It’s still dark outside but I’m awake and ready to start walking. Yet I lay here quietly in my bunk like a good Camino Pilgrim – breakfast isn’t served until six-thirty. Today is my first day on the Camino and it will be a short one, eight kilometers straight up the Pyrenees Mountains to the auberge in Orisson France. One of the most important things I have learned from long distance biking and hiking is start slow and do low mileage until my body catches up to my enthusiasm. Unfortunately even following my own advice I will still develop some right knee pain on the steep downhills. Then after a couple of hundred miles I will have a few minor over use injuries and by five hundred miles I’ll have the altered gait that long distance hikers refer to as “hiker’s hobble”.
The body changes are annoying but not alarming and should resolve a few months after ending the hike. That’s how my body behaves on long hikes but not necessarily how your body will so ignore most of what I said except for starting slowly and doing low mileage initially, that applies to all ages and sexes. I saw many twenty-something’s abandon their dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail after only a month of walking because they injured themselves by hiking too fast and doing too many miles in the early weeks of their adventure.
Sue and I hiked out of St. Jean before the city awoke and a few minutes later found ourselves walking past small farms with fields of corn and hay. The trail started to climb immediately and soon we were looking down on valleys filled with morning mist. At higher elevations we came upon free range cattle and sheep. I found the clinking of their bells echoing off the mountains quite charming.
At Orisson we shared the evening meal with other pilgrims on “The Way”. We each stood and introduced ourselves and tried to explain why we were in the mountains of southern France about to walk five hundred miles through northern Spain. Many people found themselves on “The Way” because they were at a crossroads in their life and needed some time to walk, think and plan their next move. Others have lost a loved one or are walking for an ill friend who has dreamt of doing “The Way” but never will. I didn’t understand the Brazilian, French, Spanish or Germany speakers but the tears in their eyes and the emotion in their voices made it clear that walking “The Way” was very important to them.
Why am I walking ‘The Way’ ?
I don’t have a simple answer but I do feel a need to experience the journey, to meet the people that choose to take on such a challenge as well as the those who live along the path and to see a part of the world I only know about secondhand via books and videos. Perhaps the reason will become simpler as the miles accumulate and my body starts talking back.