The host of the gatehouse drove us back to the place at which we had ended our walk the day before. It sports the best name of an alberque/bar for its location: Kilometer 15. (See the sign above Donna’s head.)
We left early, in low clouds and mist, just as the sun was peaking over the trees. Dew and moisture clung to the fields and foliage, as if each drop represented a Pilgrim’s excitement and anticipation of the day’s destination 15K away: Santiago de Compostela.
After that grueling, record-setting trek into Arzua, we looked forward to a “normal” day of about 20K. We were hyperaware that we were just one sleep away from Santiago, and I think that’s why our photos from the day were such a variety of scenery, terrain and people. We wanted to make sure we got a little bit of everything along the way.
One of our favorite pictures from our Portuguese Coastal Route Camino was taken by another pilgrim as we walked down the trail. We tried to re-create it on this next-to-last day, recruiting Alex and his mom “Hey, Hey” Mickie.
We left the rectory relatively early (again, early for us) knowing we had 28K (17 miles) to go, according to the walking notes. Our walking notes had always measured the distance from our lodging to the next destination. Or so we thought. Maybe it was from town/village/city limit sign to the next edge of town. Or maybe it was center of town to center of town. For three full weeks it was always close enough for Camino work.
We knew we were 6K away from Palas de Rei when stepped out the door. We assumed our 28K estimate was based on our lodging to our next lodging, or thereabouts in Arzua. In other words, the 28K included the 6K to get to Palas de Rei.
Here’s how our mental math worked. Anything under 20K (12.5 miles) was a short day. A short day meant we might arrive by 3 pm, which meant more time for the hand washed laundry to dry. And writing time for me. And sangria for both of us.
Anything over 20K could be a long day. On long days (15-20 miles), we hoped to arrive by 5 p.m. We knew we would be more physically tired, so we learned not to anticipate doing much more than shower, change clothes and eat dinner. Anything else would be a gift of time. The real key to mental health on a long day was to avoid “horse-to-barn” mode. That is where you put your head down, don’t look around, don’t talk (unless it is to ask rhetorically, “how much farther?”) and your whole being is focused on one thing. Just. Get. There.
SIG Alert on the Camino Between Sarria and Santiago
Donna and I stayed in a hotel in Sarria, and when we went down to breakfast, it was difficult to find a seat. We saw two banquet-style tables and thought it might be for family style seating, which we have enjoyed as a way of meeting new people.
Nope. They were tables reserved for three different large tour groups of Pilgrims and their guides.
Fine. Donna and I huddled in a corner at a table for two and made a game of guessing which of the people in the buffet lines were veterans who had 110K left to go on their Camino, and who were the people starting their Camino in Sarria with this as Day 1.
“Plebes,” I said, nodding my head in the direction of a dozen bright shiny Pilgrims around the coffee pots.
Donna almost shot her coffee out her nose upon hearing my nickname.
Based on the recommendation of a veteran sitting nearby (she was walking her second solo camino), we decided to hit the trail as soon as possible. She said most of the groups leave around 9 a.m., so we decoded to get a good head start.
The End of the Camino as We Knew It Is the Beginning of the Camino for Thousands
Glory, hallelujah–we woke to warm, dry boots and no rain in the forecast with supporting physical and visual evidence out the window. As I mentioned, part of our routine every morning is to double check the online weather report. We also had what we came to call The Arm or Body Part Test.
To conduct The Arm or Body Part Test, one opens the window (Spain doesn’t believe in screens) or, if we are blessed with a balcony, one opens the door to the outside. Next, stick an arm or other body part out the opening and report to your roommate what you feel and observe. Optional information to share is what the tester herself has decided to wear based on the experience.
For instance, “I’m going to wear my Holy Long Sleeve and pack my Safari Shirt.”
We have a system in place. The night before we read the weather and get our hiking clothes out and ready to throw on in the morning. We usually double check the forecast first thing in the morning to make sure we have enough layers on our bodies and then any extras that need to be packed in the most-likely-to-be-needed on the top of the backpack.
(The above is a lesson learned quickly when it starts to get cold, or misty, or you’re hungry and whatever it is you need is at the very bottom of the pack, which means you have unpack all the stuff at the top and set it most likely on dirt or rocks or ledges that have tiny, biting bugs that will decide to take up residence inside your pack and bite you later.)
The forecast for this day basically said cloudy, cold in the morning (no kidding—we were on top of the world in O’Cebriero— and then high 60s later.
When I say “cold in the morning” I mean the temp started with a 4. As in 47 degrees Fahrenheit. Hence our morning selfie was taken indoors whilst inside the lodging.
This was our longest, my hardest day EVER. We were leaving the wine country and heading up a river to the top of the world as we know it. The first 20K (12 or so miles) was mostly flat and followed the river. Gorgeous. The last 10K (6 miles) were essentially straight up rocky forest paths.
We arrived at the 20K town at 3 p.m. This is normally when we like to get to our final destination. Oh, no, not even close!
Today we head for the hills and valleys. The Bierzo Valley wine making district to be specific. Walking through a city is not our favorite thing, but Donna and I thoroughly enjoyed the vineyards. Until we “hit the wall” and were just ready to be done!