just now, i was looking for maps on the web, preferably maps featuring the stages and distances on the camino del norte. after finding one, and looking at the distances between different points and the way the camino winds across the top of an entire country, for the first time, i see/feel the implications of the time and distance involved in walking that path. it blows my mind a little. the shock means that i must have had some preconceived ideas cooking away on the back burner that have just been jolted with a reality check.
oh, it seems that while i’ve been distracted with other things, my favourite tiny passenger, the subconscious script-writer, has been busy at work. pre-empting or imagining is a curious state to fall into. the way we create schemas in the mind, rooms to be inhabited, characters to be cast. expectation becomes the reference point, distracting us from the “true” experience. i am trying very hard to keep my musings focused on practical matters so that the rest can just unfold as it will. having said that, while i look at the map, and only for an instant, i catch a fleeting heart glimpse of inhabiting a body that is walking along a path, somewhere, with the weight of distance behind it, supporting it, moving it along, and with the promise of distance in front, beckoning. a body walking somewhere in the eternal moment between being and coming into being. a body moving through a space that is similarly changing moment to moment because of my footsteps through it.
footsteps. numbers of footsteps. numbers. there will be relatively light days (from 11-20 km’s) but there are quite a few days of more than thirty kilometres, sometimes pushing fifty (!). how will my body react to that, day after day? it is clear that this has to be an exercise in listening to my body, especially my feet. quiero mimar mis pies, ya que me van a llevar toda esa distancia…..foot oils, daily massages…………
the northern way makes up most of what was once the original route taken by pilgrims. there is a point on the route (in villaviciosa, asturias) where you take a detour to arrive at santiago de compostela after traversing a mountain range. over time, different, easier routes emerged, like the northern way and the french way, basically to facilitate things for pilgrims. from what i understand, the french way is the easiest and most popular route in terms of short distances between towns where there are albergues (very cheap accommodation provided to pilgrims- hence the need for a pilgrims passport) etc. along the french way i would imagine that one would meet a vast cross-section of people doing the camino for any number of reasons. one would see more tangible signs of the impact of this on the camino itself. academically, this makes it a very interesting way to follow. i was initially tempted to do it for that reason. my temptation was further fed by the numerous anecdotes i had heard from friends who had done the french way about the types of characters one meets. still, my heart calls me elsewhere, so, choosing the northern way was a no-brainer. it is more challenging in terms of terrain (hilly-mountainous), weather (highly variable, rainy, and sunny days that will make the “bad” weather worth it) and reduced conveniences and albergues. ultimately, the pay off is deeper solitude and scenery. the camino will take me through san sebastian, across to gernika, across cantabria (skirting around santander), walking along the coast of asturias with the peaks of europe to my left, and wandering through galician forests. i expect that i will encounter fewer people on this camino, but relative to the 200,000 people a year total who walk on the camino, this will probably still amount to a fair number.
my decision to walk along the northernmost camino, at the end of the day, is mostly a sentimental one. my family ties to asturias, precious childhood recollections of family trips…. memories of mountains. my name. and of course, my father. a man who still likes to come to asturias to walk. maybe i want to follow in his footsteps. maybe i want to experience the emotions of my feet on the earth in the place where my family comes from……maybe i want to feel the earth anchoring me………..perhaps it is the sea that calls me. spending hours walking each day with the coast in view sounds like heaven. what about the food? who can argue that the basque people, the asturianos and the gallegos have the most amazing approach to food? and divine solitude, a precious pause within a pause. what will i find there?
…it is april, 2014. i am editing my thesis like i am in some kind of frenzy. 14 hour days, seven days a week. i am a mysterious and chronic rash of pimples that has been living on my neck for a couple of weeks now. i am shoulders that feel like they are made of stone. every night i leave uni and ride my scooter home through the city and towards the north of brisbane. i listen to music and try to push a breathing space between me and the dense feeling in my mind. i am getting to the end of something, it is crunch time. everything i do at this moment is a part of a routine~ the “get the phd done” routine. there are several routines to the day, with each routine breaking off into branches of sub-routines ……the nightly routine is: arrive home, dinner, light-as-light-can-be conversation with friends or family, a homeopathic joint to take the edge off, then sitting outside in the garden under the sky with my feet on the grass. every night, the denseness drains away as i get out of my mind and into my body… taking stock…..heaviness here, anxiety there, excitement everywhere. it all goes into the grass, deep down into the earth, my seeds of experience…..
those solitary moments in brisbane, with my feet on the earth, were moments of great clarity. i realised that no matter what is going on, the earth is always there, beneath me. and whether the camino is easy or tough on any particular day, it will also be there holding me, making it possible for me to walk. the relationship between the walker and the path (and the earth beneath the path) is symbiotic ~can you have one without the other? a pilgrimage offers a particular space where this relationship can be explored over an extended period of time. and what happens during this time? what is the nature of the transformation for a pilgrim and for the path she/he walks (or bikes or rides a horse) along? knowing that the earth is a support and a source, will help me to walk in a deeper state of acceptance of whatever the camino brings physically, mentally and emotionally.
back onto practical questions, packing 7 kilograms of gear is an interesting challenge! for this kind of time and distance, obviously my packing needs to be uber frugal. someone told me recently that a simple rule is to make sure that everything you pack has more than one use. i try this, but as i am going to be documenting this walk with a particular objective in mind, i need to take extra weight (technology). another tough one is the issue of skin and haircare! my friends will laugh knowingly when they read this. i have read many packing lists on the web, offered up by people who have already walked. however, i am yet to see any packing lists that suggest carrying restructuring hair masks, clarisonics, or face oils. in my initial attempt at packing i packed a shower cap for gods sakes….sigh…. ok, maybe the clarisonic is too much………………. clothes. four months of living out of a backpack means that when it comes to choosing clothes, there is no drama, i am past the point of caring if i wear the same clothes every day. it will be two changes. the one that i am wearing and another in the pack. i don’t know. i’ll just do my best and then re-assess as i go along. i guess that is when i will truly know what i need to walk. only to walk.
well…..my pre-camino camino is rounding the bend to the final destination. this weekend, i am going to drive down to soria to a gathering at a house in the countryside. come sunday morning, i will drive back to santiago de compostela, spend one more night at gerry’s and then catch the train to irun on monday morning. it is an eleven hour train ride. train rides are the perfect precursor to solitude ~watching out the window, letting the mind skip over an endless procession of thoughts, connecting with the observer. after a good night’s sleep, the following morning i will go to a bridge in irun that straddles france and spain and begin…