It’s hard to describe this day, if you haven’t done it. You start as an innocent in a bar in Borres. I was so happy to be there I completely forgot to collect my first stamp of the day. I left with some friends – Texas friends, the best kind! – and we took off not really knowing what we’d find. After a short bit, there was a sign: Pola de Allande to the one side, Hospitales to the right. Easy, right?
It did not take long before I knew I was in an extraordinary place. Two friends walked on ahead – they are younger, faster than me. And one stayed behind to walk with this little old lady. I called him my Guardian Angel. Sounds corny now, but in the moment I was sure that was what he was. We spent the next dozen hours together, just marveling at the splendor of God’s green earth and how wonderful it was that we could do this.
The route climbs in a way I had not experienced since St. Jean Pied de Port. The beauty of this route is that way up there in these mountains, there are the remains of several pilgrim’s hostels, or hospitales, and beyond that? Nada. There is nothing for over 30 kilometers of hiking. You don’t need gear, really, just determination. On the way back down the other side, there was a sweet guy with soft drinks and water who claimed to have just set up his little table of refreshments that day. He was giving away the melted ice water – a real kindness after a long day walking.
I learned a lot about motivation, about stick-to-itiveness, as we used to call it. Once you start climbing you really have few options other than to keep going and I think that knowledge was as powerful as anything. And I really wanted to see the refuge sites – they were stunning. The very idea that pilgrims would stop in these tiny places to get in out of the weather and tend to their feet or their backs – that was powerful stuff too.
In the end, I would do it again. Maybe send my pack along ahead to the next stop. It was glorious.
And thanks, Eric.