Time walked – 12.5 hours, including 1 hour for lunch and 4 hours of rest
Total distance walked – 17.8 miles
Miles to date – 450.55 (Ray) and 440.75 (Wendy) + 5 miles each on horseback
Weather – Foggy and humid morning, 58 degrees F, warm and sunny afternoon, low 80’s in Sarria, 72 degrees F in Morgada
Terrain – rocky trail, gravel path, pavement
I awakened just before the alarm went off from a deep, restful sleep. It was the first morning that I wanted to roll over and go back to sleep. Ray was still sleeping so I quietly waited for the alarm to wake him. I wiggled my toes and flexed my ankles, checking for any soreness or swelling. Taking my first steps of the day were much more telling than my wiggling and flexing practice, however, it was a habit I had formed more out of gratitude that my feet and legs could function. When the alarm sounded, Ray and I reluctantly got out of our beds vowing to return one day.
At the end of town, we were faced with a choice of paths. The northern route climbed a steep hill through the forest with more opportunities for food and drink stops. The southern route led to Samos and one of the oldest monasteries on the Camino Francés, a popular tourist destination. Most of our Camino friends had chosen the Samos route, but because it added over six kilometers to our day, I didn’t think it was a viable option. As we turn to the north, Ray and I talked about how different our experience had been from what we had anticipated. Our conversation turned to what we would do differently the next time we walked the Camino, laughing at the absurdity of the thought.
Ray and I did not see any other pilgrims on the trail. The fog between the trees made it easy to imagine the monks, priests and peregrinos of the earliest pilgrimages. Ray liked to observe the Roman influence along the Camino, impressed by the ancient bridges and rock walls. He often wondered if we were walking on the original trail. I could picture the soldiers on horses riding through the forest in my mind. The setting was so quiet and so beautiful. I wanted to bask in the blessings of the moment, but I was ready to be finished at the same time.
Ray and I climbed up the steep path through the woods, grateful for the cooler temperature and the shade of the trees. I remembered asking our friends, Bill and Gina, if walking was easier as they got closer to Santiago. I had assumed that a month of walking would get us in tip-top shape. According to my Fitbit climbing upward was not elevating my heart rate like it had, but it seemed just as hard. With more ground behind us than before us, I was spending more time reflecting back on our journey.
I thought back to my training in Panamá when we hiked to the Volcancito ranger station. I had kept my head down and counting my steps, vowing not to look up until I had climbed at least a hundred steps. At the time, it was my only motivation to keep going and not get discouraged or quit. It had been a long time since I had counted steps. I wasn’t feeling more in-shape or stronger as I walked through the forest, just different. Remembering back to crossing the Pyrenees, I must have been full of excitement and adrenaline. I couldn’t remember being tired or having to stop for rest, just that I had conquered the mountains. I laughed to myself at how fresh and energetic I had been, where now I was weary and worn. With more miles behind us, I was spending more and more time looking back and reflecting on how far we had come.
I watched Ray as he walked in front of me. His orange shirt had faded to a dull coral and the tread on his shoes was wearing out, but his feet had held up well. He would have happily walked all day if it weren’t for me. Thinking that he would spend a great deal of time listening to music or podcasts, he had packed two sets of earbuds but had rarely used them. The sights and sounds around us were entertaining enough. He was surprised at how much he enjoyed the Camino experience, often expressing his gratitude for us being able to enjoy the journey together. Walking the Camino to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary may not have been my best idea, but it would be hard to top and one that we would never forget.
Our destination for the day was Sarria, a popular starting point for many pilgrims walking the Camino Francés. Once we reached Santiago de Compostela, we could go to the Pilgrim’s Office and receive a certificate, or Compostela, of completion of our Camino. While the Camino traditionally began at a person’s home and ended at the cathedral in Santiago, there are many routes. In order to receive the Compostela, a person can walk or ride a horse for 100 kilometers, or ride a bicycle for 200 kilometers. A credential, or pilgrim’s passport, is stamped each day along the way as proof of the journey. Since Sarria was the largest town near the 100 kilometer mark, it was the chosen starting point for those with the least amount of time or ability to walk the Camino and receive a Compostela. For this reason, the trail was rumored to be very busy after having walked weeks with relatively few pilgrims.
Ray and I had pre-ordered our passports from the American Pilgrims on the Camino, getting them stamped at each accomodation and some of the more memorable places we had eaten or shopped. We only had a few empty spaces left, so I had planned to buy a new credential in Sarria. When I realized that we would be in Sarria before noon, the thought of walking further felt like an electrical current zapping my brain. I didn’t say anything to Ray as I worked through the logistics of changing our plan. I had already made a reservation in Sarria, we needed to eat lunch and to buy our new credentials. I could not remember how far we would need to go to make it worth leaving the paid room, but I was excited at the possibility. Our friends Linda and Laura had made reservations at a place three kilometers past Sarria, which would not be enough to make a difference. I needed to look at the guidebook before saying anything to Ray.
When the path ended at a road, we could see Sarria in the valley below us. On the smooth pavement, I was able to pick up my pace and excited to get to town to re-work my schedule. I wanted to stop at the Tourism Office to purchase our new credentials since we would pass it on our way into town. Because it was Sunday, the office was closed. We decided to find a place for lunch, and I told Ray that I had been thinking about walking further as we walked to a restaurant. He was excited since he had also been thinking that it was too early in the day to stop. Ray and I discussed all the angles of pressing on or staying in Sarria. The restaurant was crowded and noisy, making it difficult to communicate. The guidebook had few choices if we decided to keep going, so I needed better wifi. We decided to find our reservation and see if that made a difference.
Our Pensión was close to the restaurant and our room was ready. I had made a reservation after learning that the rooms in Sarria could be sold out. Our room was small, simple and on the Camino trail. Ray sat on the bed watching pilgrims pass by our window while I put a plan together. I determined that we could make it to Morgade, if beds were available at the only accommodation. After having trekked over ten miles, Morgade was another seven. There was a five mile gap between accommodations before Morgade, and I did not want to risk walking another mile to the next albergue.
Because we did not have cell phone minutes, Ray went back to the front desk to see if someone would call the albergue in Morgade, inquiring about a private room or available beds. The desk clerk called Casa Morgade and handed the phone to Ray because the guy who answered spoke English. Ray explained to Paco what we wanted to do and he confirmed that he did have rooms but did not take reservations. He told Ray to call back after 4:00 p.m., letting him know where we were, and if he still had a room he would reconsider. Not knowing if we would be leaving, I took a quick shower and washed my clothes in the sink. Ray fell asleep on top of the bed while watching the pilgrims pass by our room.
While Ray slept, I calculated the advantage of walking another seven miles. My original spreadsheet had been revised countless times, but I liked the options that opened up by getting some more miles behind us. We needed to replenish our cash, so I searched for nearby ATMs with the map app as well as places to buy the pilgrims’ passports. The passports were sold at the Church of Santa Mariña, but closed for siesta after noon mass, reopening at 4:20 p.m. In order for all the pieces to come together, another miracle was required, but I had no doubts.
When Ray woke from his siesta, he took a quick shower before returning to the front desk to call Paco again. When Ray talked to Paco for the second time, he agreed to hold a room for us. Ray assured him that we would be there before 8 p.m. The man at the front desk looked confused when Ray thanked him for the use of his phone. He came back to the room to tell me the news and finish his packing. I attached my wet clothes on the outside of my backpack, gearing up for another twelve kilometers. We checked out at the front desk assuring the man that everything was fine but that we were behind our schedule and felt like we could go further. Ray suggested that he could turn the room and book it again. I just shook my head at Ray thinking the man had decided we were crazy despite anything we could say.
It was hot outside as we walked through the streets to an ATM. We arrived at the church to buy our credentials at 4:30 p.m., passing several albergues along the way. I was surprised to see the number of albergues lining both sides of the street on the Camino, and no “Completo” signs. Ray and I could have easily found beds without a reservation in Sarria. I wondered if we looked strange walking through the city so late, past other pilgrims eating tapas and dinner at the outdoor cafés.
At the edge of town we saw locals and pilgrims relaxing outside a monastery with an albergue. Since we had skipped the scenic route to the monastery in Samos, I wished that we had taken the time to explore this impressive structure. The arrows pointed to the left and we crossed a river leaving Sarria. We were walking into the sun, and I wondered if I would hold up in the heat, but I felt stronger walking in the afternoon than I did in the morning. I told Ray that I liked the strategy of walking, then resting for a couple of hours before setting off again. Ray told me that he liked the idea of walking at night, but we agreed that either strategy did not work well without a reservation. We also did not know how my feet would hold up if we tried walking more miles several days in a row. We couldn’t help but think of how we would do things differently if given the chance to walk again, and laughed because we were talking about another Camino before completing the first.
It took us longer to get out of the Sarria city limits than I had anticipated so thought we had better stay focused to reach Casa Morgade by 8:00 p.m. While I knew that we had an elevation climb of 900 feet, I didn’t think it would be a challenge. My body was not cooperating, however, and my pace was slow. I wasn’t noticing much of the scenery around me, but couldn’t help but point out a large, eerily shaped tree. I asked Ray to pose for me so that I could get an picture with scale.
Ray started getting hungry and decided that we needed to eat. We were getting closer to a group of buildings, but it was Sunday evening it was not a town. We saw a sign over a doorway indicating a restaurant. There was a table outside with three of the four chairs being occupied by local men engaged in conversation. Ray tried the store door and it opened. He entered and I followed, but it was apparent that we were not expected. There were a dozen men playing cards at three different tables crammed into the tiny room. With our backpacks on, Ray and I were unable to move, so I backed out closing the door behind me. I glanced at the time trying to calculate what time we would reach Morgade. I waited as patiently as I could, standing next to the store wishing one of the men would offer me the empty chair.
Several minutes went by before Ray walked out of the store with a handful of items. He had an apple, an orange, some cookies and two colas. I thought we would eat while we walked, but he wanted to eat while standing next to the building. I told him that it was going to be hard to eat considering the smell, but he was in no mood for me to argue. Ray said that he had a hard time getting someone to take his money, and when they did, he was overcharged. He didn’t want to stow our hiking sticks since the trail was uphill, so we had to stand and eat. The men outside never acknowledged our presence, and Ray said that it was the same inside. It was one of the few odd experiences we had on the Camino.
Even though it was getting late, the sun was still bright. The air was cooler as we climbed higher up the hill. I was concerned that we would be late to Casa Morgade and urged Ray to go ahead. He didn’t want to leave me on the trail alone, so tried to walk faster. The bones in my feet were sore, and I wasn’t able to keep up. The colors of the flowers, the sky, and the cows around us were glowing in the afternoon sun. I tried to get a good picture of cows grazing in a field above the trail, but didn’t want to wait for them to look up. Ray stopped for me to catch up, and I convinced him that he had to keep his word and go faster to get us checked in to our room.
We had walked over 400 miles together and with other people, and it was the first time I had walked alone. Confident that Ray would make it on time, I slowed down a little to save my strength. I thought about how Yung Mi, Claudia, Carmen, Lisa and Jeri had decided to walk the Camino alone and how different their experience had been to mine. I heard a strange sound coming from the field behind me, and turned to see what it was. I didn’t want to look scared, but my imagination was starting to run wild. I wondered if Ray could hear me scream, or anyone else for that matter. I started to scold myself for deciding to walk alone, much later than normal pilgrim traffic. I heard the noise again and turned to see it coming from a large bird flying between two trees. I straightened myself back down the path with a new appreciation and admiration for my solo Camino girlfriends.
The Camino joined the paved road just before Morgade. My legs had just started to quiver a little as I spotted the tables and chairs outside our pensión. Ray was at the counter chatting with Paco when I arrived. After introductions, he showed us to our room and encouraged us to get something to eat before the grill closed. We dumped our backpacks and followed his suggestion, ordering a large sandwich and salad to split, munching on Spanish olives while we waited.
Casa Morgade was beautiful inside and out with a elegantly cozy ambiance. Paco had told Ray that this was his family’s farm, renovated to accommodate guests. I was extremely tired but happy to have pushed myself to achieve more than I thought was possible. Ray told me that he didn’t like walking without me, but that he was proud of me. I told him about the scary bird noise, and did not ask him what I had done to make him proud. My feeling was not proud, as I would describe it. I did not think what we had done was remarkable and certainly not unusual considering the number of pilgrims receiving a Compostela annually. Instead, I felt satisfied. It felt good that we had been able to work together and make it this far, both on the Camino and in twenty years of marriage. I had been confident from the beginning that we had the determination it would take to succeed, and I didn’t see anything within our control that could stop us now.