Friday, June 24, 2016

Walking without a Net

Camino Day 14 

Today, I finished week two of this journey; I've put 180.8 miles behind me (and some loose change) and have three weeks left to go. Next week, on Wednesday or so, I'll cross the halfway point. 
Yesterday I posted on Facebook that both of my trekking poles simultaneously imploded. Well, actually, they both, simultaneously, broke. I had them reduced to their smallest size so as not to get in the way at my resting point, where other peregrin@s were assembled and then,when I went to telescope them out to my hiking size, first one, then the other, sprang forth from the main pole, bent, then broke. It was quite the sight (as I’m sure my face was when it was happening.) Fortunately, there was a trash bin nearby so I didn't have to carry the evidence with me for the remaking 4+ miles. Which I walked just fine.
But I wondered about today. When I posted this on FB responses from friends varied from sympathy, to hope someone would give me new poles, to gratitude they didn’t break during one of the (many) tricky up or downhill climbs to (gaia bless her, something only a fellow minister would say:) “that pole story will preach!” 
I agreed with her, of course. That pole story will preach. The only thing I didn’t know was, at Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story. How would it preach? Would it be a miracle story of poles mysteriously appearing in my room? Of a Camino friend handing out walking sticks (as happened with another colleague, who has walked this Way before) or something else?
I still don’t know if I know the answer to “the story” but I do know that today it was splendid to walk without them. In fact, today was my best day ever.
Granted, this has been my easiest day so far, terrain wise, and the weather—a swelteringly 90+ average over the past three days was decidedly cooler, albeit still sunny and for the most part without shade. But life was good on the Camino for this peregrina.
It was a day of trying new things. Besides going stick less, I also decided to try walking in my Hoka trail running shoes. My BFF, Rachel, upon hearing of my foot woes last week, took it upon herself to go to the REI store where I had purchased my hiking shoes and speak to the Camino shoe expert there. Dennis was mortified that I was experiencing such agonizing pain on the bottom of my feet and suggested a couple of things. One of them was metatarsal support inserts and the other was in the form of a question. Did I get my shoes a half size or full size bigger than my regular size to accommodate for the inevitable swelling that would occur?
I had not-(and I’m pretty sure Dennis didn’t sell me my first pair of hiking shoes; that guy, whoever he is, was only concerned with me walking up and down a fake mountain and asking if my toes or heels bumped against the shoes.) So through these past two weeks, my poor little feet have been swelling and pushing against my great hiking shoes, giving a whole new visual to the term “muffin top.”
I had brought along my Hoka trail running shoes, though, just in case they might come in handy. I had bought these a half size bigger, knowing that my feet swell when running long distances (let’s not ask why I couldn’t, all by myself, make that quantum leap of logic when buying hiking shoes for hiking 500 miles in 35 days. Some things are better left un examined.) My Hokas, besides being roomier, are also designed for people with knee problems, so they’re cushy, too.
So today, I struck out valiantly from my hotel and, other than the fact that I got lost on my way to The Way, and wandered about for a mile/20 minutes before finding my Way, it was a great day. 
Let me just say, it can be much harder to find the signs in a large city when there are so many other signs vying for your attention: Buy this! See that! One Way! Stop! Caution! Detour! 
That’s why mindfulness is even more important in busy times and places than in solitary ones.
At any rate, I finally found my way to the yellow arrows and scallop shells and was off. Burgos is a large city, and it took me over three miles of my 13 (but for me, 14) mile walk to even reach the city limits.
I found I enjoyed the freedom of not having trekking poles. My arms swung happily by my sides and my walk seemed a bit jauntier. I wondered if the absence of the poles made me feel less encumbered by the mechanics of the walk. Certainly, there were times when I’m fairly sure they saved my life in the early days of my pilgrimage with the epic steep ascents and descents with treacherous footing and slippery rocks and gravel, but maybe I had come to rely on them too much. Maybe I had allowed them to set the pace to the metronomic beat established in my head in those early, arduous days—or even the more recent days made arduous more by weather and lack of cover than terrain.
I remember when I was learning how to ski, taking beginner ski lessons at Keystone Ski Resort during my weekends off when I was in the USAF tech school at Lowry AFB in Denver, CO, February, 1981. My dad lived in Dillon, CO at the time, and he would come to pick me up every Friday afternoon so that I could spend the weekend with him and learn to ski. My dad was from Norway and was a natural; as for me, well, let’s just say I didn’t inherit those genes (anymore than I inherited my mother’s amazing creative crafting genes—but that’s another story.) So each Saturday, I would take beginner ski lessons. This isn’t just an indictment of my skill (or lack thereof,) it was cheaper to buy the beginner package which consisted of morning lessons and included an all day lift pass.
In those few weeks, I had the same ski instructor more than once and, if he recognized me as a return student,he never said. But one Saturday, after trying his best to help me learn balance, he said, “give me your ski poles.” 
I looked at him in disbelief. “What?”
“Give them to me,” he repeated. “You are relying on them to hold you up and that’s not what they’re for. You can ski without them.”
Still in disbelief, I gave them over, then grimly rode the pommel lift to the top of the bunny slope where the lessons were held. Shockingly, I was able to traverse my way down without the poles! My instructor was right! I was overusing them. After a time, after I had learned my lesson, he gave them back.
Maybe that’s part of the preaching this pole story will tell. Maybe the Universe will give them back, in some form or another, once I’ve remembered that I don’t need them to traverse this course.
Of course, I still have three weeks to go, anything could happen.
But what I do know is this: I felt freer, my load felt lighter (although it weighs the same 10 pounds it always does) and I felt like I had hit my stride.
I realized, too, that my attitude had changed over the past few days. When the first 90+ degree day happened, when I had to walk and walk with no shade and just the relentless sun beating upon me, I felt as if I were engaged in a competition with the weather, with the stark, unforgiving terrain. I grimly marched forth, determined to beat the day with its damn heat and no shade and few villages in which to find shelter.
Today, as I walked, I felt myself surrender to the moment, each moment, in a more pliable way. Today, there was shade for the first few miles but then, nothing. But instead of focusing on that, I gave thanks for the lovely breeze—a tailwind, no less!!—that buffeted me along and kept me cool. Today, there was only one place to stop, but instead of focusing on the barrenness of civilization, I took in the beauty of the never-ending landscape. Today, my feet still swelled up and were sore, but my comfy, roomier Hokas seemed to have ample space for them to take up. Today, I didn’t have poles, but I sauntered along with joy.
As I neared the town of Hornillos de Camino another miracle occurred! It was, I swear to Gandhi, the first village that ended in a valley, not requiring me to chug up a steep hill in order to rest. The terrain throughout the day had been mostly level on dirt and gravel roads. As I looked at my watch, I realized I would come the closest yet to having a 3 mile an hour pace for the last six miles, which I began after my lunch break. I thought, “Dang it. I’m going to miss it by just a couple minutes.”
Then, who knows what happened next? Maybe my feet and running shoes had been quietly reminiscing about the four half marathons they ran together last summer, maybe I just really wanted to make that seemingly unreachable pace, maybe I was enchanted by the wide road with the very subtle descent, but, whatever the reason, 10 lb pack and all, I began to run. And I ran the last five minutes to the outskirts of town. I wasn’t running fast (note: I never do) but I was running! It felt good to have the different muscles in my legs put to use, to feel the pack against my back, and to get into the runner’s stride once more.
When I reached the border of the town, I felt great, in spite of the heat, and the gear, and the decidedly non-runner clothes I was wearing. I realized these past few days, I had reached the towns whimpering with exhaustion and pain but today, with no one to witness my heroic burst of energy, I was the champion, my friend. 
I decided that, whenever I wear my Hokas at least, I would run the last few feet or yards or minutes to my destination, that I would remember the glory of this pilgrimage, so that even on the days I slog along, there will be a moment of victory, too.
I don’t know if I would have done that last minute run if I had my poles, but something tells me, no.
Now, I don’t know if that’s the only pole story that will preach, but it sure preached for me, today.
And three weeks still to go.

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