I learned something about myself today: 52 kilometers is a bit over my limit. But… I did it! 2 days from Santiago to Muxia. I would never do it again and maybe it was worse because I had three 40km days leading up to Santiago, which means I did just a tad more than 200 kilometers in 5 days (and I don’t know that I would recommend this to anyone)… but I’m happy to have done it.
Part of this crazy plan of walking really long days was so that I could try to do it all: make it from Irun to Santiago, then be able to walk to Muxia, and then make it back to Santiago and have a little time to try to find people that I’d met along the way. I didn’t realize that I would want to spend time in Santiago after a trip to Muxia until I realized that most of my friends were behind me, so when I began to consider doing Santiago to Muxia in two days, a big reason for that was so that I could have extra time in Santiago at the very end of this journey.
But also, I wanted to see if I could do a 50km day. Last year I’d wanted to break 40km, and I did, and it was plenty. But this year I happened to hang around with some young guys who loved to walk really big days, and the idea began to stir around in my head- maybe I could do it, too. I think it was Simon who said to me, “Don’t you want to go for 50km, to see if you can do it?”
So I did, and I can do it. But not well. You should have seen me on the last 10 kilometers of the walk today: I was literally dragging myself to Muxia. And wondering why in the world I ever thought this was a good idea. And wishing that these weren’t the very last kilometers of my Camino this year- spent in the rain, small pebbles rolling around in my shoes, mud slinging up on my calves, nearly every muscle of my body aching, my eyes heavy because I need more sleep. If there had been a bar 5km or even just 2km away from Muxia I would have stopped for some coffee, just something to power me through. But I powered myself through, ending with a small, steep hill up to the albergue. I stopped in the middle of the hill, partly because I was exhausted, and partly to take a moment to recognize the end of my Camino. Despite my fatigue, I said to myself, “This was a good Camino.” And it was. And, honestly, not a bad way to end this Camino. It started with a steep hill in the rain and was ending with a steep hill in the rain, but the in betweens had been glorious.
The day started really well. I had been the last to bed the night before but the first to wake up in the morning (and this is EXACTLY the reason for my heavy eyes today). I was ready to go in 25 minutes, which I think is a record for me. 5:30am I was on the (dark) road, walking. And even though I walked in the dark for an hour, I didn’t get lost once, or even momentarily confused. My guidebook had decent directions, and I was vigilant about shining my flashlight around to look for arrows and waymarkers. I walked until 7:00 and stopped at the first open bar for a cafe con leche and tostada, and took a few moments to watch the sunrise, something I haven’t seen much on this Camino.
The bar I’d stopped at was also an albergue, and the hospitaleros looked at me as I drank my coffee. “You didn’t stay here last night,” they said to me. “No,” I replied. When I’d entered the bar there were lots of other pilgrims around, getting ready to start their day. It felt kind of good to have already been on the road for 90 minutes. I felt kind of tough.
That feeling lasted for awhile- I walked for a few more hours then took another coffee break. I ran into a German guy I’d met very briefly the day before, and later, passed him on the trail. “Wow, you’re fast!” he told me. I looked at him over my shoulder as I walked away, “I’m fast now, but maybe not so fast later.”
Truer words have never been spoken. After another hour it started to rain, and then my body sort of said to me, “I’ve had enough.” I pushed myself through until I could find a bar, and soon after I arrived the German guy and an Australian girl came in. We all sat and ate sandwiches and the goofy barman tossed rubber eggs at us. I get so confused sometimes because I don’t understand Spanish, but I don’t think this was a language thing, I think the barman was just a bit odd. He had a couple of rubber eggs and I guess they were a joke but maybe I was too tired to really get it. And I WAS tired- too tired for the barman with the rubber eggs, too tired for the good looking German guy who was telling me that he just finished a degree in counseling. I could have handled this at the beginning of my Camino, I could have handled this a few days ago (even yesterday!), but today? All I wanted to do was lay my head on the table and fall asleep.
And then, as I continued to walk, any toughness I’d had in the past few days disappeared. I hobbled through the last kilometers to Muxia, arriving around 6pm, and told myself that I was glad to not have to walk tomorrow. I pulled off my shoes and socks to discover another small blister on the ball of my foot (something I suspected was forming during the last 10 kilometers of the day’s walk… and how’s this for a Camino message? The blister was perfectly formed in the shape of a little heart. Love and pain and all of that… lots of symbolism here- the Camino’s final mark on me was a heart, and I had to laugh when I saw it). I arranged my sleeping bag over my bunk and went to take a shower only to discover that the stalls didn’t have doors. Second time for me on the Camino, but this time I was not the only woman in the albergue. I was not amused but what can you do? At least the water was hot.
I took a walk through the town and over to the end of the little penisula, where I walked over the flat rocks to stand facing the water as it crashed against the shore. It was rough and a bit wild, windy with dark clouds swirling behind me. But ahead of me, far out over the water, the sun was shining (I think another metaphor, perhaps). And as I walked on the rocks and climbed up a hill around the church, the sky began to clear and the evening became beautiful.
Walking back to my albergue I didn’t recognize anyone (and really, the only people I would know in this town were the German and Australian I’d met that day). I wasn’t sure how I felt about being alone; part of me craved it, wanting to just cook up a nice meal and do some writing back at the albergue. But the other part of me was wistful and a little sad- knowing that I was completely finished with my Camino, having just walked over 50 kilometers, wanting to somehow celebrate it, wanting to not be alone.
Back at the albergue I opened a bottle of wine and cut up some vegetables and settled in at a table to do some writing. Moments later, a guy walked downstairs and I squinted when I saw him. From where I was sitting, he looked an awful lot like Honza, the Czech guy from the night before. He looked at me, and then we both grinned and shook our heads. It was Honza, and I was really, really surprised to see him in Muxia.
“You didn’t walk the 50km today, did you?” I asked as he walked over.
“Oh yes, I did. And it was because of you, you put the idea in my head last night.”
I looked at him, worried about whether he hated me for putting the idea in his head.
He smiled. “And on the walk today I wanted to thank you, because I’m really happy I did it.”
So just like Simon had put the idea of a 50km into my head, I’d put the idea in Honza’s head. And as I stood talking to him, I realized that I wouldn’t be alone tonight after all. Honza was a new friend, but he was a friend who had also just walked 50 kilometers to get here.
We made a meal together- pasta and a sauce with chorizo, bread, wine. After we finished eating we took the wine up to the second floor terrace of the albergue, where others were gathered to watch the sunset. As we’d been cooking we’d found two candles in one of the kitchen drawers- a 5 and a 0. While surely someone else had celebrated a milestone birthday, Honza noted that these candles were also meaningful for us. So we stuck the candles into the top of two bottles of wine and held out our cameras to take a photo- the ocean and the sunset in the background. A way to commemorate our 52 kilometer day.
We sat on the ledge of a stone wall, Italians next to us, some French in chairs below us. Drinking wine and talking with a new friend as the sun set and the stars came out, I couldn’t have predicted that this would be how I’d spend the night of my last day of walking the Camino Norte/Camino Primitivo. But, in some ways, of course this is how it would finish: I always struggled with whether I wanted to remain on my own or to be with others on this Camino, and in some ways, the Camino wouldn’t let me be alone. I knew it back on Day 4, when I walked away from my first Camino family, passed under that bridge and saw the graffitied words: “You’ll never walk alone.”
And it was true, because even though I spent so much of the actual walking time alone on this Camino, the number of people I met and the short, but deep connections I made astounded me. I would walk ahead or behind but always, there were others just ahead or behind, as well. Nicolas or Honza, Guillemette or Christine. Moritz or Nicole or Richard or Elissa. And dozens of others. I never knew when I would run into my friends or run into someone new or keep walking alone but this is the Camino (and life, too): in the end, I think we never walk alone.