Santiago is 790 kilometers from St. Jean Pied de Port (France), where I started the Camino. Signs along the way proclaim the kilometers remaining. When the numbers were in the high triple digits, I ignored them, unlike other Pilgrims who photographed some if not all of these markers. Frankly, it was too depressing to contemplate the distance ahead of me, especially since I intended to walk to Finisterre, which is 87 kilometers past Santiago.
At the end of October, I received an e-mail from a family member who, upon learning about my whereabouts, declared that I was “more than halfway to Santiago!” I was annoyed, because while I am noting my daily kilometrage, I hadn’t been adding them up or reviewing each day how much further I had to walk. I was not tracking progress toward a “goal”. Indeed, I was feeling anything but “yippee”, as implied by the exclamation point. Many days I was convinced I would not be able to walk the following day. Expecting to arrive in Santiago seemed ludicrous when, most evenings, I´d arrive at an albergue with foot pain or stiff muscles and, after a fitful night, wake up with the same.
For awhile, I worried about my sleeplessness, thinking it was a “problem”, something I had to “fix”. But when splurging for a private room didn´t deepen my rest, I realized that I´d be better off just accepting it and not fretting. Ditto with the pain. It´s not constant or predictable; sometimes, after an hour of walking, the muscles loosen and I walk normally for most of the day. Other times, I am walking like an old person; stiffly, propelling myself with my trekking poles, which are probably less efficient than crutches. On those days, I take it one step at a time. I ask myself if I can make it the next cafe/bar. Often, the prospect of a chocolate croissant or a cup of tea moves me forward. Sometimes those steps add up to more than 20 kilometers over a day.
People passing me wonder if I´m OK.
“Yes,” I say. It´s true…and not. Like the sleeplessness, I decided to accept the pain or discomfort as part of this adventure. If walking 500 miles presented no challenges, why bother doing it? I’ve experimented with various remedies: yoga postures; applying ointment (suggested by a German man) and rolling my feet over a hard rubber ball to stretch the muscles (ball provided by an Australian lady). Indeed, my yoga teacher suggested the ball exercise many months ago…should I have listened?! Sometimes, when the intensity increases, I sing or invent rhymes. Sometimes that helps more than the yoga.
But as I approached Santiago, so did my desire to get there, pain or not. The markers in Galicia, small cement obelisks, are spaced at half kilometer intervals and engraved with the remaining distance. Seeing the numbers drop into the double digits lifts my spirits. Yesterday, confronted with a steep hill, I ascended backwards since that was more comfortable. Today, despite waking with the beginnings of a cold, my legs felt completely normal for the first time in weeks (a miracle?!). Since the Galician rain was holding off after pelting us the last few days, I decided to walk as far as I could while the weather was good; without planning to, I clocked more than 30 kilometers. Late this afternoon I passed an Asian woman who, rather than walking forwards (or backwards), had turned to her right and moved sideways, like a crab.
“Are you OK?” I asked her.
“I’m fine,” she said. Clearly she wasn’t, but I knew exactly what she meant.
Right now I´m sitting in a hostal about 10 kilometers from Santiago. It’s highly probable that I will arrive tomorrow before noon, in time for the Pilgrim Mass which, if they pull out all the stops, might include the swinging of large incense burners (my main incentive for attending). But, I´m well aware that, upon waking, my legs might have other plans. Or maybe my cold will worsen.
We shall see.