As an aspiring writer, I’ve read that Charles Dickens was a compulsive walker, and covered distances of up to 20 miles in a day to gain clarity, inspiration, and to observe humanity. He found writing to be an overwhelming stressful task at times and he regularly took 5 hour-long walks that led his friends to think he was mentally unstable. Here he details a walk through Paris:
“Wandering into Hospitals, Prisons, Dead-houses, Operas, Theatres, Concert-rooms, Burial-grounds, Palaces and Wine Shops. In my unoccupied fortnight of each month, every description of gaudy and ghastly sight has been passing before me in rapid Panorama.”
Similar to the worries of Dickens’ friends, many people told me it was extreme and futile to walk the distances I was walking, but it didn’t deter me. I walked with urgency, at a frenetic pace, with the belief that pushing my body beyond any physical limits would lead to a purge of the spirit. As if walking across a country, in the shortest amount of time possible would combat and assuage my self-loathing and snap me out of my bitter hole of rumination.
I craved exhaustion and oblivion, thinking it would bring to the surface all of my repressed sadness and fear of rejection. I wrestled with thoughts that I wasted any potential I had, that my life didn’t align with my values, and that I had lost the ability to form deep bonds with others as a result of my all consuming self-consciousness. The repeatedly failed attempts at having a healthy relationship with anyone of the opposite sex weighed heavily also.
If running a 10k race is a fast acting pill of endorphins, then the Camino was a delayed action release pill. I typically don’t have the patience for delayed or down-the-road gratification. I want the Tower of Terror in Disney world, not the lazy river in the Splish Splash water park. This impulsivity is why I no longer drink alcohol. I couldn’t stand the crippling and cringe-worthy shame of mornings following a night of blackout drinking.
I opened my eyes this morning with a clear head and an aching body. I carefully lowered my sore feet onto the cold, hard floor from the top bunk. We dressed and assembled our packs. Rollie gave me a piece of his baguette without a word that I immediately scarfed down. For 40 cents at any market you get a good sized loaf of bread. It would sustain me for the five miles before we hit the first major town. The first 30 minutes of walking each day is semi -conscious as my brain reboots. Seeing the dawn over plains or hills has a soothing effect. We walked through a massive grape vineyard and a few small towns. After two hours, we met the affable Danes, Peter and Anders. I hung back with Peter as Rollie and Anders pushed the pace with a widening margin.
At the next town, I heard a woman speaking English to Anders and Rollie as I approached. They stood next to the water fountain, taking turns filling up water bottles. “Where are you from ?” I said, barging into the conversation.
“Where do you think I’m from?” She snapped.
“The U.S. obviously, but it’s a big place. Which state?” I said.
“The only state that matters.” She said, as if she was posing a riddle to a kindergarten class.
“Texas?” I said.
“California.” She said. and my three companions let out a belly laugh almost simultaneously. We had discussed the brashness of Southern Americans that morning, and specifically Texas, who wanted to secede from the U.S. The Danes were learning that there is a wide variety to Geographic pride in the U.S.
Over chocolate croissants, and Chex-mix at an outdoor terrace cafe, Peter told me that Denmark had organized school until the age of 16, then citizens have 1-3 years off to travel or work and then return around the age of 19 to get a bachelor’s degree.
After a long day all I want to do is collapse, shower, feast on pasta and candy, and wash one of the two changes of clothes I have. Very often you will have to hand wash your clothes and then leave them out to dry on clothes-line.
Today, we tried but failed in finding the wine fountain that flows with a non-stop supply of wine. Wine will usually cost less or be the same price than a large bottle of water in Spain. We walked through residential areas, public pools, and kids playing soccer in the street. Villa Mayor has the traditional medieval style of stone facades, and cobblestone streets hold the charm of a real Spanish town. I sat in the common area of the small, cozy hostel rolling a lacrosse ball under my foot under advice from Anders that he sells it to his clients to break up the fascia in the foot and release tension. An Australian husband, wife, their shy daughter who I guessed was 19, sat on the couch. Their friend, a firefighter told me he was on a 6 month leave because companies in Australia allow that after 10 years with a company. The firefighter’s good-natured slow drawl revealed weak processing power but unmistakable integrity and grit. The next morning when I saw him at the town in the next 5 miles, he asked if I had seen a vest on the trail. I could only shrug and say “yeah, I saw it, but I didn’t pick it up” as I recalled passing it a few miles back. I want to be the Good Samaritan just one time.
I went outside to get some air. I spoke a few words to an Eastern European looking woman who was thumbing through a guidebook, she gave me a cursory glance from my head to my feet and returned to reading. She then answered her cell phone and spoke Ukrainian or Russian, I can’t tell the difference. It was a rare occasion to meet someone who was rude or unfriendly on the Camino.