May 11th, 2014: Today was Day 10… Spectacular….Grueling…SPECTACULAR!

By Eric

The Most Amazing But Difficult Day EVER

I tend to thrive on challenges that bring the pain. I may not always succeed, but I always push myself mentally and physically until the point of collapse.

I have countless stories of crazy adventures such as: driving 60+ hours cross-country non-stop; helping a friend move from one coast to the other in one fell swoop; driving for 3 days across Mexico- without sleep, crashing two parties, and dealing with some sketchy Federale’s situations; working for 3 days straight on a gallon of coffee in order to complete a project; or getting lost while hiking in Alaska’s McKinley National Park until, after more than a few scary events, our group finally made its way back to our tents after 4am.

But today, the rules of the game went from novice player, skipped over intermediate, and straight into bat-shit-crazy-advanced-dragon-wizard level.

After our first two days of hiking and taking three days to work and rest in Arudy, France, Shannon and I felt like our hike to Oloron-Sainte-Marie was the day to finally prove our “hiking legs” were finally here.

We were wrong.
And we were humbled.

I wonder just how much more we will be humbled over the next 35-40 days of hiking? A part of me says, “Bring it!” And then I realize, that means I am obviously not humble enough, and I realize even further, there are dark days ahead on my journey into personal enlightenment and physical enhancement.

I would like to make it clear and for the record, that I am hiking El Camino de Santiago de Compostela for many reasons, to be challenged in every way imaginable. And I expect to be pushed to the point of failure- I welcome it.

A journey without risk or departure from sensibilities, on some level, negates the value sought, for which the journey was ultimately pursued.

Today started off easily enough. We left Arudy in order to hike to Oloron-Sainte-Marie. In the rain. Easy-Peazy/Dripping Wet-Squeezy.

Today started off easily enough. We left Arudy in order to hike to Oloron-Sainte-Marie. In the rain. Easy-Peazy/Dripping Wet-Squeezy.

We hiked for several miles on a highway that snaked the entire time with dangerously fast cars zipping around each blind corner. Wet, paved, blind corners.

We hiked for several miles on a highway that snaked the entire time with dangerously fast cars zipping around each blind corner. Wet, paved, blind corners.

After several miles of dangerous highway, the rain finally stopped, and The Way led us through several miles of extremely rural farm villages. Growing up in Louisiana, I grew a fondness for the smells of a farm- and the poop the animals love to drop haphazardly. Shannon on the other hand, was not particularly impressed with the turd infested path today!

After several miles of dangerous highway, the rain finally stopped, and The Way led us through several miles of extremely rural farm villages. Growing up in Louisiana, I grew a fondness for the smells of a farm- and the poop the animals love to drop haphazardly. Shannon on the other hand, was not particularly impressed with the turd infested path today!

After about 3 hours of hiking through highways and byways and poopways -oh my- we happened upon a magnificent thing. One of the first official “El Camino” signs we had seen in our three days of hiking, since leaving Lourdes. Yes! Obviously that means we will not be getting lost again! And what? What’s this? Only 4 more hours until Oloron-Sainte-Marie? Done!

After about 3 hours of hiking through highways and byways and poopways -oh my- we happened upon a magnificent thing. One of the first official “El Camino” signs we had seen in our three days of hiking, since leaving Lourdes. Yes! Obviously that means we will not be getting lost again! And what? What’s this? Only 4 more hours until Oloron-Sainte-Marie? Done!

We try to be respectful travelers, especially when we are not in our home country. Unfortunately, Shannon decided to give this French local, the finger.

We try to be respectful travelers, especially when we are not in our home country. Unfortunately, Shannon decided to give this French local, the finger.

Thinking we were making good time, and since there were El Camino signs posted now (therefore we would NOT be getting lost again today), we thought we deserved a long, relaxing lunch. It was time to break out the extra large can of SpaghettiOs, that we purchased the day before in a supermarket. The can was so big, we both thought it could feed an army (think Costco size!) We were wrong- it fed just the two of us. We were starved! A nice patch of grass and dirt in a meadow overlooking a trickling brook made it a well-deserved picnic in heaven.

Thinking we were making good time, and since there were El Camino signs posted now (therefore we would NOT be getting lost again today), we thought we deserved a long, relaxing lunch. It was time to break out the extra large can of SpaghettiOs, that we purchased the day before in a supermarket. The can was so big, we both thought it could feed an army (think Costco size!) We were wrong- it fed just the two of us. We were starved! A nice patch of grass and dirt in a meadow overlooking a trickling brook made it a well-deserved picnic in heaven.

Hey there big fella, don’t get too comfortable, times a-wastin’, and there is still the possibility of getting lost. Oh wait, not today, we finally have signs!

Hey there big fella, don’t get too comfortable, times a-wastin’, and there is still the possibility of getting lost. Oh wait, not today, we finally have signs!

Yup. We got lost… Yup… when you are following signs on a trail that makes a “Y” shaped fork, with no sign at the fork, while hiking all day, while carrying 30 pounds of weight, a decision of where to go with 50/50 odds do not seem like great odds. The road less traveled? We apparently took it 45 minutes out of the way. Yup… that’s 1.5 hours of round trip, major OOPS! But we got this amazing panoramic shot of Shannon. With mountains. While lost. So, not all was lost?

Yup. We got lost… Yup… when you are following signs on a trail that makes a “Y” shaped fork, with no sign at the fork, while hiking all day, while carrying 30 pounds of weight, a decision of where to go with 50/50 odds do not seem like great odds. The road less traveled? We apparently took it 45 minutes out of the way. Yup… that’s 1.5 hours of round trip, major OOPS! But we got this amazing panoramic shot of Shannon. With mountains. While lost. So, not all was lost?

After successfully heading back to the aforementioned, ambiguous “Y” fork in the path, we hiked for over an hour, still with no signs into a majestic valley surrounded by mountains and nothingness as far as the eye could see. For over an hour, we painfully wondered, if at this point, we were completely lost. Were we on a fleeting mission to the next town, or had we hiked into an expansive land hours from anywhere? At least it was gorgeous!

After successfully heading back to the aforementioned, ambiguous “Y” fork in the path, we hiked for over an hour, still with no signs into a majestic valley surrounded by mountains and nothingness as far as the eye could see. For over an hour, we painfully wondered, if at this point, we were completely lost. Were we on a fleeting mission to the next town, or had we hiked into an expansive land hours from anywhere? At least it was gorgeous!

The hour+ of hiking through meadows surrounded by mountains led us into a forest. Still no signs. But now, several miles of mud- and then more mud. If a pilgrim cries in the forest, and no one is there to hear her, does she make a sound?

The hour+ of hiking through meadows surrounded by mountains led us into a forest. Still no signs. But now, several miles of mud- and then more mud. If a pilgrim cries in the forest, and no one is there to hear her, does she make a sound?

And the muddy path came to an end with our first sign in hours. Now that’s a happy camper! By the way, the last sign, the one that assuredly stated there were 4 hours left to Oloron-Sainte-Marie - obviously we were now off the “official” time schedule. Time check since Arudy at this point? About 7 hours… and counting!

And the muddy path came to an end with our first sign in hours. Now that’s a happy camper! By the way, the last sign, the one that assuredly stated there were 4 hours left to Oloron-Sainte-Marie – obviously we were now off the “official” time schedule. Time check since Arudy at this point? About 7 hours… and counting!

It is quite a relief to finally be seeing regularly posted signs! Although at this point, our feet were devastated, and this sign stating 1 hours and 40 minutes simply did not understand how far off it could have been for us, as our formerly brisk hiking pace had turned into a stroll, and was slowly transitioning into a painful hobble.

It is quite a relief to finally be seeing regularly posted signs! Although at this point, our feet were devastated, and this sign stating 1 hours and 40 minutes simply did not understand how far off it could have been for us, as our formerly brisk hiking pace had turned into a stroll, and was slowly transitioning into a painful hobble.

Making it to the 11th century Roman period “Devil’s Bridge” meant only one thing, Oloron-Sainte-Marie was fewer than 4 kilometers away! Little did we know at the time how difficult those final 4 would be.

Making it to the 11th century Roman period “Devil’s Bridge” meant only one thing, Oloron-Sainte-Marie was fewer than 4 kilometers away! Little did we know at the time how difficult those final 4 would be.

Making it to the outskirts of the town of Oloron-Sainte-Marie was extremely painful. Shannon was about 10 minutes behind me, releasing a steady flow of mucus and tears, and I had now developed sharp pains that felt like knives piercing the bottom of my feet with every 20th or so step. Was this some sort of tendonitis?

Making it to the outskirts of the town of Oloron-Sainte-Marie was extremely painful. Shannon was about 10 minutes behind me, releasing a steady flow of mucus and tears, and I had now developed sharp pains that felt like knives piercing the bottom of my feet with every 20th or so step. Was this some sort of tendonitis?

The final 2 kilometers into Oloron-Sainte-Marie were as devastating as you can imagine. Truth be told, it must have looked painfully hilarious to watch us, literally hobbling, at a pace slower than a tortoise. A distance that should normally take us about 20 minutes took us over an hour. Back at the Devil’s Bridge, two ladies offered us a ride into town. We kindly refused- against the better judgment of what was going on with our feet, but because we truly do not want to ever hitchhike unless it is absolutely necessary. When we finally arrived in Oloron-Sainte-Marie, we quickly realized it was not a small, manageable village, but a large, complicated city. A very nice gentleman named Pepito (and his wife), who is French but happened to speak fluent Spanish, stopped his car to ask where the heck we were going. As it turns out, we were hobbling (at that tortoise pace) in the wrong direction, in order to arrive at our pilgrim’s gite. We attempted to refuse the offer of a ride, but he politely refused our refusal. He informed us our gite was in the opposite direction, not far away, but on a complicated path to arrive to. He hefted Shannon’s backpack off her back, commented in surprise at how HEAVY her bag was, and insisted we jump in their car. Two minutes later, we arrived at our place of respite. Pepito was an extremely jolly and talkative fellow. And, after 9 hours and 45 minutes of hiking, with backpacks that were still unbelievably too heavy, Pepito may very well have saved our lives.

The final 2 kilometers into Oloron-Sainte-Marie were as devastating as you can imagine. Truth be told, it must have looked painfully hilarious to watch us, literally hobbling, at a pace slower than a tortoise. A distance that should normally take us about 20 minutes took us over an hour. Back at the Devil’s Bridge, two ladies offered us a ride into town. We kindly refused- against the better judgment of what was going on with our feet, but because we truly do not want to ever hitchhike unless it is absolutely necessary. When we finally arrived in Oloron-Sainte-Marie, we quickly realized it was not a small, manageable village, but a large, complicated city. A very nice gentleman named Pepito (and his wife), who is French but happened to speak fluent Spanish, stopped his car to ask where the heck we were going. As it turns out, we were hobbling (at that tortoise pace) in the wrong direction, in order to arrive at our pilgrim’s gite. We attempted to refuse the offer of a ride, but he politely refused our refusal. He informed us our gite was in the opposite direction, not far away, but on a complicated path to arrive to. He hefted Shannon’s backpack off her back, commented in surprise at how HEAVY her bag was, and insisted we jump in their car. Two minutes later, we arrived at our place of respite. Pepito was an extremely jolly and talkative fellow. And, after 9 hours and 45 minutes of hiking, with backpacks that were still unbelievably too heavy, Pepito may very well have saved our lives.

 

 

So there it is. I am hiking El Camino de Santiago de Compostela for many reasons. And I expect to be pushed to the point of failure- and I welcome it. But that does not mean I will always smile about it- otherwise I probably wasn’t pushed hard enough to begin with. Today was hard, but it made me realize at last, this is where the big girls and boys are weeded out from the children. I am definitely here to play, especially now that I am beginning to understand the rules more with each passing day.

Distance: 30,478 Steps/ 14.64 Miles/ 23.56 Kilometers
Location:Arudy, France to Oloron-Sainte-Marie, France

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4 Responses to May 11th, 2014: Today was Day 10… Spectacular….Grueling…SPECTACULAR!

  1. Susy says:

    Eric God sent Pepito to you. Just as Jesus was very tired carrying his cross and Simon helped him. Buen Camino Primo

  2. Lucia says:

    Looks challenging but amazing! I was going to do El Camino in April but I had to go back home for my sister’s wedding, so I’ll leave it for later! Good luck 🙂

  3. […] will simply add this photo for today. Do you remember our friend from Day 10? Pepito? The man that I said possibly saved our lives, when he and his wife drove by us, after we […]

  4. Maria says:

    Every animal and person you meet I the way is sent from God as a sign to help you continue your journey. Keep it up cuz! So proud of you! Stay safe!!

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