Camino Debrief – The Initial Third Of The Walk

I began my May 2013 blog with the statement “How does an out of shape woman in her mid 50′s prepare to walk 500 miles?  In it I mapped out how I prepared for my Camino.  Now that I’ve been back for a while, I want to go over how I handled the physical parts of the Camino and share some of the adventures and beauty with you.

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My first step as I left my albergue in St. Jean Pied-de-Port

They say the first third of the Camino challenges you physically, the second third (the Mesetas) challenge your mind and the last third challenges your spirit.  I do see some truth to that.  This blog is about the initial third that challenges you physically.

I am so grateful that I was able to take the time off and do the Camino all at once versus in parts.  I got so much out of it and I am continuing to see lessons learned that will be with me for this lifetime (if I let them).

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The church in St. Jean Pied-de-Port

One of the best things I did, was to take the advice of Linda Elliot from our Portlandia Pilgrims group to stay in Orisson for the first night versus doing Brierley’s full stage 1 in one day.  This made the initial day fairly easy and the 2nd day was still a challenge.  I left St. Jean Pied-de-Port near 7:30 AM and arrived in Orisson near 10:45 AM.  To be honest, it felt too early to stop, but I knew it was better to not overdo.  It happened to be a gorgeous day and the view from the deck overlooking the Pyrenees was breathtakingly beautiful.  We were blessed with sunshine and the high route had just opened the day prior.  I also by chance (or the Angels of the Camino) met a wonderful group of 8 Australians who “adopted” me.  I got named “Kathy with the nuts” for offering my peanuts to share with them.  Little did I know that this group would be my support for the remainder of the trip.

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The albergue at Orisson. Stay here or go all the way to Roncesvalles.

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The deck at Orisson where I met the 8 Aussies sitting in the background.

Day 2 was once again sunny and the beauty made me weep a few times.  It is a lot of up and a whole lot of down.  Some real steep downs.  I took the advice of Carol from my hiking group and stopped to rest every hour or two and to take my shoes and socks off at most stops to allow my feet to rest and dry out a bit.  I hoped to be just like Carol and do my Camino with no blisters.

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Dawn at Orisson

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The gorgeous Pyrenees, lots of up, but great views!

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Photos don’t do the Pyrenees justice. So vast and beautiful!

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Stopping to rest and air my feet.

I took the road down as I didn’t bring a walking stick and I know down is my bigger challenge.  I think I was the only one who took the road, as I began to feel a bit alone during this time and I sure hoped I was going the right way (and I was).  I was going to stay in the monastery albergue, but for some reason I couldn’t find it and instead I ended up at Albergue Roncesvalles which was very modern, clean and huge!  I ran into my Australian friends there and we went out for a beer and then dinner later that evening.

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Albergue Roncesvalles

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Dinner with Liz, Stuart, Ali and the other Aussies

Over the next several days I walked with the Australians.  On day 5, I had the bad fortune to fall in the mud twisting my knee.  Stuart helped me up from my fall and offered to carry my backpack.  His wife, Liz, was quick to provide me with ibuprofen and a cream to rub on my knee for pain.  She also gave me her walking stick to help me put less pressure on my knee.  Once again tears ensued as the kindness of strangers caught me so off guard.  I knew everyone recommends walking sticks, but I happen to love photography so much and to try and hold the sticks and my camera did not appeal.  But now that I was injured, I saw the immense value in the stick and that someone would give up her stick for me, blew me away.  Cherryl and Lizzie even chipped in and did my much overdo laundry while I rested that evening with my foot up.  I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to continue with my bum knee.  To give me every possible chance of continuing, I emailed my friend, Penny.   She did some remote Reiki healing work on my knee that night.  By morning, thanks to all the healing support of friends, I was good to go (with some pain and stiffness).

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Me at Alto del Perdon shortly after falling in the mud and twisting my left knee

The next day it had flooded and there were large rivers and thick mud where the roads and trails were, making walking a big challenge.  I was slow, so I was walking by myself.  In trying to get past a tough area I tweaked my bad knee and fell into the water.  As I sat there in the water I was fully immersed waist deep.  My legs and feet were under water for several minutes until I could come up with a plan for how to get over and out of the water.  At that point no one was around and I was yelling “the stick, the stick” as the stick I had been given was floating in the water over to a little waterfall like area.  To this day I don’t know how I managed to get up from sitting on the ground, with a 25 pound backpack on, no stick, no help in sight and with a bad left knee…but I did.  And I was even able to retrieve the walking stick too!  I continue to think those Camino angels have a full-time job with all the miracles they perform, both small and large.

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Flooding made it very difficult to move forward

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Thick mud that worked like a suction cup with each step for several miles

So much for being just like “Carol with no blisters.”  I ended up with blisters on the back of both heels from all that moisture and walking, so I wore my Birkenstocks with socks for the next few days to give my heels a chance to mend.  By now my knee was much improved, but I was still slow due to the knee and now due to the blisters too.  Over the next three days, my Aussie friends went at their own pace and saved me a bed.  In Estella as I came to the edge of town, there were Stuart and Liz waiting for me, so they could show me the way to the albergue they had found.  I don’t know how long they had waited there, but I do know it was so reassuring to know I was not alone.

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I thought I was original when I began taking photos of my shadow, but almost everyone does this on the Camino.  It’s the true Camino selfie!

By day 8 of my Camino my body felt stronger.  Here is an entry I posted on Facebook describing it:

“Day 8 – Los Arcos to Viana as an easy 20 km over 4.75 hours in my Birkenstocks and socks. Slept awesome even though in a dorm with about 30 others. Woke early, washed face and brushed teeth, then dressed and off on the Camino. My dream was to get to the albergue first and circle back to show my Aussie friends where beds for the night are (as they have done for me the last few nights when I gimped in last). And my dream was realized! Knee is 90% better and feet are OK in my sandals, so the body was quiet and I heard my heart as I walked in the beauty around me today!”

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This day was like walking in a postcard the whole way. Very breathtaking!  Very healing!

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The Andres Munoz Albergue in Viana

The next day 2 important things would happen:

  1. I learned the important treatment trick of threading my blisters (with the aid of Liz and Stuart).
  2. I awoke to find a new blister had formed where my right foot rubbed on the toe groove in my Birkenstocks.

I was heartsick, as I knew this blister would not work in my Birkenstocks nor in my boots.  And so with much reluctance, that was the day I said goodbye to my Aussie friends.  Of the 8 Aussies at Orrison, 4 (Rose, Lizzie, Cherryl and Patrick) were returning home as their vacation days drew to an end, 3 were going forward on the Camino without me, (Liz, Stuart and Ali) and 1 remained about a day behind.

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7 of the 8 Aussies (Patrick, Cherryl, Ali, Liz, Stuart, Lizzie and Rose)

It is hard to say to goodbye to anyone you grow fond of, but these friends had helped me during some of my most trying times, making it even harder to separate ways.  I must admit I cried some tears of appreciation and sadness as I soaked my feet during that rest day in Navarette.  They say the Camino is like life, with hellos and goodbyes interspersed.  I think it is important to be open to connecting with others, while not being attached that they will stay in our lives.  Not an easy lesson, but a valuable one none the less.

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A portion of “The Pilgrimage” by Paulo Cohelo that I read while resting due to my blisters

At dinner that evening I would run into the 8th Aussie, Ron, who had stayed behind in the rain.  He had made new friends, so it was a brief hello and then off to our own events.  The next day after threading my own blister and doing all the soaks the day prior, my feet were ready to slip into my boots for the first time in 5 days.  I still took it easy, but it was a beautiful day as I walked and talked with folks along the way.  It felt good to be walking again!

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Dinner in Navarette

At one point I ran into Ron shortly after stopping for a late lunch.  He was very tired so he was staying in Najera while I still planned to move on.  As I was walking up a hill nearing Azofra, I turned around and much to my surprise, there was Ron!  Ends up he didn’t like the albergue in Najera, so he pushed forward.  We walked into town together and found a room in the wonderful municipal albergue in Azofra.  Ron had friends who suggested we do a group dinner which was a memorable, fun and tasty meal.

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Only 582 out of the 800 Kms to go. This was where Ron surprised me and appeared!

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Community dinner in Azofra with Roger, Kathy, Mark, Ron and me.

The following day I really wanted to stay in Granon and when I hit town I once again I ran into Ron.  He had checked out both albergues and suggested “the church over the incense place” so that is where we stayed.  We partook in mass, had a very entertaining dinner that involved singing, stories and more singing and some control freak stuff too.

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Singing for our supper in Granon

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Community meal in Granon

We both wanted to get out of Granon before breakfast, so the next day Ron and I left before sunrise.  As we were walking, we soon realized we walked at a similar pace.  Little did we know then that we could walk together all the way to Santiago.

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Detail on door to Albergue in Granon

Soon we would be in Burgos, where the Mesetas begin.  So how did I handle the physical challenge of the initial 180 miles?  I’d say I allowed the Camino to do it’s magic.  The thing I feared most (blisters) happened, teaching me I can survive versus be stopped by them.  My body was strong and repaired quickly and those hardships brought lessons that I believe I needed, such as the kindness of friends, the ability to not be stopped and allowing myself to be vulnerable in a way that was new.

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Blister a couple of weeks later

Don’t let my experience scare you.  During the camino I did not have any other injuries or pain.  No leg soreness, no tendonitis, no other falls (although I’m sure when you read I fell twice in two days, you were worried I’d fall again).  I did get some other blisters from my toes getting too tight in my boots on long hot days.  I learned not to be afraid of blisters, but to embrace them and learn from them.  My feet at times felt tired, and getting those boots off at the end of the day and showering was always a welcome treat!

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Shadow selfie in the fields of the Camino

My main advice is to others considering the Camino is to take it slow and take in the experience.  People of all ages and physical condition do the Camino.  You don’t have to be an athlete or fully trained to do the Camino, however walking and hiking before you go is wise.

Listen to your body.

Don’t rush to arrive.

Enjoy the journey!

Perhaps this is the main lesson the Camino teaches us.

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The beauty of nature as seen in the skies on the Camino

13 Comments

  1. Tricia Peterman says:

    It is so enjoyable to read of your adventure and your feelings, emotionally and physically. It makes it seam so very realistic. Thanks for sharing with me. And thanks for spliting it up into thirds. I might have felt it was TOO much to have the entire trip in one blog. You write very interstingly Kathy. Your spirit is strong.

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    • Yes, agreed, this is a long blog. You nailed it as to why I split it up. This is a blog for goodness sake, not a book! Thanks for taking the time to read about my experience. I know you followed me on Facebook and got the day by day updates, but this blog is expounding on the inner adventures on that trip.

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  2. mashland says:

    Thank you for taking me there…

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  3. Nadine says:

    This is a wonderful post. I’ll be on the Camino this June/July (for the first time!!), so I look forward to hearing more about your experiences!

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  4. Alsten Tauro says:

    Fantastic. Thank you for sharing. Doing my first camino Apr 15th

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  5. Donna says:

    Have been enjoying your posts. I leave for France on April 1st – deliberating chosen since this may be the most foolish thing I’ve ever done! :). Hope to be on the Camino on 4/5 – and have booked a bed in Orisson to give myself time to adjust. Your pictures are gorgeous – can’t wait to see for myself!

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  6. Stuart Green says:

    Hey Kath, wonderful to relive the memories! really miss you.
    Stuart and Liz

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