May 20th, 2014: Today was Day 19. It was rough.

By Shannon

We wake up to hard, cold rain. It’s hard to believe that yesterday was sunny and beautiful but we heard how unpredictable the weather in the Pyrenees can be. I’m dreading today’s 19 kilometer hike already.

We join everyone else for breakfast in the dining area – it’s french bread, jelly, and coffee again. (The standard pilgrim breakfast.) Some people take off quickly, but I’m in no rush to go hiking through the rain. Eric and I decided to wait just a bit to see if the rain slows down at all. When it doesn’t, we make the decision to go for it. We only get about 20 feet before lightning strikes all around us. Then it starts to pelt baseball sized hail. Eric yells at me over the loud noise or thunder and hail, “We need to go back and wait this out!” Relieved, we turn and run back into the shelter of the refugee.

We sit there for about 30 minutes, and then all of the sudden, one by one, the people who left earlier than us start to come back. They return with horrifying reports of trying to take shelter from the hail by hiding beneath rocks, some people are crying, and everyone looks miserable. So now, here we are, 30 of us trying to dry off, warm up, and wait out the storm. People are also coming in who started from SJPdP. One guy’s poncho is full of holes from the hail.

Part of me wants it to keep storming so bad so that we have an excuse not hike the rest of the Pyrenees. A bunch of people are talking about using the taxi service that services the road between SJPdP and Roncevalles. I think, If it’s too dangerous we have no choice, right? Of course Eric wants to wait longer. So we sit and wait, talk with other pilgrims, and sip warm delicious Café au lait.

About an hour later, the storm seems to be breaking. The owner of the refugee, looked outside over the ridge and said, “It’s clearing.” My heart sinks because I know this means we have to push forward. Eric tells me I can go with the others in the car if I’m too scared, but that he’s hiking. There’s no way I’m not going if he’s going so I agree that we should start hiking.

We only get one kilometer out before I start questioning our choice. The fog starts getting thicker and I think back to the movie The Way. This is how the son died. Hiking the Pyrenees during foggy and storming conditions. The thought of this makes me start to panic. I tell Eric I want to go back. He says, he’ll walk me back, make sure I have a ride, and then can continue on. As much as I am scared of this, I cannot stomach the idea of him doing this without me. Through my tears, I tell him, I just need to take one of my anti-anxiety pills.

We continue on, Eric going off ahead of me. Luckily, my anxiety pills have immediately quelled my fears of us losing each other again today. I start focusing on the path ahead of me and just put one foot in front of another.

Feeling unsure but hiking anyways.

Feeling unsure but hiking anyways.

A few kilometers before the highest point, there is a guy selling warm coffee and banana’s. I see Eric waiting for me and a I breath a sigh of relief.

After our short break, we continue on. The path continues to climb and becomes very muddy. We keep expecting to see a sign that we are in Spain, but we never do.

After we hike for a bit together, I tell Eric to continue on and just wait for me before the decent. I can tell that he is itching to go faster and it’s all I have in me, to just keep going. I can’t keep up with his pace.

By the time I reach Eric, I am exhausted. I think to myself, “thank goodness the rest it downhill”. But boy was I wrong. As soon as we start the descent, I realize this is going to be harder than the climb up. Just 1K into the decent and my knees are screaming. There were many points I didn’t think I could keep going down and I wanted to scream, “When will this end?” The 6K descent takes us about an hour and half. By the end I am in practically in tears.


The start of the decent!

When I see that the trail is coming to an end, I breath a sigh of relief. We’ve entered Roncevalles! Luckily, the alburge (no longer called gites once you get in Spain), is right there.


The albuge is brand new and very nice. Instead of having a bunch of bunk beds in one room (like the alburge featured in “The Way”), each floor is divided up into little alcoves with two sets of bunk beds. Eric and I end up with an older Swedish couple.

Sore, tired, and hungry, we shower, go off in search of food, and get into bed. I start to drift off to sleep around 9pm and only wake up briefly when the Swedish couple come to bed at 9:30pm. Today was hard, it pushed me more than I’d ever been pushed before. I almost hated every moment of it while I was in it, but now, laying here in bed all I feel is alive, proud of myself, and happy.

Distance: 19K
Location: Roncevalles, Spain

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