This morning when the alarm went off at 9am, I didn’t want to get up. Staring at the contents of my pack strewed across the floor, the last thing in the world I wanted to do was to stuff everything in. After I grumbling “just five more minutes” a fifth and final time, I dragged myself out the bed and started putting everything back in my pack, just as I had the night before.
We both lollygagged around the hotel room for about an hour, both of us dreading the start. We Facbook chatted with U.S. friends who were either up late or up early and finally at almost 11am we threw our packs on and checked out of the hotel.
By the time we got out of the hotel lobby, I knew my pack was way too heavy and I was mad at myself out for insisting to Eric that I needed everything I packed. Dang him for being right.
Eric wanted to document a few final things at the Basilica and we lit an eternal candle for Lourdes before officially starting.
The hike starts to the left of the Basilica. And of course it’s a hill. Just as Eric asked, “How does your pack feel? Does it feel like it’s part of you body?”, I started to feel like my behemoth pack was going to push me over. I snapped and replied, “Of course not! It feel likes it’s taking over my body! Not like it’s part of my body.”
As we started climbing, I tried my hardest to push the, “Are we there yet?” thoughts out of my mind. I couldn’t imagine hiking like this for five more minutes, let alone 600 more miles. I think to myself, “Why did I think I could do this?” I want to cry, but I won’t let myself because we just started.
As we continue to climb for a few more minutes on a curvy road with no shoulder as cars speed by, I start to panic, “I can’t do this. I’m not the kind of person that can do something like this.”
Eventually we make it to a dirt path that veers off the road, which the information desk told us to take. There are no signs, our directions are written entirely in French, and Eric spoke to a French woman in a mix of French-Spanish. Her Spanish wasn’t very good and our French is abysmal. (So much for those six years of French.)
I’m not fully trusting that we are going in the right direction. But I decided to just let go and trust that Eric understood the directions we were given. The path becomes flat and goes through a forest along a beautiful river. It feels peaceful and I start to get into a rhythm using my walking sticks. I think to myself, “I’m doing this!”
Now that I am on the trail, away from speeding cars, I feel safe enough to put on my earphones in and zone out.
After about an hour in a flat path, we approach a hill, and without a pack on, I would think nothing of this hill, but with the behemoth riding along, the hill feels impossible. Eric’s a few feet ahead of me so by the time, I reach the top, he’s already sitting down a fallen tree with his pack off.
I’m so relieved that he’s taking a break because I felt like I couldn’t keep going. I undo my pack, and let it just fall off my back, making a thud on the ground. Plopping down on a fallen tree, I consider the fact that I might not be able to get back up.
Over a salami sandwich, which by the way tasted amazing after hiking with a pack, Eric and I discuss what we think we can each get rid of. I’m hesitant to part with anything, but I realize now, that I won’t be able to do this hike with the behemoth catching a ride. I tell myself, “It’s time to let the baggage go.”
Thirty minutes later, we work up the energy to somehow get our packs back on and we continue hiking. We hike through more forests, over bridges, through towns, over railroad tracks, and more busy roads.
At times I am completely lost in the music playing on my ipod. Then I look up and realize where I am. I remind myself to take it all in. I’ll never be in this is place again. I want to remember this feeling. This moment. Everything I’m seeing. I stop and snap a picture.
We continue hiking, each small incline makes me hate my pack more and more. I start thinking about what it would be like to ditch everything and just hike naked.
We finally reach the Grotto of Bethreem but there’s no town in sight. We start hiking up a huge hill and I make Eric stop and ask a guy in his car on the side of the road if we are going the right way. We are not. He doesn’t know where the town is but he knows we are heading in the wrong direction.
We head back down the hill and eventually find someone who speaks Spanish and knows the place we are looking for.
But the not knowing where we are, or how far we still have to go is getting to me. I start crying. I’m sore, I’m doubting myself, and I just want to cry. Eric turns around and sees me, rushes over and lovingly asks what’s wrong. I let my pack slide of my back, sit in the middle of the road and just cry. I tell him I should just fly home and he can continue on without me. He asks, what about our blog, and I tell him, “You can just write. It will just be your story.”
After five minutes of crying in the middle of the road, I work up enough energy to continue on. But not before insisting that I’m ditching everything.
After about 500 more meters, we round the corner and I see the first signs of civilization since the last town we were in. But still no signs that we are actually on the right track. We haven’t seen any trail markers, or any signs that we are even on the Camino in miles. When we enter into the town, Eric asks someone where the gîte (the hostel for pilgrims) is and she directs us across the street to a monastery. As we enter, we finally see signs of El Camino again.
Nothing has ever felt so good to have made it. My body is aching like never before. It’s screaming at me, begging me not to put my pack back on and do this again tomorrow for another 6-7 hours.
After ditching 8-10 pounds out of my pack, I hope tomorrow will feel a little easier. I hope I get my hiking legs soon. Eleven miles down…and I don’t even want to think about how many more to go.
Distance: 24,826 Steps (10.9 miles/)
Location: Bethreem, France