Archives for posts with tag: silence

(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 10, 2005
Day 11: Ages to Burgos, 24.5 km/15.2 m

As I was making eggs for Martin, Simon and I, my Italian Shepherd popped into the kitchen to say goodbye. He was leaving ahead of me with no discomfort or fanfare. He no longer needed something from me, and I no longer guarded myself from him. We were finally able to share a sweet smile and a friendly hug.

The morning was a visual feast. We were greeted with spectacular views and a layer of frost blanketing them. The grass, the fence, the trees, the stones—everything was coated with a shield of ice. It was cold, of course, but I didn’t mind it.


The top of the first hill in Atapuerca was shrouded in a fog so dense we couldn’t see 100 feet in front of us. The thickness of the haze made everything appear in black and white, and walking through it was like entering an Ansel Adams photograph.

I lagged behind, letting the boys go ahead. I needed some time of silence and internal discussion. I was still thinking about the change in Martin’s behavior. He was hardening. His jabs at me had an edge, an unkind one. I knew he was sensing rejection and reacting to it, but it still surprised me. At times he acted as if he’d laid claim to me and could therefore be cruel. He’d become a fighter, and he was fighting me. Any time I got close to complimenting him, he’d reject my words, sometimes with a harsh, “Liar!” He was clearly pushing me away, and it saddened me.

I watched Martin and Simon in the fog ahead, and I saw myself in each of them. In Simon, I saw my serenity, or at least my quiet contemplation. In Martin, I saw so much more. I saw the part of me that opened so eagerly and closed so quickly. I saw my fear of rejection in the face of desire. I saw the fighter in me—fighting attraction, fighting being known, fighting tenderness and vulnerability. I was growing farther and farther past all that, and I trusted that Martin would, too, but I probably wasn’t going to see it. In ten years, I suspected he’d be quite a catch, and some lovely young woman would reap the rewards of him.

I thought about my initial attraction to him, and how much I’d thought about kissing him. In the real world, I would have likely slept with him too soon. In fact, all of my past relationships had been shaped by a race to the bedroom. Yes, I was an active participant, sometimes an eager one, caught up in the frenzy of enticement, giving in to expectation. But that was not my real desire. I had never once gone to bed with a man when I was entirely comfortable, open and ready. I kept attracting men who assumed I knew exactly what I was doing, that I was completely in control, that I could take care of myself. I never gave them the impression that I could be hurt. I had traded sexuality for intimacy. If I hadn’t, maybe I could have discovered sooner the ones who weren’t yet capable of intimacy. And maybe I could have spared myself some heartache.

In the real world, I figured that once I’d slept with Martin I would have tolerated his distance and cruelty because I would have been too fully invested. On the Camino, I thought about all those things I have tolerated in men, and I made a promise to myself to not to do it again. I also decided that I would not harden to Martin. Instead, I would allow him his edge and remain tender in spite of it because I knew there was a softness inside him that wanted only to be loved and accepted, just like me.
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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 12, 2005
Day 13: Hontanas to Fromista, 37.8 km/23.5 m

When I awakened, I decided to hit the trail early and get to the next town six miles away for breakfast. The day was spectacularly beautiful and the first real warmth on the Camino so far. I stripped down to just my pants on the bottom—no under layer—and a t-shirt under my coat on top. And even that had started to get a bit warm. The sun on my face was a welcome phenomenon, though I could feel that it would eventually penetrate my sunscreen if I wasn’t careful.

It was an easy, flat, two-hour walk on a road build by Romans to Castrojeriz, a town that puts forth a spectacular display nearly the entire way by offering its Castillo standing sentinel in the distance.

I stopped in a bar for breakfast—the basic pastry and coffee combination. The castle ruins rose up on the hillside out my window. I watched the sunlight hit the blades of grass. I marveled at the ancient stones that made up the walls around me. I thought of the people who have moved through, sitting in the same seat, drinking coffee from the same cup, maybe even thinking the same thoughts of somehow being totally removed from the world and totally immersed in it at the same time.

In my guidebook, on the Castrojeriz page, was a quote from Joseph Campbell: If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track, which has been there all along waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living.

I pondered the idea of bliss and if I was following it. Despite hoping that I’d put myself on a track that was leading to abundance and creative fulfillment, it was hard to really know. I certainly was pursuing a dream, but I was about to turn 40, and the dream hadn’t really materialized in the way I’d imagined it would. Thus, I was on the Camino looking for answers that might bubble to the surface in the midst of silence.

Silence. I’d had a couple days of it, at least while walking, and now I was hoping for some companionship.
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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 13, 2005
Day 14: Fromista to Carrion, 21.7 km/13.5 m

The Fromista refuge didn’t have heat or hot water. I’d slept well but obviously opted to pass on the shower. And I was looking forward to a short walk to Carrion—an easy, flat 13 miles. It had been two long days across the flatlands of the meseta, but it had been blessedly warm with winds that kept it from getting hot. I couldn’t imagine walking the Camino in the summer. Much as I’d been surprised by the cold, it seemed far preferable to the heat of summer.

I exited the refuge and stopped in the plaza outside the church one last time to admire the trees—trees whose branches reached out and clasped each other creating a fingered canopy. Not one tree stood isolated and alone; instead they were all linked together. I smiled, appreciating the beauty of nature that so aptly reflected my web of community and our intricate interconnections.


After I’d exited the smoky bar the night before, I found Simon sitting among the trees watching the last vestiges of light disappear with the setting sun. I sat down next to him, and we enjoyed our dinner together. We’d each been to the store, and we laughed when we discovered that we’d gotten the same thing: a baguette, a can of tuna, a tomato and a chunk of cheese. It was becoming our meal of choice because it was readily available, inexpensive, light, easy to carry and filling. Instead of slicing the bread in half for our sandwich, we carved a V into the top to create a crevice that held everything more easily. It was one of my favorite discoveries on the Camino.
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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 14, 2005
Day 15: Carrion to Sahagun, 40.8 km/25.4 m

It was my third night in a row without heat but I’d long since learned the art of burrowing into my sleep sack. As a result, I awoke well rested. I was also still feeling full by an evening of friendly nourishment. Fela, Tanya, Andreas and I rose and began packing to leave. I lathered my feet with Vaseline, my morning routine, and they all gathered around me to marvel at their condition. It seemed that everyone was having problems with their feet—except me. They were as amazed as I. Tanya had to invest in a new pair of shoes, and she and Andreas had resorted to traveling a few days by bus and taxi to give themselves a break. I was relying on gratitude, prayer and luck.

As I tied my shoes, Fela said, “Boy it’s nice getting up in the morning and not having to wonder what you’re going to do today.” We laughed and laughed and then said our goodbyes. I suspected I’d never see any of them again.

I left Carrion only to discover that it was another perfect day on the Camino—not too windy and, lo and behold, sun that tried its best to break through the gray rain clouds. It looked as though the rain might hold off, so I was contemplating walking another epic day. I’d scanned my guidebook to find the next town with a hotel since I’d been longing for an evening of hot baths and a bed big enough to stretch out in. Unfortunately, if I was intent on making that dream a reality, I’d have to walk a marathon. Literally. I decided that it was worth a shot.

As I walked, I easily slipped into another daily habit—thinking about the richness that all the people in my life brought me. And a few of the disappointments. After two weeks of walking, I was taking note of the striking difference between the depth of love I was receiving from my friends and the absolute absence of any communication from my family. I was feeling increasingly hurt by the disparity and working hard to release my sense of abandonment. I was questioning how to let go without it being the resounding disappointment it felt like. At the same time, I was looking at my own responsibility in the nature of our many misfires. I’d not been able to talk about the trip with my family much before I left. I wasn’t able to really explain why I wanted to do it or what it meant to me. I was horribly withholding, not because I’d intended to be but because I felt misunderstood so much of the time. As a result of all the silence within my family, I felt as though they weren’t much interested in my thoughts and plans and dreams. When I’d told my father years ago that I wanted to go to film school, he brought home articles and statistics on how difficult and impractical that career path would be. Rather than having a discussion about any concern he might have for my wellbeing, rather than feeling his love and concern, I felt shot down. It’s how I felt about a lot of the choices I’d made in my life. As I walked the Camino, I wondered if I’d made bold decisions and was drawn to extreme experiences just to have something register on the familial Richter scale. I realized that in some ways, being loud and radical and offbeat was the only statement I ever made.
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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 15, 2005
Day 16: Sahagun to Mansilla, 36.9 km/23 m


I woke up, went to the bar for some coffee and wrote in my journal.

When the coffee is good here, it’s really good. Smoke everywhere. Just put your trash and cigarette butts on the floor. Hang out in bars all day, all night. But the coffee can be so, so good. It is this morning.

I took another bath. Good way to start the day. I put the leftover wine in a ziplock. We’ll see if it makes it. I am so loving being here, walking, discovering, wondering, praying, aching, laughing, grieving… I am holding the questions. I don’t know if answers exist. But to hold questions. Muy bien.

Like:
Are we destroying the world?
Is siesta and inefficiency better than commercialism?

They smoke American cigarettes. Marlboros. Not a Starbucks in sight.

This morning I have many options of refuges but I think I’d like to get to the farthest one so that my trip tomorrow into Leon, the biggest city on the route, will be a quick 12 miles. At this point, 12 miles feels like a vacation.

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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 16, 2005
Day 17: Mansilla to Leon, 19.1 km/12 m


The night was my most challenging on the Camino so far. The refuge was full, and it was the first time I had to sleep on a top bunk. The worst part, however, was that two German elephants, unaware of their size and their noise, made sleeping spotty. Earthquakes and tidal waves thundered through the room. I crammed in earplugs and managed some winks, but I awakened with a headache from the pressure of having foam in my ears. I still managed to reach the REM stage, but unfortunately, I had one of those inane dreams that made the night seem to stretch on forever.

I dreamed that I was part of an Apprentice-type competition against two other teams. Our job was to produce an infomercial, and my team’s product was a magic pen that got stains out of everything. Jim Carrey was on my team. He was the host, and I was the director. Unlike the other teams, our product was easy to demonstrate, however, my team was the most inexperienced. In the frenzy of the competition, I neglected to prepare a good price point for our magic pen, which I suspected was going to be our downfall. I woke up before discovering who won the competition.

My first thought was, I’m on the Camino and this is what I’m dreaming about!?

The morning was filled with the chaos of dozens of people showering, packing, dressing and finding a place to make breakfast. I expected that the closer I got to Santiago, the more full and frantic the refuges would be.

I left before Simon. It was a short day’s walk to Leon, the largest city on the Camino, and I wanted to get there and spend some real time in one place. Simon was planning on staying an extra day there. He wanted to sight see, and he also wanted to slow down his pace so that he didn’t arrive in Santiago on Easter weekend. I felt the same. Symbolically it seemed interesting to get to Santiago on Easter, but the crowds of people I expected to flood the place didn’t interest me at all.

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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 20, 2005
Day 21: Molinaseca to Villafranca, 32.9 km/20.5 m

Like every morning, I awakened having slept amazingly hard and deep. My body had shut down to repair itself through the night and my legs, once so fragile and sore, were somehow ready for another day. I didn’t really want to leave the magical oasis of this particular refuge. The people had filled me up so fully. But of course, I said my goodbyes and set off on my own. Simon was hanging back. There were a couple of German guys his age that he’d spent the night in the refuge connecting with. It was time for each of us to have our own experiences again.

The next big town on the Camino, Ponferrada, was only a few miles away. When I arrived, I stopped for coffee at a café outside both the castle and the Basilica. It was Palm Sunday, but since there were no palm trees, and therefore no palms, people were carrying branches of all kinds. It was magically beautiful. A procession formed in the town square—people walking purposefully toward mass.

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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 21, 2005
Day 22: Villafranca to O’Cebreiro, 32.9 km/20.4 m

I’d walked for three straight weeks, averaging nearly 20 miles a day. When my bag and I had crossed the threshold of the Villafranca refuge, we’d ambled 401.5 miles together. Otherwise, I’d carried pain, questions, boredom, songs, joy, bliss, disbelief, wonderment and more than a few men.

It’s possible that Day 22 was the turning point. Of course I didn’t think about that at the time. Maybe I didn’t even know it until years later, sitting down to write about it. But on Day 22 I discovered something else about myself—something else I hadn’t known before.

It seems that I have untapped reserves of determination.

You see, the route to O’Cebreiro wasn’t just the steepest ascent of the Camino—a grueling 5-mile climb along a forested dirt path—it was the steepest ascent of the Camino in the rain. And to be clear, it wasn’t just rain; it was driving rain that would ultimately become a bombardment of hail in swirling gale-force winds.

It began gloriously enough. The drizzle that carried me along the highway out of Villafranca singed the surrounding mountainside with a dewy glow. Patches of green earth rolled out across the landscape in a visual masterpiece. I took it all in, but I was well aware of the forecast. I knew the weather would tire me, and I didn’t feel as though I could afford a long day. So I figured that as long as I felt strong, I would run.


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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 23, 2005
Day 24: Sarria to Hospital de la Cruz, 38.1 km/23.7 m

I was eager to hit the road early after a night of too many people. I’d grown accustomed to the desolation of the Camino, to a limited selection of familiar faces, to the nothingness of the trail and the idleness of thought upon it. So now, as the number of pilgrims swelled, I was resisting their intrusion. I judged the people around me as being drawn to the novelty of the Camino not the work of it, the weariness, the unending boredom. How could you truly experience the Camino—and come face to face with either the emptiness of yourself or the fullness—if you traveled like a touring group of hikers on a weekend camping excursion?

I judged them, yes, but I also recognized that we each get the Camino we need. I just wanted mine to be less crowded. I’d also wanted it to be warmer and drier, but as I dressed, I could already hear the rain pattering the rooftop.

Way2Porto
I started early enough to escape the masses, and I slipped back into the comfort of my solo trek. The rain was steady and growing ever more insistent but, coupled with the fog and the clouds and the mesmerizing rhythm of my footsteps sloshing through the rolling terrain, I was overcome with gratitude for the beauty of nature and all its many expressions. I hadn’t expected it to rain too hard or too long so I’d neglected to put on my waterproof socks. That was a mistake. Because soon enough, the rain came with such ferocity that I felt like I was walking under the nozzle of a firehose.

bootsAs the hours passed without a moment’s pause, the magic drowned, and once again it was a walk of endurance. The conditions were testing both my body and my gear. I worried that the “waterproof” label on my pack was a false promise so I found shelter under a canopy of trees and secured everything first in ziplock bags, then inside plastic. My shoes of course were soaked through, and my feet were sodden. And even though my pants and jacket were still managing to shield me, they clung to me with a penetrating clamminess that made me feel drenched regardless.

After four hours, I was, quite simply, miserable.
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