(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 1, 2005
Day 2: Roncesvalles to Larrasoana, 31km/19.5m

I woke up at 5 AM but didn’t want to start walking at that hour. It was still dark outside, and most of the others in the refuge were still sleeping. I lay for a long time thinking about the day before. And I checked in with my body. It felt rested and ready for more. Even my feet had stopped throbbing. My bag was lying on the floor under my bed. I stuck my hand in and felt around for Brenda’s packet of letters: after all, it was officially “Week 1.” I pulled out the corresponding envelope and opened it.

I stared at the image on the front of the card for a long time, smiling. The colors. The blood red. The beautiful woman with the golden halo. The pomegranate, held out to me. I turned the card over before opening it, hoping there would be something written on the back. There was:

Eve, The Mother of All

…She holds in her hands an opened pomegranate, whose Hebrew name, rimmon, comes from the word rim, to bear a child. The pomegranate is an ancient middle-eastern symbol of the womb because of its red juice and its numerous seed or offspring. It was carved on the pillars of Solomon’s Temple as a symbol of fertility. In this icon it represents all the descendents of Eve, the human race, and our debt to her and all our foremothers.

Inside, Brenda wrote:

Dear Tess—

Help yourself to those seeds being offered. I look forward to your return and your descriptions of their taste, their texture, their nourishings.

xo Brenda

Wisdom is bright and does not grow dim. By those who love her she is readily seen, and found by those who look for her. Quick to anticipate those who deride her, she makes herself known to them.

Watch for her early and you will have no trouble; you will find her sitting at your gates.

Even to think about her is understanding fully grown; be on the alert for her and anxiety will quickly leave you.

She herself walks about looking for those who are worthy of her and graciously shows herself to them as they go, in every thought of theirs coming to meet them.

—Wisdom 6:7-12

By 7 AM, I was ready to depart. As I laced up my shoes, I glanced over at my PA. He was awake but had not made any moves to prepare himself for the day ahead. His eyes were filled with defeat. I was relieved to be leaving before him so I would not have to endure his energy. In fact, I wanted to not travel with anyone else’s energy at all, but the Italian seemed to want my companionship. He was waiting for me. And when I reached for my jacket and my pack, he did too.

If I’d felt that the day before was overwhelmed with snow and cold, welcome to day 2. So much snow had accumulated throughout the night that there was no traveling the trail; we were forced to stay on the road. And it was far colder as well—my eyelids froze within moments of exiting the warmth of the refuge. The thermometer on my bag read 5 degrees! Fahrenheit! I wrapped my towel around my neck to serve as a scarf. I secured my trekking poles to my bag, put extra socks over my gloves and pulled my hands into the sleeves of my jacket. I was wearing every piece of clothing in my bag. And when I tried to take a sip of water, I discovered that it was partially frozen. I had to wear the Camelbak bladder inside my coat. And even there, I couldn’t generate enough body heat to keep it fully liquid.

We arrived in the first town almost immediately and had a very quick breakfast in the café—bread with jam and coffee. Spain is not a country of breakfast eaters. And the coffee, like much of Europe, is mostly espresso in nature. I bought a package of cookies for the road and hoped to find an open tienda in the miles ahead.

The hours passed by slowly on the pounding pavement. And Massimo, my Italian travel companion, stayed close by. His English was not so great, which I appreciated immensely because I didn’t feel much like talking. I liked beginning the journey with him but it didn’t take long to realize that his presence changed my experience. My pace was his pace instead of my own. I didn’t stop when I wanted to. I would have gotten more food. I thought about relationships and the compromise of them—or rather, I thought about me in relationship and how I compromised myself in them. I decided I would try to learn something about myself instead of resenting him—for Massimo, as far as I could tell, was a sweet, pure soul who merely wanted companionship. How could I stop fighting him and embrace my own experience? That was the challenge. But mile after mile with the silence and the discomfort that hung between us, I found myself increasingly annoyed. I wanted to be with myself a lot more than I wanted to be with him, but I didn’t know how to express that to him. So I decided that I would embrace him for the day, and make a different choice tomorrow. Once again, it was the challenge of acceptance.

And there was physical discomfort, too. Day one had brought pain in my left shoulder and with it an internal conversation about my feminine burdens; for day two, the conversation would move to my right hip flexor. Flexibility. Masculine side of my body. Was it Massimo and my rejection of him? I thought about balance: masculine and feminine. About relationships: male and female. About pain and wounds. At some point, the pain seemed to give way to strength. I thought about wounds as an entry point for strength, which led me to appreciate the miracle of my body. So strong. Able to carry me over mountains. Through snow. With no blisters. And even despite the falling temperature, only my face and hands were cold. I was managing. Actually, I was doing more than managing; I was thriving.

I let go of Massimo and let my mind roam freely. I started thinking about Brenda’s card: wisdom. I asked wisdom to join me on the road. I thought about all the people in my life who were supporting me with every step. And I thought about how I might communicate with them, what I’d say. In each town that we entered, I looked for a place that had access to the internet, but these places were miniscule. There seemed to be a bar in each of them, sometimes a very small shop with the most basic supplies, but certainly no internet. The houses butted up to the road, and the people inside often stood looking blankly out through them. It was as if they were watching the world go by through the faces of each pilgrim who passed.

I spent time thinking about what I’d say in my emails if I could find an internet connection. I thought about what I wanted to remember to write in my journal if I had any time or energy left at the end of the day. I thought about my need to connect with people, and how it sometimes changed me—how I sometimes try to be funny or likeable or wise. I thought about the ways in which I try to be something rather than just be. I thought about how much I yearn to be known. Is it a result of my childhood and the silence that enshrouded it?

I decided that the lack of internet was a blessing. I figured that by the time I got to it, I’d have forgotten what I wanted to say, and that maybe I could be more present on the journey as a result. Maybe.

My Pilgrim’s Guide said that the walk to the refuge in Larrasoana was 18 miles. But the road added nearly two more. We were finally able to pick up the trail at a lower elevation. I pulled out my poles and steadied myself, grinning all the way down the sharp, muddy descent into Zubiri where it warmed up to a healthy 30 degrees and felt like summer!

We sat on a hillside, and I stripped off all my layers, down to one shirt and one pair of pants. I went behind a tree to pee and had to change my tampon—that’s a first out in the wild. I thought about my rabbi as I buried it, and I said a prayer for him and his people. It felt like the thing to do.

Larrasoana was a tiny speck of a town with absolutely no provisions. When Massimo and I arrived at the refuge, the pilgrims who had slept in Roncesvalles were there as well: the young German with the blue, blue eyes and the woman from Argentina. The adorable warden was also the mayor of Larrasoana. He held us captive in the entryway where there was an enormous wooden table with memorabilia. My feet ached and my body longed for food. The Pilgrim’s Guide said that the refuge had a modest kitchen and that the mayor sold modest food supplies. I was eager to get to them. We all were. But he regaled us with stories instead. Stories in Spanish. Most of us stood before him, nodding and smiling, though decidedly glazed over.

Finally, we were released, and we entered a small room with a dozen bunk beds and a propane heater in the corner. It wasn’t lit. The mayor came in with his torch to light it, and the process of generating heat was both primitive and terrifying. I felt as though at any moment the entire place could go up in flames. Once it was lit, however, we all took off our wet clothes and jockeyed for a place to hang them. Then we all moved into the kitchen, pulled out ancient pots, boiled water and each of us tossed in our newly purchased box of spaghetti. Someone had sauce. Someone else had cheese. There was even a small round of bread. It was communal, and it was divine. I ate like I hadn’t eaten all day—and mostly I hadn’t. The mayor came in smiling, and offered a bowl of the smallest, most beautiful eggs I’ve ever seen. Someone from the town had given them to us. We quickly boiled them up and passed around a salt shaker. They were perfectly done—slightly soft and runny—and the perfect cap to the day.

I fell onto my bed and did my best to journal:

It feels like family here at the refuge. We are traveling as a pack so far. There is a group of us, all here again from the refuge last night, even my PA. All but the man on the bicycle. I suspect that we’ll begin to travel at our own pace and start to lose each other.

I find it interesting that at the refuge last night I chose a bed at random and then noticed that it was #12. Tonight, I have chosen another bed, one by the window. I just noticed that it is also #12.

I had a moment of despair today. Perhaps despair is too big a word for it. And it was blessedly brief. But I thought of the coming days, that today was only day 2 and there was going to be long stretches of just miles filled with my mundane thoughts. I felt as though I might fail, that I couldn’t finish. I have been thinking so much of being done, and I wasn’t present as much as I wanted to be. I tried to pull myself to the trail. But I kept leaving the trail for other places. It was possible to be present and in ecstasy, just not for long. It’s tedious. My mind wanders. I find myself praying for future events and life situations. I wonder how long I can be present with the Camino.