Time walked – 6 hours, with breaks
Total distance walked for the day – 13.8 miles (21.5 total)
Weather – Windy and cold in the morning, low 50’s, sunny and cool in the afternoon, 64 degrees Fahrenheit.
Terrain – Pavement, a small amount of grassy path, pebble and dirt paths, some rocky paths
This was the day I had been training for in Panamá. This day promised to be the most challenging hike for me to date considering the distance. Many Pilgram’s will start in Saint Jean and walk to Roncesvalle in one day, but I was not interested in pushing myself that hard. I had to stay in Orisson to make this trek. Ray and I grabbed a quick breakfast at Orisson of bread with jam and coffee served in cereal bowls. Ray was thrilled to drink his coffee out of a bowl and wants to make it a habit at home. I turned the tickets in for the ham sandwiches we had purchased the day before, squeezed them in my backpack, and we took off.
We began by continuing upward into the mountains. I had been told that the first hour and a half would be the steepest and longest climb of the day, so I noted our beginning time to keep me mentally prepared. The wind was blowing strongly and was cold on our faces. I kept my Buff over my mouth for much of the day. While in Panamá, I had tried a practice hike with my Buff around my neck, but quickly removed it because I was too hot. Today, I was thrilled to have it around my neck, pulled up over my ears, mouth and sometimes my nose. Since the temperature was much colder than any of my practice hikes, I had been afraid that my lungs would burn. Breathing through the Buff kept me from having any problems with my asthma.
As we climbed higher and higher, eventually reaching the highest altitude of the entire Camino, I was happy to note that it was not as challenging as the first day. The climb was about the same altitude but spread out over twice the distance. I needed my coat all day which kept me from getting cold, and the constant wind kept me from getting sweaty, a first for me.
I snapped many photos of what I thought would be our last sightings of France, before crossing into Spain. Around every bend the beautiful views were endless. Ray even encouraged me to stop and take pictures. I wasn’t sure if he was thinking that I needed a break or if he did. He started getting congested on Wednesday, and now Friday his nose was running and he started to cough. He brought one pair of long, zip-off pants, but he preferred his shorts. About 2 hours into our day, he started talking about breaking out his pants. Immediately we were passed by a hiker in a t-shirt and shorts. This young man had not been with us at Orisson, meaning that he started out in Saint Jean. By 10:00 a.m., he had covered the same distance it had taken us 5 hours to travel. Throughout the day we were passed by many people who were going the entire distance, many younger than us, but some older. We continued to jockey positions with the people we met at Orisson, since we stop to take breaks and photos at different times.
My backpack felt really good on my hips, back and shoulders. I was very pleased that it did not seem too heavy and decided that I must have distributed the weight just right for it to feel so good. After several practices with my hydration pack, I was finally getting the hang of it. While training with my poles, my thumbs would sometimes go numb. When I realized that I could get two fingers above the hump on my cork handles, the problem was solved. I walked every step with my poles and never went numb!
For spending most of the day on a paved road, we saw very few cars. Sometime mid-morning we could see a van at the side of the road. It was a food truck! We bought 2 bananas and a hard-boiled egg to share; simple foods I normally take for granted, but today brought me joy and satisfaction.
I was hoping that the highest peak on our journey would be clearly marked, but if it was, we missed it. There were a few peaks along the way that we thought were it until the path led us uphill once more. I looked it up later and discovered that the bench at an emergency station where we stopped to eat our sandwiches was the highest peak at 4750 feet. There were several emergency markers prior to this part of the path as the weather can be volatile and treacherous in the winter. From our lunch spot we could see the steeple of the Albergue Colegiata, our destination for the day, and the steep downhill path that would get us there.
While eating our lunch we watched a group of bicyclists arriving and continuing down the first part of the steep path before turning right onto pavement at the marker arrows. Once we finished our sandwiches, we were anxious to get this day wrapped up. Someone said that it would take about an hour to get to the albergue. At the marker arrows two women were stopped to find their map, trying to decide if they should go the rocky route or the paved way of the bicyclists. The rocky route wound through a beech forest that looked beautiful. Ray and I didn’t even discuss it and went directly to the left. Although we were getting tired, we were able to appreciate the beauty and grateful for the opportunity and ability to make this trip.
It took us about an hour and 20 minutes from the top to the albergue. The path was wet and muddy throughout and I was afraid of falling or blowing out a knee. My calves were getting tight and I proceeded with baby steps. Eventually the trees cleared and the cathedral appeared before us. I was ready to get checked in and showered! After a quiet day, the albergue was a flurry of activity, traditionally the only place to stay for this leg of the Camino Frances. We were assigned beds 55 & 56 on the first floor of three with a total bed count of 183. I had seen pictures on the internet of one enormous room here with rows and rows of bunk beds, but it’s now completely modern, organized in quads of two bunks with four storage lockers. Our bunk mates were Allison and Pat, the two ladies with the map at the arrow markers. While they had taken the paved, longer route, we arrived at the same time.
We were given a choice between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. for dinner seating. We ran into Yung Mi again on our way to dinner at 7:00, but we had been assigned to different restaurants, so we made a quick plan to meet up later. We sat down at a table of eight with three other couples, one from France, one from Hungary, and Scott and Jenny from Australia. We learned that they had started turning Pilgram’s away from the albergue. I can’t even imagine making that journey only to find that you must continue on to find a bed. Later we learned that they shuttled some people back to Saint Jean to sleep and returned them to this spot the next morning, for a fee of course. Scott had walked part of the Camino before and joked that he had to beg Jenny to come with him. Ray quipped back that this was all my idea, not his. The conversation was fun and I laughed harder than I had since we left Panamá.
Before bed, we ran into Steve and Ann from dinner the night before and met up with Yung Mi to make a plan for a hostel in Zubiri. A warning was given for lights out at 10:00, so we scrambled to our bunks. Once again I woke up for a couple of hours in the early morning, between 2:15 and 4 something. At 6:00 a.m. the lights were turned on and our day began, like it or not.