Day One September 20, 2013
After waking at 4:00am (odd how jetlag works) I completed my blog entry for the previous day and eventually had breakfast, and what seemed like hours got myself ready to go. Breakfast consisted of pieces of a baguette, butter, and jam. Coffee, water, and juice were just about finished when I finally got to it. I had been up for an hour and only managed to organize myself to leave with the “late group”. This included Bene from Australia and Sabine from Germany.
Finally with breakfast out of the way, everything packed, I said goodbye to Daniel,the proprietor of the Auberge du Pelerine and headed up to the Pilgrim Office at 7:00am. The Pilgrim Office was manned by only one person, and he repeatedly, and patiently providing the same instructions over, and over, to each of the fresh pilgrims wanting a passport.
Pilgrim passport, final directions, and today’s warnings from the office, I was good to go!
Out the door, though the stone gates (yup, the same gate Martin Sheen went though) and up the hill.
Wait a minute…. up the mountain!
Let’s talk about the Pyrenees. This is a bonified mountain range and the slope is extreme at times. There was no way I could have prepared for what lay ahead. My training ground was by comparison dinner-plate flat. My training had been pretty much un-elevating ground…no hills, let alone mountains. Here I am pounding away constantly fighting the grade, and more importantly, gravity. The clouds were hanging just above St. Jean Pied de Port completely masking the road ahead, disguising the size of the Pyrenees before us. I was already puffing pretty good 20 minutes into my walk. And I thought I had prepared myself well.
Then it starts to rain. I worked with a fellow from Alberta who introduced this expression to me…..”it rained like a cow peeing on a flat rock”.If you are not rurally experienced think of a large garden hose running onto a flat patio stone.
I donned my new poncho (yet untried) and fought with it for 30 minutes. Who would have thought to practice wearing a poncho, the simplest form of rain gear. Wearing a sheet of plastic with holes for your head and arms should be easier than rolling down hill. As the rain increased in intensity I decided I would also need my rain pants. It was at this point it appeared obvious to me why I should have tried out my poncho prior to needing it. For the last 20 minutes I had been wearing the poncho with my head though the arm hole of the poncho. Just in case you’re curious to know, a poncho works quite well when worn correctly.
About an hour into the climb I am wondering if I can lose a kidney…..anything to reduce the weight and make this climb easier. What does a kidney weigh? If I could lose a couple of pounds I would consider it……anything. My stride diminished to less then a foot for each step. (OK, I know, Canadians should say 30 cm)
When I felt the path couldn’t become steeper I would turn the next corner and the grade increased by 50%. (Note to self: Don’t ever think the road can’t get steeper) When I thought the road couldn’t become more difficult, I would turn the next bend and I would be facing a rock and mud path. It strikes me, this would be difficult to negotiate even on the best of days. (Note to self: stop thinking the road can’t get any worse.)
Come to think of it….. Note to self: Stop thinking!
This route is directly through farm land. Near vertical farmland, but farmland all the same. I am surprised the cows and sheep aren’t nailed to the sides of the hills.
I am struggling to get enough oxygen to supply my horribly insufficient lungs. Imagine going down with the Titanic. Half way to the watery grave you are somehow freed and head to the surface. Just at the point where you are ready to pass out from the lack of oxygen you break through the surface. (Don’t worry…..there is a point to all of this)
When climbing the Pyrenees every very breath you take is like gasping for your “Titanic breath”. There’s nothing quite like gulping for oxygen and breathing in methane enriched air. (remember the cows and sheep)
One foot after the other….this is all you ultimately have in your mind. One foot after the other.
It becomes apparent the first rule of the Camino has to be: Keep it Simple.
The route we took today is called the Napoleon Route, and most of this is on the side of a narrow road. Twice a taxi drove past…. slowly;…. looking for anyone reconsidering their sanity. (I did see a passenger or two….I’m just saying….)
I don‘t remember who said “on the Camino there is pain but no suffering”. Hmmmmmmm
I came to a semi-flat part of in a bend of the road. Obviously flat to prevent cars from plunging into the abyss on the left side. It was a sheer drop of hundreds of feet. Being so taken with the danger on my left I didn’t realize I had reached my destination for today. Orisson!
The rest of the day was a recovery. Everything I was wearing was drenched. The rain on the outside and the sweat the inside; I was soaked completely. I had arrived in time for lunch but too early to check in to get a bed. So lunch it was. Lotus introduced me to “Suzzie” from Santiago. (This would turn out to be an auspicious moment, someone who would turn out to be a significant person)
There is a patio in front of the Albergue and it provides a beautiful view of the Pyrenees and the valleys. The rain finally exhausted and we were able to dry the seats off and enjoy the view. This is where Susan made sure I understood she did not appreciate the name “Suzzie
‘……and so it was instantly dropped from my vocabulary.
Finally at 2 those of us with reservations were able to check in. Laundry was first on the “to do” items, and then a shower. You are given a coin…..when inserted in the shower gives you five minutes of luke warm water. I’m not complaining.
Finally, after going back outside, sitting and talking to so many people we gathered inside for dinner. We sat at picnic tables and were served roast pork, vegetable soup, potatoes and beans, and desert was a thin cake. There was an abundance red wine at the tables….I firmly believe this was served for medicinal purposes. Apparently some people were in serious need. 🙂
After dinner it was the custom in this fine establishment for everyone stand up and say a few words. As there were so many people around us this turned out to be the evening’s entertainment. Many stories were touching. The oldest person walking (in the group) is 75, the youngest is 18, and one other fellow from the US has brought his ukulele with him as well. We both promised to play in the next night or two.
We are all starting tomorrow at 7:30am when we are finished breakfast. The rest of the Pyrenees lies ahead.
Executive summary: what a wonderful day.