Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Shortest Day, the Longest Walk

Camino Day 18 
Tuesday was the shortest day and yet the longest walk of the Camino, so far. It was only a 10ish mile gig, a cake walk, really, but there were two things that made it so long. First, there were no facilities along the entire route, by which I mean no café to stop and have a cup of café con leche or coke when my feet or legs got tired; this meant, by default, that there were no “servicios,” either. No el bano, no WC, no toilets. 
As a 54 year old woman, I think you’ll agree that I had every right to be concerned. I planned out my walk with grim determination, doing the only thing I could do to ensure a comfortable day’s walk: I decided to dehydrate myself. If I didn’t drink any water, chances are I wouldn’t need the use of any servicios. 

Also, I made sure I had some tissues, just in case I needed to respond to the call of the wild.

I was a little nervous, not just about the lack of facilities, but in the length of the walk. Sure, I could stop and rest along the road if I got too tired—and there were picnic areas with tables and benches (but no WC) set up for that, but let’s face it: that would just extend the amount of time I would be in between bathrooms.

So I set off, making the lone pit stop at a gas station on the way out of town, a mere five minutes after I left my hotel. This reminded me of how I would prepare for running races.. On the day of the race, I’d show up at least 30 minutes early to get my bib number and then I would take my place at the end of the (very long)  line for the porta potties. I would reach my destination and get rid of the few dribbles in my system, then I would take my place at the end of the (still very long) line to the porta potties and repeat until it was time to take my place at the starting line.

There are some instances in which you can’t be too careful.

So I set off with a jaunty air curious to see how the day would unfold.

I made it to my destination with no need for unintended pit stops for rest or… Release. Pice of cake. It was, after all, my shortest day, as I’ve said. And the longest I have walked without a break.
But it was also the longest walk, not just due to lack of services but also to the complete and utter lack of scenery. Once I left the city limits of Carrion de los Condes it was if all the vibrant colors of flowers and the jigsaw puzzles of different crops fitting together were left behind as well. There was, once again, no shade, and the air was still, with no breeze playfully tousling the hair of the wheat that grew silently next to me. 

Add to this the fact that the path I was on was level and stable and it never.varied. I was on a white gravel road in a straight line from point A to point B with no trees, no towns, no turns to “mar” the view. 
This made me realize how my body and mind had gotten used to the elegant diversity of the Camino, thus far. The wild flowers that bloomed along earlier paths were rowdy and singular, even if they shared the same ancestors, and the fields of wheat and oat and barley rippling in the breeze had made me feel as if I was a modern day itinerant Moses, walking through the waves of grain on dry land.
But on this day, I felt less like Moses and more like the anti—hero from the 1971 movie, “Vanishing Point.” I remember us five kids watching this movie with our Dad when it came out. All I can recall is an endless scene of Kowalski, played by Barry Newman, driving and driving and driving while radio DJ Super Soul (Cleavon Little) would sporadically encourage him through the radio: “Come on! We believe in you!” (I confess I had to google this to remind myself what the plot was, as immemorable as it was.) 

The only difference is, I had no one exhorting me to keep going; I had only the white, dusty road in a straight line ahead of me, with no sign of human civilization in sight.

I was okay with this for much of the day. With no exterior stimulation, my thoughts turned down the interior labyrinthine path that leads to my center and I spent much of the day in reflection about my life, things for which I’m grateful (these things are really relationships- my son, my family, my gf, my friends-and experiences over the years) and things I still want to accomplish. And it was a rich, interior route along a path much more varied than the one outside. 
But then, a shift occurred. According to my GPS, I was nearing my destination. I was a mile away, then .5, then .2 miles away. The flat landscape stretched on and on and still there was no sign of a village. It had been hours, it seemed, since the last tractor had passed me by, covering me in the dust from the road, which stuck to my sweat like dollar store glitter.  I sensed a low grade panic arising in me. 
Where was the town? It had been over 10 miles., there was nothing obstructing my view, and yet still I couldn’t see anything or anyone! I had primed my body to walk for 10 miles without stopping and without servicios but now I was ready to be done. 
Finally, so dim in the afternoon haze that it seemed to be a mirage, I glimpsed a simple structure with a smaller building attached to the right of the road.. The sight did little to inspire confidence.
That was it? No wonder I got to stay in such a nice place the night before, they were preparing me for this. 
But as I kept walking, that building stayed firmly to my right, at least a quarter mile from the road which, by the way, refused to bend toward that structure. I began this internal pleading with my environment, as if by reasoning with the road, I could make it see the error of its way, but to no avail.
I kept looking at my GPS as it counted down the distance to my hotel. It reached .10 of a mile and still nothing. I despaired of ever leaving that road. Like Newman, I would just walk and walk and walk in the arid landscape. It didn’t help that I had no idea how the movie ended; we left the theater long before that vanishing point.
Finally, just when all seemed lost I came to a sudden dip in the road; there in a hidden valley was the village of Calzadilla de la Cueza: my destination was at hand. And it was such a cheerful little village-- so much more than the structure I had been fixated on, so determined was I to be able to see where I was going. Gladly I jogged down that hill to the finish line. I don’t know about Kowalski, but I had arrived!

As I sat drinking a cerveza (after using the servicios, of course) I thought about how easy I had anticipated this day being. Ten miles? After what I’ve been through? Cake walk! But there is more than distance to journey and often what makes the shortest day the longest walk is a sense of desolation, an inability to see where we’re going, and no one-not wildflower or DJ—to cheer us on. Sometimes those benign pockets of white noise, white dust, contain more despair than the most challenging terrain. These are the times when hopelessness can creep in and giving up seem a viable option. These are the times we must have faith, faith in the journey, faith in the call that brought us here, faith in the village that awaits us, just beyond the bend.


Joni Martin said...

Nori, I feel so blessed that we reconnected at the time we did. Not only have I thought about walking the Camino, but your blogs are just what I needed in my own journey right now. Thank you for your writing, your sense of humor and your willingness to share. Peace be with you! Joni

Thecheerfulnihilist on tumblr said...

Interesting that humans are the only animal who will modify behavior due to 'shame', a social construct built upon humiliation and self-hatred, embedded in our very early sense of self. It might be an interesting experience to pee as needed, giving your bodily needs preference to social mores. Of course additional factors of legal codex and sanitation would deserve consideration. Nevertheless it is liberating in some emotional sense to pee in nature, the breeze wafting pleasantly, returning organic material to the greater organic. And in the process, saying to the chains of 'shame' "piss on you!". An insightful book, Healing the Shame That Binds You, is a good read. Although not specifically a dissertation on public urination it remains a thoughtful conduit to new and liberating perspectives.