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(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 17, 2005
Day 18: Leon to Hospital del Orbiga, 33.3 km/20.7 m

Leon was the biggest city on the Camino, which meant it was also the best shopping opportunity, and I spent part of the night searching for good insoles to replace the ones in Simon’s shoes that were blistering his feet. To no avail.


If I was in the US, I could have gone into any drugstore and spent 15 minutes in front of an entire rack of insoles trying to make a decision on which to get. But in Spain, hours went by, and shop after shop, with not one pair in my midst. It was the biggest difference between me and my fellow pilgrims: gear. I had spent real time and money making very specific gear choices before I left, and so I was prone to noticing what others had selected. “Waterproof” was the word that might have been the first real differentiator, followed by “weight.” For instance, my pack, made by GoLite, was made of parachute material that was both light and (largely) waterproof. The amount of handy pockets on the outside as well as the netting and straps and loops on which to hang things were all clearly added by people who’d gone before me—not necessarily on the Camino, just out in the wilds where small details become godsends in an instant. I seemed to be among the very few with such thoughtful godsends.

GoreTex was another favorite word of mine. Along with SealSkinz—socks and gloves. But CamelBak was like a revolutionary invention to those who saw mine. Imagine: a pliable bladder filled with water attached to a suck tube—it meant no fumbling with bottles. Ever. Mine was the only one I saw for the entire 335 miles to date. (And since I’d spent the night adding up all the mileage numbers I’d scrawled in the margins of my guidebook, I knew the current distance).

It shouldn’t have surprised me that insoles were not to be found. I did spot a nice pair of orange socks, however, and I stood longingly contemplating them. One of my outer sock layers (the black Pearl Izumi’s) was reaching retirement (the heels were threadbare). I certainly could have gotten more mileage out of them, and I wasn’t looking for their replacement, but when I saw the orange socks, the official color of my Camino, the black ones were doomed. The orange socks seemed to be the perfect size and thickness. And they were crazy cheap. As soon as I got them, I sat outside the shop, pulled off my GoreTex boots, ripped off the Pearl Izumis and bid them farewell. The next 200 miles were going to be traversed in orange socks!

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(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 26, 2005
Day 27: Arca to Santiago, 20.7 km/12.9 m

I woke up in my beautiful haven in Arca do Pino to hear rain pounding the pavement outside. Rain. I pulled back the curtain, and sure enough, the sky was seething. I gathered up my waterproof gear and wondered whether I should start building an ark.

My last day on the trail would prove to be just as challenging as my first. I had started my journey by slogging through thigh-high snow, and I was ending it by traversing a monsoon.

The first few miles took me through forested land that was simply magical through the veil of rainwater and foggy mist. I could hear only the patter of the rain, a symphony, along with my feet, slurping with each step as rivers of mud rushed to fill the indent of my footprints. It was beautiful, soulful music to accompany my quietude.

under the bridge
What began as a patter soon grew to drumbeats, and just when I thought the rain couldn’t pound any harder, it did. It was downright Biblical, making my trek to Portomarin look like arid terrain. And, truth be told, as the hours passed, this Spanish water torture was starting to get to me. At just under 13 miles, this was one of my shortest travel days, but the road seemed so endless and arduous in the unyielding flood. I kept telling myself that I was almost there. I kept coaxing my feet to carry me forward, which they did, under duress. They were so ready for rest. So ready.
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