When I woke up the next day, it felt odd to know I’d been so tired that I couldn’t remember hearing anyone getting ready for their walk. Apparently, my body had been exhausted enough to acknowledge that their noises was nothing out of the ordinary. I couldn’t even remember if I’d woken up at all that night, which was rare enough in of itself.
I swung my legs over to the side and moved to walk to the bathroom.
“Ughfangl,” I said, or something to that effect, for I had almost collapsed from trying to stand. Instead, I stumbled to the nearby wall a step away and laughed at the ridiculousness of my legs.
“I know,” Katherine said, arms over her face in her own bed.
I hobbled to the bathroom, holding the walls with my hands to help ease myself onto the toilet seat when I managed to make my way into the stall.
When I came back, I collapsed on the bed once more, groaning as my feet protested against every movement. I checked my emails and social media.
“Hey,” I said. “Did you contact Ludo to tell him we’d arrived last night?”
“Yeah,” Kath replied. “We’re going to meet for breakfast or something before he leaves to walk.”
“Okay.” I wondered how this meeting would go. Kath and I had talked about what we wanted from the departure, and we’d both said that giving him a hug and best wishes felt wonderful. I knew I would be okay with this, and that I’d see him again anyway. We were supposed to go to a concert together in October to see Imagine Dragons, his first concert ever, so it wasn’t really a goodbye. But Ludo wasn’t focusing on himself while walking, and I wasn’t sure if it was healthy for him to stay around us two. I knew it wasn’t healthy for me at this point.
“Did you get any bites last night?” Katherine asked me.
“No. I’ve barely gotten any bites this whole trek, actually. Why?”
“I was up all night from itching. It could be bed bugs, but the bites are huge, like from mozzies.” For those who are unaware, a mozzie is a mosquito.
“Let me see.” She showed me the large marks all over her arms and neck, even a few on her face.
“Christ. Maybe it came from when we sat in that park area, when you lay on the ground?” That didn’t seem likely as she’d worn shorts. She had no bites on her legs. “But remember when we went through that forest area in the early afternoon, up along that hillside? Flies buzzing around me everywhere? Maybe that? Except I didn’t get bitten by them, they were just…annoying.” I’d had to basically swat at my head for over an hour, feeling like a cow.
“Maybe. Gods, they itch. I’ll go to the pharmacy later.”
“It just seems odd that you’d get all of these bites and I’d get none.”
I put on my normal casual attire I’d gotten while in Conques, feeling tired despite the full night’s rest. I was ready in minutes while Katherine took a lot longer in the bathroom than usual. I used the time before Ludo came to write on my blog since I was already a week behind.
She came out several times, brushing her hair, using makeup, and changing the style for her hair as well. When I finally looked up from my writing, I noticed she was wearing a dress she’d bought before Ludo had left, but that she had purposefully not worn around Ludo for fear of him getting the wrong idea. That had been even prior to him making passes at her.
I was confused as I saw her put on some perfume she’d gotten as a sample from a shop ages ago, something she’d said she had been saving for a special occasion. For a guy she’d be emailing and had the possibility of meeting up with later as they’d been having a rather love connection back and forth for ages. In fact, she had been gushing about an email he’d sent while we were at the Paradise Gite.
To me, it seemed as if she were getting ready for a date. If I knew a guy was particularly crushing on me that I wasn’t interested in, the last thing I’d do would be dressing up to the nines if I had to see him. I could understand not wanting to look droll, but…
I figured Kath had gone down the stairs while I was writing when I didn’t see her for a good twenty minutes or so. I wondered if that meant I was supposed to be down there waiting, too, but then figured they’d come grab me. I wanted to give Kath and Ludo some time as they had some stuff to figure out. And I thought that was best figured out before I came in.
Basically, I didn’t want to sit there awkwardly while they figured that shit out. It would have meant me drinking at breakfast.
Kath breathlessly came into the room, beaming and excited. “Ludo is here!” she said, giddy as a child on Christmas.
“I thought maybe he was since you’d disappeared.” I made to swing from the bed, but I saw her hesitate to say something. “What?”
“I just… Is it okay if I get some time alone with him? I need just, like, thirty minutes. I need to talk to him, explain.”
“I thought you’d need time,” I said, understanding. “Take your time. Get me when you’re ready.”
“There’s a bar just down the road here. Come down in thirty minutes.” She paused. “Maybe forty-five.”
“Let’s make it an hour,” I said, brow raised. She was moving her hands erratically. She was nervous.
“Forty-five should be fine.” She turned to leave, took a moment, then went back down the stairs.
I have them an hour anyway, really not wanting to barge in on anything. I wasn’t sure what was going on, didn’t really mind either way, but I wasn’t keen on seeing people in tears and people pretending to be fine. Better to let them figure it out and me come in during the results.
There were several bars down the road, because of course there were. I went into them all, checking outside and in. After fifteen minutes, I began to wonder if they’d actually left. I was technically late, and even more so now that I’d been trying to find them.
So, I went back to the gite, thinking they’d perhaps come to get me when I didn’t show. Finding no one there, either, I sighed and thought, Well, I’m not going to just sit here and wait around in hopes they’d show up. I’ve got shit to do.
I wrote a quick note and set it on Kath’s bed, then set out for my errands.
First, I went to a pilgrim shop I’d seen while walking to our gite the night prior.
At Paradise Gite, there had been a large bonfire our second day. I had a pair of blue-camo cargo pants that, after weeks of walking in, I’d decided were bad luck. Every time I wore them, bad shit seemed to go down, from injuries to someone in our group, people getting lost (i.e. me), or unexpected hardships occurred.
Seeing the first, I went to my room, took the pants, then came back out, walking to the fire with purpose. Kath followed me to the coals.
“Fuck bad luck,” I’d said, and threw them on the hottest part. “To making my own!”
“Fuck the bad things I do to myself,” Kath added, throwing her ‘last’ cigarette on the fire as well.
We stared, but nothing really happened beyond smoldering.
It was anticlimactic, but now I needed an extra pair of pants to wear, and I preferred a pair of shorts as the tan on my calves were getting to be quite the stark contrast to my thighs. My calves were a nice Greek tan while my thighs were the white Scandinavian.
I bought a pair of shorts that had the capability to shrink at the waist, perfect for the hiker who may lose weight along her way. Then I struck out for a salon to take care of my hair. The sides had gotten too long, making my head itchy. For five euro, the sides were cut back as they should be. I also went around the shops to see if I could find a new towel. I wasn’t enjoying the one I’d brought from home. After five weeks of walking, I was dreaming of one that I could properly wrap my hair in, even one that could wrap around me.
With most things, I talked myself out of the extra purchase. I could get by on with what I had.
After grabbing a map of the city, I was on my way back down to the gite when I ran into Chef Rafael. We hugged in surprise and joy.
“I didn’t think I’d be seeing you! Don’t you walk the Camino Norte?”
“Yes, I will be going soon. I’m waiting for a friend in the shop. You walked forty-eight kilometers yesterday?”
“How–” I shook my head. “You must have ran into Kath?”
He had, and he was impressed with my walk, to which I said I’d never recommend to do it himself.
“Where did you see Kath? Is she with Ludo?”
“Yeah, they were at a bar down there,” he said, waving downward the road.
“Jesus, I was trying to find them this morning, but I guess I walked straight past. I should see if they’re still there.” I doubted it as it was now quite some time past when we were supposed to meet.
We hugged again.
“I’m coming back up the Camino Frances instead of taking a bus from Santiago. Maybe we see each other then.”
“Yes, I certainly hope so!”
“You will play the ukulele,” he grinned, making an air uke to strum.
“Absolutely.” I smiled back.
Trekking once more down the city, I passed an ice cream shop, which I was unable to resist. I bought myself a dark chocolate cone to enjoy before going forth again.
As I walked, I was thinking that Ludo would have left by then as it was almost noon. I was feeling a pinch of sadness at not being able to hug him goodbye, but I ultimately felt okay. It was for the best. Which was why I was surprised to see Ludo standing outside the gite, smoking a cigarette, looking tense and nervous when I noticed him.
“You’re still here!” I said, blinking. Then I grinned and tugged him into a hug. “I thought you’d left already! I looked for you guys everywhere, even saw Rafael.”
“We were right down the hill,” he replied, finishing off his cigarette and starting another. He couldn’t look me in the face for too long, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. He was fidgeting, too. “I was waiting for you.”
“I’m glad you did,” I said. “But now it’s a bit too hot to start out on a mountain.”
“I was waiting for you, but you never came.”
“Well, do you have to leave? It’s a long trek, so why don’t you just spend one more day with us?” I was trying to pick up his tone. “Where’s Kath?”
“Up there, I think.”
“Let’s get you a bed,” I said, tugging at his arm. I was thinking about how I’d feel walking with him again. I had no idea what had gone on between him and Kath. I wasn’t too sure. But I wasn’t going to be rude anymore. “I’m sorry you felt you had to leave the group because of us,” I said, looking at him while we walked. “I really don’t like how that left us, and I never want you to feel unwelcome like that. I’m ashamed, really.”
“No, it was my fault, I had to leave because of who I am. I was not meant to be there anymore, and it was my time. You have nothing to feel anything about.”
I gave him a look. “It takes two to tango, you know.”
“Never mind.” I sighed. Language barriers. Kath came out of the gite just then. “We’re getting him a room!”
“I saw your note. Was wondering where you’d gotten to. We waited for ages!” Ludo went in and asked if there was another room. “We’re thinking since Ludo has food, we could go up to the church hill and have a picnic for lunch rather than another pilgrim meal. We were looking for you to eat with.”
“Sounds good. I’ll sit while he gets that together.” My feet had had enough with my two hour walk around town, and I didn’t want to push if we were going back up that hill. Kath sat next to me. “I hope your talk was good,” I said with a smile. “It seems it didn’t go too bad since he is still here.”
“Yeah, so, um.” Kath was giddy again. “I think I may like him.” My smile went down a notch, and I know my confused eyebrows were up. “I think there may be something there.”
“Really?” I asked. I was thinking of our conversations from the past week, how all of them had been about how messed up Ludo currently was, how he couldn’t be in any romantic relationships in his condition, and how he would be a terrible boyfriend with too much to figure out.
Where was this coming from?
“Yeah,” she said, looking at my face. She took my hands. “I just, when I started talking with him, and we were alone, I just felt something and started to think maybe I should see if there is something to work off of.”
I was thinking how she’d told me she didn’t expect anything from Ludo because he had nothing to give.
I sighed and stopped thinking of emotions. Instead, I looked at it logically, ignoring everything I’d felt from up to there. Maybe she’d been running from her own truth, despite having told me she would never consider dating Ludo.
“Okay,” I said, looking Kath in the eye. “That’s fine, but, before you start experimenting, I think you should really be sure of your feelings on this. I don’t think he will be able to handle if you dive in, then leave him if you decide there’s nothing there. I’m not sure he can take that.”
“Kath, no, I don’t. Look at what happened when you didn’t do anything at all.” I kept looking her in the eyes. I wasn’t sure if it was my area to ask about Trent, the boy she’d been emailing for weeks and she’d said was husband material.
I really didn’t understand any gender’s thought process.
“Nah, I think he’s stronger than that,” she said, waving a hand. “He’d be fine.”
“I’m not so sure…” But I trailed off because Ludo was walking over from the dormitory, dressed in his casual and carrying our lunch. “Just be careful.” I gave her a half smile and stood up. “Wait a tick while I get us some wine.”
I asked the owner for a bottle of the wine Kath and I’d had the night before, then we were on our way.
At first, it felt a bit like normal, outside of my feet and legs protesting the high hill we’d climbed up and down already the night before. The two of them took the bench while I chose the still-damp ground, laying out lazily against the cool grass. We ate Ludo’s food, me and Kath drinking the wine while Ludo said he was trying not to drink in the day anymore. We chatted about the town, weather, our incident with the bats, and I fell asleep as the sun crept over my legs.
I heard some shuffling, which woke me up, and I saw Ludo had moved to lay his head nearly in Kath’s lap while she read. His arms were over his face, but Kath was using her fingers to caress his arms, and I could tell he was doing his best not to grab it.
I really did not want to be a part of that show.
“I’m going to go back and write. Let me feet rest.”
As I walked back down the hill (again), I thought about my choices for the rest of the Camino, how I’d felt the past week.
The entirety of the past week had been about Ludo had Kath. Kath talking about Ludo, me being irritable about Ludo’s true friendship colors. Drama for two weeks.
This was more drama.
I knew it would be Kath and Ludo doing what they were doing now, pretending to my face that nothing was going on, me randomly walking in on them, me pretending nothing was really going on while feeling like a third party. I’d been here before in normal life and didn’t like it. I wasn’t particularly thinking I’d like it while walking along a trail.
I called my mom.
“What’s up?” she asked, super happy to see my face.
“I think I’m leaving the group,” I said.
And then I explained what had been going on for the past two weeks, and my frustration and confusion, and my thought process on me wanting to get the most out of my Camino but not being able to if it encompassed their relationship.
“I just don’t think I’ll be able to choose me or have the experience I need or want right now if I stick with them. I think I have to break off so they can deal with themselves, and then I’m not a side character for them to worry about, either.”
“I think you’re making the right decision,” she said, giving a half smile. “Katherine is a great person, and Ludo, I’m sure, is, too. But that is a mess you don’t need to be a part of. How will you break off?”
“Kath and I had been talking about doing only a part of the Pyrenees tomorrow, staying in the mountains. I think I’ll just do the whole thing, get ahead of them. I’m thinking Ludo will just follow Kath wherever she goes. I’m sure I’ll see them again, but I’m going to put some separation for my own sanity. I need to focus on me, stop taking on other people’s problems.”
We talked a bit longer, but after that chat, and messaging friend’s from home for a time, I felt better in general. It was a good thing to do what I was doing. That I could see my issue with fixing situations and taking my hands off before they started to dip into a mix.
Hours later, even me finishing a blog post, Kath and Ludo came back into the dorm looking flushed. Kath took an ointment out of a pharmacy bag.
“I got something for my bites,” she explained. Both she and Ludo were smiling like they had a secret.
To those of you who think you can hide a post-make out session, I have news for you–you can’t.
Ludo, however, was a different person. His whole body was relaxed, his eyes shining. And he seemed to be talking more than ever.
“We’re getting dinner, come on,” he said, hugging me without initiation. His hand lingered on my arm, squeezing.
“Yeah, okay,” I said, wanting to laugh. The whole situation felt like I was between the scenes of a Rom Com.
“Let’s get drunk,” Kath said.
“Excuse me, what are we drinking to get drunk for?”
“To make me forget about my bites,” she replied.
“Ludo, since you’ve been here for two more days than us, you tell us where to go,” I said when we got to the restaurant area.
“Okay, come look at the menu,” he said, pulling me over. “Anything you can’t understand, you tell me. I translate everything for you, you can count on me.”
I looked back at Kath, who was keeping her distance from the two of us. Neither of them seemed to see me looking at them as if they’d had PENIS written on their foreheads from being passed out. They were completely overcompensating to make things normal. Hiding my laughter at it all was becoming difficult. In any other situation, I knew I’d have said, “Okay, I know you guys spent the afternoon sucking on each other’s faces, so just stop acting and let’s eat.” But it was just too funny seeing them act so outside their personalities.
Despite her claims to get drunk, Kath ordered exactly what Ludo did, and only had one beer. Ludo insisted he pay for “his ladies”, making me stop protesting when he jumped out of his chair. If he was trying to impress Kath, I’d let him give me a benefit or two, I decided. We were back at the dorm within the hour.
I went back to write while Kath and Ludo made their cigarettes to smoke. I was so involved in my writing, listening to my Legend of Zelda mix, that I jumped when Ludo grabbed my arm to say goodnight. I looked up at him and he squeezed my arm, smiling a genuine smile I hadn’t seen for ages, wondered if I’d ever really seen. I smiled back and he let go to walk to his own bed.
A few hours later, as I put my tablet away, I heard a whispered, “Mallory!”
I looked up to see Kath shifting off her sheets. “Do you still have any of that bed bug spray? I think that is what my bites are from. This creme isn’t working.”
“Yeah, it makes sense. Maybe I just have so many bites, I’m having an allergic reaction. I can feel every bite.”
“Let’s go outside real quick,” I whispered back. I didn’t want people to get grumpy with our chatter. “Here, I have some Benadryl. I use it when I have an allergy symptoms. The bonus is that it knocks you out cold.”
She looked at the ingredients, as doctors do when they’re unsure of what they’re taking. I once showed her my Neosporin and she promptly said, “Holy shit, you Americans are so overkill on your medicine.” I think it was because it was a triple antiseptic or something.
“Yeah, this should work.”
“Here,” I said, breaking off another individually wrapped pill. “Take another, just in case.”
She sat down and took the pill and I sat across from her while she put her head in her hands.
“Things seem to be good with you and Ludo,” I said, wiggling my eyebrows. Now that Ludo was asleep, I felt she and I could talk frankly, be back to our normal chatter.
But then she looked as if she was about to cry.
“Hey, is everything okay?”
She shook her head.
I went to her side, hugging her with one arm, putting our heads together.
“What’s wrong? Is it Ludo? I thought things were okay now.”
“I don’t know, I don’t…know. I mean, it is, but…” She heaved a sigh. “I don’t know if it is what I want.”
“What changed in eight hours?”
“I feel…I feel like when I am with him, I am being a person he wants me to be, not who I really am.”
“That isn’t good,” I said after some silence. “If you can’t be yourself…”
There was more silence.
“You can tell me it isn’t my business, but what about Trent?” She had once told me she was so happy with her emailing Trent because she’d never felt she could ever truly be herself until she’d met him.
“Well, what makes you the happiest when you think of both sides?”
She shrugged again.
“Both are good options,” she said. “I mean, Ludo is a good kisser, and he is physically attractive. It’s fun, you know?”
“But Trent is just…”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” I said finally. “I mean, I always say you need to do what makes you happy, but if both make you happy…when you think about it, what makes you the most happy?”
She took some time to contemplate.
“They both do. I mean, either way, I’m happy.”
“You don’t look happy,” I said, looking at her face. “In fact, you look down right miserable.” Her mouth kept trying to make a smile, but the turn of her lips couldn’t quite make the full turn of a smile, and then they’d sag into a form I considered a frown. “Well, I have a question: do you want anything more with Ludo?”
“Does he know that you don’t want anything else to happen with you two?”
“Yes. I told him that. I said it before I did anything with him, that this wasn’t going anywhere.”
“Well, if you’re happy with every option, then I guess the only thing I can say is…have some fun? I mean, why not? Be happy and have fun.”
She laughed a bit and smiled, but it was short lived. I tried to discern more from her face, but it was simply that her mind was going miles a minute with what she wasn’t sure on what to do.
“I’m kind of just hoping he’ll go ahead of us, you know? Leave it at this, with a good memory, and he’ll go on ahead while we stay in the Pyrenees or something.”
I looked at her with skepticism. I highly doubted Ludo would be leaving Kath anywhere after this.
“Well, we could always just stay in the mountains ten kilometers away…” I sighed. “I don’t know what to tell you. This is one of those gray areas of right and wrong.”
It seemed simple to me since I knew I could never be in any type of relationship with anyone if I couldn’t be myself. I wasn’t one hundred percent sure if I knew how to be anything but myself, really. But if with all of his problems, and then not being able to be me…
However, this was her decision. She was an adult. She already knew everything, and I didn’t need to remind her.
So, I sat with her, hugged her shoulders, just showed support.
“Hey,” I said, suddenly remembering. “I have that bed bug spray still. We could spray your bed to make you feel better, maybe?”
So, we sprayed her mattress, and then I sprayed mine as well as a precaution.
The next morning had me awoken with a jolt. Someone was grabbing my ankles, gently shaking. I recognized the gite owner and relaxed my body. I’d heard rustling of people waking up, but I hadn’t been prepared for someone grabbing my mostly asleep form.
“Are you leaving today?” the lady asked me. “If you do not leave, then breakfast is not available for another two hours.”
“Uh,” I said, brain slow. “Let me talk with Kath.”
“Breakfast now will end in ten minutes.”
“Right, I’ll ask Kath.”
The lady left as I stretched. My right ankle was throbbing, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. I was thinking I should have just stayed in bed all day yesterday as this was feeling like the injury I’d had a few weeks ago.
“Kath,” I said, rubbing my shin. “Kath, we going? We have to get up now if we are going to have breakfast.” I had no idea what her plans were, if she was even able to wake up from taking the Benadryl so late.
She only grunted.
“My shin is hurting,” I said in response. “I don’t know if I’ll go the whole way or not. I’ll have to see how I’m feeling as I climb.” I really wanted to go the whole way, no matter what Kath or Ludo ended up doing. I just was debating if the feeling of my shin was worth walking an entire mountain in.
She grunted again.
We both fell silent as I slowly fell back into the comfortable bed.
I was shaken, again, a moment later.
“You staying or going?”
“I guess staying,” I slurred out, rubbing my eyes.
“Breakfast is at nine,” the owner replied, then began tearing down other beds.
Katherine shot out of her bed and began putting her items in bags, just as I was throwing the blankets off of myself.
“We going?” I asked, walking toward the bathroom. She didn’t say anything, just kept packing. “I’m going to walk as far as I can, actually.” The owner walked past, so I stopped her. “I’m sorry, we’re going after all.”
“Eat breakfast now or you won’t get it.”
I left Kath to her own devices as she seemed disinterested in a meal anyway. I yawned the whole way into the kitchen, sitting down with a grown.
“Everything okay?” Ludo asked.
“Eh.” I shrugged. “Tired.”
I got myself some hot cocoa and ate, thinking of how I wanted my day to go. I wanted to get through those Pyrenees, all in one day. I didn’t want to stick around anywhere anymore. But I was worried about my stupid shin, which didn’t seem to happy about the situation either.
I’d quickly stuffed all of my things into my pack prior to breakfast to clean off my bed, so I was ready to start right after.
I walked slowly, Kath bouncing ahead. I didn’t want to stress my ankle, and I’d learned by now that the Camino wasn’t a race.
The incline wasn’t terrible, but it was constant. I made sure to keep a pace, thinking of my first few days with Xavier and Henry–small steps, keep the pace. If it becomes too hard, smaller steps, but keep that pace.
As I climbed, I would pass people, a surprise with my shin. But then I remembered that this was a starting point for a lot of folks.
I pressed on.
Ludo, who had stayed back talking to someone in St. Jean when Kath and I had started up on the paved road, passed me in an hour, listening to his music loudly. He turned around after a few moments to look back at me and yell in triumph. I was laughing as he basically looked at like cave man. Yet it was rather nice to walk as we were, uphill and passing others with the sun shining down, wind taking off the head.
I had to agree with his shout.
The first resting spot I passed was around seven kilometers, and it had a bathroom to break at. Others were settling down for a rest, but after I was done with the toilets, I put my pack back on and went along my way. By 10am, I was surprised to see Ludo and Kath waving me over at another pilgrim resting point. The place had at least fifteen large tables, and they were all full, clamoring with pilgrims. It was a lot of noise I wasn’t expecting, and I was wondering how long it had been since seeing this many people on our trails.
“We need to keep moving because this scenery is plain shit,” I said, walking up to them and pointing at the massive mountainous range growing around us.
“Disgusting, right?” Kath said.
The people around us didn’t seem to know if we were joking or not.
“How’s the leg?”
“You know, I think I could keep going,” I replied, looking down. “I’m surprised, but she hasn’t been hurting me at all. I don’t want to push my luck, but I really want to get over these mountains now that I’m here.”
I wasn’t sure if they were hoping I’d stay or go, or if they were even thinking of me at all in their own plans, but I’d realized that I didn’t really care. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, just like them. And Kath could figure out where she needed to be, too.
“I’m off,” she said, as if in response to my own thoughts.
“I’ll catch up,” said Ludo, almost like a challenge.
“It’s actually quite nice,” I said, jutting my chin out at our surroundings.
Ludo’s whole demeanor radiated pleasure. I smiled. While I wasn’t too keen on sticking around the impending drama, seeing Ludo actually happy for once was nice. And if Kath was telling the truth in being happy as well, all the better.
“I’m off as well,” I said. “Don’t want to rest too long or else my leg will hurt.”
Ludo caught me up quickly, waving as he went past.
The rest of the morning became rather surreal after that. Even with an injury, I was keeping good time, which felt wonderful. But I was also hearing English speakers everywhere, barely any French, not even Spanish just yet. Suddenly being able to understand side conversations was an odd sensation, as if I’d realized I’d put them in background noise with the birds.
And everything I heard was deja vu.
Blisters. Tired. Sore backs. Out of breath.
Everything was as I had felt five weeks prior, walking up and up through ranges I wasn’t used to.
And here I was, surpassing it all.
At stopping points with a view, people would collapse, taking off shoes and gasping for air and water, wondering if they’d survive. I’d stand for a while to take it in, and then would keep trudging along with my pack and shoes. My mind was continuously thanking my body for all she’d done. I couldn’t have gotten this far, I knew it, without her hard work.
My hard work.
Feeling as if my experience was likening to a television show flashback episode, I walked on to talk with many Americans, all from California. And it was wonderful to see so many females, to have a proper conversation with them.
I finally took a proper break at the last stamp before Spain. I sat to enjoy the view, taking off all of the bindings on my feet. Kath and Ludo came soon after, me somehow having passed them, and they sat beside me.
“I had wanted to eat lunch at the top,” I said to them,” but I’m hungry now. We’ve got another five kilometers or so. My body just couldn’t wait that long.”
The Americans next to me were kind enough to have shared their meal with me as I’d brought nothing up in hopes Ludo still had his lunch supplies–and he hadn’t. My meal was avocado, tomato, bread, and veggie chips. I scarfed it down, as well as a chocolate bar from what Ludo had left in his stash.
After an hour of looking at the mountains around us, I took to the hills once more, determined to get over the mountain and back down before nightfall. I wanted to spend some time at the highest point we’d climb. I was eager to know what I’d see when I got to the top. So much so, I didn’t even notice a sign telling me I’d crossed from France into Spain.
I passed by Ludo, who was shockingly babying his foot from a blister. The only other time I’d seen him bother about a blister had been when we were in Conques.
“You need anything at all?” I asked. “Maybe some tape?”
“No, just resting my feet. My sock has a hole in it.” I raised a brow as that usually meant he should be covering the blister so it wouldn’t get worse, but then I shrugged. He looked tired and put out. I offered him an extra pair of my socks. “No, I will be fine.” He said it again when I asked if he was sure.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll see you at the top!”
I thought that the top would be right around the corner, but, like all of the Camino, this is never true. I ended up walking a good hour before I suddenly got to a flatter top point with an odd bench. I say odd because you could sit on the edge of a wooden sculpture-like thing that didn’t look like anything at all. It was simply a bunch of pieces of wood put together to create something you’d blink at for a few moments before moving on.
Also, only about two people could sit on it at a time.
I knew I wanted to sit down, but I was happy to have inspected the “sculpture” as there was a sign on it explaining that they had made this a wifi point, self energized by sun panels. Instead of sitting at where everyone else was at the sculpture, I climbed further up the mountain to a spot of grass that allowed me to sit and play my ukulele. As I took off my pack and looked around the vast distances I could see, particularly the town I was going to, my insides shifted in a flutter, much like someone does in the anticipation of seeing someone they have a crush on.
Except this was different.
Wanting to get something out, I took a video of myself showing what I’d accomplished that day. But my words faltered as I tried to explain how happy I truly was at getting to this point. It wasn’t just the mountain. I had figured out something that I knew had changed me.
I thought about the previous five weeks that I’d gotten through to get here. How I’d struggled, fought with myself, my body and its limitations. Mentally and physically. I had wanted to test myself, I remember thinking this when I’d decided to do this walk. But I hadn’t realized, day by day, how I’d kept that promise to myself.
Five weeks of walking. It had taken me five weeks of getting up every day to walk to realize that I’d worn in my own skin like I had my hiking boots.
My heart was in my throat as I sat down hard next to my pack. My brain wasn’t going a mile a second because I’d had five weeks to straighten out my thoughts. And the thought was resonating: I felt at home. Finally. It felt strangely familiar, like it had been something I’d lost along my life, but it had been gone long enough for me to not fully recognize it now that it was back. There would still have to be some readjustment, getting used to this old-found sensation, but there wasn’t a fear attached with the knowledge of being comfortable in my own skin anymore. The fear and doubt I’d accumulated over the years of people’s own insecurities chipping away at my own security because it had started to feel wrong to feel so sure of myself when I was surrounded by those who weren’t. Like I didn’t have the right.
This is who I am, I thought, and my heart was a steady beat. It was thrumming through my veins. I felt it pump down my arms and into my fingers. This is who I am, I did this, and it’s okay to be me. In fact, it’s great to be me. And I’m going to do more. I’m going to grow and change and do it all. Being me. Endlessly.
This had to be how superheroes felt. No wonder Super Girl can fly.
Since I had wifi, I was able to iMessage my parents in hopes one of them would be up as it was early in their timezone. My father happened to be awake, so we went on FaceTime to share the moment. I showed him the mountains, told him about my distances of walking, showed him the maps of where I was going next.
“You look great, honey,” he said, giving me that proud look one can see in friends or family when you’ve accomplished something. It shines in their eyes. “I mean it. You look really happy.”
I smiled back. “I am. I really am.”
I let him go as I’d been resting for a while and still had a bit to get to the next town. Ludo had said several locals warned him about the next bit being very steep and dangerous, so I knew I wanted extra time to make my way and wash my clothes.
Thinking of Ludo brought me to Kath, which brought me to the realization that I hadn’t seen them yet. I’d been perched on my mountain patch of grass for almost an hour and a half, yet neither of them had come up through the terrain yet.
But if the Camino had taught me anything, it was that, while we’ve all got the same destination to get to, we all come in at our own pace.
So, I started down the path toward the town I would sleep in that night.
It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. I could see it being hard if it were pouring rain, but it was otherwise pretty typical of the last seven hundred eighty kilometers I’d walked. You just had to watch your step as you made your way down. However, it was a longer than I anticipated, mostly through forest, making it difficult to see anything ahead of you. When I finally crossed over a small river and into a parking lot, I felt as if I’d been taken out of time, a bedraggled human walking through the mountains to discover an advanced civilization.
I went to the church in search of accommodations and was given a room on the topmost floor because there is nothing more hilarious in life than walking through mountains all day for twenty-five kilometers and then realizing that you have to walk three flights of stairs anytime you want to do anything like wash your clothes, eat, or sleep.
Needless to say, I went down to do all of my chores, then came back up and lay in bed watching Last Week Tonight while eating the remnants of my lunch for dinner until it was time for bed.
I was officially in Spain. I’d made it through the Pyrenees. And I was as alone as when I first started my walk in the first place.
The only difference was, I now had a grasp on what I’d needed from myself on the walk before I could get to the next step–doing what I kept waiting on due to low confidence.
The rest of this trip, I wanted to relax and enjoy me. I wanted to coax this new-found love for myself out, to show me that it was the best damn decision I would ever make in my life. Get it comfortable with the surroundings. Because I wasn’t going to hide it away again. Not when I now had so many things I wanted to accomplish, and the energy, the confidence, to get it done.
Welcome, Miss Mallory. The world awaits you.