SUNNY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN
It's been so long since we had the sort of bright sunny weather we had leading up to the swimming pool in Belorado, we almost forgot that it can happen on the Camino! Albergues in this part of Spain often feature pools because so much of the high season is during the hottest part of the year, but they have hardly crossed our radar because of the cold damp spring weather we've been having. However, the seasonal tide seems to have turned back to normal at last,at least in the late part of the day. Although the mornings are still quite crisp and cold (and for several hours Wednesday morning, startlingly foggy), the afternoons have turned summery sunny and warm with a occasional breeze, brightening everyone's spirits. However, it's forced us to realize we have almost forgotten how to walk in the sun, which can make for long, slow, pokey afternoons trudging in the heat. Yesterday I took 12 hours to walk 31K, due in part to my stopping for 90 minute rests a couple of times. I realize now why so many people make annoying jerks of themselves getting up and leaving in the dark...today I got smart and left at 6:30 am instead of my usual 7:45 or so, and it made a big difference to arrive at my destination (admittedly an easy 18k away) before the afternoon. Instead of walking through it.
However, it wasn't all a cakewalk.
MESETA-ING WITH MY HEAD
If I thought that long 17K walk of nothing but Roman road was the last of my troubles, I was wrong. Yesterday's walk to the minor city of Sahagun was pleasant enough, through regularly spaced villages and ancient landmarks and leading to a classic destination of the pilgrim route. However, not far out of the town the Camino splits. One option follows the Roman road favoured by Emperor Augustus back in his day -- through quiet countryside but no towns,much like the day before, and ends in a village about 9K away. The other runs along the senda, a gravel road parallel to the highway in the distance, with a town or two to break things up until the final destination 13K away, Given the hot day, it would seem choosing the shorter route would be a no-brainer. But after the previous day's experience, I was leery of another long uninterrupted path of monotony. So I opted for the second route, figuring having towns along the way would break things up and help keep me sane.Also, it would end with me further down the road and closer to Leon, taking a bite out of the next day's mileage. It was interesting to consider the question, though...what would you have chosen?
As it turned out, however, I wonder how much I mitigated things. From the fork where the two paths diverged, it was only 5 or 6K to the next town...but the heat made it feel much longer, and I felt like I was moving slowly. Also, the route was hardly more scenic, which sapped my strength even more. But it did help to stop at Bercanios, where I found Kathy from Carrion on a sunny patio. I joined her for a while, and was tempted to stay there as she and many other pilgrims had opted to do, but in the end I pushed on and trudged up another 8K to El Burgo Ranero under dimming but still strong sun. By the time I dragged myself into town it was past 7:30pm,and I had to knock on a few doors to find a bunk somewhere. Once I did, I just showered, had a popsicle for dinner, and put myself to bed .
Today I set out early into a cold but sunny morning requiring three layers and gloves. It should have been an easy 18K, over flat terrain, and I was considering adding another 6 to get me to the town of Villarente, which would put me closer to Leon. But the first 12K were more of the same we've been enduring recently....yards and yards of gravel lined by skinny baby trees stretching way into the distance with no endpoint or change in sight. It got to me, as did the fact that my feet started to hurt only an hour into the 3 hour walk before a town appeared where I could sit down for a break. I don't know...,maybe it was the cold, or weariness from the big push the day before, too short turnaround since I had finished walking yesterday, loneliness, who knows....but at some point I was just going forward mindlessly with tears in my eyes and hating every step. I was just. Sick. Of. Walking. I had had enough; I didn't want to do it anymore, not today or ever. The prospect of doing this for another 20-25 days was suddenly impossible. I was even contemplating the heretical thought of going into Leon tomorrow by bus, because I have heard that the way in to that city is as brutal as the path into Burgos...and if I encountered that in the state of mind I was in now, I was liable to just collapse in a heap by the freeways.
Eventually I made it into my original destination of Mansilla de la Mulas, where I planned to stop for some fresh squeezed oj (my favourite treat on the road,and wonderfully cheap and plentiful) and coffee before continuing on.But as I looked around the clean, well-lighted place, run by two brisk and efficient women who had an albergue above the cafe, decent wifi,and laundry service (real machines! Not sink washing!) I started to think, why NOT stay here? It was before noon, which meant I could have my choice of beds, and could enjoy the warming sunny afternoon instead of having to walk through it. True, I'd still have a five hour walk into Leon tomorrow...but here I could get a proper rest and fortify myself, rather than keep dragging myself in to towns and getting up again right away just to do it all over again . In my vulnerable state, I suddenly realized I didn't want to go any more today,. So I cheerfully paid the 8 Euro plus the premium for laundry (I'll skip dinner, it's worth it) in order to get a break.
Matt helped out in a huge way as well by booking me a hotel in Leon. This is a tremendous gift, because it means that not only do I have a place to stay and don't have to rush and scramble for a bed there, I have a place to GO, to look forward to. A place where I can leave my things, lock the door, take a shower without having to pack toiletries and a change of clothes, go eat late night tapas on a Friday night instead of the earlybird discount pilgrim menu because I needn't worry about making a 10pm curfew, don't need earplugs to block out others' snoring, and can be woken up by a phone call instead of the irritating rustling sounds of someone packing in the dark to leave at 5 am. I just realized now that I have not slept alone in a room in three weeks. Wow. Yeah, I am ready for a break -- one that will allow me to enjoy the big city like a person, not just a transient pilgrim living out of a backpack. Just one night, but one will do. It means the world to me, and my headspace.
I have indeed enjoyed my day in Mansilla...a hot shower, long rest and amble about town in the sunshine in sandals rather than heavy boots is quite a tonic. There is nothing like the feeling of cool grass under hot bare feet. I'm in a lot better shape to take on the road to Leon.
I have been awed and humbled by the effect of the meseta. Having risen to the physical challenge of the Camino with its mountains and steep hills, this stretch between Burgos and Leon posed a mental challenge I had underestimated. I just figured, flat terrain, under clear skies...how bad can it be? But the monotony of the landscape really got to me; it wasn't ugly, just relentlessly unchanging and boring. It's exhausting on a whole other level...where even if you are actually making good time over the ground, you feel like you're losing ground because there is nothing marking your progress, and it just feels like you'll be walking forever in purgatory. The meseta has been tough,especially the past two or three days, and I am promising myself not to sink this low in my headgame again. After Leon the terrain gets steep and rolling again, but at least it is liable to be more interesting, and I am resolving to be ready for it.
While enjoying my new favourite place in the world -- a long hot shower -- it occurred to me that I am in the midpoint of not just the Camino, but of my time away from home. I'll be gone an unprecedented 45 days in total, and the only time I've been away for longer was when I actually went to go LIVE somewhere else. That is probably why I am finding myself dreaming of home much more recently -- of PLAST, work, friends and family. I must really miss you guys! :-)
Thank you for continuing along this walkabout with me and for the encouraging messages and interest. I have finally had wherewithal (and steady wifi access) to update my photos...so if you look, you'll see pics that illuminate things referenced in past posts, and hopefully make those less monotonous than the meseta has been.
Tomorrow, Leon! I'm looking forward to it already...even the walk!