Friday, June 24, 2016

Let the Biking Adventure Begin!

So, my feet dictated that I take several days off, so I hopped on a bus from Belorado to Burgos, and then spent 3 nights in Burgos. While there, I decided to rent a bicycle for the next stages of my Camino.  I have the Bike for 10 days, and have already done 2. I'm actually supposed to give my bike back in Astorga, but I may see of I can keep it all the way to Santiago. I haven't decided that yet.

I really need to get better at selfies.

One thing I noticed yesterday was that riding the bike felt a lot like the first day of Summer when I was a kid. There is a joy in the speed and the wind blowing in your face. I remember spending days on end exploring the neighborhoods in the area I was allowed to ride in (Solano to Triviz and Missouri to Lehman). And, I would ride as long as my mom would let me, even if it was incredibly hot outside. Sometimes, I'd take a lunch with me to eat in the park as well.

The Meseta is a lot of trail without any shade. 

Today, after riding about 34 km, my butt is pretty sore, and I suspect that it will take a few days to get used to riding every days. However, it is kind of nice to be done for the day after only 3ish hours.

"I like big butts and I cannot lie..."

The great mystery is how my Fitbit knows that I'm biking.  It is registering that I'm not walking, and that I find kind of eery. I'm also finding that I'm taking fewer pictures, but that is ok, too.

Each day is richer for having the ability to stop when I'm tired because all of my stuff is on my bike. Biking the rest of the way would be worth it just for that freedom, even if it means a few days where I'm pushing my bike more than I'm riding it.

I am truly blessed!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real, Camino edition.

So, I'm not using nearly all of my pictures from my days as I write here, so I thought that I would join Like Mother, Like Daughter today in order to give you a few more pictures of my Camino. If you are also my Facebook friend, you have probably seen some of these, so bear with me.





These are some of my favorite pictures so far, and yet, it is hard to capture the beauty of the countryside or the experience of meeting the world on pilgrimage. Each day brings its own joys and pains, but that is true of real life as well.

Buen Camino, my friends.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Pilgrim vs. Tourist

A fellow pilgrim said something to me that has me thinking this night as I am wide awake. He said, "You are the first American I have been willing to spend any time talking to. You are a pilgrim. All the other Americans I've met are just tourists."

Looking at an 11th century church with fellow pilgrims. Even in disrepair and disuse, it seems sturdier than my house.

I guess I have to wonder: what makes a pilgrim? Some might point to where a person stays, or whether they carry their pack, or something else. I'm not sure that is what he was getting at, though. I suspect that he is avoiding Americans because of the ugly American stereotype that has all too much truth to it sometimes.

Hot, dusty trails with no shade bring out the worst in me...had this guy met me on the way to Los Arcos or another day where I was struggling to finish without turning into a lobster, I suspect he wouldn't have wanted to talk to me either.

I think the question merits contemplating though: what makes a pilgrim? Anyone can take a long walk over multiple days, and people do it all the time on the Appalachian trail or other long trails. They usually carry heavier packs, too. And, tourists visit holy places to say they saw it as well--that is what I did when I visited Rome... I was a tourist, not a pilgrim.

From a little church about 10k outside Pamplona. The nuns who run an albergue there have arrow shaped post-its to write a prayer on and leave. 

Honestly, I think it is the why of a trip that makes it a pilgrimage. Is it a spiritual exercise in some way, shape, or form? Are you open to letting the trip change you or your perspective?

One of those God moments for me: I got off the bus in Pamplona too early, and ended up having to walk to the center of the city a couple of km away. In the process, I found this, and got to spend about a half hour in Adoration.

I think that the gentleman I talked to was losing out because of his attitude... I've met several pilgrims who are doing an upscale pilgrimage, but are on a pilgrimage nonetheless. And my time so far has been the richer in sharing their stories, burdens and experiences as we travel. Looking at a person and whether they are staying in hostels or sending their pack ahead will not tell you the whole story. I am always privileged when a fellow pilgrim allows me to look deeper.

Even when they are anonymous, fellow pilgrims help each other!

Monday, June 13, 2016

10 Reasons Why I Will Not Be Losing Weight

  1. Gluten Free Bread: there have been several places now that carry GF bread, and it is way better than the commercial GF bread in the States. It looks and tastes like a baguette, and it travels well. This has been one of my go-to trail foods.
  2. Low Kilometers: because I'm not walking as far as many pilgrims, I'm not getting as much exercise each day.
  3. Not Carrying my Backpack: while I realize that this a a personal necessity, it means that, even when I am walking, I'm burning fewer calories.
  4. Cafe con Leche: dude, this stuff is like crack... espresso, steamed milk, and a tiny bit of sugar... I could drink it all day, except that it also has a much higher caffeine content than coffee at home, and it keeps me up if I drink it too late.
  5. Wine: wine is part of the price of pilgrims menus, as well as many menu del dias. Add to that the fact that much of the Camino goes through the middle of prime wine country, and that local wine is usually very inexpensive.... I think you get the picture.
  6. Menu Peregrino/del dia: if you order either of these, you get 2 courses and dessert. This isn't that big of an issue if you are walking 20-30km/ are burning upward of 4000 calories. And, the food is VERY good.
  7. Roadside food/beverage stands: there have been several places where someone has set up a stand in places that are very far from the next town, or where my guide says there is nothing for 6-15 km, depending on the place. I feel that it is important to buy from them so that they continue to be there for future pilgrims. Besides, I love their pluck.
  8. My dang sweet tooth: when I DO get dessert, I can't just say, no thanks, or choose something with fewer calories, like yogurt. Nope--if Flan is an option, I'm choosing it.  At least I've been staying away from the ubiquitous chocolate bars this time around.
  9. Not drinking enough water: this is something I really need to work on.  Theoretically, because I'm using a water bladder, I should be able to get enough because I can keep walking while sipping my water. However, unless it is a day when I feel like my brain is going to cook inside my skull, I tend to forget that I'm carrying water, and I'm drinking about 1/3 of my 1.5 liter bladder. I feel stupid to say this, but I'm seriously thinking about setting an alarm for every 15 minutes to remember to drink.
  10. The heat is curbing my appetite: this is kind of on the other side of the spectrum, but I'm noticing that really hot days both saps my strength and makes me not hungry AT ALL. On those days, I don't touch my trail food, and often skip lunch altogether. If it's hot enough, eating dinner can be a struggle as well. Thankfully, it has only happened once or twice, but I haven't gotten to the Meseta yet. 
There you have it. I suspect that I will gain weight this trip.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Town too far...

I've been walking with, first a group, and recently another fellow Texan for the last few days. While it has been really good to have company, there are some things that are unavoidable when traveling with others. For me, that has been walking more km than I thought I could. It also meant going by someone else's schedule to some extent....journaling and writing here has suffered because of it.

I completely understand the sentiment behind abandoning your shoes. No matter what shoes you wear, your feet take a real pounding when walking 20+ km day after day

Yesterday, my feet told me that I couldn't continue at that pace anymore. In fact, I actually went to the doctor about my feet last night, and he said that I needed to scale waaay back on my km for a while. Today will be 7km. At least he didn't say that I have tendinitis again...and he didn't tell me that I have to take full rest days. Instead, he told me to ice, take ibuprofen, and no more than 10-12 km for the next few days.

This was one of those pleasant surprises to be found on the the Albergue Jakue in Puente la Reina.  Exactly what I needed after a hard day of walking in the brutal sun.

So, I will be walking solo again for a while, and that will be good. I'm ahead of my tentative schedule by 3 days, and will see how things go. I suspect that I will settle into a routine of walking 15-20 km per day once my feet have recovered a bit. And, I will attempt to write here more often.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Eating Humble Pie

Today I came to realization that my thinking that I could carry my own bag each day was stupid and unrealistic. Walking from Roncesvalles to Zubiri, the only reason why I was able to make it was because I didn't have a full pack on my back. My chiropractor tried to tell me this, but I wanted to be able to carry my bag at some point. I cut my stuff to bare bones in order to make a weight I might eventually be able to walk with. Now, I'm finding that I probably cut away a bit of muscle in addition to fat.

I've been trying to ice my feet in the middle of the day at least once, and it has really been helping, along with stretching on a semi-regular basis.

At the same time, I'm also realizing that I can probably go further each day than I thought I could.... walking 22km yesterday and 18km today with soreness, but no pain due to injury has shown me that planning for only 15km a day was very conservative. I also have blisters on both of my big toes, in spite of using bandaid blister protection, but my tendons are actually doing way better than I ever could have anticipated. As long as they continue this way, I should have days that I can use for rest periodically or maybe visiting somewhere else here in Europe when I'm done.

About a half hour before I got caught up in a rain storm, I saw this sign. Side note: my poncho is never going to be sent ahead in my backpack again. I don't like pretending to be a drowned rat.

I'm actually going to use one of the rest days that I have already stored up here in Pamplona (had I have stuck with my original plan, I wouldn't have reached Pamplona until tomorrow or the next day. So, sometime while I am in Pamplona, I will see if there is a cheaper service than Jacotrans, or a discount for booking multiple days. And, I need to buy some things while here, most of which I left back at home.

My upgraded day pack, with bladder. I'm hoping the bladder will help me drink more, as I've had dehydration headaches twice so far on my trip.

What I brought with me as a day pack. The draw strings were rubbing me on the longer days.

Me and the people I've been walking with. Teresa, Marianne, and Carma are sisters from Ireland who are travelling with their cousin Martin the P (he is celebrating his 25th anniversary of ordination later this month) And Keith and Shari are a couple from Austin. Shari is walking the whole Camino and Keith will be walking here and there with her between business trips. Martin and his cousins are leaving tomorrow to go back home. We will all miss them.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Gratitude, and letting God provide

So, I'm currently wide awake at almost 3 in the morning because I made a rookie jet lag mistake: I took a nap after finishing my walking for the day, and I didn't give myself ample time to acclimate to Spain time yet. But, that means I get to have time to write here. Part of me wishes I could write in my journal, but I really don't want to leave my bed--the blankets are quite cozy, and it would be nice if I could get tired enough to actually get some more sleep tonight.

Anyway, last night, I stayed in the Beilari, a small albergue with about 20 beds. As a private albergue, it was a bit pricey at 30 euros, but it included dinner and breakfast today, so it was very worth it. The owner, Joseph, had us play some games with an imaginary ball in order to get to know one another...kind of cheesy, but also fun. The last one was to sum up in one word what we were feeling at the moment, and I chose gratitude as my word.

See the white sign with the blue square right above the red arrow? That is what trail markers look like in France. I was so glad to see my first yellow arrow.
Once I started walking today, I realized how apropos that word is for me. My laundry didn't dry overnight because I was so late washing it, but the pilgrims office allowed me to use their dryer so that I could be on my way. This could have been very bad, since bag carrying services usually have a cut off time for giving your pack to them, but they held the transport for me so I could squeak my pack in. Just as I was getting so hungry that I thought my stomach would start to digest itself, I walked by a supermarket that had a bar attached, and I was able to spend a pleasant half hour resting my feet and drinking green tea. The list goes on...

Some of the many wildflowers I saw on my walk today... I was traveling over several hills, so seeing pretty flowers was a good pretext for stopping to rest a moment.

As I was walking, I didn't see another pilgrim, and it gave me a lot of time to think and pray--and that time meant realizing that I was also grateful that I didn't let the volunteers at the pilgrims office persuade me to take the higher route over the Pyrenees. I took the easier route, which meant walking along several rural roads--the route Napoleon is a dedicated walking trail, but is much more vertical. Cars on the narrow lanes meant stepping to the side in order to let them pass, and staying on the rural roads meant that I walked about 15km rather than only 12km, but I think I saw a total of 10 cars all day, and the walk through farmland and small towns was gorgeous.

At the same time, I started to feel a bit worried that I would not see another pilgrim tonight as well, so I began praying that I could at least be able to meet at least one other pilgrim this evening. After eating lunch by myself, I was pleasantly surprised to see the French couple from my stay at the Beilari at the albergue. Then, after my nap, I went out to explore the town a bit, and settled in a bar/cafe with wifi. While there, I overheard one of the people that came in say something about walking, so I piped up and asked if they were pilgrims...they were, and this couple at the end of the bar said they were, too. The couple is from Austin, and their son went to Blinn, where I work. The other pilgrims I met are 3 sisters and their cousin the priest walking together to celebrate Fr. Martin's 25th anniversary of ordination. They are from Ireland, and are only walking a very short part of the Camino, but we all had a very pleasant dinner and conversation. The highlight was listening to Martin and Keith (the Austenite) discuss middle eastern politics.

I made a video to add to my summer classes, and first, accidentally took a selfie with the Val Carlos country side in the background. Of course, stupid me didn't think to get pictures of my dinner friends.

One thing I didn't do today was change my socks halfway through, and I probably should have. When I finally stopped, the person at the supermarket told me that I was only 3km from my destination, Val Carlos. At that point, I thought about doing so, but decided that it wasn't far enough to make a difference.

Then, there came a choice of ways to walk into Val Carlos, and I chose the one that looked like it would wind through villages on rural roads rather than follow the local highway.  And, that is how I ended up walking a good extra 3 km. By the time I got here, I could feel some places where my feet were rubbing, and was sure that I had a blister (I didn't, but I learned my lesson--another thing to be grateful for!).

So, God has again blessed me and given me more than I rain, good people to interact with, and a hope that there will be more of the same tomorrow. Even when it is hard, I am so grateful, and that makes even unpleasant experiences more pleasant.