Sunday, September 22, 2013

Coming Home

Yesterday was my last day in Santiago.  I wasn't sure what to do, but I knew I was not through with those bones yet.  I went back to the cathedral early, and once again, I had that silver box of bones to myself.  I don't think anything dramatic happened,  I was just there peacefully for a while.  As people  Egan to come in, I said my goodbye to James, thanked him for such a rich experience (even though I cannot exactly describe what that means), and I wandered back out into the large square in front.

Forgive me if I have written this before, but most pilgrims approach the cathedral from the back.  Built in 1100 (so some say) the town grew up around it, crowding up close to the building.  There is no vast vista where one can see the entire building from afar.  So, the pilgrims come on a stone street ( no cars here) that slopes towards a small tunnel or arch.  Just inside this arch, at least while I was there, a man stand playing the bag pipes, his strange and piercing music adding mystery to the scene.  Just past him there is a set of steps, and at their bottom pilgrims turn left into this huge square, bond on all sides by mideval structures.  As they come into the square, they turn left and see the face of the cathedral.  It is a moment of such complex emotion - so much celebration or joy or even deep weeping.

Last Satruday it was a square full of activity.  First were the large groups of tourists being escortd by their tour guides.  I'd guess there were twenty to thirty of these groups.  On the edge of this mass some sort of antique car show was being organized.  Wonderful cars from the20s and 30s, 40s and 50s were driving in on a side street and being parked so all could see them.  There were the vendors selling their Camino wares, some dressed in period costume!  It was very festive"

I stood just at the bottom of the steps where I could extend a final Buen Camino to theilgrims as they emerged into this scene.  It was a ot of great joy, and I wanted to express my admiration for each but not intrude on their own experience.  I loved standing there and being a part of the end of their caminos.  For me, there is so much joy and wonder in that exact spot.  My heart felt full, and I was SO GLAD to just be right there.

Later, it was time to  is my few souvenirs.  I did not want or need much and am coming home with vey little that was bought.  I, packed  up pack, walked to the bus stop and headed out to the airport.  Back in the real world I guess....rush rush, tickets, security, wait in line, wait for the plane, the confusion of the airport in Madrid, finding the hotel shuttle then repeating all of that agin this morning.  

Now I am on the plane, headed back to Charlotte.  This flight seems endless.  I am not used to being in a metal cylinder, cut off from the sky and the earth.  Six hours have passed, and in that time on the Camino, I would have seen so many things, talked to many people, and would have just walked.  Here there are babies crying, people stuffed too close together and not much conversation.  The young man sitting next to me is traveling with his acting troupe to Santa Monica where they will perform Henry VIII in Spanish.  He does not speak much English or just wants to be left alone, so we have not talked much.

On the other side of the plane is Polly, a woman from Wilmington who walked the last 65 miles of the Camino.  We had such a great connection in the airport, but our paths diverge.  Still, I am glad to have felt the energy between us and grateful for our  usual u derstanding.

Before I left the square in front of Santiago, I ran into Kiwi, the young woman from New Zealand who walked up that challenging mountain at O Cereberio ( I really don't understand why I cannot remember how to spell this).  She and the two Italians, Gianni and Merino looked after me on that tough day.  She has run into them the day before and they had asked her toscay hello to me.  How I would have loved to see them one more time - to thank them, to share the vast space of our connection even for a minute.  They, of course, know I would  feel that way and we all know that we have become an important part of each others' lives.  I know they would have liked that moment evy bit as much as I would have.

When I was flying over back in August, I met Dave in the aiort in Dublin.  I even walked with him a couple of weeks ago.  I was sitting at a table in the Santiago Airport having a coke, and I spied him out of the corner of my eye.  He slipped away, but I found him shortly.  We had one more good chat before he was off to his flight to Dublin.  The Camino continues to give, and I suspect that will be true in unexpected moments for a long long time.  

So, in about three hours will be home, and tomorrow I will go see my doctor about my toes ( Did I mention that my toes look terrible!), and my life will go on.  Thanks for being a part of this with me.  You have boosted me along more than you would ever guess.  I don't imagine I will write more in this blog. But, I sure do hope I get regular writing back into my life.

Buen Camino!

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Power of Old Bones

Today I feel like a refreshed peregrino.  When I arrived yesterday, I was so tired!  I walked by the cathedral and went to get my compostela.  Then to my hotel (there is even tv in English here - BBC and CNN - too bad not much has changed in a month!).  So, I recovered.

Today I was up and about with new zest.  After I dropped off my laundry, I headed off to the cathedral.  First, a bt of background.  For most of my adult life I fought with the church. I definitely do not like the way so many Christians spend so much energy judging others - that does not seem Christ-like to me.  And, especially in my work, but in my own life, I have seen the wounds of misguided Christians.  Not happy in the church, I also learned that I am not happy without a spiritual community. A few years ago I made peace with the mystery of Christianity - I am comfortable with "not knowing" what the truth is.  I believe that spiritual life can offer much comfort and connection.

On this trip, I have made a practice of pausing before churches, being quiet and expressing a gratitude.  I have also understood that the impetus for El Camino floes from Christian beliefs.  There are so many crosses along the way, there are numerous altars.   There are abundant stacks of stones, indicating some sort of belief or expression.  But it is those sole crosses that have provided the most reflection for me.

I tend to be a wonderer about so many things.  On this pilgrimage I have wondered how the institution of the church got so separated from Jesus' teachings.  I am encouraged by the actions of Pope Francis I As he seeks to shift the emphasis away from condemnation and power to service.  I have wondered how the church clings to the notion of religious relics with such intensity.  This is especially true after visiting the cathedral at Burgos - truly a magnificent building, but one that seems to stress wealth and power over religious substance.

So, you get the picture?  Doubting Bob approaches Santiago, ending this part of his pilgrimage.

Today I entered a quiet cathedral.  I could hear the chants of mass in one of the chapels.  And, somehow I walked straight to some steps going down behind the altar.  I was alone,  the building was almost empty.  And suddenly I was standing in front of a silver casket that many believe contains the actually bones of St. James.  If true, here I am a few feet away from the remains of someone who knew Jesus, who came to Spain to spread this religion.  I do not need to know if these are the REAL bones.  It really does not matter if they are real or not.  I have walked a long distance just as others have for the past 1100 years.  And, here I am standing in front of a silver box.  I have experienced kindness and concern from people I will never see again - thoughtfulness that has no ulterior motive.

So, these bones, this religion, this church inspire me to be a better person.  How that will play out remains to be seen.  There is no conversion, nor is there a desire to become active in a church community.  But, there is a strong hope that I will be kinder and more loving towards all.

The Pilgrim's Mass that I attended at none did not really speak to me.  It was in Spanish, I had to stand, and my legs were aching.  After a while I decided that I wanted to move around a bit.  I began to see people I have walked with and warm smiles ensued.  I watched as the incense burner made its wide arc over the gathering, inhaling the aroma and a bit awed by all of the drama.  As the mass ended, a woman and her husband who had walked with me two weeks ago stepped forward with a warm smile and a genuine desire to know how I was.  Such tenderness!  And Frank, a man who had been along with way with me for a few days, was suddenly standing there!  Antonia, a Swedish woman who has kept popping up over the past two weeks joined us.  The joy of being together again swirled around us!  For me, this was the real mass - this gathering of people who had not known each other four weeks ago and who are not likely to ever be together again - this mass of loving without expectation.

That silver box of bones surely brought us together.  And in the coming together, my life has been enriched.  I am grateful for that.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bob Reflects on Santiago Eve

Here I am in O Pino, only 12 miles from Santiago.  It has turned cool, and, fortunately for me, the rain or drizzle held off until after I got here.  I am snug and warm and have the afternoon free in what feels like a roadside stop.  I will probably leave here about six in the morning.  I've finished my last hand was of clothes!

Last night I woke up about three and got to thinking about this trip.  When I started it, I thought of the whole thing as an expression of gratitude for this rich and exciting life I've led.  Naturally there have been very tender moments as I have thought about various experiences I have had, some sad and some sweet.  And, through the many people I have met, I have come to appreciate aspects of my self, and I have been deeply moved at some of the tender moments with others.  Some of those gestures have been large demonstrations of joy being exchanged.  Others have been as simple as the Dutch woman who reached out and touched my arm with massive tenderness.  There has been much gratitude on the Camino.

But, the majority of my conscious gratitude has been my growth in thankfulness for my friends and family.  I have felt others who are genuinely interested in what I am doing.  I have loved the "encourages" even from one of my brothers and so many others I have not seen in years.  Three friends from high school, many people who seemed to have drifted out of my life - there you are cheering me on!   I am so lucky to know each of you and to have shared experiences with you!

These past two days I have been walking through eucalypts forests.  The aroma from the trees and falling leaves has transported me back to 1989 when I moved to San Francisco.  I had told my wife and my children that I am gay (that was the single most painful moment in my life) , and I had moved west to get to know this new me, to learn how to integrate him with other aspects of my self.  It was a risky and rich time in my life.  The smell from the trees brought back so many, many memories!  And I felt grateful for my life once again.  No one wants to hurt people who love us.  And I still wince at the thought of the way I caused pain in my family.  But, almost simultaneously, I rejoice at being able to be more fully who I am.  At the end of the day, I am so very grateful for all that followed that time.

This Camino has been somewhat similar although not nearly so dynamic.  Here I am sitting around feeling like my life no longer has much possibility and BOOM! I make a decision that changes me deeply.  Walking the Camino is much much harder than I imagined.  Being able to cope with unexpected events with resilience has been confidence building.  Whole I am not sure what is ahead, I know there are choices, some may be very hard others almost effortless.  I am more than I thought I was as I near the age of 73.  And I am so grateful for that awareness.

My daughter, Ashley's partner, Sandra said she expected whops and hollars tomorrow.  I am not one much given to those kinds of expressions.  But I believe I will walk into Santiago with a deep and rich gratitude for a,, that has been given me, for the love and support of so many, and with a sense of excitement about a future that I thought was limited.  I also will be very tired and excited not to have to walk this rocky uphill path again.

If you are reading this, you Re a significant player in what has happened and what lies ahead.  Thank you so much for caring for me so.

Buen Camino to all!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bob in Arzua

I'm getting close.  There ate a number of ways I could predict this even if I did not know where I am.  Each day I walk through a less-scenic environment.  It's not urban or industrial.  It just dot feel as remote and romantic as what was before.  And there is very different energy between the pieregrinos.  People are tired and focused on "getting there".  It is cooler, and while it still has not rained ( how lucky I am!), the days are cloudy and breezy.  I suppose I could make a GRAND push tomorrow and get to Santiago, but I will do it in two days.

I left Palas del REI about 6 this morning.  Now, it is dark until almost 7:30, and since I have a re ord of getting confused in the dark, I was especially cautious.  But, all went well, and soon I was confidently moving up the trail, away from the city.  The challenge in this is that there are MANY ups and downs, and often the trail is very rocky.  I suppose I was "gingerly picking" my way ( but feeling the pressure to get the 20 miles in.  In the dark there is little awareness of what I am walking through.  This morning I thought about being fraud of the "bogey man" in such a dark and strange place.  There were lots of large trees around me, and occasionally I could smell cows on the other side of the stone wall (actually cow "smells" are characteristic of El Camino).  Fortunately. I am not freaked out by walking in a deep, dark woods without a clue of who or what might be lurking to grab me!  Soon the light came and then a series of small villages.  The "gently rooting hills" of Galicia turned into a series of long and steep up sand downs, and I found myself annoyed that I had not anticipate this.  The day will soon be here when walking on sharpe stones is OVER!

Several people have asked me about the food on the Camino.  I donor have an adventuresome palate, so I may not have much to offer.  I usually eat a banana and some sort of bread for breakfast, and most days I have a left over from dinner sandwich for lunch, along with a handful of nuts.  Most dinners are what is called the Pilgrims Menu.  It costs about 9 Euros and has three courses.  El Primero might be soup, or salad, and usually has spaghetti (good for carb loading).  The serving of spaghetti would feed at least two people.  It is tasty and all,Amy's some of my fear about carb energy.  El Segundo might be ham or pork or eggs, and, rarely chicken.  However, often the slices of this meat Re VERY thin!  Spanish people in this area really like fried eggs!  There are fried eggs served on top of French fries, and I even saw pizza with two fried eggs as the topping.  French fries are served at most every meal.  And one day I actually ended up with a potato sandwich!

Pulpa is very popular...a choice one night was piulpa cooked in its own ink!  I actually tried some as a tapas - much too fishy for me!!  Sometimes what is called ham looks more like fat back, and I've actually seen humans gobble this down!  Some days I just stick with cheese.

All that said, the service is typically great, and the servers are patient and want you to take your time.  Most real restaurants do not open until 7:30 or 8, and that is definitely too late for this old man!  There is always plenty to eat even if the options might be different.  My friend, Eric found a place in Burgos that he Re mom ended, and I actually got three of my buddies to go there. But, when they saw that the meal might cost 25 € they passed.  Pieregrinos do not go for fancy I guess.  I think that was the night I got pasta with fried eggs on top.  Yummy!

Ok, enough of this.  As the end nears I think a lot about how to describe this experience.  I have not come up with much, but I will try to sort a few things out.  It has been amazing and VERY challenging at the same time.  More on that later...maybe.

Buen Camino!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Day five? Check. Four to go!

I walked out of Sarria at 6am and prompts got lost.  Seems like I left by guidebook, , I never know where I am!  Yesterday I also got lost...or took a wrong turn and ended up walking to Samos, only added 10k to the day!  Today I was on the Camino and then I wasn't!  It was dark, and in Spain few people get up early.  Fortunately I was on the main road to Portomarin, so I just ambled along, flagged down the first car that came by and asked "donde es el Camino?"  I got back several paragraphs that I did not understand, so I said my gracias and walked on.  It is really very nice to walk on a paved road in total darkness with only the Milky Way to see.  One of the stories about El Camino is that pilgrims would follow the Milky Way to Santiago.  So, I did.  Eventually I found my way to a small town and was back where I belonged.

I've found myself ruminating a lot the past two days about "ending" this adventure.  I will get to Santiago.  I will have done it.  But I'm sure I cannot explain what I have learned or even how it has changed me.  I cannot even say it was fun.  It has given this old man a sense of confidence and some certainty that his life still has a lot of possibility, something that is not as limited as I thought before.  I am stronger and maybe a little less heavy set, as some might say!  I tend to be a home body, and I do know that I can survive on my own in a place where I do nit speak the language and have only myself as a resource.  Maybe later I will understand more.

As I was nearing Portomarin, Antonia, a woman I met last week appeared.  I am not sure why we keep walking together.  She talks about herself constantly and is not very kind.  But, there she was!  I wondered why she is around so much, and what I might learn from her.  I never got any answers, and I was happy when she went on ahead.  Almost immediately I met Albert, a64 year old journalist from Holland.  Right away I knew we would have lots to say to each other.  He was curious, entertaining and eager to connect.  We talked as we walked into Portomarin and then eat down and shared a cold coke with ice!  Then he moved on to the next place.  I could tell we shared a joy in our brief encounter.

Tomorrow I walk on to Palas del Rey...maybe my throne will FINALLY be ready?  Stay tuned!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Moving Along

Hello Folks!

The good newsis that I am past O Cerebrio and now in Triacastela!  Yesterday when I left on my first guide less day, I Meyer two Italians just as I crossed a bridge.  I saved them from an unnecessary much longer walk, and we went along  together.  Gianni is about 40, and is walking with his childhood friend, Merino.  He is a physician who trats adults with leukemia, and he is burned out.  We had a great conversation about the stress of working with people who die, and a bond was formed.  I had planned to walk only 14km that day,mostly be ause beyond that is 10k of a rocky trail going almost straight up! But, when we got to my stopping point, it was too early, so I plowed ahead.  By this time we had been joined by Kiwi,  a21 year old girl who jumped on the camino impulsively after seeing the movie on a bus to Pamplona.  She got off the bus, gathered together so e equipment and was off.!  Her lively chatter was good for all of us.

Now, I want you to know that walking El Camino is so much harder than I ever imagined!  It is hard work every day.  Generally I am out walking in the dark by 6:30, and I try to stop around two because of the heat.  I have been so very fortunate to have only had light rain on days one and three.   Other than that, it has been fiercely sunny..both a blessing (not having to walk in the wet) and a burden (the hit afternoon sun).  O Cerebrio is famous for foul weather..cold, wet, windy.  I was so lucky to be there when it was sunny!  But the walk up?  OH ME,  TOTAL TORTURE!  It took me about four hours.  And I would not have made it without the constant support from my walking friends.  They would walk ahead and then wait for me to catch up!  It was so evident that they were not going to walk off...maybe once again I was looking wobble-ey.  Whatever II a so grateful for their support and encouragement!  Their constant " Only 20 more minutes Bob!"  Kept me moving.  The problem was not a lack of strength but of cardio fitness.  I would have to stop and pant often!

When we final,y got to the albergue I had all the chores - washing my self and my clothes,finding a grocery, and organizing myself for today.  Once that was done I went out to sit on a bench and tend to my badly infected toe.

Before I started out on this adventure, I had posted ona Camino age that I would like to share a taxi from Biarritz to St Jean..the day before I left I had a reply from Dave, who wanted to share.  We. Et in the Dublin Airport where I changed planes.  He is a fireman, maybe 40, and we had an instant connection.  That first night in St Jean, we stayed in the same place, and the following day he walked off, on a faster pace.  

While working on my toe - there was Dave coming over to say hello!  We were so glad to see each other and swap stories!  Today he walked with me to Triacastela, a slow walk for him ( only 22k).  He was my patient companion today.  When we got to Trtriacastela,( I knw there is something wrong with this spelling, but I am sitting outside...lots of glare and small font)) we had lunch, and he went on to Sarria.  I done enough for today.  I'm tending to my toe and resting.

Tomorrow I will walk to Sarria, about 20k, and then it is only five days to Santiago.  Unless my toe has a total collapse, I will be there next Thursday and then home next Sunday.  As I sit here in front if a cafe/hotel, Gianni and Merino, almond with Deiter, a man I met a week or so ago. Have passed by.  I am so happy to be here!  I am back in the mountains , and the scenery s so beautiful.  And, here is Deiter, getting ready to sit down and visit with me!

Hard?  You betcha!  But, so wonderful!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Onward independent,y

Hello Readers!

I'll not write a lot tonight.  The situation on El Camino is changing.  Suddenly there are more people and spaces at albergues and hostels fill up quickly.  I picked a GREAT time to leave my trusty guidebook behind.  In that book, I had seven more days to reach Santiago.  Guidless!  Yikes!  What to do?

First stop was the office on tourism.  Concerned and kind but no suggestions.  I decided to go too be of the albergues Nd see if there were English speaking people there who might have left a book, or who might share a book somehow.  plan B was to take the bus to Sarria and meet my college friends there who are doing the last 100k.

At the albergue, no A,Erica's, but, BINGO, two AUSTRALIANS who sent me a PDF file of the book they are using.  So, I studied it intensely and created my own guide, taking only one day longer.  Then I went and asked at this hostel if it was possible to get a reservation ahead.  She made some calls - most reported "Completo!", so we looked at alternatives.  If I walk 1 km less, I can have a room.  Done!

The walk today was mostly along city streets - at least until half way, when the Camino took off into the fields!  I enjoyed it, especially a hippy-flavored cafe...shady with restful music (it'll post a pic soon).  The last part of the walk was hot and long!

So tomorrow I will approach the final mountains before Santiago.  The ups and downs will be steep, but the views are supposed to be just great!  I'm guessing I will get to Santiago next Thursday or Friday.

This part of the walk is much different from the start.  People seem lees willing to talk, there are few Americans, and I'm trying to stay where I can get my own room.  Walking alone is nit bad, just different from before.  I am glad my adventuresome spirit allows me to strike out on my own!

I'll let you know more about that tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Oh Those Camino Toes

I thought this story had ended, but it. just keeps happening.  Last night at Foncebadon, I woke up with major pain in my left Ning and second toes -there's a  long story about those two toes...more than you need to hear.  But they were wrapped in various layers of tape and bandages.  So, I tugged the bindings off..blood spurts forth.  What to do?  It was another one of those Camino moments when I wondered where my attendant was.  But, just me....hmmmmm.seems like it is time for a doctor, but not in Foncebadon!  "I'll work that out tomorrow."  

The walk out of Fonccebaton leads to a large iron cross, called the highest point on the Camino.  I got there about sunrise, left my three callow shells and limped off towards Ponferrada and a toe decision.  This particular stretch of the Camino involves a treacherous downhill that I had been dreading for days.  On a post I Aswan ad for Taxi Luiis in Molinaseca and wondered if maybe that might be the best way to help.  I wandered along and suddenly realized I had left the Camino trail and was still walking in the street.  Wounding how that happened, I saw someone coming along behind me.  He said he was on her road be aide his foot hurt and the roadways easier than that treacherous downhill.  We walked along together talking in Amis ofEnglish and Spanish.

Juan Luis is doing his seventh Camino even thou he has a bad foot.  I to,d him about my foot, and that I was thinking about trying to find Taxi Luis.  Back in June at one of our local Camino meetings, a new person came in who had walked a few times.  He told a tale about Taxi Luis who had come to his aid when he fell at about the spot where we were walking.  Juan Luis said we would try to find Taxi Luis at the next town, maybe two. Lies ahead.  I was really struggling, but we walked along in an easy silence.

When walking in the road it is custom to stop moving when a car comes along.  This had happened a few times, but I noticed the next car coming was a taxi as I stepped aside and stopped.  Too late isaw that it was TAXI LUIS!  Juan Luis hailed the taxi.  Bingo!  Same man, and he remembered Jim from last year.  Who would ever believe this was a coincidence?

Luis took me to Ponferrada, walked into the hospital with means explained what was wrong ( no English here).  Then he explained that I was to stay there and would be seen shortly, and he left.

After a while the doctor came in and watched as I peeled the latest round of bandages off, wincing all the while.  She took ahold look, and you known what she said (only in Spanish),  " Ah, you have camino toes!"  Camino toes?  Can you believe it?  She dressed my aching toes, and somehow I understood that I mead to rest today, change the dressing and continue along tomorrow.  Once in get to my next stop I am Togo Tia Farmacia, let them take a look, buy appropriate stuff and then continue.

Buen Camino!

So I now have a cama plrivee in anal urge just next tithe ancient castle, supposedly built yet he!inghts Templars and full of secret lore.

I'm not sure how to account for Luis' sudden appearance.  Seem say the Camino provides.  For me, it is another mystery, one filled with gratitude and wonder.  Tomorrow I start again...eight days to Santiago!

Nightlife in Foncebadon

Today I headed out f Astorga about 6:30.  These early morning walks begin with more than a little risk. It is still dark, and usually the Camino is not so well marked p, especially when you leave towns.  My strategy is to search out the route the evening before, but not to go too far.  When I am unsure which way to go I either wait on someone else to co e along, or I frantically wave my walking sticks at motorists.  Generally someone stops, and I get directed on.  Today both those things happened.  Most of the way I passed and was passed by a woman from Sweden.  She is sort of a take charge person, and I liked being able to just. Ruise along and not worry too much about bring on the right path.  For a long time, I was alone and not at all sure that I was not lost, but so far at least, I seem to keep headed in the right direction.

The landscape is slowly changing.  I am coming out if the Maeseta and evaded into the mountains.  Today was a long 18 mile steady uphill that got steeper as I went along.  I passed through many derelict villages and found my energy rising as I neared the destination, Foncebadon. It seemed to be always around the next curve, and I was eager to arrive.  I assed so e very dilapidated buildings and walked up the winding road to the town I just knew was at the top f the hill. Imagine my surprise when I came on a sign indicated that I was walking OUT of the town!  Those dilapidated structures?  Right!  Not much here.  No wifi, no market, no gas station. It is a bit odd to work so hard to get nowhere!

However, some time in the eleventh century the Spanish Catholic Church had a meeting f all of the bishops to decide "important" question.  While there is not much of a present here (other than three p,aces for pieregrinos to sleep) this used to be an importance community.  I'd guess that may e 40 people live here, and most of the buildings are tumbling down!

And there definitely is no night.ife.  Somehow when I checked in, I did not understand that I had to reserve dinner(.  When I asked about it I got a lecture about how I did not make a reservation.  I'm not sure where she thought I might find a meal, but she finally grouches that she would let me eat.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) I cross the mountains, signified by an iron post.  Pieregrinos are supposed to bring a stone from home and leave it there.  I've brought three scallop shells, one given to me by a friend.  I will place them there, feel my gratitude for my many friend and move on.  If I can rep to this pace I will walk into Santiago on Wednesday the 18th.  Hard to believe this is going to happen.

All is well with me tonight. It is already 8:20, and I will be asleep by nine.  Good rest to all of you.  When you read ths I will be in ponferrada, backin the wired word!

An adventure follows..more later!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Blisters and Success

When I first started thinking about walking El Camino , I started looking into equipment and ways to treat issues that might arise.  All along I understood that my pre-occupation was really about trying to gain some control over a situation that basically was out of my control.  I knew things would happen that we're not anticipated - that is part of the gravel adventure.

Still, I went through eight different boots before I realized that "you go with what you got!"  And after two months of walking around Charlotte in my nifty backpack (which always seemed to be askew), I sort of humbly (after re all I am an old man who does not k ow much about Backpacks) went back to REI to see if they could help me adjust it.  They took one look and pointed out that it was a size large, and I need a size small!  It only took two tries to get what they think is perfect.

And, in many ways It is. What I like about today's backpacks is that the weight rests on your hips rather than your shoulders.  Neat, eh?  Well for old men who have little butt left and not large hips (in spite of my belly) I have realized my pack cannot get tight enough so it does not rest on my shoulders. I've learned to accommodate that.

And my boots.  Today my feet have a few blisters, and when I googled blister treatment, I was not surprised that there is no perfect or evn agreed upon strategy.  Pop or not to pop?  Band aids or leave out to air?  Like so many things in life, there is no clear path.  So, I've done my best.

I walked into Astorga really tired and went straight to the first hotel - it was some kind of spa.  I was determined to sleep in my wn room and have my own bathroom.  The desk clerk took one look at me and suggested I go to a cheaper hotel.  She acted like she was helping me out, but I think I was far too grubby to stay there.

So I have a nice room and soon will be off to sleep.  But I am writing this seated on the bidet since the .ights in the room are so dim!

But, you know what?  I'm so happy to be here, back on my Camino!  And I'm looking forward to walking up the mountain and then down the other side the next day.  It will be challenging, but I am confident. I can do it, even with my backpack resting on my aching shoulders and my left foot taped in various ways.  If I pushed it, I could be in Santiago in 10 days.  Maybe that will happen.  Or maybe I will go slow and just enjoy the scenery.  However it is, I will be happy walking on the Camino.

Buen Camino to all!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

On The Road Again!

The past few days have had definite challenges!  Most people would not say I slow down often.  But my foot took over, and I have had to pause.  This created a situation that meant my tight schedule to Santiago was going to fail.  So, resting and then taking the bus from Burgos to Leon and resting more has restored me.  And it has also given me plenty of time to finish if my foot and ankle continue to heal.

This morning I had a full blown case of the heebie jeebies as I was getting ready to leave.  And that increase as I realized I was once again walking and my ankle was doing fine!  Just about all ofthewalk has been across a flat and sunny landscape.  Fortunately it was partly cloudy and a.bit cool, so I got here, Villarr de Mazarife in good form.

One big part of my joy in walking again. Is to re-enter that special space created by having plenty of time to reflect.  I remember when I first started writing on a book, there were those days. When I would be so totally absorbed in the writing that time would stop, and I would feel like I was in this expanding space, a place rich and connects and limitless.  That is the way it often is in walking the Camino.  Today I got lost in thoughts about my mother and my two brothers.  Once again, emotions of joy and sorrow weave together and all of that part of my life becomes just what it is - it does not have to be better or worse.  It just is.  Ad in the "is-ness" it is somehow complete.  There is a wonderful peace in that.

I know there Re more experiences like that ahead.  And, I've already started creating a new Camino family - two women from Finland, a man from Germany, and a couple from Pennsylvania.  I am going to enjoy getting to know them.

That's all for now, Folks!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Bob Tries Posting Pictures Again

Yes dear readers, I know that pictures would make this blog better.  But, I have not figured out how to do that.  First, I am usually writing while sitting on a bunk bed.  The light is poor, and if I am not careful I will BOING my head, something I do a lot.  Second, there is often a lot of noise around me, and keeping my thoughts together is a challenge.  And finally, the are. Nt enough word to describe how tired I may be.  Sometimes I am involved in a conversation, and two seconds later i could not tell you what we talked about.  Even remembering someone's name after e two seconds is hard!

But today, I am in my hotel room, it is quiet, and I have good light.  I posted some pics on Facebook, so if this does not work, look there.

This morning I went on a brief walk around the cathedral, and I saw many of my peregrino friends walking out of the city.  I had to resist the urge to run back to the hotel, pack my things and join them.  The desire to continue El Camino is great.  I am hoping a days rest will heal my ankle.  This is the time that doing this walk alone is hardest - having to decide what is bet when rede is no clear alternative, and No One is going to say, "you should do X".  I can get myself in such a state that I just want to go get on an airplane and come home.

End of breaking news.  Let's see how I do with the pics.  I may not be able to title them, and they may not be in order, but, hopefully, they will show some of my experience.

Looks like reverse order.  I can't get the cursor to move!  Oh well, here are some pics!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Bob Gets His Groove back....but

So much has changed in the past few days.  When I discovered my walking sticks were not set correctly, it sure seemed like I was back in the game.  I'm walking a good pace - ahead of some and behind others.  When I was in elementary school and we lined p to go to lunch or some other activity, because my last name was BA I was usually besideMichelle Appelbaum - at the FRONT of the line.  Today I realized that Ida source of some of my eagerness to pass others (clearly I belong at the front).  Bunt on the Camino, the line is endless in both directions.  So, I getcomfortablewalking at my pace.  And that has happened.

However, I do feels steady pressure to keep moving if I ope to get to Santiago.  Te next week I will cross the Messta, a region with no sun, few elevations - mostly a rocky path leading to the horizon.  The first day calls for 20 miles, the second for18.  Doesn't sound like a lot of fun, right?  I can take the tain from Burgos to Lyon, skip this experience and guarantee I will get toSantiago.  Biting doing that, I will leave the family of walkers I have been with for the past two weeks.  I like any of these people and will miss them if in go ahead.  But, of course, I will meet others.

So Burgos gives me a chance to work this out.  I'm not sure what I will do.

Funny how joy and sorrow emerge frost much reflection.  Sme moments I am so moved by the richness of this experience and of my life.  Others I feel a profound sadness over things I wish I had not done or opportunities for good that in passed up.  Still, at the end of the day, I can see that I am a deep thinking spiritual man who has a basically kind attitude towards others.  I know that is true about. Me, and I am so very grateful for those who have called it forth over e years.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Smoking through the Countryside

The past two days have been a challenge, but one that was eat.  When I left the Casa Rural on Sunday might, I was focused on only walking 20k.  I have these wLkingsticksthat KevinFoley gave me, and I have named them Kevin and Cheryl ( never sure which is which) since the ticks carry their supportive energy with me.  As I was walking into Santo Domingo de la Calzda on Mnday, I took both sticks in one hand and just walked once I was on pavement.  I noticed pretty quickly that I was standing up straighter!  I sat down on a bench in front of the church there and wondered if Kevin and Cherlu were coordinated or not.....sure enough!  One was almost two inches shorter than the other, and both were really too short for my stride!  A quick adjustment, voila!  No toe pain!  Gracias a duos!

As I walked on, I began to feel my ankle throbbing and remembers stumbling the day before.  I guess the pain from my toe blocked the pain from my twisted ankle!  No, I'm not going to whine about this too much...once the ankle heals, I will .walk much much more confidently!

So, what are these walks like?  Ay first I was wagging through incrediblybesutifulcountryside.  Next was an agricultural area, and today methought a lot of scrubby area...a tough long walk p hill, once again on a farm road.  I am a morning person, and I love the beautiful light and freshness of that day.  Usually I leaved about 6:30 (try to walk as much as I can in the cool) when it is dark.  I love watching the sky lighten and then brighten and the explosion of color that seems so sudden.  By 10:30 it is getting warm...and the est of. The day. Is not very comfortable.  If I am lucky.  Or smart, I have lunch tucked away in my pack.  But, yesterday the village whe we stopped for the night was having a festival....very festive withal, of the people in e square grilling out.  Unfortunately, since all ofthepeople were in the square, there was no place open forests eat!  How loving is that?

It is it unusual to have to work to find food.  Monday I had a long walk, but ther were few places to buy anything.  I walked into a small village ( no food hr) and noticed other pieregrinos sitting ata table working on their feet ( a favorite pastime).  I sat down just as one. Of the started peeling an orange...she kept offering me sections other food...maybe half.  Then the guy across from her opened a gag of cookies, and al, of them celebrated by age and walking the camino!  It was. A real communion!  Lunch had appeared, and I was once again filled with gratitude!

This morning I walked. With Monique, a beautiful woman from Holland.  She is a hypnotherapist, and we quickly found ourselves in a Rey intimate and heartfelt conversation. Both of us shed a year or 18 and both of us were moved by the words of the other. And so, we walked on.  I'm not sure I will see her again, but I know she has a warm place in my heart just as I do in hers.  The world is full of caring people - but sometimes I am too busy to notice!

Tomorrow I walk into Burgos, a large city where I will stay for two nights...a rest day!  Today at the place I am staying, there. Is a REAL washing machine (for three euros).  I already feel grateful for the really clean clothes coming my way.

So far, I continue to famous for my antics...are you the man who fainted while hanging out hs laundry? Are you the man who lost hs passport?  Are you the man who was so excited to have his own hotel room (ah privacy) that he sat down I. The bed and accidentally dumped his freshly filled water bottle on those real sheets?  Yes that us me!  So many great laughs.  So far the thread I. The seat of one of my two pair of pants is holding firm!  Not having to walk the Camino in my undies hyet!

Stat tuned 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

25k on El Camino de Bobiago!

Today I walked out of the a very old and charming village into a maze!  The Camino is not well marked today...and I wasted about 20 minutes trying to find my way out.  These days I am walking through farm,and.  There are many vineyards as well as other crops, and most of the walk is on a farm road.  I miss the beautiful vistas and quaint villages of the past week.  Still, there is definite energy around...lots of it seems to be depleted energy as all of us struggled today.  Fortunately, it was mostly cloudy, but the distance was at my limit.  Everyone seems to have foot pain!

Tonight I am staying at a Casa Rural.  That is an accommodation attached to someone's home, and it is several steps above the usual albergue.  I am sharing a room with two women from Australia and one woman from Ireland.  Funny how quickly sleeping with strangers and those of the opposite sex becomes so common.  Europeans love to run around in their underwear, so I guess we see a lot more of each other than I would ave guessed.  At the end of the day it is no big deal because everyone is so tired, nit much notice is given.  Last night I was in a room with 10 that included three young women from Indiana.  In order to get my belt in one set of pants ( the ones. i had on) I have to take the pants off and thread it through.  So, I said, "unfortunately, I have to take my pants off now to get my belt in. I have nice looking underwear but look away if you need to."  No one even noticed!  Privacy one the Camino is rare.

Finally, it has become clear that I am unlikely to finish El Camino in the time I have allotted.  I have significant pain in my left foot, stemming from bone fusion in my big toe.  I pretty quickly reach a point where each step is torture.  My strategy will be to limit my distance (slow down), take more pain relief, and see what happens.  I can see a bus ride in my future as well as a rest day or two..  My friends from Memphis will be leaving from Saria on Sept 11, and I'm thinking about joining them for the last 100 k.

.  No one knows where El Camino de Bobiaga goes!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

On El Camino de Bobiago

Yesterday proved to be such a challenge.  I had a great walk out of Los Arcos yesterday.  I love the morning lithe fee, and I was walking through beautiful countryside.  Before I get too far along, let me tell you that I brought the wrong eye glasses with me...not the ones I ca use for reading.  I know I make lots of typos and everything might not make sense..but I can barely see the print - an olld blind man wandering around Spain!

So, I learned a lot yesterday...don't push too hard!  Do this s,ow enough that it is possible to enjoy it-plus work hard!  There is no reason to PSUH to Santiago.  Just walk and enjoy.  Tomorrow the choices Re 16 k or 25k.  I will take it as it ,comes and listen to my body as well as the Camino.  So, aim now doing El Camino de Bobiago! No one knows where that will lead.  Today my toe was screaming at me...nature why, but i am sure that stopping was a good idea..  When I finish with this writing, I will go for toe therapy.

Today's route was confusing.  Several times I found myself staring at arrows pointing different directions!  So, I would either just wait until someone else came along, or plunge ahead.  Near the end, I was staining there wondering what to do, and a woman from New Zealand, Shelly, came p.  we decided to go left - great move.  Shortly we were at a cafe having lunch!

One of my biggest challenges has been food.  When we leave in the morning, nothing is open, and there is really on guarantee that we will come to a market or cafe.  The most popular lunch is a bocadillo - a baguette with what is called ham ( but is actually fat with a thin strip of meat!), not too appetizing.  And, in he evening - well let's just say it is a challenge.  Bottom. Line is thatiam not eating well.  Today I asked the Camino for food and was blessed with a bocadillo with an omelet on it. And then at. Inch ith what seems like a quiche with eggs and potatoes....yummy.  There isn't grocery ibis town and only a little shop so tomorrow might be slim!

Finally, I have become very famous as the man who lost his passport.  Thursday I was sitting on a bench with a woman from Germany when she asked ifI waste an who lost his passport. That has happened several times - the most recent a few minutes ago when I introduced myself as the man...."oh   i have heard of you!" Was the chorus from many.

This afternoon I mentioned too woman seated me t to me in he kitchen how healthy her food looked.  This was followed ya great conversation...she is from Ireland, a pharmacist who also spent some years in San Francisco.  She is planning tostada mental Healy so we had just a great conversation land connection.  She is walking 30 k per day so tomorrow she will walk out of my life, leaving a great memory!

So Buen Camino to all!  More adventures to come!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Bob Moves and Grooves through Navarra!! Since the speed bump when I thought I had lost my passport, I have gotten organized ( I can just about pack my pack min the dark and know where everything is. That takes a lot of the pressure off when the room is full of people eager to leave. (As you can tell I am struggling to figure out how this blogger app works).. Gstarting early matters a lot as by noon it is very hot, and if you arrive too late at the next town, there may beno place to stay. One morning when I headed out the door, I stumbled over someone who had gotten inside but had no choice other than sleeping on the floor. I am sure I do not know how to adequately describe this experience. There are abundant, wonderfully,ind people all around. One day I walked all morning and never e heard a word of English. I have learned that I love having the time alone so I can just be me and enjoy without feeling any pressure to make sure someone else is ok. Not only are there people from many countries, but. There are also such characters who startle. When I first passed ghetto elderlyJapanese women hauling what looked like their grocery carts containing their gear, I thought I had surely had some sort of dream. But, there they are, so happy tone on El Camino, bowing and smiling to all. And the is the Korean man - maybe a bunt younger than me, witha huge Nikon around his neck, waving his walking sticks and snapping photos at every thing we pass. So many people, so many different reasons for being here - already with. A smile or offer of prayer for you. Don't be fooled into thinking talking the Caminoisjust fun. It is hard work, sweating, hoping the Ned of the days walk is near - very challenging. But I still am glad I am here even though my hips and shoulders ache. When I fainted at the clothesline the other day, there was much concern and assistance. When I lost my passport and thought ihad to leave, there was genuine joy on people's faces when they saw I was still here. So many people came up and said they had been praying for me. So, for now, I will keep on walking!. Tomorrow is another's 18mimle day. Maybe I will last to the end, but its ok if I don't. I'm listening to my body and to El Camino.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Camino Ups and Downs!

Most of my life I have been very organized!  But on this trip....OH ME!

I cannot seem to get my backpack in order.  I never know where anything is, and on the first two nights, West and Brooke a heard far too much "now, where did I put that?"  This moring we got up in the dark -just so you know, the bathroom in the albergue had NO toilet paper, and there were about 50 people trying to figure out what to do.  What to do was -walk on!

Getting up in the dark and trying to pack up when there is no light in the room, and I did not have a clue where my flashlight was.  I managed to get everything stuffed into the bag.....and because most of it really had no place, it did not matter where it went!

And we walked off.  There are few places open at 6am, but I had a banana and some nuts....voila breakfast with a side of cold water!

Eventually it became day, and we were walking up a steep hill that went on forever.  After the first two days walking over the Pyrenees, this was a pie e if cake!  Ewe walk with a "credential", a booklet where we get e stamps to prove where we had been. They are colorful and fun.  At this particular town a stamp was left out so peregrines could get their credentialed tended to.  That's when I could not find my passport case that had the passport and credential in it.  No panic!  It must be in there somewhere.  But at 1:30 when we walked into Estella, I could not find either.  And without both, one is not allowed to stay in the albergue.  So, off to the Police Station where there was a fair exchange f my Spanish and his to last night's albergue - no it is not there.  When I checked into a hote, for Plan D, of course, there they were, tucked safely into a zipper compartment of mt sleeping baf!  Go figure!

So I have a grat place to stay tonight.  Spent time working on the pack.  I hope this will be better!  At the end of the day I am so tired, I don't remember just about anything I do.  We'll see.

On the other hand, I am meeting some really amazing people who are so kind.  Just about everything pushes us out if our custom zones so there is a lot of support.

I'm not sure I can finish El Camino, bout know that I am giving it my best shot.  It s hot, staying hydrated is a challenge, and most everything feels new.i hope I am close to being in the groove.

In the meantime....buen Camino!  What an adventure.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Update from the Front!

Just so you all know....walking now.  Had a great day!  More later!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bob Stumbles on El Camino

This has been such a great trip..full of meeting new people and seeing new things - some of the. Spectacular!

However, I have hit a bit of a speed bump!  The first two days were challenging - from very very steep inclines to even more difficult very very steep declines.  This combines with not such good planning about food, and sleepless nights to knock me over.  I believe that with sleep I will. Be ok.  Without it, I cannot continue.

Wrests wife is even more challenged.  She has IBS and is both lactose and gluten intolerant.  She decided this morning that she could not continue so we developed Plan B.  we took a bus to Pamplona, and I am sleeping here tonight - or, hopefully sleeping.  Last night sleeping sleeping I tried to make sense of what was going on.  They sayEl Camino provides.....and, maybe the message is that this is not an experience for me...that my Camino is different from this one.  But, I am not sure.  If I get rest tonight, I will continue tomorrow.  If not,  I will.regroup and see what feels best.  I. Am close to Bilbao and have wanted to see the museum there.  And, I have wanted to return to Barcelona and visit La Sacrada Familia to see what progress has been made.  I hope the message is to continue on the Camino.

This has been such a surprise to me, as I have trained well, but also know the importance of listening tommy body.  When we got to Roncevalles yesterday I was done.  We got our needs for the night, but I was too tired to even go reserve our dinner.  When, Don, a fellow pilgrim tried to tell me where to go, he knew when he finished with his instructions that nothing had gotten through!  And, he said, "let me go do it for you."  Ay the Pilgrim Mass I was far too tired to be standing in the church!

So, after another sleepless night, and after Brooke could go no further, we hopped on a bus to Pamplona to stay in a hotel and regroup!

I wish I had more exciting news to. Share.  Success on this pilgrimage has always been to take the first step.  I may hang around here for a fee days, or I may head back home.  No need to decide right now.  Thanks for the many many supportive messages.  I feel your energy behind me.  We'll see what happens.

Buen Camino

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bobby Starts to Walk

My mom took this photo when I must have been about a year old - maybe in October 1941?  I love that she wrote "Watch out" on it!  Maybe she was urging caution, but I prefer to think the message is to the world - "Watch out!  Here he comes!"

Actually I start to walk on Saturday, August 25th, but I leave home on Thursday, flying  direct to Dublin (who knew there was a direct flight from Charlotte to Dublin?) and then to Biarritz France where we (me, my grandson and his wife) take a taxi to St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port.  We will spend one night there, and on Saturday will walk the Napoleon Route over the Pyrenees. Charlemagne also marched his army through but chose the easier route where they did not have to trek over such steep inclines.  On his retreat, his main army was lured into a trap near Roncesvalles , and his main man, Roland (Remember The Song of Roland from high school lit courses?) was killed.  The Napoleon Route is said to be the most demanding day of the entire camino because of the steep climbs.  But, it also is reputed to offer the most beautiful scenery.  I'm hoping the weather is nice so we can go that way.

There are several caminos to Santiago, but the one from St. Jean is the most popular.  As a matter of fact, the first travel guide ever written, The Codex Calixtinus, written about 1135 or so with a forged "blessing" from Pope Callixus II who had died in 1124.  This manuscript contains tips for pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela, and it remains in the archives of the cathedral there.  If you are curious, google the can read translations and gain an X rated glimpse into the lives of the terrible scamps who made much mischief for the peregrinos.

I figure I have walked over 800 miles since I started training in March.  My favorite and best trail shoes have been worn out, but a few weeks ago I started on new ones.  I've got plenty of apprehensions about going on such a long walk, and I definitely have a melt down every now and then.  But, it was unconscious urging that got me to set this goal, and when I think of that, I relax.  Maybe that more intuitive side of me knows best!

This will be my last entry before I leave.  This morning I tried working from my ipad mini, and, after a lot of struggle, I discovered there is a blogspot blog.  It is not as easy to use as a real computer, and I'm hoping it will work out.  If you don't hear from me you will know that it didn't!

I read somewhere that having a focus for reflection on a pilgrimage can be useful.  I've decided to make my walk as an expression of gratitude for the many many wonderful things in my life.  If you are reading this, you can be certain that you are part of my gre-atitudes!  I will be feeling so grateful for your presence in my great adventure!

Over the past several months so many people have encouraged me to take this walk.  Thanks to all of you!  I look foward to sharing my trip with you along the way and when I return.

Buen Camino!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Bob Tells Why He is Walking El Camino (or at least part of it)

Today my cousin asked me some questions about why I am going to walk El Camino.  Let me share with you what I wrote to her.

Nosy?  Hardly.  Let me see what I can write about this decision.  I've not done this so far - but I've talked about it with some friends but have not really tried to put it altogether.

El Camino de Santiago de Compostela has been whispering in my ears for years.  I'm not sure when I first heard it, but each time it would come up, I would pretty quickly dismiss it as curiously interesting but not for me - too late for me and not really consistent with my untraditional beliefs.  Still, it would whisper from time to time.  I spoke with some people who had done it, and I let it go.

About the time I retired, I was hosting a grooms party for a friend of mine who was getting married.  At this event, I ran into two men I had known from a distance while I was teaching at UNCC.  We had a very animated conversation, energized by learning that each of us was retiring.  I suggested we meet for coffee in a few weeks, and that started a conversation that has happened monthly for the past seven years!  Jeff and Denny are both quakers, and Jeff had taught in the Religious Studies Department.  As one who pretty constantly reflects on spiritual experience, I was stimulated especially when our discussion turned to spiritual life.  Absent a community of others who share my spiritual questions, I began to think about some sort of pilgrimage where I might grow in my understanding of my own spiritual experience.  Both of them have made some pilgrimages over the years but mostly of shorter distance than El Camino.

The Camino continued to whisper.  Only it began to ask me to walk it alone.

Alone is one of the things that is really scary to me.  It is one of my BIG FEARS!  How could I possibly take those fears with me on such a demanding task?  Why would I want to do that (Besides the fact that I do not know anyone who would be silly enough to put up with my grumbling for over a month).  

All the while, I have also been reflecting on my own experience of aging.  I miss the possibility of youth - even that of being 50 or 60.  Somehow at 70, the possibilities do not seem so compelling.  "Is that part of my life over?" I wondered.  As I experience some physical decline, "Am I on the slope that just goes down until I die?"  My brother, Ed, said to me, "Boo, after you turn 70, it is all downhill."  Did I believe that, or even accept it?  I think I began to act as if that was my trajectory, and I sort of began rocking into my old age, not happy about what was happening, but feeling like it is inevitable.  Glaucoma had taken some of my vision, lack of exercise had added some weight, and fatigue was abundant.  For a while I tried to return to running, but as much as I tried, I felt like I was shuffling along (ruffling I called it), and I wondered when I would go fast enough to really call it running.  I felt so foolish going so slow and eventually just started walking.

The whispers of the Camino seemed even more silly then.  It was TOO LATE I would yell back.  I am TOO OLD.  Why do you want me to do this ALONE!  I do not know anyone else who would attempt something as foolish as this!

Last winter, I mentioned my curiosity about El Camino to my friend Mary.  She encouraged me to get in touch with her friend Kevin  who had walked it last September when he retired.  I had met Kevin a few times, mostly when I was thinking about buying his house, across the street from Mary and her husband, Phil.  So Kevin and I had coffee.  And do you know what he did?

He kicked me right out of my rocking chair!  He said something like, "The Camino is obviously not going to leave you alone.  You'd best go and do it so it will get quiet!"  And, he said "OLD?  You are NOT too old to do this."  

"Well, maybe not?"  "Why not?"

I began to think about it and to walk a bit.  I even mentioned it to my college buddy with whom I had shared many preposterous adventures over the years.  Bill Davidson said "Doggone it!  I have waited until I am too old to do this.  Good for you!  I am so jealous!"  Hmmmmm

The whisper got louder and began to direct me towards action.  I met with Kevin again, and he had the nerve to bring me walking sticks, as if I were actually going to do this!  Through our conversations, I gradually began to meet others who were wondering about the same thing.  And we started meeting monthly.  The group grew....some who had done it, some who were planning, and some who were wondering (I was now in the planning group).  I began to see this as both a spiritual and physical event.  Another good friend said, "Just tell people you are a spiritual being doing a physical task."  That sounds pretty right on target for me, even though my spiritual life is certainly not in the mainstream, and not really well developed, mostly just "felt" off and on.

As I started walking around Charlotte, I was really mortified.  I felt like I looked like some sort of nut case or terrorist with my big red backpack and walking sticks.  Surely people thought I was escaping from some sort of institution.  But, you know what happened?  People started stopping and asking me what I was up to (maybe a sanity check?).  And they listened when I would talk a bit about it.  One woman ran out of the auto inspection store on South Boulevard shouting "Sir!  Sir!  Would you stop for a minute?  I see you walking all of town and just want to know what you are doing!"  Another young man stopped me as I was walking into Freedom Park and asked the same thing.  As we chatted, he told me that he was going hiking in the Grand Canyon soon.  Weeks later as I was pilgriming earnestly along Willow Oak Dr, a car came up, slowed down, and the window went down, and there he was, wanting to know how I was doing and eager to tell me about his trip to the Canyon!  All these people - always encouraging, always interested, also supportive and curious - never acting like I am some sort of nut case!  And the others who were now meeting monthly at a nearby REI store?  EXACTLY the same.  I had stumbled into a community I did not know existed - one that is real and local, and another that is virtual (American Pilgrims on the Camino - APOC).  Astonishing!

I've walked well over 700 miles since the end of August.  Sometimes my feet hurt, and sometimes I kick over my camino worry box and freak out!  I have learned that I am most anxious when I am trying to control and experience that cannot be controlled.  I have learned that I do best when I get prepared but leave my expectations unformed.  I have learned that many believe the Camino will provide whatever is needed, and that some things are going to challenge me.  However, other things are going to excite me beyond measure.  I will be walking along with the millions who have walked before me over the past 1000 years.  How often does one have a chance to do that?  To experience (in a different form of course) something that they also experienced?  I have learned that people along the camino tend to be very kind (one writers suggests they are so kind because everyone's feet hurt - i.e. that our suffering is similar so kindness is understood and expressed more directly).

My life feels renewed - energized - connected.  While I still wonder how it will be to walk away from my grandson and his wife in Pamplona, I know that I will not really be alone.  There will be other pilgrims all around me.  And there will be five from the Charlotte Pilgrim group behind me.  And my friend, Bill Davidson?  He has organized a group from Memphis that will walk the last 100 K - not too far ahead of me - and may also come back and meet me as I near Santiago!  I guess he is too old to do the whole thing (he is only four months older than me), but not too old to celebrate with me.  I will be surrounded by this new community, people I am connected with in a very unique way.

So, there you go.  An attempt to express some of the experience of El Camino.  I used to think the camino would begin when I get to France.  Now I know that it began years ago, more intensely in the past few months, and that it stretches out in front of me, still beckoning but no longer whispering.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Bob Walks El Camino Lesson 1

Hello Readers!

Back in March I started training to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrimage that has existed for over 1000 years.  Even before it was taken up by Christians, there are indications that early humans walked this walk.  While there are many ways to get to Santiago, most pilgrims walk from St. Jean Pied de Port in Southwestern France, over the Pyrenees crossing slowly towards the city of Santiago de Compostela, close to the Atlantic coast.  This history is available in many places, and there are many, many you tube videos that capture some of the flavor of this walk.

Today (July 29) I have walked over 700 miles as I prepare to leave on August 22.  Yes, my feet often hurt, and I have been challenged with finding the best walking shoes (no boots that fit me seem to be available), getting a backpack that fits (yes today backpacks are made in various sizes unlike when I last bought one), and extreme boredom as I walk my various routes.  I've also found a community that often lifts me up and constantly encourages me!  This is made up of family, friends, my Camino group here in Charlotte, and even strangers who encounter me along the way who are mostly curious and then excited as I explain why I am walking around an urban area with a backpack and walking sticks!

There seems to be great hysteria from other pilgrims over the weight in their packs.  Right now I am a little over 20 pounds, and I expect it will stay that way. Most of the decisions have been made, and I am eager to get going in three weeks!