.

After getting to Roncevalles I secured a room in the very modern hotel part of the monastery which was completed in 1085. My accommodations are immaculate. Since I had stayed in the dorm here last year, I figured an upgrade was deserved. After a much-needed long shower, I shared a Pilgrim dinner with others and then attended Mass to receive the Pilgrim blessing for my journey.

Despite my setback, I am looking forward to beginning again tomorrow. Like today, the weather is expected to be sunny and warm. With a much more level path, and after a good night’s sleep, I am hoping to be invigorated in the morning. Even though I’m not 100% physically, the beauty of the Camino and the pilgrims I have already met from England, Germany, Canada, Portugal, Belgium, South Africa, the US, and many other countries, will sustain me as walk on toward Zubiri.

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The Camino is Calling

It is time to return. The Camino has been calling since only a few days after I returned home late last summer. In one week I will be on the Way again. As before, I plan to begin my pilgrimage in St. Jean Pied de Port, a small French village nestled in the Pyrenees. My destination: Santiago de Compostela and the final resting place of St. James, an apostle to Jesus and the patron saint of Spain. Along the way, I will strive to immerse myself in Spanish culture and marvel at the beauty of antiquity that may be observed continuously. I hope to see much, feel much, taste much, and to live with a constant feeling of inner peace.

In some ways this walk will be similar to my first Camino. In many ways it will be different. Even though I’ll be repeating the Camino Frances, I plan to travel some of the alternate routes off of the main one, while I’ll still make my way through most of the same cities, towns, and villages that make this journey so special. In all likelihood, I’ll spend significant time in a few of the same places. But I also plan to visit sites I passed by back in August and September of last year. I’ll also venture on to Finisterre (the end of the world) and Muxia, after arriving in Santiago.

And of course, the pilgrims with whom I share the adventure will be different. There’s something truly inspiring about setting out on a journey of around eight weeks without knowing who I will encounter and from what countries these fellow travelers will have come. That in itself is part of the mystique of the Way….camaraderie and fellowship with those who are different, but with whom we share the greatest gift of mankind…our humanity. We are all seekers, transients on this planet, trying to better understand each other’s uniqueness.

Like before, I expect my faith to increase as I, a member of the United Methodist Church, visit cathedrals and churches several hundred years old and attend Mass with Catholics from around the world. El Camino de Santiago offers all of its sojourners the opportunity to experience the timelessness of Christianity. Pilgrims of 2018 walk the same routes that their brethren have traversed for over one thousand years. We will share our stories, our faith, sleeping quarters at times, and an abundance of good food at Pilgrim dinners. And together we will be afforded the opportunity to receive a special blessing each night at the Pilgrim Mass. I am smiling already in anticipation.

I plan to journal again as well. Some entries will be descriptive. A few informative. And I imagine that many will be reflective. It’s a challenge not to look within oneself often while experiencing so much of the grandeur that God affords us. Hopefully, many pieces will provide my readers with a sense of connectivity to those with whom I will be walking. I pray I can accomplish the task of truly sharing my Camino with each of you. The next adventure is just over the horizon…soon I will be back on the Way, again heading toward Santiago.

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