Saturday, August 28, 2010

My Camino Begins

Thursday afternoon I landed in Biarritz, France without a hitch. While waiting for the bus to take me to the train station in Bayonne, I met my first fellow pilgrim, Zoltán Ménessy who was born in Transylvania, grew up in Budapest and now resides in Skåne, in Glumslöv. . . small world.

We arrived at St. Jean Pied-de-Port, population 1,600, too late to get a bed in an albergue, so we opted to share a room in a family run B&B for 25 Euros each. Our hostess was 74 year old Maria who was very upbeat but delusional when she told us at breakfast that it would only take us 5 hours to finish Stage 1. She also mentioned that her husband had worked for 7 years in California. I asked her in what city and her response was "Nevada."

Friday at breakfast we were joined by two girls, one from Spain and one from Iran who are friends and both work in Stockholm. Four people, four different countries, all now living and working in Sweden now sharing breakfast before starting the Camino.

The greatest journey starts with but a single step. At 7:05 in the morning I took my first Camino step.

Stage 1:
St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, France to Roncesvalles, Spain
24.9 kilometers/15.4 miles

Let me just say once and for all, you will never hear anyone in Basque country say "We need more cow bell!" Lots of sheep, horses and cows over this long stretch of upward climbing terrain.

Zoltán asked me why I'm walking the Camino. My response was simple, to honor the memory of my Grandfather Evaristo, my Grandmother Catalina and my Father Jorge. He was still not sure why he was doing it but he only has 22 days to finish it. After walking together for 12 km, I bid him farewell, he would never make it at my pace.

Just before we hit the Spanish border, a man had set up a drink and energy bar stand out of a van. AWESOME after walking for miles without refills. He only charged one Euro for an OJ and .50 Euros for an energy bar. It was the best five Euros I ever spent and I'm placing him on the fast track to sainthood.

After hours of climbing uphill and taxing my cardio fitness, I reached the summit of the Pyrenees, Col de Lepoeder at 1,450 meters. I was pumped!

Then the cruel joke of the downhill walk on the Spanish side began. For you skiers, think Black Diamond Run only replace the snow with dirt and lots of loose rocks. It killed my hips, knees and toes as they felt like they were being driven through the front of my shoes.

My plan was to walk 1 hour and then rest for 5-10 minutes and listen to my body which kept muttering ¨STUPID. . . STUPID. . .STUPID. . ."

My rebuttal mantra was "One step closer. . . one step closer. . ."

I won.

I got to my new number one city in Europe, Roncesvalles, Spain, population 30, in 8 hours and 55 minutes. I was greatly influenced by a bed, a shower and a hot meal.

Lance Armstrong in the mountain stages, I AM NOT!

I scored a lower bunk in the coed Albergue, took a shower, had a great fish dinner with pasta and washed my clothes. I was a new man!

At the Pilgrim's dinner I sat with Canadians, Italians, Germans and a guy from Alaska, a fun and interesting group indeed.

After dinner I attended a Pilgrim's Mass at the local church conducted by four priests straight out of "The Name of the Rose." It was a good feeling overall but four priests for a town with only 30 inhabitants?

Final tought on crossing the Pyrenees, it was the hardest thing I've done since giving birth to our two sons.

Maybe that was Laurie, I'm a bit tired.

Stage 2
Roncesvalles to Larrasoaña
27.7 kilometers/17.2 miles

Another early start at 7:03. My guide book's first comment on this stretch is "If you started in St. Jean you may be feeling stiff from your exertions over the Pyrenees yesterday."

I avoided the morning rush and was quite stiff last night.

This path was much flatter and forgiving but I still took my time, no sense rushing things. I finished in 8 hours and 28 minutes.

I hate to report that I developed a blister on the inside of my left index toe today from the downhill walking I'm sure.

Lots of random thoughts have run through my head for the past two days, all in all I'm a lucky guy to have such great friends!

I could only score a top bunk tonight, this should be interesting!

52.5 km/32.6 miles walked
On the Camino 17 hours and 23 minutes



Laurie said...

Congratulatiions on what you said was supposed to be the hardest part! Hang in there. We all love you and are sending you our best wishes and prayers!

Rasmus Grip said...

Hey Coach! To days behind, only 28 days to go! Im glad that Im not in your shoes, literally :)
Have fun!
Rasmus "The Falcon" Grip

David said...

Great job! Oh, and you know there is a Nevada City, California, right?

itzbfitz said...

Atta boy! Better a blister on your toe than chafing on your...

Johan said...

Way to go! Seems like great fun :-)