Saturday, November 30, 2013

Overdue IOUs from the Mapless Pilgrim

Hello again dear fellow travelers!

It's been nearly 2 months since I arrived back state-side and life has been a little crazy (a move to a new city, the start of a new job, travel for that job, and then the Thanksgiving holiday).

I've heard from enough of you that I now genuinely feel guilty for not posting the final few topics I promised to cover.

So, between now and Dec 5th, my 2 month anniversary of arriving home, I promise to complete the following but not necessarily in this order:

1. A Day In The Life of a Pilgrim
(complete with as many pictures as I can accurately find)

2. Screaming American: 'hola', 'comprende' and knowing your geographic relationship to New York

3. The Farmacia: A Pilgrim's Home Away from Home

4. Jill's Favorite Camino Travel Items, Why You Need Them (and what you don't-- no seriously, leave this crap at home, you can thank me later)

5. Returning Home: The Adjustment (because there is one)

Here we go again peregrinos!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Show Ain't Over

Hello from Finnisterre my fellow peregrinos! 

Just so that everyone is on the same page, I don't get on a plane to return to Boston for another 3.5 days so my travels and my posts are far from over. 

I have also updated the pictures and the map on the right hand "Where I Am" link. I thoroughly enjoy that some of my pictures from out on the rocks beyond the lighthouse actually register on GPS as being in the water. 

YOU are also on my to-do list since I owe you some promised posts about rather important (and often hilarious) subjects like "a day in the life", when you scream American and what you can do about it, what to bring and what to leave and so much more. 

I've missed writing and sharing these with you and if you still want them I'm ready to deliver and am sketching these posts out now. So settle back in, the show ain't over. 

Here's a thumbnail sketch of my next few days: spend at least one more night (tonight) in Finisterre- maybe 2. Then take the bus back to Santiago, do the whole tourist bit there, spend the night and depart EARLY the next morning (the 5th) for my 5:30AM flight. Mixed in there are some naps, some blogging, some walking (yes really!) and some writing; generally not planning more than 3hrs in advance. 

So stay tuned. The MaplessPilgrim is about to blow up your inbox. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Game Plan

I couldn't leave Santiago without informing you of our (that's you and me dear fellow traveler) arrival. 

After making the final 20k in the rain with a brief stop at Mont de Gozo (Mountain of Joy)-- where you first lay eyes on Santiago. As we approached the gargantuan monument dedicated to JPIIs visit to the site, the rain paused and a complete rainbow appeared briefly above the city. It was absolutely surreal and my arms prickled with the kind of goosebumps Noah must have had when first seeing the symbol of Gods promise. 

Upon entering town (still in the rain) we made it to the pilgrims office where the line wasn't terribly long and after about 20minutes in the swiftly moving line I had my compostella in tow. Tracy (the New Yorker I've been meeting up with each night for the past 4 or 5 days) and I each had one thing in mind: CHAMPAGNE. 

And boy did we. Four bottles of champagne and countless friends later we had missed the next mass, had yet to see the cathedral (since we conveniently went to the upscale restaurant immediately across the street) and we eventually poured ourselves into the nearest accommodations we could find. 

So now it's 8am- dark, rainy and cold BUT somehow it feels totally appropriate that I didn't do all of the "final" Santiago visits. Because I'm not done. 

Shortly well depart for Finisterre and I'll have 2 days of walking to figure out whether I'll go to muxia, how much time I'll spend in Finisterre and how much I'll spend back here in Santiago. 

Translation: I'm not going to walk BACK from the ocean to Santiago. At this point the weather looks like it'll continue to be crummy and to be honest, I'm a little worried about trying to find my way back with the waymarkers in reverse. Plus, if I skip the 3 day walk back that's time I have to spend doing everything I want in Santiago and maybe even a full extra day to spend in Finisterre-- ya know...NOT walking. 

It's funny because everyone says that you really only have one destination in your heart: Santiago OR Finisterre. I didn't really believe that until now. But it's absolutely clear that this girls (wet) boots were made for walking. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

UPDATE: T-48hrs

Hello my dear fellow travelers! I have finally updated pictures and GPS on the right hand link so please be sure to check it out! 

As it currently stands I'm about 48k from Santiago and due (God-willing) to arrive in 48hrs. BUT there is still much room for error AND I intend to keep walking so stay tuned for plans. 

The pictures should help fill in the gaps over the past few days and I'm working on the long lists of things I want to write about and share with you when I'm a little more physically stable. 

With my trip winding down (and still many more km to go) I've been spending a lot of time trying to soak up what remains. I'll gladly wring it all out for you in the near future but there's no time like the present to take it all in. 

There shouldn't be anything terribly exciting tomorrow- just a goal of getting as close as we can to make the final day in to Santiago as short as possible. So wild to think that it just about a 30min car ride away. 

Stay tuned for some exciting Santiago action as well as helping me decide what to do with my time post-Santiago! 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I Haven't Forgotten About You...

Wi-Fi has been hard to come by as we've slogged through the mountains of Galicia. And frankly so has my energy at the end of the day. It's seems that after banging out 30k+ days in the mountains I have just enough energy to shower, do some semblance of laundry and go to bed. 

So- while I struggle through this section please follow me more closely on Facebook ( in order to see posts and pictures until I can  return to the longer format. And I WILL return to the long form because I have SO much to share, so many topics to cover and many of your questions that I look forward to answering. 

So thanks for your patience. After 27days  the challenges seem to change and adapt even more quickly than we do. And so the motto "one day at a time" continues. I tried to explain to some Spaniards the joke about eating an elephant one bite at a time but I don't think it translated well. 

None the less with now just 109k left until Santiago (can you BELIEVE we've done 700k?!?) it feels now more than ever that we can't put the cart before the horse. 

I so appreciate your continued support, prayers and notes of encouragement. 

I'll try to update pictures and GPS soon so check it out soon. 

Manual update: I'm one town outside Sarria and officially in the "two-stamps-a-day / 'final 100km min for compostella'" territory. Well see how each day goes, but Santiago by Saturday evening is possible-- and 4 days and 100km never seemed so long. 

It's 9:03pm and whether I'll have to wait for the dryer in the morning is a mystery so I better pack it in. 

Beunas noches. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Another 37k Day & New Pictures

New pictures are up on the right hand link!

I've been taking pictures of "typical" this, that and the other thing to include in the day in the life post. The truth is that it will be a goodie but a long one and that means I need to not be EXHAUSTED when I have a chance to write. So I promise that it's under construction. 

The growing school of thought is that we can (and many want) to make it to Santiago in 7 days, arriving on a Sunday and ensuring we'll see the 8-person thurible. But you know how the joke goes...if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. So, were back to taking it one day at a time. 

Tomorrow will be another long day God-willing but it's already WAY past my bedtime and that likely means a late start.  So I had better sign off. 

Enjoy the pictures. 

More soon! 

Friday, September 20, 2013

2 Germans Hit By Truck

Please keep these pilgrims in your prayers. 

The guidebook warns that this can happen easily and these men are just a few days ahead of me. Heart-wrenching. 

Big Day! Big Numbers!

Oh my dear fellow travelers, you must be exhausted! 

Not only does this evening bring to a close our 23rd day of consecutive walking, two MAJOR things happened today. 

1. We covered 37.5k. That's right about 23miles and it's an all-time record. 

2. We caught John! That's right! My constant traveling companion/author of my Camino guidebook ends day 23 in Rabanal and WE are in Rabanal! Remember that we were a full TWO days behind John and by plowing through a string of 30k (which have been brutal) we managed to catch up to John...without the bus, or shortcuts of any kind. THAT is worth a glass of wine my friends! 

Now, the unfortunate reality is that the we've made our way back to the mountains and the next few days will be particularly challenging as even John is putting in 30k days during this stretch. So we will- as always- take one day at a time and see how it goes. 

I've updated the pictures on the map so be sure to check them out on the link of the right hand side. 

The body is sore and tired and the most recent blisters are at least manageable... for now. 

Cruz de Ferro is tomorrow morning (bonus: pack weight reduction!) and then well see how I (and everyone else) fares on our first serious downhills in a while. 

Thank you all for your continued support and interest. A day in the life post is coming I swear, but let me survive this grueling section and see what I can do for you. 

Buen Camino! 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

33.4k Today

Today was my longest day (km-wise) weighing in at 33.4km, or just under 21miles. Though the feet took a beating I'm hopeful that my early bedtime will help heal all wounds. 

I would like to do similar distance tomorrow but if the Camino has taught me anything it's that life must be taken one day, and sometimes one hour, at a time. 

NEW PICTURES are up on the right hand side link. Crazy to visually see on the map how much ground we've covered. You, me, and all the pilgrims out here. It's really remarkable. 

Today marks the end of 21 days of consecutive walking. To celebrate Tracy, a New Yorker I met at the albergue where I'm staying, and I did 100 crunches. We both remarked how toned everything from the waist down is becoming but that the core could use a little love. I'd like to think I can make a habit of it, but we'll see. 

Tomorrow is the start of week 4. Cruz de Ferro is just a few days away, as is the biggest mountainous climb of the whole trip. Yeah, that 32k on day 1 is not actually the biggest elevation change on the Camino...

Hopefully I can make tomorrow "a day in the life" but before I do that I need to know what questions you have so that I can pay particular attention to those areas. 

Some of you have asked about alarms, and waking up without getting up others (an important skill to try to master) and others about 'facilities' during the day. What other things would you like to know?

I stand ready to serve! 

Checking In: The Camino Changes Us, and We Change The Camino

Hello all! Just a quick note before I head out this morning, since I was flat exhausted after another 30k day yesterday. I head into Leon today and we'll see if I stay there or keep walking another 8.5k to the next town. 

As I've mentioned all along, shaking the feeling that I need to catch up to John's "planned itinerary" has been difficult for me ever since I fell behind, and since I desperately want to walk to Finisterre that means I may wind up pushing back my flight. 

What I've also realized has been bothering me a lot has been the idea that I fell behind the group of people I spent so much of the first week to 10 days with. I enjoyed meeting them all so much and somehow they came to collectively provide --and I think we all did for each other-- a comforting sense of belonging. 

But over the past few days I've run into, gotten information on or otherwise connected with a lot of them. And it seems that the Camino has forced changed plans on nearly all of us. 

I can count on 2 hands the number of people who have been forced or decided to go home. Others I've seen over the past few days, meaning that they too have left John's schedule, and others have opted to skip ahead to the minimum 100k point, and finish from there. 

Let me be clear, I don't think any of these choices are bad or wrong. It's simply an observation that not only does the Camino change us, we seem too, to change the Camino. Pretty poetic. 

As for me, if God is willing and the feet and body don't die, I'll continue to trek on as best I can and as close to a window that lets me do everything I want. 

As a group of us discussed last night at dinner, it's kind of crazy how fast Cruz de Ferro is coming up. It's a point which we all considered "near the end" given than John accounts for just 10more days beyond that point. And I'm looking forward to unloading some weight there. 
If you're unfamiliar with it google "Cruz de ferro Camino" and you'll get several options on the background, tradition and accompanying prayer. 

Ok, time to pack the bag and hit the road.  

I promise a "day in the life" post soon! 

Monday, September 16, 2013


Oh weefee (ie. the Spanish pronounciation of Wi-Fi)... After banging out a seriously expensive Verizon bill over the past 19 days I'm trying to be better about using exclusively Wi-Fi, hence my absence yesterday. 

A lot has happened that has made me more comfortable with the idea of doing this trip on my timetable, not anyone else's, and so today I took advantage of it. Sahagun was supposed to be just a mid-day stop since it was only 13km in but I was so charmed by the city that I decided to stay. And so, it turned out, did a lot of people. 

I happened upon Irish Mary again this morning just by chance and we took a long leisurely lunch at a sidewalk cafe and as soon as I took my boots off I knew I would stay. It was a great day-- and the first short day by choosing rather than my pain forcing the decision for me; a pleasant change of pace indeed. 

But tomorrow has 31k in store so I'm off to bed quickly. BUT, the pictures and map on the right hand side have been updated. I appreciate your patience as I try to keep the bill under control. I've tried to use them to narrate the past couple of days too. 


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Food: 7 Things You Need To Know

Hola my dear fellow travelers! 

After completing a little more than 28k today I found myself thinking about this space that we share. 

<Let me note here that after today's trek, we have completed 402.1km or.....HALF of the Camino!>

I also realized that I've probably strayed a little too far from some of the things I think we really need to be talking about here. Like: the food. 

Before I forget, let me make a quick list of upcoming topics:

1. The Food: The good, the bad, and the different

2. Screaming American: 'hola', 'comprende' and knowing your geographic relationship to New York. 

3. A Day In The Life: actual documentation and taking your requests for content. Want pictures of the average 'supermercado' and albergue? What you need to know about the rush hour commute on the Camino, and so much more. 

4. The Farmacia: A Pilgrims Home Away From Home 

5. Jill's Favorite Camino Travel Items, Why You Need Them (and what you don't need-- no seriously, leave this crap at home, you can thank me later). Y. 

...and that's just a taste of some of the topics we'll cover. Additionally, if you've got questions, I've got answers so please  feel free to post them in the comments. 

So, the food...

It goes without saying that sampling the cuisine of a foreign land is a significant part of the travel experience, and Espana and the Camino are no exception. But let me hit some of the highlights for you. 

1. Spanish in no way resembles Mexican even if you see tacos or tortillas on the menu. I can't remember what actually arrived when I ordered a taco but it wasn't the folded corn thing with meat, cheese and lettuce inside. And as for the tortilla, this is the traditional breakfast omelette- not the chips for dipping in your favorite salsa or queso. Tortilla is basically a little bit of onion and potato sautéed in a pan (adding meat is optional) and then whisked eggs poured over the top and cooked in the skillet until solid all the way through. The whole thing is then inverted onto a plate and sold by the slice. Hardy, nutritious and delicious. 

2. Chips are the international name for French fries, and they are served with damned near EVERYTHING. They also go by the name 'fritos' like our snack item and though they're good, you'll have seen more French fries by the time you've finished the Camino than the kid working 40hrs/wk at McDonalds. There's a reason that guy is always skinny...

3. The Spaniards love a little starch with their starch. You may have potatoes in your morning tortilla and French fries with your pork at dinner, but that won't stop them from hustling bread at you like it's a contest to see who can get you to consume more carbs. If you order a croissant for breakfast at the cafe, they'll gladly oblige you and then give you a basket with 2 pieces of bread, in addition to your pastry. It is in a word: insane. 

4. They'll know you're American if...

It's important to note that the bread itself, when provided in slices, is usually designed to be more of a shoveling/sopping tool than a solo appetizer or compliment to your meal. So if you want to spread a little delicious butter on that bread you had better learn to ask for it. 

Having been raised in the Deep South I know that everything is better with butter. And doing my duty for dairy farmers everywhere I happily embrace my God-given obligation to find and apply it to whatever food stuff I can as frequently as possible. Naturally then, I learned quickly how to ask for it: Tienes mantequilla? (Do you have butter?)

After 17 days on the Camino this phrase rolls easily off my tongue and I think nothing of the requests for clarification-- my Spanish clearly rocky . So at dinner last night the request unfolded much the way it has before. And a few minutes later the waiter produced 2 small plastic containers of the delicious dairy product. As he handed them over he said something in Spanish which I did not understand and the Spanish women sitting with me began to laugh. 

Turns out that as he gave them to me he said 'I wasn't going to ask where you're from, but now I know!"  Evidently my Spanish rendition of the phrase isn't bad at all, it's just that butter is something only used at breakfast and amongst all the nationalities constantly dining in this country, it is only the Americans who ask for butter on bread! What can I say? We know how to make carbs even more caloric. 

5. Bocadillos. (Translation: sandwiches) we've covered a lot of ground on bread but its also important to note the average size of a baguette here. A bocadillo is usually half a baguette. Now, that conjures different images for different people so let me try to use a universal measurement: the Subway footlong. A Spanish baguette is approximately 2x the  size. They are wider, taller, and a touch longer. A bocadillo is half a baguette with something on it. And when I say something, I mean some-thing, as in one.  thing. Your options are usually to throw some tortilla in between the slices, or a couple of pieces of cheese, or a couple of pieces of ham ('jamon') more comparable to 2 slices of very thin prosciutto than what Americans will think of as lunch meat or Honeybaked Ham carvings. And that's generally it. Ask for 2 of those things together and you'll be thought a lush. And you can forget about condiments. No lettuce or tomatoes for your sandwich, much less mayo or mustard, so prepare for a diet very simplified from your current one. After a day or 2 I adjusted just fine but when I'm in a decent sized town, I might just produce this: 

A veritable feast of white bread, turkey ('Pavo'), mayo and lettuce. And while the mayo is obviously a non-starter for packing tomorrow, I feasted on 2 sandwiches for dinner and packed another for lunch tomorrow. It was practically Thanksgiving in September, right here in Spain. 

I bought all of these fixins, an orange, a can of Pepsi, 1L of flat water, 1.5L of bubbly water ('agua con gas'), 6 granola bars, and a chocolate wafer bar of some kind of €9.20 at the grocery store ('supermarcado'). It's important to note that they're all called supermarcados and some are more super than others, and all of them make your local Publix, Kroger, Stop and Shop or Hy-Vee look like the Fort Knox of food. 

That said, when you can find one with an actual selection- instead of the average which is more on par with your local gas stations "food selection"- you're better off stocking up and planning for picnic meals. 

6. Tapas- invariably some combination of the above available in small quantities generally during siesta when a sit-down meal is not available. They're on the counter for you to choose from. 

7. Finally, there is the menu peregrino (pilgrims menu). Designed to be all-inclusive it usually runs about €10-12 and includes bread, wine, water, a protein of some kind and 1 other item (mixed salad, vegetable, etc). With few exceptions once you've had a few of them, you've had them all. 

The one caveat I would provide is this: if your albergue has a communal meal- take it. The quality of the food will vary but more importantly so will the company. 

One of the most rewarding experiences of the Camino is breaking all of that bread with new people and I would argue that the real spirit of the Camino can always be found around the communal table...But you'll have to ask for the butter. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Experiencing Heaven

I just posted about today being a great day. It's really more accurate that this evening was great and it started with fantastic accommodations. 

It was however, topped off by a hardy and delicious dinner shared with a Chilean, a Brazilian, a Spaniard, a Dane and two more Californians. When the group was having drinks together prior to dinner there was an Italian, and a Libyan with us too and the number of languages being bandied about at the table was mind blowing. Oh! And I met someone from Scotland and a couple from Bulgaria today so make sure to add those to the list too!

Sarah, the Californian who has been teaching English in Madrid, and I parted paths today as I didn't quite make it the extra 7k that she did. But I did stumble upon German Sarah from last week! She has decided to go do the northern route and we'll plan to see each other in Santiago. Oh! (Again) I totally failed to mention that I found Sharon from Seattle (we spent the end of Day 1 and all of Day 2 together before the Camino pulled us apart). She's doing great and it was so wonderful to see her. I'm sure the same will be true of CA Sarah if I ever manage to catch up to her. 

I'm exhausted (which I'm sure you're tired of hearing) but ill share with you my favorite moment of the day:

Sarah and I parted early so that we could each walk at our own pace and that's exactly what I did today. It also meant that by 1pm I had reached the exact middle of nowhere.  And I mean that. There was nobody that I could see before or after me at least 1k in either direction. It was only after I realized that I didn't see any backpacks in the distance that I realized that must also mean I cannot hear anyone else. And no sooner did I realize that I was the only one making any sound, than I stopped cold in my tracks. The squeaking of my pack and rhythm of my poles suddenly silenced, I was shocked by what I heard. Nothing. No wind, no human sounds, nothing except a buzz so tiny I thought it was the wind until I realized it was the gnats. My eyes feasted upon a scene so glorious it made Michelangelo look like an amateur. 

For just a moment I felt as if I had been transported to a faraway world where I was the only inhabitant. It was surreal and it quite literally took my breath away. There I stood in one of Gods most glorious natural cathedrals completely alone. I will never forget it as long as I live. 

After taking the included panoramic and trying to soak up the sheer awe of it all, the bruising tingle of my feet pulled me back to the task at hand. But for a few minutes I swore I experienced Heaven. 

Today Is A Great Day Because:

1. I did 30.8k without any (new) problems. A little slow but that's ok. 

2. I got the second to last bed at an awesome albergue, which:

3. For €10 got me a bottom bunk in a made bed (ie. no sleeping bag needed) with my own power outlet AND reading light and a very hot shower with a REAL towel in a super nice and very clean albergue 

4. For another €7.50 I bought a glass of white wine (local and delicious), and orange for breakfast tomorrow, a bottle of water AND they're currently washing and drying my laundry. ALL OF IT-- with real laundry soap and drying it in a DRYER. 
Pretty sure I've died and gone to Camino heaven. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Would It Be As Good?

Well hello again my fellow travelers!

**A quick reminder that if you want to be notified when I post, you can sign up to receive my posts by email by following the link on the right**

I apologize for the delayed post as somehow I went without any kind of cell service of wifi for the better part of the last 2 days. It's worth noting that we went through our biggest city to-date (Burgos: population 170k & home to Spain's largest Cathedral). I encourage you to see where I've been and check out the pictures on the "where I am and where I've been" link on the right. There you'll also see that we are rapidly approaching the 50% mark on our trek toward Santiago. 

A very special shout-out to 3 people. Yesterday, September 11th is indeed a solemn day for our country, but in our family there is always much to be grateful  for and celebrate on this day as well. Yesterday was my little brother's 22nd birthday (when did you get so OLD, David?!) and my grandparents 58th wedding anniversary! So please indulge me and join me in a belated toast to these remarkable people who have helped make this trip possible with their love and encouragement. I love you guys and I'm sorry I couldn't be with you! 

Ok- sappy part over. Fair warning- my other (and more adventurous) half is leaving to do Kilimanjaro next week so Kevin, if you want to start a blog I'm sure you've got an audience here too! 

NOW: where was I? Ah yes, 'would it be as good?' 

Since my last post I've been traveling with a smart and funny young woman from California. (The Americans and the Irish in particular seem to cling together). We met when I realized she spoke English and that she is American after she finished a conversation in fluent Spanish. Turns out she's been in Madrid the past 2 years and has been teaching English. This not only means she's super handy to have around :-) on top of being a lot of fun, it also means she's teaching me some Spanish! 

But perhaps out of all the insightful things she has shared with me was this one. As we swapped descriptions of our pains and strains she said this (and I'm paraphrasing): 

Yes, the pain sucks. It hurts. It's unpleasant. But what if you walked 500miles and got to Santiago without it. Would the feeling be the same? Would it be as good?

Out of all the times I've tried to "offer up" my pain-- and there has been pain-- it never quite resonated the same way until she said that. 

The answer is of course, no- I don't imagine that this experience would be nearly the same without the aches and the pains, which got me thinking. It probably wouldn't be nearly the same without the other 'negatives' too: self-doubt, exhaustion, etc. Overcoming these things is of course what makes the end of major chapters of life bitter sweet. And it is safe to say that the Camino will always be a major chapter in my life. 

It's 9:30pm now and I am exhausted. I've walked 212 miles in the last 15 days which is almost hard to believe. The days are beginning to run together and my eyelids weigh almost as much as my pack, so I'll sign off: buenos noches mi amigos. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

2 Weeks and Countless Lessons

I departed Boston-Logan airport 2 weeks ago today; and although they have been the most physically trying 2 weeks of my life, I am amazed at what I have experienced. 

* I saw my first olive tree and my first fig tree
* I have experienced several small town fiestas and even a mini running of the bulls
* I've met people from Germany, Ireland, Australia, the UK, Mexico, Cuba, France, Spain, Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Japan, Korea, Canada, Brazil, Madagascar, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Philippines, Denmark, New Zealand, and Russia. Each night is a different global village. 
*Ive spent 2hrs sitting in the most beautiful plaza outside a grand cathedral on a perfect afternoon with a Pepsi and a dark chocolate cookie, and had the best afternoon €2.50 can buy. 
*Ive walked through vineyards and crops of sunflowers, turnips, onions, cauliflower, olives, figs, apples, pears, peaches, tomatoes, peppers, and fortresses built from bailed hay. 
*Ive celebrated mass in grand and gilded cathedrals and humble stone chapels
*Ive breezed up mountains and struggled with them too
*Ive gone days miraculously with no impairment, and I've gone a week with blisters so tender and painful it hurts to look at them. 
*Ive seen humanity at its best and its worst; and thought about what provokes them both 
*Ive been the recipient of countless acts of kindness from strangers, and also been that unexpected kindness to others
*Ive been the optimist to carry others and the pessimist in times of solitude. 
*Ive learned to cobble together enough Spanish to get by, and still find great comfort in the voice of an American. 
*Ive talked for hours with friends made in times of struggle, and in awed silence listening to an aging woman share her wisdom in the back room of a small cafe. 
*Ive learned that I can live with very little and still have more than enough
*Ive learned that the km markers can say what they want but that attitude and listening to your body is all that matters
*Ive shared a smile from across a room with someone with whom I cannot communicate and known exactly what was in their heart
*I have met saints and sinners and realized we all have both inside of us. 
*I have come to understand that the Camino is an experience, not a thing and that it redefines itself with every day. 

And lastly I have learned that that with my distance today I am 1/3rd of the way to Santiago. Thank God it's only 1/3rd of the experience too. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Good Principles for Life Too

I almost didn't post again tonight because honestly I'm nearly at a loss. 

My mind and heart are strong, even if my body doesn't seem to want to heal. (My blisters now have blisters, no joke). 

After I nearly fell apart after yesterday's 32km, who would appear but Irish Mary. I ran into her again this morning as we left town and we kept the same pace traveling all the way through today's 22.5km (and 6km of rain) together. 

We rolled into town about 4pm and I found the last bed in the monastery since she already had a place reserved elsewhere. I had plenty of time to nap before catching the evening mass and though my feet hurt and my pinky toe blisters are now open flesh, I found myself restless and unable to lay in one place for long. So I got dressed and headed back out into the rain. Santo Domingo has proven to be a lovely rainy evening with busy shops and a unique combination of Spanish tapas and American comfort food (Nuggets pollo!). 

I even managed to see a whole host of familiar faces who I thought were days ahead of me. The general topic of conversation seems to be that we're about 25% of the way there, and in a few days it'll be 1/3rd. So the question is: are you doing the Camino the way you wanted? What have the highlights been? What do you want to do differently?

I think it's safe to say that we've all gotten our sea legs now and it now turns to each of us making the Camino our own. This is of course, much easier said than done since I still feel the pressure to "make it in time". 

My ever-present traveling companion John (John Brierly, author of the most popular English guide to the Camino-- and yes, I talk about him as if he is actually traveling with me; eg. "Lets see when John says the next water fountain is" and "John says that the story behind this is...")-- well, John keeps an aggressive schedule. So although I've let go the idea of keeping up with the herd, it seems the bigger struggle may be letting go of keeping up with John. :-)

All said, I think I've found my comfort zone (20-24km/ day) but of course now we've added a new dimension: RAIN. I've got a great North Face jacket (Super Venture) and rain pants. Today I went without the pants but its clear that I'll have to start tomorrow with both and hope that the weather eventually lets me shed them. 

Some of the towns we go through are just lovely and I'm going to focus more on spending time in the ones I come across and truly enjoy. 

So that's the agenda for tomorrow: ditch "John", stay dry, and enjoy it more. Good principles for life too, don't ya think? 

PS. I'm keeping a log of what I do manage to walk each day, and it also helps me keep track of the days of the week-- a harder task than you might think. 

And yes, the adjoining page is my itinerary for my flights home. It's a line by line that would make the schedulers to a presidential candidate proud. (h/t Vicki and Kelli)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

En Lieu of a Written Post, You Get...

A fully updated "where I am and where I have been" link on the right, including pictures and commentary. Enjoy! 

PS. I have run out of Tylenol PM. If anyone knows the Spanish equivalent I would be mighty grateful if you'd post it in the comments. Beunas noches! 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Banged Up and Bruised, But She Ain't Timid

Wow. Where to even begin?

I wondered as I made my way half way around the globe if there would be a day on the Camino that broke me. I would quickly find that Day 5 was just such a day. My absence from the blog has been a function of cell service and mindset, but in truth it has mostly been mindset. 

I struggled with the idea of sharing my most raw experience on the Camino so far and have ultimately decided that I would not be providing a truly authentic version of my experience without including it. 

Day 5 started out after a rough finish to Day 4, when I climbed the Hill of Forgiveness without much trouble but picked up a serious pair of blisters on my pinky toes on the way down. 

I waited in the town (I can't even recall which one now-- but I'll post to the "where I am now and where I've been" link on the right hand side) for the Farmacia to open which wasn't until 9am, which in reality was 9:20am. After some minor foot surgery I was repackaged and back on The Way by 10am. This was entirely too late. Temperatures quickly reached near 90 and every hill seemed designed to be as torturous under foot as possible. Each step on rocky stones felt like it created a bruise somewhere deep in the tissue of my foot. There were no pilgrims before or after me for what seemed like miles. So after about 7km, which took me nearly 3hrs to climb with my mangled feet, I broke down. I begged God to knock it off with the hills. Every hill simply lead to another turn in the road with yet another hill to climb. I was, in a word: defeated. 

So I plopped my exhausted, aching body and throbbingly painful feet down in the only shade I had seen in hours and wept. Between a blackberry bush (my favorite) and an olive tree (the tree of life, and this day being the first one I had ever seen in-person) I sat in their combined shade and cried; a wholly and completely defeated pilgrim. 

Crying out to God, feeling like an absolute failure, I had only one place to turn in this digital age: my iPhone. I looked at the time to realize it was nearly 6:30am at home and I dialed up my father. And over the next 2hrs my father, a saint himself, coached me through the next 5km to an albergue where I stopped for the day. He rightfully pointed out that I had started from St. Jean 5 days before with approximately 12hrs of sleep over the previous 4 days. I was-- 7.5days after leaving Boston- still severely lacking basic recooperation from travel and had since slammed my body with 60+ miles on foot. 

So I climbed into a lovely albergue, grabbed a hot shower, washed and hung my clothes, popped a tylenolPM and slept.  I slept for several hours until dinner, practically slept through the meal and went back to bed. (Think Carrie in Sex and the City, after the non-wedding). Those few sentences simply do not do justice to the torturous hours that strung together to create this day.  

But I woke up feeling mentally, spiritually and nearly physically restored. If only my feet had the miraculous healing the rest of me received from the badly- needed sleep. The least ideal way to heal a blister of course is to wrap them up, shove them back into hiking boots, sweat and stomp on them for 20k day after day. 

So this type-A, rule-follower has (reluctantly) fallen off the wagon. But a beautiful thing has also happened. I have been freed from "THE schedule". Having fallen about 10k behind the pack I find myself staying in places with a smaller herd and a slower speed. I dont know how to describe it exactly but it's more comfortable and more relaxed; less about a race and "keeping up" with where I'm "supposed" to be, and more about putting in a hard days walk and being able to say "I'm done" after a respectable distance. I find the Way more peaceful now with less people passing me all the time, more time for reflection and meeting more people with a similar approach to the Camino as my own. 

And in truth, it's probably freedom I badly needed. Now, if only my poor little feet would heal faster. They're making good progress each day but I know I slow the process by shoving them back into my boots, but that's ok. 

My body aches and pains are...persistent. It's hard to tell if they're getting better or just changing. The pain has crept from my feet to my calfs, knees, hips, and now that I'm using my trekking poles I wonder if my arms will soon hurt! None of it is unbareable, it just hurts. I feel like I've been sent to serious boot camp. 

The days have thoroughly begun to blur together, and hopefully I'll be better about blogging now that I've put the minor meltdown behind me. But I won't lie-- every day is a struggle. It is HOT, the climbs are not fun, and the feet hurt like holy hell. The first 10km seem like a mornings project, and the second 10km feels like it takes forever. And so it goes on, day after day (so far). 

The People: I've met some great people! I spent all day today walking with a German girl I met briefly a few days ago, and a fellow law school classmate of hers. They are a riot. Oh! And all the Germans speak perfect English, it's awesome. They might as well be English, or Aussie or Canadians. You can nearly universally lump them in with
the English- speaking countries. 

Sarah and Max are 26 and 23 respectively, making them some of the closest to my own age I've met. And we constantly compare notes about "home" and where we are and we suffer common foot ailments but survived today because of each other. A highlight was when Max announced that when "I go to America, I will go first to a Wendy's and eat Baconators until I vomit, and then I will do it again!" he proclaimed with remarkable enthusiasm. "Have you ever been to America" I asked. "Not yet" he replied. "And have you ever had Wendy's" I inquired. "No, but it sounds so amazing and I WILL have it!"  So funny what we all find exciting in foreign places. 

The stories go on and on and now that I am equipped with Spanish Neosporin and some muscle anti inflammatory called Radio Salil, I hope that my body heals, my feet repair and that soon all of this tearing down will begin to rebuild. 

After all "great accomplishments are not the result of timid attempts" and even if
this little girl has been banged and bruised, the one thing she ain't, is timid. 


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Checking In

I will try to post more later today (ie tonight local time) but suffice it to say that I hope I will look back and see yesterday as my worst day. For now, I share this. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Post With No Name

Hello my dear digital travelers! 

I titled this post this way because so many things happened today that merited totally different themes to run with. So instead I'll give you a snippet of most everything. 

First up: Current Physical Condition: slowly deteriorating, I think. Though my mind and heart are strong, I'm fighting a relatively minor -but still very painful- bought with blisters. Nursing a small one on my left heel has given way to a very large and painful one on the bottom of each of my little toes. The little toe is so anatomically bizarre on just about everyone, and 4 days of steep ascents and descents finally gave out. So I'm ok, but what should have been a speedy afternoon was made very long and I'm nervous about tomorrow. 

It's sort of funny bc everyone has some ailment and its just like my grandmother says old people are: "the conversation is always about their latest ailment and how mine tops yours". Haha. 

My Chapstick Angel: we're only on day 4 but everyone already has at least one story of the Camino "providing". The saying is that the Camino provides, and regardless of how you interpret it, it gives you goosebumps when it happens. 

For the last day or so I've been fighting a touch of sun and windburn. Nothing terrible until this morning when my lips began bleeding and were hurting quite badly as I climbed The Hill of Forgiveness. About half way down the other side- with my 2 new blisters in tow- I plopped down for lunch at a little restaurant that was like an oasis in the desert. I realized that there were some English speakers sitting around including a couple from Vermont. So out of exhaustion I asked if anyone had seen Chapstick at any stores they'd been to bc I was now in the market but unsure I'd seen any. And the woman looked at me kind of surprised and said, "here" pulling a brand new tube of Carmex from her bag. "My husband MADE me bring this for no real reason. I insisted that I not bring it, I haven't needed it and I don't think I will but my husband said I just HAD to bring it." <Que the goosebumps>   He even chimed in "it has SPF in it, so it'll help whichever it is -wind or sun" and I hadn't explained my ailment at all. 

So there the woman from Vermont whose husband forced her to haul a tube of Carmex across an ocean and God-knows how many miles once she got there, turned over her tube of Carmex in the Pyrenees Mountains to a girl from Boston, badly in need of just such a thing. The Camino provides

To be honest I'm falling asleep as I write this so I better close. More tomorrow. Beunas noches. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Difference

What a difference a day makes. 

My phone is going to die soon and since the plugs are very limited tonight I need to reserve some power to keep my alarm functional until I can power up in the morning. 

First, I can't thank you enough for the outpouring of encouragement I received after yesterday's post. The east coast is 6hrs behind me so I woke up to many comments, emails and notes in a way that was truly touching. It gave me just the boost I needed to tackle today and tackle it we did. 

I very much think of all of you reading this as my traveling companions. And so I proudly say that WE did 18miles today and caught up to a proper end of day 3. Woot! 

Notations on the day are probably best narrated by my incessant Facebook postings today. So stroll over to and friend me to read and see all the pictures! 

I'll use this space to acknowledge a social/spiritual aspect of the Camino. 

I have met people from all over the world. There are the English speaking Aussies (tons of them!), Irish (lots of those too!), Canadians, Americans, UK, and Dutch. The French, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Belgian and Mexican. That's the list that springs to mind immediately. We could throw our own Olympics around these parts. It's amazing. 

Today involved a lot of powering by people so I didn't chat too many people up. Until the Swede came upon me as we shared our final few Kms into Pamplona. He was a likable guy with good English and very talkative. And in the spirit of the Camino, I sought 'to understand not to be understood'. He freely poured out an incredible amount of very deep thought and personal information. But he said something that struck a deep cord in me:

There is a difference between believing in God, and trusting Him. 

If I were you (even as the religious Catholic that I am), I would sort of roll my eyes and just skim this section. BUT it's important that you DON'T- so hang with me for a little bit. 

Yes, I would consider myself a religious Catholic. I converted 4 years ago but I'm not a zealot, I don't proselytize, and for better or worse (in the eyes of the church) I have no interest in trying to get someone to believe something in particular. But as for me, it's a significant part of my life. NOW, that said consider this:

My first significant revelation of this trip is that I know I'm not capable of doing this on my own. I knew that this would be physically and mentally demanding and I knew from the outset that my faith would be transformed, but what I didn't realize is that I would NEED God so badly. 

The swede told me "the rich man (by modern definition anybody with any kind of means at all really) is a believer. Believers always have an explanation. There's bread on the table bc I went to the store, paid for it and brought it home. The poor man trusts God, because he didn't know how or if there would be bread on the table at the end of the day". 

So there are 2 takeaways:

1. I have lived a truly rich life. I don't drive a BMW and didn't go to an Ivy League school. I'm not talking that kind of rich. I'm talking that I've never wanted for a basic physical (thing or bodily) need. Sure I have a personal relationship w God and I have leaned on him. But never before have I not known if I would physically finish the day healthy and well. 

2. That has now changed. What the swede said helped me put my finger on the emotion of the past couple of days. What I feel a deep, profound gratitude for my God the likes of which I have never known. I know-- for a FACT-- that were it not for divine support I would be in terrible physical and mental condition right now. 

I'm not trying to be preachy or too forthcoming with my spiritual development on the Camino on this blog. 

But I felt it was important for you to get insight into my gratitude. When I say I'm grateful to have made it to my end point for the day, it's not "I dodged a bullet" gratitude, it's authentic "I couldn't have done this without You" gratitude. 

Ok. I'm done and have stepped down from my soapbox. The battery is low and Tylenol PM is working. 

Tomorrow is supposed to be grueling and ill likely lose my 3G and cell service so hang tight until I can get back on the grid if I fall off. 


Friday, August 30, 2013

Mortification, Discouragement and Reconsideration?

Perhaps when it's all said and done the only thing this blogging exercise will provide is an authentic perspective. 

I love the word 'authentic'. It means "of undisputed origin". I think our world often lacks authenticity and I for one genuinely appreciate it when I see it. 

So lets just say that when I re-read last nights post I was mortified. I went to school in Georgia, not Alabama (:-)) and if you didn't know better you'd think I was a Florida grad. [This is an SEC college football reference for those unfamiliar]. 

Anyway, those of you who were actually able to read that deserve a medal. I'll work on that. So I apologize for being so authentically exhausted that I either lost my most basic command of the English language or was completely defeated by my iPhones "predictive speller". 

I want to make this post short since last nights was so long. 

Today SUCKED. Id like to say it all came up roses but it flat sucked. I read today that though the path yesterday covered 28km-- that was as a crow flies. Adjusted for climbs and the path it was 19miles, not 17. 

I don't know when the last time was that you trekked 19miles uphill with a 26lb pack but mine was yesterday. Which meant that this morning I woke up hurting in muscles I didn't know I had. I also woke up nauseous. I'll spare you the  details but I booted everything I had in me and then some.  After Vibering w my dad (if you're not familiar w the Viber app you'll want to be for international travel-- phone and text over data not cell, so a fraction of the cost) we decided that it was a mild case of altitude illness. It felt like the start of the flu and it put a serious  kink in my morning. 

But Sharon from Seattle and I trudged away. But this time every step hurt in a way it didn't yesterday. Our durable feet made way to sore, sensitive, stubs that felt everything we stepped on and every shift in our shoes. She had pack issues and came to realize her shoes are just too small. She was miserable and I was just flat hurting. It was as if yesterday spawned an evil child for today. Brutal and discouraging. 

So not only did we not make up ground today we didn't finish the full leg. We stopped in Zubiri, though Sharon found someone to give her a ride from the previous "town" to Zubiri and though we intended to meet up the Camino seems to have pulled us apart. 

So we reach the reconsideration. One thing I have not outlined publicly are my goals. John Brierlys book (and the Camino Bible) get to Santiago in 33 days.  I have 37 days BUT here are my goals in ascending order. 

1. Get to Santiago entirely on foot (no cheating of any kind). 800km or about 500 miles and collect my Compostella (certificate of completion). 

2. Go beyond this "final" stage and walk to Muxia and Finisterre (that's an additional 4 days making it a tight but doable squeeze on the Brierly sked. 

3. Do #1 and #2 AND walk to the Santiago airport. Which adds yet another 3 days at least, maybe 4 bc of my flights timing.  And it is an additional 100 mi round-trip (which is why I call it 40-days and 600-miles). 

SO, today we finished NOT on the Brierly Sked which makes me very concerned I won't make it. It's on my blog, it what I want to do and I don't enjoy being a liar. 

So I've popped some Ibuprofen and Tylenol PM (chastise my drug choice at your own risk folks) and set the alarm for 5:30. If I can be gone by 6 I have a chance at making up the 2hrs I didn't do today. It also means I'll have to only pass through Pamplona. Day 2 of 37 seems early to have dreams crushed so I'll plug on. 

Aforementioned typm is really kicking in so when I look back tomorrow it might just be that I DID go to Auburn of UF. So bare with me. 

PICTURES: are embedded in the Track My Tour app to the right. I didn't take many. I was preoccupied going through hell. 

Good night! 


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Verizon Don't Fail Me Now

Hola from Roncavalles, Espana! 

I have, until this evening, been without cell, data or wifi service since Bayonne. Saint Jean Pied-de-Port (SJPDP) -- aka the starting point and pilgrim Mecca-- was completely without to my surprise. 

So, I still need to fill you in on Paris and the. Give you a little taste of today. Fair warning, I am...well, exhausted. This will account for any typos or the length (brief or long and rambling, TBD) of this post. 

First, I want to thank all of you who have subscribed  or are regularly checking in on this blog. The outpouring of interest and support has been wonderfully overwhelming. I so appreciate all of the notes and comments and it is my hope that I might also offer something to future pilgrims. So please bring on the questions and suggestions for content and I will do my very best. 

For an abbreviated version and for photos, click on the "See Where I Am & Where I've Been So Far" link on the right hand side. Pretty cool little app lets me plug it all in and it's much easier than the blogger app. (h/t: Jonathan)

So, Paris:

It's beautiful, amazingly cultured, and every bit worth my crazy 24 hrs there...yadda, yadda, yadda...

Lets back up for a moment and talk about my first interaction with the French language. I was flying direct from Boston- with a Boston-based crew. They were fantastic. One of them also spoke French. French is of course a beautiful language that is quite easy on the ears. That is unless- and God love him- it's coming from this guy. As most of you are familiar with, the Boston accent is, well, distinct. Just google for examples if you're unfamiliar (I know I've for a raft of non-Americans reading) but it is a harsh, masculine accent that most people would generally describe as less than charming. But its one of those endearing things that makes our wonderful city special. That said, this Boston-based guy  s French was hostile even to the American ear. I'd put it somewhere between the sommelier at a fine restaurant and the guy selling beer at Fenway Park. Absolutely hysterically terrible. 

Next, among the many things I crammed into my day was a 3hr tour of Paris via Segway. A great way to see the sights in quick fashion. We probably covered 20 miles of ground. HatTip to Fat Tire Tours for an exceptional experience. That is except for when your Segway reaches maximum speed and you are unable to stop it. President George W. Bush famously fell off of a Segway, after all their supposed to be practically impossible to fall off of. And I wouldn't say I'm in the company of the president but somewhere close. They work basically by a gyroscope. You tilt fwd they go, you lean back, they slow down. That is unless you've leaned so far forward that it hits speeds of 11mph. Not that may not seem like but I promise you that it's a hell of a lot faster than you or I can run. And it's not a fun feeling when there is nothing strapping you on/to the thing and it has absolutely no breaks. Your instinct is to CLING to the small semblance of a joy-stick/handle contraption, thus further flinging your body FURTHER forward. Leaning back feels like certain death and you are suddenly one a one-man, 2-wheel roller coaster from hell. God forbid you be a pedestrian in the way. So needless to say I had such an experience, out in the open thank God, which came to a halting stop when the two large wheels met a large curb. I attempted to abort the vehicle and was only told that I looked like an I Hurd bird diving for a safe landing. I may or may not have a bruise the size of a baseball on my calm from slamming into one of the wheels on my attempt to dismount. Go ahead. Enjoy that image. I'll wait.  

Ok, done? Good. I finished my evening w  a night boat ride on the River Seine. I highly recommend it (just like the Segway but much less likely to cause you bodily harm). 

Paris may be the City of Lights, but it's also a city of bridges. I think I heard them say something like 37. And we went under nearly all of them. Lovely you might think. You'd be wrong if you're on a boat w a large (30 or so?) group of sloppy drunk French students. The custom-- well use that loosely-- is evidently to scream at the top of your lungs when passing under the bridges. ALL of them. I'm not a total party pooper but give it a rest already. So this very tired pilgrim-in-the making, having left Boston some 18hrs earlier, running on about 2hrs in the last 48hrs was having none of it. It's not funny or interesting. It just sucked and telling you about it make me feel better in some small way. But the sights were lovely. 

So, that and the post "Sleepless in Paris & the Mad Dash" should get us caught up to arrival in SJPDP and today. I'm not sure if included it but I did make it to mass at Notre Dame Cathedral and I don't think I'll forget it as long as I live. There are no words. 


I arrived via a small train from Bayonne that was exclusively pilgrims from what I could tell (pic in the above mentioned link). 

The first task was to get to the pilgrim office and officially register. Little fanfare but a lot of loosely organized chaos. They were wonderfully kind and even helped me and 2 Canadians I was behind find lodging for the night. A small dorm above  a small restaurant housed 14 of us and after some hunting to find it we found it more luxurious than we expected. But few things could be further from the balcony w Paris view room I had at the Westin Vendome. None the less it beat my expectations and I was grateful for a hardy meal, a hot shower and a comfortable bed. And that's exactly what I got. 

I planned to get up at 5:30am and beat the rush of people leaving SJPDP. so when I woke up at 5:30 I was startled to find that all 14 of us were up, though all but me would stay for breakfast. 

So I retrieved my stamps, strapped on my headlamp and began walking into the darkness. The Way was pretty easy to find and we I was supplied w a great map at the Pilgrims office. There were maybe 10 people ahead of me over the preceding half mile, and I was quickly followed by a slightly better than middle-aged couple that was trailing close to benefit from my light. 

About 30m in the roosters began to crow as daylight just barely broke. I say roosters because there must have been a dozen in the 10minute stretch that I walked. I think they woke each other up in a domino effect as I walked with them. 

Another 30minutes in the sun made it just to the ridge line (pics in the afore mentioned link on the right hand side of the blog). This was probably the worst hour of my life. I have never felt like I was climbing a steeper stair-stepper in all my life. But being a pessimist by nature, I had already decided that today was not the day for being such a terrible thing. "TODAY I am an optimist", I told myself upon waking up. I genuinely believed it was the only way I would survive. "Your burden is easy and your yoke are light" were the magic words today. 

Not much more than an hour in the pavement gave way to grassy track even more steep than the street. There I met up w the couple who had stalked me in the dark and realized they were Americans. (Precious few I've encountered). Floridians to be exact and recently retired they're in good shape and lovely people whose company I genuinely enjoyed. Together we suffered through the next 1 or so until reaching the first stop in the "town" of Orisson. In truth, I don't think it's a town given that we only saw the one building but it was a serious marker and the first time we all felt that if we could do that first 10, hellacious Kms in 2+hrs, we would indeed make it another 18km to our destination for the night. 

And so it continued without much relief for another 9hrs. We huffed and puffed but didn't stop for long, except to eat out packed lunches which we scarfed quickly since being in such think clouds (visibility of not even 50 yds) with a brisk wind meant we quickly grew cold and our sweat became an enemy instead of a friend. 

We hiked and hiked through woods and mud and think large gravel for 8.5hrs in total before reaching our summit: a small turn in the road without much fanfare and  with a view veiled by fog. But we knew it was downhill from here and few things could have been a more glorious idea. 

We quickly realized of course that this was just a different type of hard. Our knees, now exhausted from climbing wobbled underneath us with each step. Even with trekking poles we all felt that we might that the knees might give our right from underneath us with each step. Still spirits remained high with another American who now joined our group. This one from Seattle, a middle-aged flight attendant with a warm smile and encouraging attitude (but not too encouraging-- you know, like those people always just a little too happy that create an impulse to punch them). 

Our descent took us longer than we expected with our weak legs and flat out tired bodies but we still made great time. And we remarked that none of us expected to be walking with fellow Americans but found it comforting for such a tough journey. 

So some 10hrs after leaving we arrived. 28km (17.3mi) and more than 1450m of elevation change later. The attitude here is joyous. "We survived" you heard many people say and the pilgrims mass was PACKED with clearly exhausted and emotionally grateful peregrinos, some with tears (including a few of my own) that perhaps came more easily from a body beaten and battered. I've never stood with some many people where the gratitude was palpable. We all knew today could very well have ended in failure or injury, but with few exceptions we stood there in one piece, with the hearts of survivors, beside new friends forged in trial, and so filled with gratitude it would turn atheist into believer. 

I'm not going to post pictures on this post but do check out the map link on the right which will also show you the distance covered today. The dorm hall is dark and filled with the lullaby of snores of all types and it is time for this weary pilgrim to bid you Beunas noches. 

The alarm is at 6:15am for a 7am departure and another 14-17 miles tomorrow, much of it steeply downhill so wish us luck and stability! 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sleepless in Paris & The Mad Dash

The night was a short one. About 2hrs long to be exact. After getting back to the hotel just before midnight I made a quick blog post about not making a real blog post thanks to exhaustion. I was however, still so mentally energized I found sleep nearly impossible for another 3.5hrs. 

Yesterday was exhilarating on many levels but the language barrier was not one of them. I managed to shuffle my way through but found myself more comfortable on the metro or on foot with a map, both of which are infinitely more patient than the Parisian staring you down. Perhaps being on foot was fitting given the nature of the next 38 days. 

With nearly 2hrs of sleep, I woke up easily at 5:30a in order to shower, dress, pack, check-out and grab my cab to the train station. The same train station (Montparnasse) where I would sit in near solitude for an hour until my train arrived. 
Although most trains arrived and displayed their platform number with some 20 minutes notice, mine arrived 9 minutes before departure. Even those for whom this kind of travel was obviously common-place were clearly prepared to dart to the train once we knew where it would be. 

Once platform 9 flashed on the screen I and about 15 others bolted down the frozen escalator to find our chariot. My research told me I had an assigned seat but how specifically assigned was a mystery. 

My ticket clearly printed with "Classe 2" matched the glaring signs baring the same on the side of many of the cars. So large were the markings you could almost hear them shout "now do you fully understand the meaning of second-class citizen?"  

I hopped on board and quickly took stock of where my seat was located in the car. But it also became clear immediately that this was the case in every car, so which Seat 34 was mine?!

With the clock surely having burned at least half of the original 9 minutes until departure I fought my way out of the car. I climbed over students obviously going back to school with luggage that could be mistaken for small street-legal vehicles, granted I have no small pack of my own strapped to my back. Oh, and don't forget the hiking poles knitted to the side which were now unapologetically whacking a few unsuspecting travelers. (Ill make penance later.)

I finally made it back outside and desperately scanned the platform for someone of authority. Seeing no one who looked like they worked for Thomas the Tank Engine I found the next best thing: a well-dressed, middle-aged man with a nice briefcase. (Odds would be good he spoke English, right?)

I approached him calmly flashing my best  "please have pity on me and please God speak English" smile. "Excuse moi" I blurted; the words practically flopping out of my mouth. I pointed to my seat assignment and then to the car he was about to board, "Oui?" I said with a questioning intonation. 

"No, no" he said pointing to the back of the train which seemed to stretch for miles. With a kind but firm voice: "Before. Before," he stressed while motioning as if it would take me until next month to get there. "Merci!" I tossed at him and took off running, now finding myself in similar company. 

A very tall (and skinny!) young man running just a step ahead of me looked back and said something in French that I didn't understand. But I knew the look on his face: the nervous, stressed giggle that  universally said? "this sucks. We better make it because they WILL leave us". 

The numbers on the cars now nearly matching the ones printed on my ticket I slowed my paced while he plowed ahead. 

Finally! The numbers all matched the now sweaty card in my hand. I boarded a car clearly occupied with students and backpackers. Ah, yes-- this seems to be about right. The second class but the ones probably most sincerely living life at the moment. 

No sooner was my bag stowed above me and my body plopped into the seat below me that the train began to pull out of the station. I looked at my phone and noticed that it was almost exactly 24hrs ago that I landed in Paris. 

And what a day it was. I'll fill you in soon. At the moment the top priority is breakfast and a sorely needed nap. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The (Exhausted) American in Paris

It's just after midnight local time and I've made it back to my hotel with just enough energy to repack my bag, arrange for a 5:30am wake up call and to witness the Eiffel Tower light up at the top of the hour. 

Done, done, and done. 

I tried to post several updates to Facebook throughout the day so please check in there to see some of my adventures until I can write about them tomorrow. 

I have an early train that will provide me with 8+ hrs of time to catch up on some badly needed Zs, and make an actual post about my whirlwind day in Paris. 

You're going to want to hear about my "introduction" to the French language, a face off with a Segway (spoiler: I won but it put up quite a fight) and the ear-busting custom (?) that drunk French students partake in on the River Seine. 

Fais de beaux rêves, ami. 

P.S. please let me know if you've subscribed to receive the posts by email but aren't getting them. I think there's a glitch but need confirmation. Merci! 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

From Tracker to Trekker

About 5 months ago I called a friend and mentioned that I was beginning to think about making a 600-mile pilgrimage on foot. Without inquiry about what it was or why, he asked one question: “Have you started a tracker?” I was sort of taken aback. ‘What do you care if I made a tracker’, I thought. But I answered in the affirmative. “Welp, that settles it. You’re going. So you had better tell me about it,” he laughed.  

My friend knew me well enough to know that if I was serious about doing this there would already be a multi-tabbed spreadsheet tracking everything from my itinerary to way-stops and the all-important packing list. And so it began.

I’ll be carrying everything I need for 40 days on my back. There will be no porters or sherpas, no wheelie bags and no shipping my bag ahead. I’m far from a pack rat but go ahead and try piling up everything you use in the course of normal living over 40 days and see if you’d be willing to schlep it 600 miles. Exactly. Necessity has taken on a new definition.

And so the list has been winnowed over and over. My fully-packed pack (without water) weighs in at just under 22 pounds. The general rule of thumb is that the ideal weight is 10% of your body weight. Translation: FAIL. I’m WAY over ideal, but I’ve done practice hikes with more weight than this and I wear it comfortably. I’ll let the road and experience tell me what I can pitch or give away to others; while some items will become lighter along the way (shampoo/conditioner/and my supply of ibuprofen for starters).

The kit basically includes 2 changes of clothes, rain gear, sleeping bag, medical supplies for everything from blisters to the ability to kill God-knows-what with antibiotics. All of that has made its way into my pack, while a limited supply of both sleep aid and 5hr Energy is in a separate bag for the overnight flight and 24hr blitz of Paris. More on how I plan to dominate the City of Lights soon…

Finally, as for the monogrammed technical backpack, abundance of pink, and the Vineyard Vines bag for the plane….be who you are, no matter where you are, right? #owningit

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Prelude

I love maps. Well to be more exact, it’s not that I love cartography, it’s that I like to know where I’m going.
I am a rule-follower; type-A, straight-laced, wound-tight, with a touch of OCD just for good measure. At the age of 29 this has led to its natural conclusion: My name is Jill and I’m a workaholic.
I’ve mapped out a lot of my life. It hasn’t all gone exactly as planned but I can’t complain about where I am or the journey so far. I also acknowledge the tremendous blessing of that last sentence.
And let’s be clear: this 40-day, 600-mile, solo trek, across 2 countries that are half the world away is not because of any existential crisis, it’s not for fear of any looming birthday and it’s sure not about “finding myself”. Those who know me would surely say I have a pretty good sense of who I am.
It is about embracing the maplessness of life. It is about looking at the next 3 years of my life and not seeing another opportunity to go do something BIG...for me, not the guy whose name is on the bumper sticker.
I’m not a blogger or a writer, and I can’t promise that you’ll want to read what I manage to find the energy and interest to post. Hell, I’m not sure I’ll be able to figure out how to work the damned thing from my iPhone.
But I do invite you to travel with me; see what I see, as I see it. Sign up to receive the posts by email below, and join me in becoming a Mapless Pilgrim.