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 rĂªves, 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.