Part 1: It began in Orlando

After brief consideration (the only sort of consideration I ever give) I think I have devised a way to tell some of the interesting bits of my summer adventure in a somewhat interesting fashion. I will write a couple of posts with just 3-5 little anecdotes each. They may not be in order, but I will try to be clear enough about them that they aren’t terribly confusing, if timing is relevant.

Background info: I went with my sister Gabrielle and my boyfriend Jefferson. We left the US June 25th and were supposed to return August 10th. We hiked from St. Jean Pied de Port (FR) to Santiago (SP) – a foot journey of about 500 miles or 800 kilometers. And yes, we camped most nights of the summer.

(1) Despite praying for sunny skies and moderate temperatures, our first day journeying into the Pyrenees was mostly overcast. This was one of the longest days of the trip, and we started out through mountains. We thought it was going to rain fairly early in the day, but thankfully the rain held off until quite late, probably mid afternoon. But when it finally did begin to rain, we were alarmed to find that it was cold enough that we got more hail than rain. Our thin jackets and lightweight plastic ponchos were basically useless. But even this was on and off, and we made it to the highest peak of our day, and we could see our destination town in the valley below us. Still about an hour and a half from destination, we began our descent in high spirits – glad that we had survived our first day, and although exhausted, nobody was even hurt.It wasn’t until we were almost a third of the way down this descent that the rain and hail began again, but with a vigor we hadn’t seen coming. Because we were on a steep hill and in somewhat of a depression due to walking along the wooded path, what greeted our already stumbling feet was a river of icy water, attempting to sweep us along down the mountain.

Never before have my feet been so cold. I couldn’t feel them as I set them down into my next step, and I stumbled many times, fortunately never falling – a fall would have sent me quite a ways before another tree stopped me. What should have been another 45 minutes of walking dragged into easily two hours of slow going, drenched and freezing all the while. But we eventually made it into Roncesvalles, scarfed down a hot meal of hot chicken sandwiches with chips, and some coffee, smoked some consolation-prize cigarettes, and checked ourselves into a hostel. We had hoped to camp but our things were already soaked and the rain was still coming down. So we compromised and determined to camp the following night instead.

(2) Day two my thighs and knees were a little sore, but in a good way. In a way that tells you you accomplished something more than the usual. At breakfast funny-guy-Jefferson thought it was funny to make loud slurping noises each time I put my coffee cup to my lips – an antic which cause me to take a long time to stop laughing and actually consume my caffeine. I am not at all a morning person, and Jeffo was trying to pull me out of myself and wake me up, but if you’re not a morning person you know that irritating you first thing is not the best way to accomplish this. It was funny anyway.

We set off later than hoped, took some pictures with the kilometer marker sign, and began to walk. People who had left later than we had passed us constantly, reminding us just how slow walkers we are. It was this day that an unfortunate turning point for me on this trip. I’d worn hiking sandals the day before and opted for my sneakers, hoping to stay drier. The kicker is that one of my sneakers is stitched wrong, too tightly, in the heal, and did a serious number on my left achilles tendon. I ended up limping along behind my people, slowed us all down, and was in excruciating pain. Poor Gabrielle and Jefferson were bored out of their minds walking so slowly and waiting on me. But they were troopers. We finally made it into Zubiri, were we ate two pizzas between the three of us, and drank a pitcher of sangria, before buying food supplies for the next day and finding our first camping location of the trip.

(3) It was raining when we set up camp. We’d bought cigarettes and a couple of beers and a bottle of wine and were ready to wind down after relearning how to pitch our tents. I have this marvelous video of my sister’s antics. She had somehow managed to spill half the bottle of coveted wine into the open-and-lying-on-the-ground door of our tent. The video is of her attempts to salvage the accidentally dumped libations by slurping it quickly out of the (semi)waterproof tent before it spread/soaked in/ran off. I’ll have to post it one of these days. She hates it. It’s priceless.

I think that what I miss the most is the simplicity of life. It wasn’t easy, no, it never felt easy. But it sure did feel simple. And it felt right. You didn’t have to worry about what you’d wear or where you’d go or what you’d eat or who you’d see or what sort of place you’d sleep in. Each day you wore the same clothes, walked the same roads, ate the same salami/chorizo sandwiches, see Gabby and Jeffo, and sleep on hard cold ground. And that was it. Of course I made it complicated by having emotions and griping about things and making my poor companions miserable eventually, and I’m always going to regret that. But life was simple, for all three of us, and through all the pains we really loved it so much. I am going to miss that.

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