I couldn’t believe that I woke up and got ready to walk. After everything I’d been through the day before. But, while stiff, I just kept putting everything into my pack, brushing my teeth, and cleaning up my area. The hostel attendant hadn’t put anyone else in my room (the cheapest rooms have several beds), and I had an inkling it had to do with how I looked when I entered the hostel the night before.
I wasn’t complaining.
The only difference for that day was that I knew I had to take care of a few blisters on my feet, ones I never thought I’d get. I say this because the blisters are underneath calluses I already have to protect against this sort of thing. Tender, I didn’t want any more agony than what I had already been in. Taped up feet it was. My feet slightly protested against their being shoved back into the dark holes, but it wasn’t half as bad as I anticipated. They accepted their fate.
As I went to work on this new development, I thought about the people I had been meeting on the road. They were all wearing such different clothes from me, things I wouldn’t have imagined for a second wearing on such a tough trekking journey. Like cargo pants. Or jeans. Or cotton shirts. Several times, people told me my shoes must be too hot or heavy, yet they had saved me more times than I can remember from some serious tripping.
These things went against what I’d learned online about hiking professionals. Here I was, playing by the rules and getting repercussions.
I made my way out to get breakfast and met my first girl who was alone on the trek. She was only going to be walking for about another four days, but it felt nice to see that I wasn’t a complete minority. Most people were couples on the trek, or just men.
Fanny and I talked about how we watch certain types of crime television, which then gets us scared if we find ourselves in a situation that seems like it was on the show. Usually, the women are killed. It was a bonding moment.
She asked if I was leaving soon, but I had forgotten my credentials the night before, which is the piece of paper I carry around to get stamped to prove I had been walking and made it to that particular town. I said I’d catch up, and she promised we would as she was a slow hiker.
Except the office didn’t open when it said it would. I ended up having to go to a random bar fifteen minutes after their opening time, so I figured I wouldn’t see her on the road. I was “late” by hiking standards. I knew I wanted to take my time, but I also knew I wanted to get to a certain spot that day since it was a FREAKING CASTLE WE GOT TO SLEEP IN.
I was alone for the morning part of my trek. I was a bit sad since I’d lost my joyful group the day prior, but I felt as if I needed to start using the time for more than chatter amongst other folks. This trek was also about self reflection and thinking about life.
Within moments, I thought I saw a group of five guys walking some distance ahead of me, and I did a double take to see if I recognized their backpacks, but it turned out to be a mixed grouping. I passed them when they took their morning break an hour or so in. I also passed another group I recognized from Le Puy. We said pleasantries as I passed.
It was uneventful. I thought about how many people I may meet on the trek, if only for a few hours, then would have to move on. I was so used to making connections and keeping them for longer periods of time. I was beginning to understand that it was okay to have a pure connection with people, for just those seconds, and then letting go. I didn’t like it at first. I tend to keep the people I enjoy in my life. But then I thought about the choices I could have with the situation. Better to leave something to smile about later rather than not have the connection at all, non?
Around lunch time, I met up with a group of two couples: Orange and Brigitte, Pascal and Anni. All were from a part of France. I was trying to find a place with a cheap sandwich or soup as there tend to be a lot of those places if you wander around properly, but the cafes in the town we stopped in were closed until much later. They started to set up lunch as we walked to the next town and insisted I eat with them. We had bread and meat and cheese…
My fucking gods, did I mention the cheese in France? I would stay here only for the cheese. The taste of cheese in France is so different than in the states. It is legit their dessert most of the time.
To be fair, it could be that anything after walking sixteen miles tastes that delicious.
They had noticed earlier that I had my ukulele, so, as a thank you for sharing their lunch, I played some music. They liked with I played Silly Love Songs–so much so that Pascal showed me that he’d taken video of me playing, to which I was entirely embarrassed. It did feel wonderful to give something back for their kindness.
The time went by quickly with a few people to talk with as we walked. I don’t know a lot of French, but they knew enough English, so there was laughter to ensue at many points. Pascal and Orange (I promise you, this is the name he gave me) pointed out wild blueberries and wild raspberries along our trail at one point, and, yes, we totally ate some, and, yes, they were delicious like all the food in Europe.
We finally got up the last of the hills and I saw something written on the ground: Not That Hard was written into the sand. I think. But it was also difficult to truly tell what it said from the feet that trekked over it. It could have been anything else. I could have been projecting.
Which would be weird because it wasn’t that easy of a trek. But now I know what the people who wrote all those books on trekking the Camino de Santiago consider a base to start from.
When we got to the castle, it was actually pretty modern. When most people think of castles, they think of the large Disney Kingdom type castle. But this was more along the lines of what a laird would be, someone who just owns the surrounding lands rather than the entire kingdom itself.
I found out later that the place was run by the surrounding farmers. The farmers would take shifts to take care of the place, whether it was laundry or serving the food. It was a place for tourism. If the place fell, then they wouldn’t necessarily have anything else to keep them going. The people working were the nicest yet, and I knew that I’d be thinking of Solage a long time after I’d left.
Plus, they had a washer and dryer. I was thrilled.
The next morning, I got up for breakfast early to try and get out on the road. The typical early riser breakfast in France seems to be some bread from a baguette, butter, a type of jelly, and then either coffee or tea. At first, I was wary about this, but I’d found that by eating a small amount like this in the morning was better for walking–I was never too full. Plus, I could make some extras to eat again later in the morning when I stopped.
I saw Fanny again, and we said we’d probably be meeting up again at some point. She liked to take pictures, which was one of the reasons she was a slow hiker, but she also left part of her pack in another back to be sent ahead to her next location, as many other people do. It keeps the pack lighter so the feet don’t pound as much by the end of the day.
Again, I trekked the morning alone, but this time, I was much happier. I sang. I sang some Disney music, Beatles, Remix Ignition… No one else was around, and it helped to keep a good pace. I also noticed it helped keep my mind off the beginning of my trek, wherein my asthma hadn’t quite evened out.
The one thing about the hike to remember is that one is always going for a certain destination. Whether it be the official stopping town for St. Jacques or a surrounding village, it is important to know how far things are so you don’t get stranded close to sunset, or without a Gite (hostel) to stay at.
I say this is one thing to remember because I haven’t yet played by these rules. As I continue to walk, I change my mind, thinking of how my body status is. If it is noon and I feel good, I think that I’ll go a bit further. I usually ask people around me what the next St. Jacques station is and attempt that.
This could all be avoided if you wanted to pay money for a book that weighs down your pack and not mooch off of anyone.
This day, it was supposed to be a 26.7km walk. However, I wasn’t quite sure if I would be up for such a task. I debated back and forth throughout the morning, feeling much better since the third day, but still figuring I should play it slow. I thought maybe I’d go the whole way, just to see how I felt.
It turned out, I felt more like 20km that day.
I’d finally missed a hiking sign and walked a mile out of my way or so before I got back on the regular track. After that, it was a lot of rocky, uphill hits. However, the good ol’ Small Steps chant seemed to work every time.
Fanny and I ran into each other around 1:30pm after some deep hiking. She and her walking partner that day, who could only speak French, had a place they were staying at. I said I’d tag along, then move to the next town as I didn’t think another 7km would be that difficult.
At one point, Mikal asked me why I was doing the trek, which is always the topic of conversation to come up while meeting new people. It is much like how we in Minnesota talk about the weather when there is no other subject to come up.
N0w, I’d answered this question several times. It was always the same story. But between the day before and now, I’d had a lot of time to think again about why I was doing this trek.
“About a year and a half ago or so, one of my friends heard about this trek and wanted to do it. When I showed interest, she invited me along,” I started. I always started this way. “Eventually, the idea seemed to peter off, like it wasn’t going to happen. She had gotten a new job and a new apartment, so there wasn’t as much incentive to “get out”. I was sad. I wasn’t very happy in my job, and I felt like I was kind of stuck. I really had been looking forward to this as a way to start over. Eventually, I decided to do the trek by myself. So, I started saving money. I then quit my job. I’m now looking at this trek as a way to show myself that I am a lot stronger than I give myself credit for. I also feel it will show that I should be taking more chances on what I believe I can do in life.”
“That,” he said after Fanny translated, “is a beautiful story. Good luck.”
I felt my cheeks redden. While I had been thinking about this for a good amount of time since Friday, it was quite another to feel comfortable enough to blurt it out. But I meant it. I could feel it in my bones. I wanted to feel that I could trust myself to do what I needed to do.
“What about you?” I asked. “How far have you come?”
“I only have ten days, so I am doing as much as I can so I can see as much as possible. I did 34km twice, so today I only do 20km.”
“You did 34km twice? You’re like Superman! You should have a cape!” We laughed. “Wait,” I said, remembering I’d heard this before. “Wait, you’re that guy? The group I was with for a small bit, they talked about you! Said you were some crazy guy! Do you remember Xavier or Henry?”
And he did. He had trekked with them the first day. I explained that I’d been with them, and we agreed they were a great group of guys. I was so happy at the coincidence, on how small the world can really get.
When we arrived at the house, full of green grass, a lovely view, and that cottage feel, my feet suddenly didn’t want to move any longer. I was tired. My feet would need a good rest before taking on another 7km, which would leave me no time for properly washing my clothes so they’d be dry by the morning. Plus, Fanny said, they have ice cream.
I was sold. We both waddled our way up to the door. The lovely lady took us in, and she definitely had an extra bed for the night. Fanny and I took to our beds and stretched and talked some more before taking our showers and washing our clothes. It felt nice, as if I’d had a routine in this oddly done schedule of a trek.
By the time our clothes were washed, we had been talking about nearly everything. It started with things as simple as where things would be the next day, but it turned some time around 8pm to talking about our celebrity crushes. It was as if we were at a slumber party in junior high. Except then the topic changed to Quantum Physics, and we discussed how crazy it was that we’d probably never understand how people actually think.
During our conversation, I talked about how I hadn’t met up with her that first time we’d met. I explained what had happened that morning, but then also meeting up with a slower group that showed me the side of social Camino de Santiago.
“Ah, I had met up with something of four guys straight away anyway,” she replied. “I ended up walking some ten kilometers with some guy who had two names. Roberto was the second name, but ‘S’-something was the other one.”
“Wait,” I said, perking up. “Was it Sergi?”
“Yeah! How did you know?”
I began to laugh. “That’s one of the guys I walked with!” I explained. “You ended up walking with the guys I’d hoped to have seen the next day! That means they had stayed in the town I crashed in but never saw them again!” I began laughing again. Because of course that is how it worked.
“I was wondering if I knew those names when we were talking with Mikal. Henry and Xavier were there, too. And the other guy with the red backpack…”
“That was Jesus,” I said, and we laughed. “Oh my gods, this is just too funny. I’m sorry, it’s just…What did you end up doing with them?”
“Well, I actually met Sergi-Roberto because he made a line at me, complimenting my feet, which were out of my shoes at a part of town.” She went on to explain after she’d left a cafe, he’d caught up to her and talked to her and they discussed music. Then, he’d gone off to find the rest of the group as they’d split up to get to another town quicker. “But then he was at Solage when I got there, so–”
“Wait, he was at Solage? Like, I missed everyone?” I began laughing again. How more parallel could you get?
“No, no, he had accidentally taken the wrong route. He was eating lunch and still had four kilometers to meet up with the group in the next town.”
“Wow.” I couldn’t believe it. I laughed yet again at the absurdity of the situation. “I’m sorry, it’s just…I love it. I love that you met the guys I told you about. And I can’t stop thinking of how crazy it is that people can be so near each other and never see the other.”
“I think it would have been a great day and you and I and the rest of that group walked together. The energy would have been astounding.”
“You can see why I wanted to catch back up,” I told her.
“I feel like you’re telling me that you have a crush on four Frenchmen at the same time!” She began to laugh. “When you write about this, you’ll have to say how incredibly handsome they are, that they are just the finest of men!”
“Ha, additionally, charming Frenchmen! Oh, but it isn’t like that,” I said. “It’s just…they were the first people I met here on the trail. And they had no qualms whatsoever taking me with them. I mean, when we got to the hostel, they included me in to make sure I got a room, translated everything. Xavier especially, he always went with me if I had to talk with someone to make sure there was less confusion. I just feel incredibly happy to have met a group like that. To have felt so connected and at home with. It sucks that I left them the way I did. Especially as upset as I was. Oh, and poor, Jesus! He was such a kind person, the best person, and I was so frustrated and angry and…ugh! I had teased him so much before, and then he was the best!”
Fanny looked at me. “I feel like we need to get you to your Frenchmen. Stop at nothing, just walk until you find them again!”
I took a brief moment to think about how that would look. Not only desperate, but also incredibly like a bad romantic comedy.
“Nah,” I said, giving a half smile. “First, I think it is too late. They walk pretty fast, and they’re also only on the trail for six days before they leave for a different trail or something. If they’re where you said they were, there is no way I’d catch up. Second, that would just…I don’t know. I feel like it’d be weird now. I’d love to hug them and say thank you, but…I think this is just another lesson I’m supposed to learn. Have these moments and enjoying them to the fullest. And to remember to give contact information.”
“I just feel like if you can be like you are now about it, you shouldn’t give up. Maybe you’ll meet up again.”
“That’s what I hope. I don’t waste second chances.”
We then went on to laugh about Sergi-Roberto because, come on, Sergi-Roberto. ‘You have nice feet’? What a pick-up line.