Time walked – 5.75 hours including a lunch stop and multiple breaks for blisters
Total distance walked – 11.25 miles (302.40 miles total)
Weather – Sunny and warm for walking, no shade, low 60’s to 72 degrees F
Terrain – small gravel and pebble path next to a highway
Even though our room was perfectly quiet, I could not sleep at the truck stop hotel. My Fitbit said 3 hours and 39 minutes with 14 minutes of restlessness. “No bueno,” as we say in our best Español. Ray woke up later than he wanted, didn’t get as much sleep as he needed, so he started out in a foul mood. He thought it would be a good idea to get coffee before we left the hotel, and I did not argue.
Ray took a shower because he could, dressed and left our room to grab coffee from the café downstairs. I got myself ready and started organizing my backpack. The last thing we had been doing was to figure out what to do with my feet. Not usually one to be discouraged, the blister problem was wearing me out. I had gotten one blister in Panamá while on my first practice hike, changed to a different pair of shoes and never had another problem. On the Camino I got my first two blisters on my right heel, which are no longer a concern, but now it was my left foot with the blisters. I prayed that my feet would heal so that I could make it all the way to Santiago de Compostela. Ray’s dream of walking to Finisterre was now just a dream.
Ray had been very patient to help me bandage my feet in the places that I can’t see. He also had different ideas that he thought we should try, but I was skeptical that changing things up was making it worse. I could tell that he wanted so badly to just fix me, and while he was trying not to let it show, his frustration level was escalating. It looked as though I was starting to get a blister on the pad of my right foot, about the size of a quarter. It was a white spot but flat, with no fluid. I did a quick internet research and we decided to cut a moleskin donut to surround the spot. I put my sock on, took a couple of steps and gave Ray a thumbs up sign.
Once we had finished what we thought would be the best way to protect and prevent my left foot, Ray had to ready his backpack. He carried all the first aid supplies and had stored them in the bottom of his bag. I had watched the last few mornings how he was packing his things, and I wanted to suggest that we rearrange some of the items making them more convenient, but I did not dare to say a word. It was becoming more and more apparent that we would need to delay our flight home if we wanted to finish, but I was not ready to discuss that just yet.
Because we had stayed outside of the town, we had not seen anything of El Burgo Ranero. The Camino trail lead us back to an outside street of the town, so that one street was our only view of the place. Ray thought we should grab some fruit or a snack for the road, so we ducked into a bar restaurant where a few pilgrims were seated outside. There were a few small, overly ripe bananas and some small oranges. Ray grabbed two bananas and two granola bars. The proprietor asked for €4. I was a little miffed and asked him if he was charging us €1 per banana. He told me that he was because he had to drive 40 kilometers two ways to get the supplies to stock his store. While Ray paid I wondered if he bought more than a one bunch of bananas per trip, but was in no mood to converse with him further.
Even though the path was flat and next to a highway, getting back to walking and a feeling of accomplishment improved our attitudes. Ray and I were not seeing the wheat fields any longer and the poppies were looking dried out and pale. Many of the fields were prepared dirt or recently planted surrounding us with stretches of brown. As I was commenting on another cloudless sky, Ray interrupted me to point out the mountain range barely viewable on the horizon. The mountains were barely visible, but seeing them made us both smile a little bit.
Ray had not been saying very much all morning. He was walking behind me, which I knew meant that he was watching me walk, concerned about the blisters. I had tried to reassure him that he was more consumed with them than I was, but it didn’t help. In my opinion he was spending too much energy worrying about my feet, and he thought that I didn’t spend enough energy paying attention to them. I could see what I thought was another stack of hay bales ahead of us. Ray walked closer to me so that I could hear him and remarked that they were walls of an old structure, built from clay and hay. His mood was improving, and I was grateful.
We could see a few clouds up ahead, and the planted trees lining the path had returned. Ray and I talked about the trees again. Just a few days before, we had wished for trees to provide us with shade and wondered why no one had thought to plant them. After two days of an endless pattern of trees on our left, we learned that we should be careful for what we had wished. Because the landscape was not changing and the row of trees was not ending, it seemed as though we were on a treadmill not getting anywhere. I knew there were probably many life metaphors and lessons to be learned, but having to focus on the placement of every step was consuming my concentration.
Ray and I walked for eight miles with no small villages to stop in or pass through, just a highway to our right and a line of trees to our left. I did think that it would be a good idea to stop and let my feet cool off before getting to our lunch stop, and we had stopped at a picnic area and eaten our granola bars while I put my feet up. We stopped after another couple of kilometers so that I could check the donut under my foot. With few places to sit, I approached a woman seated on a cement bench and asked her if she minded if I sat down. Her name was Marsha and she was walking her third Camino at age 76. I was surprised when she told me her age, thinking that she was at least ten years younger. I joked that I need Dr. Ray to check out my foot, but she thought Ray really was a doctor. She had been a nurse and was blogging about foot problems on the Camino to a closed group of nursing friends. She asked if she could take a picture of my foot, but thought that Ray’s dressings looked good. The donut appeared to be holding out, it felt great to get some cool air on my skin, but I was ready to get my sock back on and keep going. Because the blister dressing on my left little toe was delicate, I did not dare remove that sock, and just took off my sandal to get some air to the bottom of my foot.
Ray and I had walked another kilometer or two when I felt a gush of water in between my first two toes on my right foot. I looked to see if I had forgotten to close the valve on my hydration pack, but it was not leaking. My heart sunk and I wanted to just keep walking as if nothing had happened, but I knew that I had to stop. I turned around and told Ray that I thought I bursted a blister, and I had to get my sock off to check. We could see another picnic area ahead, so I hobbled that direction. Upon inspection, I had burst a blister between my toes that we didn’t even know I had. Ray didn’t really see that there was anything he could do besides wipe it down with an alcohol pad, so that’s what we did, adding some guaze to the top of the donut to absorb the fluid. My spirits were at an all-time low. Now I was bursting blisters that we had never even seen. I thought I’d get a picture of the picnic area, and captured Ray securing the waist belt on his backpack. Because of the bright sun and my sunglasses, I can’t see many details in the photos that I take until i look at them later. I knew without looking, however, that this picture would appear that Ray was relieving himself. I didn’t have the wherewithal to take another shot, but I did have enough of a grip on myself to know I would eventually think it was funny.
We had to walk eight miles without a restroom. Once again, I thought of our Camino friend Claudia who thought she should start a portable potty business along the trail. I wasn’t having this trouble at the beginning of our Camino, so I concluded that I wasn’t sweating like I had been initially. Besides not having to navigate steep inclines, I wasn’t walking fast enough to get my heart rate very high. Although the sun was hot overhead, the temperature was cool to warm and there was a nice breeze. I was looking for any kind of distraction to get me through the last couple of kilometers until the town where we would have our lunch. About that time, a passenger passed on our right. I hadn’t noticed the tracks on the other side of the highway. I had barely noticed the highway with an occasional tractor going by, but very few cars. The train was too fast for me to get a picture, but the diversion of hoping for another train to get a photo was just what I needed. Before the track veered away from our view, a train car full of work men passed by, providing my only photo opportunity.
We stopped for a quick lunch in Reliegos, knowing we had another six kilometers to our reservation for the night. We ate to quickly that I’m not sure I even tasted our food, anxious to get a better look at my foot. Even with my anxiety, however, the beauty of the landscape could not be ignored. The greens of the plains meeting the bright blues of the sky will always have a piece of my heart.
Just past Reliegos, we saw a couple that looked a little confused. They had been walking the alternate scenic route, but had joined the shorter highway route unknowingly. They had not seen a trail marker, so assumed they were lost. We assured them that they could follow the tree-lined path into Mansilla, realizing that we had become so accustomed to following the trees that we had not noticed any markers either. The couple got very nervous when the trail continued over a newly constructed bridge. We had already seen others before us, but I pulled out my map app for reassurance.
We walked all the way through Mansilla de las Mulas to the place where I had made our reservation. While we like to be on the far side of town in the mornings, my feet were not happy to pass so many albergues, hostels and hotels. At the town center, a farmer’s market was packing up their goods, protecting them from the heat of the day. If we had been a few minutes earlier, we could have purchased fresh fruit for far less than the Euro per banana that we had paid that morning.
Our accommodation provided a free washing machine, but no dryer. I gathered as much as I could to fill the washer after my shower. While I was writing, Ray hung the clothes on the only clothesline provided, which was right out our second story window and above a restaurant. After getting my feet up for awhile, we were ready to get some dinner and settle in for the evening.
Behind our hostel was an alley lined with restaurants. We ran into Shawna, who was now fully recovered after her stint in the convent, as well as Lisa and Claudia, who we started with in Orisson. We ordered dinner and some ordered drinks while visiting about our journey. Lisa was smiling as she had decided to take the bus to León the next day. She said that she had struggled with the decision all day while walking alone, but had seen the suggestion in the guidebook. Walking into León from Mansilla was an 11 mile trek next to a major highway, through suburban villages and an industrial jungle. Lisa was relieved that she had given herself permission to give herself a day off. While I rarely read the fine print in the guidebook, I had also read the section she had mentioned, wondering at the time why it had caught my eye.
Ray jumped on the notion that I should also ride the bus. He rattled off a variety of excuses from letting my feet get a break to letting him bust out a solo section without me to slow him down. Like Lisa, I too had been struggling with the decision. Ray and I had multiple discussions about not being in a motorized vehicle for the Camino, so I was feeling like I had failed. Today had not need a good day. Ray and I started out snapping at each other, recognizing that this was no longer fun. I wanted our Camino to be fun. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to feel the relief that I could see on Lisa’s face. I knew in my head that it was probably the right thing to do, but in my heart I felt as if my dream had died.