(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.)

Next stop, Exeter, on the River Exe in Devon, England.

I got abundant, restful sleep for most of the night all stretched out in my reclining business-class seat and tucked in with my business-class blanket—only my sweet, bald head exposed.

There was a rabbi sitting in the seat behind me, a big, barrel-shaped guy who’d just stepped out of Yentl with his long, prehistoric beard and suspenders.

Somewhere on our approach to Heathrow as breakfast was being prepared, he came to speak to me. He stood, towering above me and filling up the aisle. “I didn’t get to talk with you last night,” he said. “I didn’t want to wake you.”

I looked up at him cautiously.

He said he was curious about me: about where I live and where I was going. I was evasive at first, not wanting to be picked at, but he picked at me, and I eventually told him about my month ahead, that I’d be walking an ancient pilgrimage route across Spain.

His eyes lit up. “Oh, then I must tell you of the curse in Spain.”

Sure, I need to know about curses in Spain.

It seems that Spain was once a land of the Jews, many of whom were killed during the Inquisition. Those who remained were forced to convert to Catholicism, which they did only to put on appearances while they continued to practice Judaism in private. “When the last of the Jews left,” my rabbi told me, “they put a curse on the land. Those of us who are most orthodox will never set foot in Spain.”

I nodded in understanding. “When I get there, I’ll pray for you.”

He smiled. “I wish it were that easy.” He stooped down closer, more reverently. “There is much blood from my people in Spain.”

Where is there not blood from your people? I thought. But instead I said, “Well, I fancy myself as having a direct line,” I pointed to the heavens. “And by the time I walk across the place, that curse’ll be gone; I’m sure of it.” I was feeling a little feisty. Are you not supposed to talk to an aging rabbi that way?

“Is it a religious pilgrimage,” he asked.

I shook my bald head. ‘Not for me, it isn’t. I’m opposed to organized religion.”

“I understand,” he said, nodding thoughtfully. And then he pontificated a bit on the Old Testament, followed closely by something else about the New Testament.

I looked at him blankly. “Sorry, those books mean nothing to me.” I was trying to shake him loose but I was unknowingly having the opposite effect. He took his seat for landing but quickly followed me off the plane and, with a twinkle in his eye, told me that I’m beautiful, I have a great spirit and that he was enjoying his time with me immensely.

We watched luggage begin to travel around the carousel, and he decided he needed to tell me he was following a special diet. It apparently was very strict and difficult, but he was doing it. “It’s important to take care of your body,” he said.

By the looks of him, it seemed like that was a new idea.

He put his hand on my shoulder for a moment. “I hope your treatments were successful,” he said quietly.

I smiled, eyeing my bag. I reached for it but he was quicker, pulling it from the carousel and depositing it at my feet. I pulled up the handle. He was waiting for a response. I considered several before finally meeting his eyes. “I don’t have cancer,” I told him.

“You don’t?” he gasped, relieved.

I cocked my head. “Why would a girl just out of chemo be walking more than 500 miles?”

“That’s what I wanted to know!” he exclaimed.

I gave him a hug and pulled my bag toward customs without looking back. I wanted to keep him wondering about my baldness.

I made it through customs in a flash and soon met the warm eyes of my friend Karen. Karen is the only person I’ve ever met on a plane who became a friend. She’s from San Diego—has an ex-husband and a son there—but she and her daughter had decided to move to England. Karen was working on getting an EU passport, and her daughter was on the brink of getting into Oxford.

“Brace yourself,” she said as we moved toward the exit. “It’s fucking cold here. It never snows but it’s snowing today.”

“Great.” I unzipped the corner of my bag and felt around inside for my jacket. “It was snowing like crazy in New York. I hope this isn’t going to be an ongoing theme!”

She pointed to her car, and I walked around to the passenger’s side. She laughed—right, the passenger’s side is the driver’s side in England. I found my way to the proper seat, and she opened a cooler where she had hot coffee, chilled water, a selection of teas and a biscuit (otherwise known as a cookie). It’s the most thoughtful way anyone has ever scooped me up from an airport. Even more amazing was that her home in Exeter was a four-hour drive away.

We settled in and watched the quaint English landscape stretch out before us. It is a country of stone fences, thatched roofs, gray skies, tiny roads and blowing grass. We talked non-stop for about two hours before needing a pitstop. Karen took the next available exit: it was a gas station with a view of Stonehenge! Yes, I’d entered an altered universe. Years before I had traveled England with friends, and we’d been treated to a ceremony inside Stonehenge that was led by a Druid priestess. Seeing it quickly from across the road felt like a violation of some sort—you can’t just use the facilities and wave as you pass by Stonehenge! But we did.

Two hours later, we finally weaved through the tiny streets of Exeter on our way to her house. Karen pointed to a small shop on the corner next to the pub. “You’re having a massage there tomorrow afternoon,” she announced. Around several more winding streets with funny traffic symbols, she pulled up to the curb next to a massive structure—tall as opposed to wide. Home sweet home. Five floors, eight fireplaces and very little heat. I deposited my bag at the bottom of the stairs and she gave me a quick tour. In all the extra bedrooms, she provided housing for foreign exchange students who attend the local university. She also supplied them with breakfast and dinner. My friend Karen: maven of the boarding house. It seemed to suit her.

If my days in New York were marked by silence, thoughtfulness and tears, then my time in Exeter would prove to be the opposite. Karen might be the funniest woman I know! When she was not pampering me, she was regaling me with stories. And the only thing she would let me buy was the nightly fare of wine. She shuttled me around town showing me all the sites. We ate traditional food in traditional pubs. We sampled baked goods from all the area cafes. We had a night out at a nearby restaurant only the locals know about. I even accompanied her as she did the shopping, going to one place for bread and another for produce. The last stop was “the fishmonger.” There’s no such thing as a Whole Foods market with everything you can possibly imagine all under one roof. It was a lot of work but it was adorable. I felt as though I’d stepped back in time.

I slipped easily into Karen’s life and, due to my fear of the great unknown, wanted to stay forever. The only problem was the weather. It was cold. Damn cold. I’d been chilled since I arrived. People kept coming out of their houses to marvel at the snow and exclaim, “It’s a miracle.” They were using brooms to sweep it away because they didn’t own shovels. But it wasn’t such a miracle or a wonder to me. I’d seen snow. I moved away from snow to Southern California because I happen to love 70 degrees every day. I would have been okay not seeing snow again, or at least until the following winter. My previously broken ankle throbbed. My body was achy and swollen. I’d been eating a ton, unable to feel satiated. I was tired. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it was going to be like walking for a month.

And to make matters worse, my hair was growing in dark! It looked terrible. I knew it was going to look terrible for a very long time. I knew that some day I would care how terrible it looked but I didn’t care yet. It was not the time for caring. I was too busy worrying about the weather.

One morning, we went walking with the dogs along the Exe River. Lovely. Swans flew overhead. We crossed the bridge over the double locks on the quay. I pulled out all my layers. We were met with 32 degrees and a bone chilling wind. And I just let it hit me. I certainly didn’t want eight hours of that or more a day, but the two hours we slowly ambled through the countryside were doable.

Karen taught me some great tai chi movements and breathing exercises to ground and balance and open me. I was certainly getting everything I needed. I wrote in my journal:

I’ve been checking the weather in Spain for the last month, tracking it all across the Camino. There’s a cold snap there now. It’s snowing in some places. It’s possible that the first three days of my trek will be in the wind and rain, with occasional snow showers. I don’t covet that. But of course, this weather here in England is helping me prepare, helping me to test my clothing choices, helping me to make sure I have what I need. I don’t know what lessons are in store with the oncoming weather challenges but I do trust that it’s all necessary.

Truth be told, the cold scares me. I can do cold in spurts, but I’m afraid of cold for days on end. It’s been days on end. The only good news at this point is that I’ll be wearing everything in my backpack so the backpack will be light.

Tonight, in my dreams, I’m talking to the god of weather. We’re having a long heart to heart. If I must, I will endure. But if I can bypass the bone chilling wind, I’m putting in my request. And once I do that, I’ll give in. I’ll get what I get. And I’ll take it.