Bilbao and the Bus to Bayonne

On the bus to Bayonne, 7:30a.m.

Heading to the subway and bus station en route to Bayonne and St. Jean Pied de Port

The rain continues, but the fog and mist add a cozy spice to the mountainous terrain and lush forest of the Pyrenees. Julio took us to a wok restaurant last night, in a largely successful attempt to get Mom her first cancer-smart meal.  Thus far it has not been easy.  It’s not possible to find a restaurant in Bilbao that will cook a meal before 8:30p.m., so if you want to eat before then, you must choose from among various bread-heavy pintxos (peenchos), known everywhere else as tapas, which, whether containing brie or salmon or crab, sport large dollops of what appears to be the regional spice of choice, mayonnaise.

At the wok restaurant, I wanted a glass of red wine.  Julio ordered a bottle, saying Spanish wine was predictably good if it cost more than 5 euros, but that if it cost less than that, your head would let you know.  (“I woke up with a headache,” I would tell him the next morning.  “At 3, 4, and 6 a.m.”)  Julio drinks his wine like I drink water.  When I returned from supervising the cooking of my food in the wok area the bottle was nearly empty.  “Did you spill the wine?” I asked, looking under the table.

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and the flower puppy

Bilbao is a lovely city, and one of the main cities of the Basque Country, a relatively autonomous region of Spain with a strong independent streak.

“Last night Real Madrid was beaten by a football club of beginners,” Julio announced when we met him this morning.  “There will be suicides before it is light.  But the rest of the country could not be more happy.”  Madrid is the locus of the Spanish central government, and the people of both the Basque Country and the equally fiercely independent Catalonia love to see it fail.

While in Bilbao we visited the truly astonishing Guggenheim Museum, a sculpture far

Santiago Cathedral in Bilbao, with the trademark scallop shell of St. James and the Camino

more impressive than the rather precious concept art we saw inside it.  We walked along the Gran Via, Bilbao’s equivalent of Fifth Avenue, enjoyed the transparent, Art Nouveau shell-like entrances to the subways (called Fosteritos by the locals) that had been designed by English architect Sir Norman Foster, took in cityscapes enhanced by the Rio Nervion, ducked into our first Santiago Cathedral, complete with the trademark scallop shells on the exterior, toured the extraordinary multi-use Alhóndiga, each of whose dozens of giant inner columns were unique, and walked the pedestrian streets of Casco Viejo, the charming older part of town in which our hotel was located.  We’d have to carry for hundreds of miles anything we bought, so, in spite of all the great shopping to be had, we bought nothing.

Julio says that the city was transformed almost overnight by the Guggenheim.  Initially, he said (and I recall reading this in news reports), many people did not understand the strange new structure, and they did not like it.  The estimate of 200,000 visitors in the first year was exceeded by 2.2 million, though, and Bilbaoans soon went from seeing themselves as a city of industry to a city of aesthetics, tourism, and cutting-edge design.  Now there are many fine examples of modern architecture, a nice complement to the many beautiful older buildings, from the Gothic cathedrals to the Beaux Arts municipal building and Teatro Arragio.

We were up at 6a.m., never an easy task on one’s second morning of jet-lag, and at the bus station by 7.  A young man with a backpack approached Mom, Carrie, and me while Julio was away.

“Excuse me,” he said.  “Do you have a map of Spain?”

“No,” Mom said.  “But our friend will be back in a minute.”

The man looked confused.  I explained.  “We decided to bring along a Spaniard instead.”

Now we wend our way through the forested hills, lulled by the hum of the bus and the sound of water against the tires.  In the forested cleft of a misty mountain to my left I notice a sinuous thread of fog in the shape of a question mark.

I am writing this post largely in order to take my mind off my body, which is contorted fiendishly in seats that appear to have been designed and manufactured for, and perhaps by, small children.  They’re so narrow that Julio and I are forced to cross our arms just to co-exist.  The seats also come equipped with an anti-lumbar feature, surely patented, that sends the lumbar spine backward in space.  Higher up, my middle and upper back are forced forward, after which the seat, also too short, again curves away, so that in order to rest my head it is necessary to throw it back and look up to the ceiling.

My knees are jammed tightly into the seat in front of me, kneecaps crushed against the grey plastic.  Even to type these words, my hands must dangle from my chest like the useless appendages of a T. Rex.  When the three-hour ride is over, I will require work by both a chiropractor and a shrink.

St. Jean Pied de Port is an hour away by train.

Shutting Up My Boss

The Voice of the Boss

To take time off for the Camino, I first had to get permission from my boss.  It wouldn’t be easy.  My boss is what Yiddish speakers call a nudge.

The view from Jersey City.

What’s a camino? he said.

A camino, in Spanish, is, literally, a way, or a path.  Figuratively it can be a kind of path too.  The Camino de Santiago is a 1000-year-old pilgrimage route across northern Spain, and its most famous route, the Camino Frances, is just shy of 500 miles long, and you are supposed to walk it.

To do what

Walk it. 

The Spanish do have cars, or so I’ve heard.

Not the point.

But you hate walking.  It’s like standing, but slower.  Gives you backaches.  The worst is walking and standing, like in a museum.  You like the idea of museums, but you’d like them more if someone pushed you through them in a wheelbarrow.

Can’t I pretend the Camino is like hiking?

It’s not like hiking.  It’s relatively flat, other than the first day.  When we hike we burn our legs and our lungs, and our heart races, and then we get to be on the top of something.  We burn fat, build muscle, and win.  And that’s the American Way.

It’s true:  I’m a hiker at heart.  (It’s also true that my boss lacks any and all boundaries.  My boss being, of course, myself).  When I’m in shape, I’m a merciless hiker.  I used to go up Colorado’s Fourteeners at a clip of about a thousand vertical feet every forty minutes,

Ortstock in the background, 2009

for hours.  I powered my way up Braunwald’s Ortstock, in the Glarner Alps of Switzerland, and back, in only a handful of hours, in time for a late lunch; my aunt, who’d lived there for forty years, didn’t believe I’d actually found the top of it.  But walking has never interested me.  I’ve always wanted to get to the top of something, wanted to put my legs, lungs, and heart to the test.

I didn’t even know how long it took to walk 500 miles.  I had once accidentally biked over 80 miles, in Ireland (there was a certain map issue), in part of a day.  But then I hadn’t been able to sit down the next day.  I’d hiked to the top of 14,000-foot-plus Long’s Peak, outside of Denver, in a sixteen-hour gain of thousands of vertical feet.  But afterward I barely made it home without falling asleep at the wheel, even with the radio blaring and Chris Cash riding shotgun and encouraging me to stay awake thus:  zzzzzzzz.  I’d camped at Yosemite for a few days.  But we had driven there (Alejandro Pena-Prieto, Adam Weiss, Mark Thompson, and I) from San Francisco; only an ass would have walked it, I think we can all agree.

Turns out the Camino typically takes four to six weeks.

My boss spit out his coffee.  And he doesn’t even drink coffee.  Weeks?

Weeks.  But I’ll confess, I had envisioned the usual vacation length:  two weeks.

That’s because you are an American, my boss said, and that’s what Americans do:  we work.  96% of the year.

We spend as much time at work as we think the economy requires, and we seem to think the economy needs us not to practice any real family values by actually being with family, or to take the time out for the physical and mental rest that would reduce our health care costs and make us more productive.

With one exception that took place between jobs, I hadn’t taken a vacation longer than two weeks since, well, since I entered the working world at the ripe age of 25.  I had hid out in law school as long as they would let me, but after three years they asked me to leave.  They even threw a party, gave me a costume and a hat and let me speak on whatever came to mind.

And ever since then, vacations got two weeks, max.  Two weeks in Germany and Switzerland in 1993.  Two more, adding Austria, in 1997.  A week in Spain in 1998.  Twelve days in Switzerland later that year.  Many other trips to Switzerland or Italy or both, 13 days or less.  Long weekenders to Canada.  Fourteen days in Israel.

And that’s just the half of it.  As I said in my last post, I thought the timing of the trip could not have been worse.

I had spent well over a year pushing a boulder up a hill to get divorced.  It seemed every part of my being was straining to push the process along, so that I could move on.  What could have been accomplished in a six- (or eight-) hour negotiation seemed to me to have taken only slightly less time than the universe has spent cooling since the Big Bang.  Fourteen grueling months of weeks without end, the longest I think I’ve ever waited for anything, the most I’ve ever wanted anything.  I couldn’t start my new life soon enough – which is another way of saying that I was resisting the present with all my might.

I was determined, when it was over, to stand on the summit I’d been climbing toward and look in the direction of my new life, and then to begin to head in that direction.  I was in for a big surprise.

The False Summit

Few undertakings in life require the willpower of mountaineering.  You may be freezing, your legs noodles, burning, nearly useless, your lungs seared by bellows-like breathing at altitude.  You don’t think you can go one more step, but you keep going because you can see the summit, it’s there, just ahead, always in front of you even as it plays hide-and-seek behind clouds and even its own lower flanks, and you tell yourself you will last until you reach the top.  You can last until that final step, and then you will have no more left, no mas.  You will be spent, but you will have conquered your summit.

And every mountaineer knows the crushing disappointment of reaching the longed-for peak, utterly spent, only to realize, from its improved perspective, that now, visible at last, is the real summit, and it’s so far away, impossibly far away.

As my divorce became final, I realized that my own longed-for summit remained tantalizingly in the distance.  Getting divorced, I realized, is just part of the battle, or, to be less martial about it, it’s only one step in the transition.  Once you’ve wrestled the past into submission and tied it up neatly, there’s still the fairly momentous matter of what to do next.

Who am I now?  Where shall I find myself?  With whom shall I surround myself?

Are you asking me? my boss said, bemused.  Of course he was useless on such things.

The questions were large, and the answers remained as out of reach as the actual summit I could see, far, far up ahead.

Somehow, I kept taking one step after another.  I made dozens of trips to Home Depot and furniture stores and fixed up the house in which I was living, in Bend, turning it into a vacation rental with some promise.  I put it on the market for sale.  I continued to run Feroce Coaching and Hot Blue Coaching, as well as to share the management of Charles River Recruiting.  With strangers living in my house and paying me to go on vacation, I found myself trying on Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle.  I slowly cut through the desperate procrastination impulse that did.  Not.  Want.  To.  Do.  Two years of back taxes.  All very slowly, or so it felt to me.

The good news was that all of this work required only a laptop and a phone.  The bad news was that, because I work for myself, no one pays me when I don’t work.  I was nervous about not working for over a month.

And who will run the vacation rental while you’re traipsing around Spain?  Someone would need to run the vacation rental. 

I hadn’t thought of that.

Of course you hadn’t.  Even if you find a person, you’ll have to train that person.  A salary will cut into the profits.  Who’s going to answer potential renters’ questions by email and phone asap, so as to land them and their lucre, and who’s going to book them and send them contracts and run their credit cards and send them follow-up emails with instructions?  Something will go wrong with the vacation rental.  The cleaners aren’t very reliable either. 

I was unhappy with the idea of tenants complaining, which seemed to be as important to some vacationers as the actual vacation itself.

You won’t be able to take new coaching clients.  You’ll make less money.  You just took off two weeks, in May, to go to Israel!  How will you coach even your existing clients?  You can’t guarantee them connectivity from the road in rural Spain, and making appointments is one of the sine qua nons of coaching.  You’ll also need a new phone, a Europe-ready phone.  You’ll need to find some kind of wireless capability for your computer, so you can get emails without relying upon hostels in rural Spain.

Already exhausted by my haul up the mountain of divorce, already hyperventilating from the realization that the peak for which I’d been straining was really only a false summit, even overwhelmed and at times depressed, I simply hadn’t the energy to contemplate all of it.

My boss, which is to say my self, was just shaking his head.

How are you going to do everything you need to do before September 16?

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please

Up until very recently, I didn’t really want to go on the Camino.  But it did not matter what I wanted to do or not do.  I was going.  And on the eve of my departure, I may have finally figured out why.

Surely there is something else to do.

For weeks this thought – a boss thought, if you will – has plagued me.  Over the last few years – marriage and assumption of step-parent status, move to a new city (Seattle), start-up craziness and coaching, drafting a book proposal and writing a book, the decline of the relationship and the separation-cum-endless-divorce-process – I’d become quite adept at watching my thoughts.  I realized I was catching this thought, or more likely what I call a wordless impulse, more and more often.

My to-do list had seemed endless for so long that, excepting brief moments, such as in yoga or skiing, by this summer I found it nearly impossible to relax, to quiet the jumpiness of my mind and the sense that there was something else I should, I must, be doing.  Once I told my mother I’d join her on her pilgrimage, my already long to-do list threatened to suffocate me under its weight.

On top of everything else, you are going to plan a 500-mile walk and how to manage your life from rural Spain?

Always something else to do, to be doing, and yet to what end I was now rather far less sure.  I thought of Dante’s opening lines to The Inferno, “In the middle of my life’s path, I found myself lost in a dark forest with no straight path I could see anywhere.”  (M.L. Rosenthal translation, one of about 20 quite different variations).

In the middle of my life’s path, then, I found myself on a dark-blue couch in Jersey City, New Jersey.  The couch belonged to my good friend from law school, Adam Weiss, and it was during a month in Jersey City, having run like hell, for weeks, not just to climb but to move the mountains between me and leaving Bend, and my house, and the money I put into it in a triumph of hope over experience, that the clamor in my mind began at last to subside, and I decided I knew at last the reason I was walking across Spain.

It was time to slow down.  I was going to Spain to slow down.

Letting Go of the Life We Have Planned

It wasn’t I who actually decided to walk across Spain.  That was decided, in a manner of speaking, for me.  My mother, whose ovarian cancer of a decade ago appears to have returned in unknown measure, told me in July that walking St. Jacobsweg, as she initially called it, was something she very much wanted to do before she had to drag her thoughts to the abyss of surgery, chemo, and radiation.  She asked if I would come along.

I’m not even sure there was any process of thinking, of intellection.  I pictured a two-week trip.

“Yes,” I said.  What are you going to do?  Mom has cancer.  Mom has a dream.

Yes.

But I didn’t know why she wanted to do it.  As the wonderful Karen Armstrong, historian of religion, points out in her fine little book A Short History of Myth, we are meaning-seeking creatures.  We constantly crave and make meaning in our lives.  If we can’t make something meaningful, we can’t get excited, or motivated.  It would take me a few months to rationalize my “yes”, as we humans must always do, by arriving at a bit of reasoning that explained why I would want to walk in rural Spain.

Two months ago, I just said, “Why this walk?  You’ve never mentioned it before.”

“I saw it in a German documentary,” she said.  “It looked like a wonderful experience.”

I would rather she had asked if I would accompany her into the Alps.  In any of the several countries in which they appear.  Mountains, especially the Alps, are chock-full of meaning, and memories, for both of us.  In contrast to walking, which I didn’t like at all, I loved hiking.

The Dolomites would be good too.  You could hike from rifugio to rifugio, gorging yourself on pasta in rabbit sauce, spending the night, and working it all off at altitude the next day.

I persisted.  “But does it have any meaning to you?  You’re not even Catholic” – the camino is a 1000-year-old Catholic pilgrimage route – “and I know you don’t believe it’s some kind of penance you need to do in remission of sins.”

I certainly hoped not.  Overcoming disease is a lot harder when you believe, as many people do, as society has often told us, that you are sick because there is something wrong with you – something defective in your character, your self, your soul.  In effect, that you are sick because you have sinned.  This is a line of thinking most famously indulged in by the Hebrew prophets, who spent a great deal of time lecturing suffering Israelites that they were so miserable beneath the boots of centuries of oppressors, that God was repeatedly breaching his promise to throw off the oppressors and make them into a great nation, because they were not obedient enough.  (This is more contract law than theology, the idea being that God was not breaching the contract because the other side – none of whom had themselves agreed to any contract, come to think of it — already had).

They were bad, so they must suffer.  This simple equation is as true of how Judeo-Christian societies still think today as e is equal to m times c squared.  (Following her own bout with cancer, Susan Sontag wrote a whole book, Illness as a Metaphor, in an attempt to refute the former equation).  Is it coincidence, I wonder, that we speak of both sins and cancer as things that can go into, or be put in, remission?

In any event, Mom said the Camino would have enough meaning for her.  (You can see from her passion on this blog that she’s found plenty of purpose).  Over time, through conversations with her and by reading her blog posts, I would begin to understand what it meant for her, and some of the risks of the meaning she has invested it with.

Just one problem.  No, two problems.  First, walking across Spain didn’t have any inherent meaning for me.

Second, it threw a major wrench into my post-divorce life and plans, which included the weighty, time-consuming undertakings of accepting that I would suffer a big loss on selling my house, actually selling my house, continuing to advertise and rent it until it was sold, doing two years of back taxes held up by the divorce, running my coaching businesses, deciding where in the world I wanted to live, selling furniture and a Land Rover (bumper sticker, with Union Jack:  “All of the parts falling off of this car are of the finest British craftsmanship”), packing, and moving to a new city and self.  My plans also appeared to include worrying about all these things, as well as taxes owed, credit card debts, loss on the sale of the house (I know, join the party), and the rest of the flotsam and jetsam of a do-over.

In short, for the first two months after Mom told me about the Camino, I thought a walk through Spain, for several weeks, starting in mid-September, was spectacularly bad timing.  As I’ll explain further in a later post, it was awfully inconvenient.

But in the two months since I agreed to go, I have been learning the truth of a quote (or paraphrase) from Joseph Campbell that has run through my mind, and remained there, arms crossed and a knowing smile on its face, for weeks:

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to be ready for the life that is waiting for us.

Tearful farewell

Yesterday, I was running last errands, getting things ready and house sitter in place. I whittled 3.5 more pounds off my back pack. The sleeping bag was too bulky and heavy and I exchanged it for a nice, light, small, barely 1.5-lb. cutie. I also sacrificed one top and my Black Canyon rain/sun hat as it was too heavy as well.

I splurged on a Pedicure. To spoil my feet one more time. They’ve no clue what’s in store. I hope they will carry me on their allotted task without major mishap.

I also spent some time with my  little buddy, whom I’ve been privileged to have in my life, since his birth. When it was time to leave, it was a heart-rending fare well. He cried and held on, telling me he loved me all the way to Jupiter and back. He complained how very long a time five weeks was for me to be gone. I am so thankful that his parents share him with me. He’s funny, bright, and makes me laugh when times are tough. He’s my special boy.

As I sat still and reflected on this trip , with the external noise factory silenced, I was in awe. I am steady and straight. I have great energy. My mental faculties are present. (Well, most of them anyway.) I have a sense of well-being that is not supposed to be in conjunction with this ‘cell problem’. This divine force which propells me to the camino, clear and bright. I thought, if I wanted to have an ‘adventure’ picked by me, my choice would’ve been with lots more comfort (and gourmet food). Not to walk so many miles in whatever condition. But, it’s a strong voice and I’m heeding it.

The phone rang all day with family and friends wishing us well and the promise of saying prayers, each day, for us. The life line to home. My daughter, who will be our home center.

It is with a grateful heart, to our Lord, that I start this path. That I am well enough to even contemplate such an undertaking. I trust that HE knows what he’s doing.

I woke early this morning, not even a cricket in sight or sound. Just going over my check-off list. Carrie is still sleeping. She too, had a tearful farewell with her family, but it’s tinged with excitement.

So. I’m signing off and the next time I’m writing, it will be from Spain. Y’all take care.

“Buen Camino”

 

 

It was only a little seed

As I am going through my packing list, which changes frequently, I am amazed that this trip is reality now. I am actually going. Two more weeks. When I awoke, very early again, due to those nerve-wracking crickets, I lay there in wonder.  How did this even start? Actually, the first subconscious knowledge came in Switzerland when I did those 4 stations of the cross in this wonderful forest. I just happened to come upon the sign and decided to follow. I had not heard of any Jakobsweg.  (In English, the Way of St. James.)

Months later, at home, I was watching T.V. flipping back and forth between the dish and German T.V. Nothing memorable showing. The usual CSI and maggot-riddled bodies and worms crawling in eye sockets. It was lunch time and this was not what I needed to see. On German T.V. was soccer and other stuff.  One title cought my eye. I’ll carry you to end of the world it proclaimed. I sighed, thinking one of those movies, but finding nothing else, came back to it.  Married couple, two (ungrateful, entitled) children, workaholic and cheating husband. Wife caught him and decided to follow her father on the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrim path established over 1000 years ago. Just about 600 miles long. (The movie title referred to Finisterre, an additional walk beyond Santiago where one can see the end of the world.) 

After the movie they brought a documentary about this very path. Different perspective and more scenery, towns, places and interviews with people actually walking, or having walked. There it was. The scenery was gorgeous. Old, cobblestone paths leading to old, small chapels. Then, winding roads through beautiful forrest, up hills past blooming lavender fields. Peasants sitting in front of their Finca waving and some, offering food or water., Mountains in the rising morning mist. People from all over the globe, walking, calling out “Buen Camino.”

Some walk to find God and find themselves. Some, walk to find themselves and find God. Others, with different beliefs walk because it’s a beautiful, spiritual path. People who have walked this path, report that it hums with energy. Everyone is allowed and welcome to walk the camino. I was transfixed by this old, European picture of a long past era. I thought I really would like to do something like that. Need a bigger challenge to walk. Not just around the neighborhood. Maybe, just maybe I can walk this tumor off? I felt such excitement at the thought of doing something different and the hope of divine intervention at the same time. The next few days, this was all I could think about. Immediate thoughts of ‘how to afford this?’ followed. Then, how on earth could I do this? I don’t speak Spanish. Would I have to walk by myself?? What if something happened? How could I eat Vegan?

I woke in the middle of the night from stressful dreams and scared out of my wits what I was contemplating. But not once, through all of that, did I think of quitting. The Camino was calling me. I posted a question on the Camino Forum, asking if anyone else would be traveling at that time? This is a wonderful community, helping one another, giving support and encouragement. Then, my son came on board and that changed the whole picture. Then, Carrie wanted to come. I had said before, that I would not take another teenager to Europe. There’s no appreciation of culture, architecture, history. They don’t want to get up. They want Mc Donalds, shopping, to look at boys/girls.

Well, let me say here and now. Carrie is delightfully different and willing to do the hard stuff. And therefor we’re taking her along. I am carefully optimistic that I can do this. My daughter, my friends are very supportive and great cheer leaders.  Others think I’m plain nuts. My friend Julie, wrote the most wonderful, poignant letter and so this one is for her. I don’t want to get my hopes too high because I don’t want to crash, if the tumor does not disappear. But I want to believe with all my heart, that there could be a miracle, for me.

One person, who is not a traveller, told me: You don’t have to go all the way over there to find God.   Instead of going into lengthy, fruitless explanations, I told her she was right. I do not have to go there (or anywhere  else) to find GOD, since I’ve never lost him.              We will see. There will be a P.E.T scan/bloodwork, exam, upon my return. Shall we dare to hope? Yes!   Buen Camino, indeed!

Awesome Black Canyon

Everyone has heard of the Grand Canyon. This is God’s smaller, just as impressive, more compact miracle. The Black Canyon is only 20 minutes from my house. Practically in my back yard. I love going there. Especially in the morning, when all is quiet, except for an occasional bird calling, or the tourists show up with their loud motorcycles and speeding cars. The pictures do not give justice to the dizzying depths. There are places, where the sun has never, ever touched the rocks. Rock formation that are over one Billion years old. Makes one feel insignificant before such wonders. How lucky am I to live so close and get to go any time I want? VERY lucky, indeed.

Sunday morning when I went on a 3-hour hike to prepare for the Camino, I met this doe. It did not move, just stood at attention, watching me. It did make some low sounds, almost like growling. I wonder if there was a fawn in the underbrush?

The Gunnison river is below. One can hear it rushing and thundering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time flies…

…when you’re having fun and I’ve had more than my fair share of it, lately. The pictures are from our ‘Bavarian grill party.’ With food, song and ‘wine’ and a perfect Sunday afternoon with good friends. I did try to yodel after one drink but that was a sad imitation of the real thing.

I have been remiss in my hiking and feel vaguely guilty. The same kind of guilt that I felt, when I ate half a bratwurst. But, I also served a lot of vegetable kebabs.

We’re driving up to the Black Canyon this morning for a hike and  sight seeing with my best friend.

Lifetime friends for sixty-three years. We’d met in Kindergartenin Erlangen, Germany. Lived on the same street. It’s a rare treasure to find someone of that quality, faithfulness and unconditional love.

 

The Return of Senor Julio Redondo

Julio (pictured here next to the Camino sign) just returned from a 165-kilometer jaunt on20090624_00240 the Camino, “an average of 20 kms a day, lovely walk,” and says to me, “Seventeen of september i´ll be waiting for you at the airport, following day we could get bus to Pamplona, and from there to Roncesvalles … and from there  ¡ Be ready for the camino … almost 900 kms!”

But, he says, “Gossip is not my business,” so he’s not sure he wants anything to do with all this blog and Facebook stuff.  Still, he says, “i´ll change my mind for a couple of days and we´ll see what happen.”

And then some parting words of advice from the master trekker:

I´ll remind you , secret of the camino is the weight, only the indispensable, boots already used, and good humour.

Julio’s second email neatly tied up the rest of any of the details that added complexity to our trip:  how to get from the airport at Bilbao to the start of the Camino on the French side of the Pyrenees, at Saint Jean Pied de Port (which literally means Saint John at the foot of the mountain).

I just checked Internet and confirm there is several trains from Hendaya to Bayonne, where we can get the small train to Saint Jean Pied de Port.  From Bilbao there are several buses going Hendaya, just the border, at about 200 yards to train station.

So that’s that.  Now, how to train when I don’t like walking, much less for six hours a day?

In general, I’m going to rely on a reasonable amount of fitness to get in more Camino shape as I go.  In other words, the first day on the Camino is great prep for the second and third.  But I have to be able to recover from that first day, which, going over the Pyrenees, is widely regarded as the most difficult of the entire trip . . .

Adam, is there anything on that sign Julio is standing next to that’s of interest?

Ve hef ze technolochy, or, Why I feel sorry for Camino walkers from countries without an REI store

It’s a beautiful summer day in Seattle, a city that’s particularly beautiful on beautiful summer days.  I’m sitting on the sidewalk of Espresso Vivace, a coffee shop across the street from the flagship REI store north of downtown.  For those of you who don’t know, REI began in Seattle, and it’s based here, and the main store is situated on a block that’s like a forest, complete with waterfalls and trails, in the middle of the city.

With the help of a phalanx of knowledgeable REI staffers, including a good fellow named Ron who lavished at least an hour on my wanderings in the store, I spent over three hours and six hundred clams on a good portion of all that I’ll carry in Spain. It makes me wonder what people do who hail from countries without REIs.

It’s expensive, traveling light!

Everything but the pack is super-light, and you pay extra for the technology that makes things light. Here’s a list, from memory, of what I bought to take along, and why:

The centerpiece, a 48-liter backpack, weighing in, according to the Camino scuttlebutt I have read, at a relatively hefty 3 pounds 10 ounces.  Some Caminoderos boast of packs under a pound, which sounds suspiciously like wearing a g-string.  But I’m carrying a heavy laptop (4-6 pounds) too, and I decided that, perversely, a heavy pack with appropriately padded shoulder and waist straps was the best thing to support all the increased weight.  If the recommended limit to carry on one’s back is about 20 pounds, you can see I’m starting heavy.

A camera pack.  I don’t know what most walkers do for cameras, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the rest of my life looking at pictures taken on a cell phone camera, or any other camera that fits in a shirt pocket or can be skipped across a pond.  Those cameras are to photography what iTunes files are to real music files:  a pale imitation of the real thing.  Fitting the camera pack on the front of the backpack took some carabiners and some doing, but with Ron’s help I think I found a solution.  Only testing the contraption around Bend, and maybe New Jersey, will tell.

Convertible, wicking walking pants and two fitted, short-sleeved smartwool shirts.  I love smartwool.  I’ve skied for two winters in it, and it not only wicks away moisture but, unlike synthetic fabrics, you simply can’t stink it up, no matter how hard you try.

Five-toed wool socks to go with my Vibram FiveFingers footwear.  That’s right:FiveFingers1  I’m not wearing boots, as all the Camino chatrooms insist you must do.  I’m wearing the equivalent of padded rubber gloves on my feet.  If God had meant us to walk long distances with our feet all enclosed he’d not have given us balancing toes and high arches.  More and more evidence is showing that our ancestors ran after game for unimaginable distances (like 100 miles – the whole tribe, old men, young, and women with infants), and that our bodies are perfectly formed – that is, sans shoes – for running barefoot.  See Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run for a fascinating read; it’s one of the most provocative and fun-to-discuss books I’ve read in years.

A heating element and metal cup for tea, coffee, and hot toddies.  It wouldn’t have occurred to me to get this, but Mom mentioned it.  She probably needs her morning coffee and doesn’t want to rely on the hostels.

A compression sack for my mummy-style sleeping bag (probably over 10 years old, my REI aide told me it’s still pretty light; it’s warm to 20 degrees F).  Camino vets recommend a large backpack, like 60 liters, but I decided to strap the 16-liter compressed sleeping bag to the outside of the pack and save on the internal space.

Synergy,Tandem and invisible companions.

Alone today at the canyon at 6:30 A.M with back pack, water and a sandwich. Beautiful, cool and peaceful.  Thoughts coming through and I wonder at their source. First, I was thinking of my daughter, who lost her job, with 10 other co-workers, by their company’s downsizing. My granddaughter who has no job either. Then I had to let that go. After awhile, I became aware of the click-clack sound my poles were making. Everything moving in tandem. Step-clack-step-click, inhaling well, heart pumping, lung expelling without any pain from previous surgery. Feet moving in comfy boots. ( I LOVE those hiking socks!!)

I thought of ‘Quasimodo’ the handicapped bell ringer of Notre Dame and the beautiful Esmeralda. They became my invisible companions. He had a weight on his back, which he couldn’t take off.  ‘ Mochila’ means back pack in Spanish but I will name my lumpy weight pack ‘Quasimodo’. Almost like a Siamese twin for the whole way. I could feel my hip bones under this added weight. A few years ago, I had a bone density test and was told that I had the ‘hips of a twenty year old’. So. Thank you ancestors and parents for my functional hips.

I was shaken out of my reverie by the piercing cry of a falcon? I started singing old Folk songs. I was feeling my kidneys a bit too. But to think that  a mere 2 years ago I had kidney stones and a whole assortement of other problems, I revel in feeling so well.

Then I thought of my parents. Hard working, honest laborers. Giving me the gift of tenacity, perserverance and courage and a good dose of ‘optimism from Mom, who sang even when she was despairing, although some of those ballads sure had us bawling.). Gifts more worth than money. I hope I passed them on to my son and daughter.

And thus, I walked 5.5 miles or nearly 9 Kilometers, in two hours at 9000 feet altitude. Not too bad for an old broad. When I got home and took ‘Quasimodo’ off, the sudden liberation unbalanced me for a few steps  and I zig-zagged like a drunken bee. (Bumble bee before I’d lost the weight.)

Camino Preparation | Camino Not Chemo!

Bilbao and the Bus to Bayonne

On the bus to Bayonne, 7:30a.m.

Heading to the subway and bus station en route to Bayonne and St. Jean Pied de Port

The rain continues, but the fog and mist add a cozy spice to the mountainous terrain and lush forest of the Pyrenees. Julio took us to a wok restaurant last night, in a largely successful attempt to get Mom her first cancer-smart meal.  Thus far it has not been easy.  It’s not possible to find a restaurant in Bilbao that will cook a meal before 8:30p.m., so if you want to eat before then, you must choose from among various bread-heavy pintxos (peenchos), known everywhere else as tapas, which, whether containing brie or salmon or crab, sport large dollops of what appears to be the regional spice of choice, mayonnaise.

At the wok restaurant, I wanted a glass of red wine.  Julio ordered a bottle, saying Spanish wine was predictably good if it cost more than 5 euros, but that if it cost less than that, your head would let you know.  (“I woke up with a headache,” I would tell him the next morning.  “At 3, 4, and 6 a.m.”)  Julio drinks his wine like I drink water.  When I returned from supervising the cooking of my food in the wok area the bottle was nearly empty.  “Did you spill the wine?” I asked, looking under the table.

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and the flower puppy

Bilbao is a lovely city, and one of the main cities of the Basque Country, a relatively autonomous region of Spain with a strong independent streak.

“Last night Real Madrid was beaten by a football club of beginners,” Julio announced when we met him this morning.  “There will be suicides before it is light.  But the rest of the country could not be more happy.”  Madrid is the locus of the Spanish central government, and the people of both the Basque Country and the equally fiercely independent Catalonia love to see it fail.

While in Bilbao we visited the truly astonishing Guggenheim Museum, a sculpture far

Santiago Cathedral in Bilbao, with the trademark scallop shell of St. James and the Camino

more impressive than the rather precious concept art we saw inside it.  We walked along the Gran Via, Bilbao’s equivalent of Fifth Avenue, enjoyed the transparent, Art Nouveau shell-like entrances to the subways (called Fosteritos by the locals) that had been designed by English architect Sir Norman Foster, took in cityscapes enhanced by the Rio Nervion, ducked into our first Santiago Cathedral, complete with the trademark scallop shells on the exterior, toured the extraordinary multi-use Alhóndiga, each of whose dozens of giant inner columns were unique, and walked the pedestrian streets of Casco Viejo, the charming older part of town in which our hotel was located.  We’d have to carry for hundreds of miles anything we bought, so, in spite of all the great shopping to be had, we bought nothing.

Julio says that the city was transformed almost overnight by the Guggenheim.  Initially, he said (and I recall reading this in news reports), many people did not understand the strange new structure, and they did not like it.  The estimate of 200,000 visitors in the first year was exceeded by 2.2 million, though, and Bilbaoans soon went from seeing themselves as a city of industry to a city of aesthetics, tourism, and cutting-edge design.  Now there are many fine examples of modern architecture, a nice complement to the many beautiful older buildings, from the Gothic cathedrals to the Beaux Arts municipal building and Teatro Arragio.

We were up at 6a.m., never an easy task on one’s second morning of jet-lag, and at the bus station by 7.  A young man with a backpack approached Mom, Carrie, and me while Julio was away.

“Excuse me,” he said.  “Do you have a map of Spain?”

“No,” Mom said.  “But our friend will be back in a minute.”

The man looked confused.  I explained.  “We decided to bring along a Spaniard instead.”

Now we wend our way through the forested hills, lulled by the hum of the bus and the sound of water against the tires.  In the forested cleft of a misty mountain to my left I notice a sinuous thread of fog in the shape of a question mark.

I am writing this post largely in order to take my mind off my body, which is contorted fiendishly in seats that appear to have been designed and manufactured for, and perhaps by, small children.  They’re so narrow that Julio and I are forced to cross our arms just to co-exist.  The seats also come equipped with an anti-lumbar feature, surely patented, that sends the lumbar spine backward in space.  Higher up, my middle and upper back are forced forward, after which the seat, also too short, again curves away, so that in order to rest my head it is necessary to throw it back and look up to the ceiling.

My knees are jammed tightly into the seat in front of me, kneecaps crushed against the grey plastic.  Even to type these words, my hands must dangle from my chest like the useless appendages of a T. Rex.  When the three-hour ride is over, I will require work by both a chiropractor and a shrink.

St. Jean Pied de Port is an hour away by train.

Shutting Up My Boss

The Voice of the Boss

To take time off for the Camino, I first had to get permission from my boss.  It wouldn’t be easy.  My boss is what Yiddish speakers call a nudge.

The view from Jersey City.

What’s a camino? he said.

A camino, in Spanish, is, literally, a way, or a path.  Figuratively it can be a kind of path too.  The Camino de Santiago is a 1000-year-old pilgrimage route across northern Spain, and its most famous route, the Camino Frances, is just shy of 500 miles long, and you are supposed to walk it.

To do what

Walk it. 

The Spanish do have cars, or so I’ve heard.

Not the point.

But you hate walking.  It’s like standing, but slower.  Gives you backaches.  The worst is walking and standing, like in a museum.  You like the idea of museums, but you’d like them more if someone pushed you through them in a wheelbarrow.

Can’t I pretend the Camino is like hiking?

It’s not like hiking.  It’s relatively flat, other than the first day.  When we hike we burn our legs and our lungs, and our heart races, and then we get to be on the top of something.  We burn fat, build muscle, and win.  And that’s the American Way.

It’s true:  I’m a hiker at heart.  (It’s also true that my boss lacks any and all boundaries.  My boss being, of course, myself).  When I’m in shape, I’m a merciless hiker.  I used to go up Colorado’s Fourteeners at a clip of about a thousand vertical feet every forty minutes,

Ortstock in the background, 2009

for hours.  I powered my way up Braunwald’s Ortstock, in the Glarner Alps of Switzerland, and back, in only a handful of hours, in time for a late lunch; my aunt, who’d lived there for forty years, didn’t believe I’d actually found the top of it.  But walking has never interested me.  I’ve always wanted to get to the top of something, wanted to put my legs, lungs, and heart to the test.

I didn’t even know how long it took to walk 500 miles.  I had once accidentally biked over 80 miles, in Ireland (there was a certain map issue), in part of a day.  But then I hadn’t been able to sit down the next day.  I’d hiked to the top of 14,000-foot-plus Long’s Peak, outside of Denver, in a sixteen-hour gain of thousands of vertical feet.  But afterward I barely made it home without falling asleep at the wheel, even with the radio blaring and Chris Cash riding shotgun and encouraging me to stay awake thus:  zzzzzzzz.  I’d camped at Yosemite for a few days.  But we had driven there (Alejandro Pena-Prieto, Adam Weiss, Mark Thompson, and I) from San Francisco; only an ass would have walked it, I think we can all agree.

Turns out the Camino typically takes four to six weeks.

My boss spit out his coffee.  And he doesn’t even drink coffee.  Weeks?

Weeks.  But I’ll confess, I had envisioned the usual vacation length:  two weeks.

That’s because you are an American, my boss said, and that’s what Americans do:  we work.  96% of the year.

We spend as much time at work as we think the economy requires, and we seem to think the economy needs us not to practice any real family values by actually being with family, or to take the time out for the physical and mental rest that would reduce our health care costs and make us more productive.

With one exception that took place between jobs, I hadn’t taken a vacation longer than two weeks since, well, since I entered the working world at the ripe age of 25.  I had hid out in law school as long as they would let me, but after three years they asked me to leave.  They even threw a party, gave me a costume and a hat and let me speak on whatever came to mind.

And ever since then, vacations got two weeks, max.  Two weeks in Germany and Switzerland in 1993.  Two more, adding Austria, in 1997.  A week in Spain in 1998.  Twelve days in Switzerland later that year.  Many other trips to Switzerland or Italy or both, 13 days or less.  Long weekenders to Canada.  Fourteen days in Israel.

And that’s just the half of it.  As I said in my last post, I thought the timing of the trip could not have been worse.

I had spent well over a year pushing a boulder up a hill to get divorced.  It seemed every part of my being was straining to push the process along, so that I could move on.  What could have been accomplished in a six- (or eight-) hour negotiation seemed to me to have taken only slightly less time than the universe has spent cooling since the Big Bang.  Fourteen grueling months of weeks without end, the longest I think I’ve ever waited for anything, the most I’ve ever wanted anything.  I couldn’t start my new life soon enough – which is another way of saying that I was resisting the present with all my might.

I was determined, when it was over, to stand on the summit I’d been climbing toward and look in the direction of my new life, and then to begin to head in that direction.  I was in for a big surprise.

The False Summit

Few undertakings in life require the willpower of mountaineering.  You may be freezing, your legs noodles, burning, nearly useless, your lungs seared by bellows-like breathing at altitude.  You don’t think you can go one more step, but you keep going because you can see the summit, it’s there, just ahead, always in front of you even as it plays hide-and-seek behind clouds and even its own lower flanks, and you tell yourself you will last until you reach the top.  You can last until that final step, and then you will have no more left, no mas.  You will be spent, but you will have conquered your summit.

And every mountaineer knows the crushing disappointment of reaching the longed-for peak, utterly spent, only to realize, from its improved perspective, that now, visible at last, is the real summit, and it’s so far away, impossibly far away.

As my divorce became final, I realized that my own longed-for summit remained tantalizingly in the distance.  Getting divorced, I realized, is just part of the battle, or, to be less martial about it, it’s only one step in the transition.  Once you’ve wrestled the past into submission and tied it up neatly, there’s still the fairly momentous matter of what to do next.

Who am I now?  Where shall I find myself?  With whom shall I surround myself?

Are you asking me? my boss said, bemused.  Of course he was useless on such things.

The questions were large, and the answers remained as out of reach as the actual summit I could see, far, far up ahead.

Somehow, I kept taking one step after another.  I made dozens of trips to Home Depot and furniture stores and fixed up the house in which I was living, in Bend, turning it into a vacation rental with some promise.  I put it on the market for sale.  I continued to run Feroce Coaching and Hot Blue Coaching, as well as to share the management of Charles River Recruiting.  With strangers living in my house and paying me to go on vacation, I found myself trying on Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle.  I slowly cut through the desperate procrastination impulse that did.  Not.  Want.  To.  Do.  Two years of back taxes.  All very slowly, or so it felt to me.

The good news was that all of this work required only a laptop and a phone.  The bad news was that, because I work for myself, no one pays me when I don’t work.  I was nervous about not working for over a month.

And who will run the vacation rental while you’re traipsing around Spain?  Someone would need to run the vacation rental. 

I hadn’t thought of that.

Of course you hadn’t.  Even if you find a person, you’ll have to train that person.  A salary will cut into the profits.  Who’s going to answer potential renters’ questions by email and phone asap, so as to land them and their lucre, and who’s going to book them and send them contracts and run their credit cards and send them follow-up emails with instructions?  Something will go wrong with the vacation rental.  The cleaners aren’t very reliable either. 

I was unhappy with the idea of tenants complaining, which seemed to be as important to some vacationers as the actual vacation itself.

You won’t be able to take new coaching clients.  You’ll make less money.  You just took off two weeks, in May, to go to Israel!  How will you coach even your existing clients?  You can’t guarantee them connectivity from the road in rural Spain, and making appointments is one of the sine qua nons of coaching.  You’ll also need a new phone, a Europe-ready phone.  You’ll need to find some kind of wireless capability for your computer, so you can get emails without relying upon hostels in rural Spain.

Already exhausted by my haul up the mountain of divorce, already hyperventilating from the realization that the peak for which I’d been straining was really only a false summit, even overwhelmed and at times depressed, I simply hadn’t the energy to contemplate all of it.

My boss, which is to say my self, was just shaking his head.

How are you going to do everything you need to do before September 16?

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please

Up until very recently, I didn’t really want to go on the Camino.  But it did not matter what I wanted to do or not do.  I was going.  And on the eve of my departure, I may have finally figured out why.

Surely there is something else to do.

For weeks this thought – a boss thought, if you will – has plagued me.  Over the last few years – marriage and assumption of step-parent status, move to a new city (Seattle), start-up craziness and coaching, drafting a book proposal and writing a book, the decline of the relationship and the separation-cum-endless-divorce-process – I’d become quite adept at watching my thoughts.  I realized I was catching this thought, or more likely what I call a wordless impulse, more and more often.

My to-do list had seemed endless for so long that, excepting brief moments, such as in yoga or skiing, by this summer I found it nearly impossible to relax, to quiet the jumpiness of my mind and the sense that there was something else I should, I must, be doing.  Once I told my mother I’d join her on her pilgrimage, my already long to-do list threatened to suffocate me under its weight.

On top of everything else, you are going to plan a 500-mile walk and how to manage your life from rural Spain?

Always something else to do, to be doing, and yet to what end I was now rather far less sure.  I thought of Dante’s opening lines to The Inferno, “In the middle of my life’s path, I found myself lost in a dark forest with no straight path I could see anywhere.”  (M.L. Rosenthal translation, one of about 20 quite different variations).

In the middle of my life’s path, then, I found myself on a dark-blue couch in Jersey City, New Jersey.  The couch belonged to my good friend from law school, Adam Weiss, and it was during a month in Jersey City, having run like hell, for weeks, not just to climb but to move the mountains between me and leaving Bend, and my house, and the money I put into it in a triumph of hope over experience, that the clamor in my mind began at last to subside, and I decided I knew at last the reason I was walking across Spain.

It was time to slow down.  I was going to Spain to slow down.

Letting Go of the Life We Have Planned

It wasn’t I who actually decided to walk across Spain.  That was decided, in a manner of speaking, for me.  My mother, whose ovarian cancer of a decade ago appears to have returned in unknown measure, told me in July that walking St. Jacobsweg, as she initially called it, was something she very much wanted to do before she had to drag her thoughts to the abyss of surgery, chemo, and radiation.  She asked if I would come along.

I’m not even sure there was any process of thinking, of intellection.  I pictured a two-week trip.

“Yes,” I said.  What are you going to do?  Mom has cancer.  Mom has a dream.

Yes.

But I didn’t know why she wanted to do it.  As the wonderful Karen Armstrong, historian of religion, points out in her fine little book A Short History of Myth, we are meaning-seeking creatures.  We constantly crave and make meaning in our lives.  If we can’t make something meaningful, we can’t get excited, or motivated.  It would take me a few months to rationalize my “yes”, as we humans must always do, by arriving at a bit of reasoning that explained why I would want to walk in rural Spain.

Two months ago, I just said, “Why this walk?  You’ve never mentioned it before.”

“I saw it in a German documentary,” she said.  “It looked like a wonderful experience.”

I would rather she had asked if I would accompany her into the Alps.  In any of the several countries in which they appear.  Mountains, especially the Alps, are chock-full of meaning, and memories, for both of us.  In contrast to walking, which I didn’t like at all, I loved hiking.

The Dolomites would be good too.  You could hike from rifugio to rifugio, gorging yourself on pasta in rabbit sauce, spending the night, and working it all off at altitude the next day.

I persisted.  “But does it have any meaning to you?  You’re not even Catholic” – the camino is a 1000-year-old Catholic pilgrimage route – “and I know you don’t believe it’s some kind of penance you need to do in remission of sins.”

I certainly hoped not.  Overcoming disease is a lot harder when you believe, as many people do, as society has often told us, that you are sick because there is something wrong with you – something defective in your character, your self, your soul.  In effect, that you are sick because you have sinned.  This is a line of thinking most famously indulged in by the Hebrew prophets, who spent a great deal of time lecturing suffering Israelites that they were so miserable beneath the boots of centuries of oppressors, that God was repeatedly breaching his promise to throw off the oppressors and make them into a great nation, because they were not obedient enough.  (This is more contract law than theology, the idea being that God was not breaching the contract because the other side – none of whom had themselves agreed to any contract, come to think of it — already had).

They were bad, so they must suffer.  This simple equation is as true of how Judeo-Christian societies still think today as e is equal to m times c squared.  (Following her own bout with cancer, Susan Sontag wrote a whole book, Illness as a Metaphor, in an attempt to refute the former equation).  Is it coincidence, I wonder, that we speak of both sins and cancer as things that can go into, or be put in, remission?

In any event, Mom said the Camino would have enough meaning for her.  (You can see from her passion on this blog that she’s found plenty of purpose).  Over time, through conversations with her and by reading her blog posts, I would begin to understand what it meant for her, and some of the risks of the meaning she has invested it with.

Just one problem.  No, two problems.  First, walking across Spain didn’t have any inherent meaning for me.

Second, it threw a major wrench into my post-divorce life and plans, which included the weighty, time-consuming undertakings of accepting that I would suffer a big loss on selling my house, actually selling my house, continuing to advertise and rent it until it was sold, doing two years of back taxes held up by the divorce, running my coaching businesses, deciding where in the world I wanted to live, selling furniture and a Land Rover (bumper sticker, with Union Jack:  “All of the parts falling off of this car are of the finest British craftsmanship”), packing, and moving to a new city and self.  My plans also appeared to include worrying about all these things, as well as taxes owed, credit card debts, loss on the sale of the house (I know, join the party), and the rest of the flotsam and jetsam of a do-over.

In short, for the first two months after Mom told me about the Camino, I thought a walk through Spain, for several weeks, starting in mid-September, was spectacularly bad timing.  As I’ll explain further in a later post, it was awfully inconvenient.

But in the two months since I agreed to go, I have been learning the truth of a quote (or paraphrase) from Joseph Campbell that has run through my mind, and remained there, arms crossed and a knowing smile on its face, for weeks:

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to be ready for the life that is waiting for us.

Tearful farewell

Yesterday, I was running last errands, getting things ready and house sitter in place. I whittled 3.5 more pounds off my back pack. The sleeping bag was too bulky and heavy and I exchanged it for a nice, light, small, barely 1.5-lb. cutie. I also sacrificed one top and my Black Canyon rain/sun hat as it was too heavy as well.

I splurged on a Pedicure. To spoil my feet one more time. They’ve no clue what’s in store. I hope they will carry me on their allotted task without major mishap.

I also spent some time with my  little buddy, whom I’ve been privileged to have in my life, since his birth. When it was time to leave, it was a heart-rending fare well. He cried and held on, telling me he loved me all the way to Jupiter and back. He complained how very long a time five weeks was for me to be gone. I am so thankful that his parents share him with me. He’s funny, bright, and makes me laugh when times are tough. He’s my special boy.

As I sat still and reflected on this trip , with the external noise factory silenced, I was in awe. I am steady and straight. I have great energy. My mental faculties are present. (Well, most of them anyway.) I have a sense of well-being that is not supposed to be in conjunction with this ‘cell problem’. This divine force which propells me to the camino, clear and bright. I thought, if I wanted to have an ‘adventure’ picked by me, my choice would’ve been with lots more comfort (and gourmet food). Not to walk so many miles in whatever condition. But, it’s a strong voice and I’m heeding it.

The phone rang all day with family and friends wishing us well and the promise of saying prayers, each day, for us. The life line to home. My daughter, who will be our home center.

It is with a grateful heart, to our Lord, that I start this path. That I am well enough to even contemplate such an undertaking. I trust that HE knows what he’s doing.

I woke early this morning, not even a cricket in sight or sound. Just going over my check-off list. Carrie is still sleeping. She too, had a tearful farewell with her family, but it’s tinged with excitement.

So. I’m signing off and the next time I’m writing, it will be from Spain. Y’all take care.

“Buen Camino”

 

 

It was only a little seed

As I am going through my packing list, which changes frequently, I am amazed that this trip is reality now. I am actually going. Two more weeks. When I awoke, very early again, due to those nerve-wracking crickets, I lay there in wonder.  How did this even start? Actually, the first subconscious knowledge came in Switzerland when I did those 4 stations of the cross in this wonderful forest. I just happened to come upon the sign and decided to follow. I had not heard of any Jakobsweg.  (In English, the Way of St. James.)

Months later, at home, I was watching T.V. flipping back and forth between the dish and German T.V. Nothing memorable showing. The usual CSI and maggot-riddled bodies and worms crawling in eye sockets. It was lunch time and this was not what I needed to see. On German T.V. was soccer and other stuff.  One title cought my eye. I’ll carry you to end of the world it proclaimed. I sighed, thinking one of those movies, but finding nothing else, came back to it.  Married couple, two (ungrateful, entitled) children, workaholic and cheating husband. Wife caught him and decided to follow her father on the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrim path established over 1000 years ago. Just about 600 miles long. (The movie title referred to Finisterre, an additional walk beyond Santiago where one can see the end of the world.) 

After the movie they brought a documentary about this very path. Different perspective and more scenery, towns, places and interviews with people actually walking, or having walked. There it was. The scenery was gorgeous. Old, cobblestone paths leading to old, small chapels. Then, winding roads through beautiful forrest, up hills past blooming lavender fields. Peasants sitting in front of their Finca waving and some, offering food or water., Mountains in the rising morning mist. People from all over the globe, walking, calling out “Buen Camino.”

Some walk to find God and find themselves. Some, walk to find themselves and find God. Others, with different beliefs walk because it’s a beautiful, spiritual path. People who have walked this path, report that it hums with energy. Everyone is allowed and welcome to walk the camino. I was transfixed by this old, European picture of a long past era. I thought I really would like to do something like that. Need a bigger challenge to walk. Not just around the neighborhood. Maybe, just maybe I can walk this tumor off? I felt such excitement at the thought of doing something different and the hope of divine intervention at the same time. The next few days, this was all I could think about. Immediate thoughts of ‘how to afford this?’ followed. Then, how on earth could I do this? I don’t speak Spanish. Would I have to walk by myself?? What if something happened? How could I eat Vegan?

I woke in the middle of the night from stressful dreams and scared out of my wits what I was contemplating. But not once, through all of that, did I think of quitting. The Camino was calling me. I posted a question on the Camino Forum, asking if anyone else would be traveling at that time? This is a wonderful community, helping one another, giving support and encouragement. Then, my son came on board and that changed the whole picture. Then, Carrie wanted to come. I had said before, that I would not take another teenager to Europe. There’s no appreciation of culture, architecture, history. They don’t want to get up. They want Mc Donalds, shopping, to look at boys/girls.

Well, let me say here and now. Carrie is delightfully different and willing to do the hard stuff. And therefor we’re taking her along. I am carefully optimistic that I can do this. My daughter, my friends are very supportive and great cheer leaders.  Others think I’m plain nuts. My friend Julie, wrote the most wonderful, poignant letter and so this one is for her. I don’t want to get my hopes too high because I don’t want to crash, if the tumor does not disappear. But I want to believe with all my heart, that there could be a miracle, for me.

One person, who is not a traveller, told me: You don’t have to go all the way over there to find God.   Instead of going into lengthy, fruitless explanations, I told her she was right. I do not have to go there (or anywhere  else) to find GOD, since I’ve never lost him.              We will see. There will be a P.E.T scan/bloodwork, exam, upon my return. Shall we dare to hope? Yes!   Buen Camino, indeed!

Awesome Black Canyon

Everyone has heard of the Grand Canyon. This is God’s smaller, just as impressive, more compact miracle. The Black Canyon is only 20 minutes from my house. Practically in my back yard. I love going there. Especially in the morning, when all is quiet, except for an occasional bird calling, or the tourists show up with their loud motorcycles and speeding cars. The pictures do not give justice to the dizzying depths. There are places, where the sun has never, ever touched the rocks. Rock formation that are over one Billion years old. Makes one feel insignificant before such wonders. How lucky am I to live so close and get to go any time I want? VERY lucky, indeed.

Sunday morning when I went on a 3-hour hike to prepare for the Camino, I met this doe. It did not move, just stood at attention, watching me. It did make some low sounds, almost like growling. I wonder if there was a fawn in the underbrush?

The Gunnison river is below. One can hear it rushing and thundering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time flies…

…when you’re having fun and I’ve had more than my fair share of it, lately. The pictures are from our ‘Bavarian grill party.’ With food, song and ‘wine’ and a perfect Sunday afternoon with good friends. I did try to yodel after one drink but that was a sad imitation of the real thing.

I have been remiss in my hiking and feel vaguely guilty. The same kind of guilt that I felt, when I ate half a bratwurst. But, I also served a lot of vegetable kebabs.

We’re driving up to the Black Canyon this morning for a hike and  sight seeing with my best friend.

Lifetime friends for sixty-three years. We’d met in Kindergartenin Erlangen, Germany. Lived on the same street. It’s a rare treasure to find someone of that quality, faithfulness and unconditional love.

 

The Return of Senor Julio Redondo

Julio (pictured here next to the Camino sign) just returned from a 165-kilometer jaunt on20090624_00240 the Camino, “an average of 20 kms a day, lovely walk,” and says to me, “Seventeen of september i´ll be waiting for you at the airport, following day we could get bus to Pamplona, and from there to Roncesvalles … and from there  ¡ Be ready for the camino … almost 900 kms!”

But, he says, “Gossip is not my business,” so he’s not sure he wants anything to do with all this blog and Facebook stuff.  Still, he says, “i´ll change my mind for a couple of days and we´ll see what happen.”

And then some parting words of advice from the master trekker:

I´ll remind you , secret of the camino is the weight, only the indispensable, boots already used, and good humour.

Julio’s second email neatly tied up the rest of any of the details that added complexity to our trip:  how to get from the airport at Bilbao to the start of the Camino on the French side of the Pyrenees, at Saint Jean Pied de Port (which literally means Saint John at the foot of the mountain).

I just checked Internet and confirm there is several trains from Hendaya to Bayonne, where we can get the small train to Saint Jean Pied de Port.  From Bilbao there are several buses going Hendaya, just the border, at about 200 yards to train station.

So that’s that.  Now, how to train when I don’t like walking, much less for six hours a day?

In general, I’m going to rely on a reasonable amount of fitness to get in more Camino shape as I go.  In other words, the first day on the Camino is great prep for the second and third.  But I have to be able to recover from that first day, which, going over the Pyrenees, is widely regarded as the most difficult of the entire trip . . .

Adam, is there anything on that sign Julio is standing next to that’s of interest?

Ve hef ze technolochy, or, Why I feel sorry for Camino walkers from countries without an REI store

It’s a beautiful summer day in Seattle, a city that’s particularly beautiful on beautiful summer days.  I’m sitting on the sidewalk of Espresso Vivace, a coffee shop across the street from the flagship REI store north of downtown.  For those of you who don’t know, REI began in Seattle, and it’s based here, and the main store is situated on a block that’s like a forest, complete with waterfalls and trails, in the middle of the city.

With the help of a phalanx of knowledgeable REI staffers, including a good fellow named Ron who lavished at least an hour on my wanderings in the store, I spent over three hours and six hundred clams on a good portion of all that I’ll carry in Spain. It makes me wonder what people do who hail from countries without REIs.

It’s expensive, traveling light!

Everything but the pack is super-light, and you pay extra for the technology that makes things light. Here’s a list, from memory, of what I bought to take along, and why:

The centerpiece, a 48-liter backpack, weighing in, according to the Camino scuttlebutt I have read, at a relatively hefty 3 pounds 10 ounces.  Some Caminoderos boast of packs under a pound, which sounds suspiciously like wearing a g-string.  But I’m carrying a heavy laptop (4-6 pounds) too, and I decided that, perversely, a heavy pack with appropriately padded shoulder and waist straps was the best thing to support all the increased weight.  If the recommended limit to carry on one’s back is about 20 pounds, you can see I’m starting heavy.

A camera pack.  I don’t know what most walkers do for cameras, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the rest of my life looking at pictures taken on a cell phone camera, or any other camera that fits in a shirt pocket or can be skipped across a pond.  Those cameras are to photography what iTunes files are to real music files:  a pale imitation of the real thing.  Fitting the camera pack on the front of the backpack took some carabiners and some doing, but with Ron’s help I think I found a solution.  Only testing the contraption around Bend, and maybe New Jersey, will tell.

Convertible, wicking walking pants and two fitted, short-sleeved smartwool shirts.  I love smartwool.  I’ve skied for two winters in it, and it not only wicks away moisture but, unlike synthetic fabrics, you simply can’t stink it up, no matter how hard you try.

Five-toed wool socks to go with my Vibram FiveFingers footwear.  That’s right:FiveFingers1  I’m not wearing boots, as all the Camino chatrooms insist you must do.  I’m wearing the equivalent of padded rubber gloves on my feet.  If God had meant us to walk long distances with our feet all enclosed he’d not have given us balancing toes and high arches.  More and more evidence is showing that our ancestors ran after game for unimaginable distances (like 100 miles – the whole tribe, old men, young, and women with infants), and that our bodies are perfectly formed – that is, sans shoes – for running barefoot.  See Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run for a fascinating read; it’s one of the most provocative and fun-to-discuss books I’ve read in years.

A heating element and metal cup for tea, coffee, and hot toddies.  It wouldn’t have occurred to me to get this, but Mom mentioned it.  She probably needs her morning coffee and doesn’t want to rely on the hostels.

A compression sack for my mummy-style sleeping bag (probably over 10 years old, my REI aide told me it’s still pretty light; it’s warm to 20 degrees F).  Camino vets recommend a large backpack, like 60 liters, but I decided to strap the 16-liter compressed sleeping bag to the outside of the pack and save on the internal space.

Synergy,Tandem and invisible companions.

Alone today at the canyon at 6:30 A.M with back pack, water and a sandwich. Beautiful, cool and peaceful.  Thoughts coming through and I wonder at their source. First, I was thinking of my daughter, who lost her job, with 10 other co-workers, by their company’s downsizing. My granddaughter who has no job either. Then I had to let that go. After awhile, I became aware of the click-clack sound my poles were making. Everything moving in tandem. Step-clack-step-click, inhaling well, heart pumping, lung expelling without any pain from previous surgery. Feet moving in comfy boots. ( I LOVE those hiking socks!!)

I thought of ‘Quasimodo’ the handicapped bell ringer of Notre Dame and the beautiful Esmeralda. They became my invisible companions. He had a weight on his back, which he couldn’t take off.  ‘ Mochila’ means back pack in Spanish but I will name my lumpy weight pack ‘Quasimodo’. Almost like a Siamese twin for the whole way. I could feel my hip bones under this added weight. A few years ago, I had a bone density test and was told that I had the ‘hips of a twenty year old’. So. Thank you ancestors and parents for my functional hips.

I was shaken out of my reverie by the piercing cry of a falcon? I started singing old Folk songs. I was feeling my kidneys a bit too. But to think that  a mere 2 years ago I had kidney stones and a whole assortement of other problems, I revel in feeling so well.

Then I thought of my parents. Hard working, honest laborers. Giving me the gift of tenacity, perserverance and courage and a good dose of ‘optimism from Mom, who sang even when she was despairing, although some of those ballads sure had us bawling.). Gifts more worth than money. I hope I passed them on to my son and daughter.

And thus, I walked 5.5 miles or nearly 9 Kilometers, in two hours at 9000 feet altitude. Not too bad for an old broad. When I got home and took ‘Quasimodo’ off, the sudden liberation unbalanced me for a few steps  and I zig-zagged like a drunken bee. (Bumble bee before I’d lost the weight.)