It seems fitting that I start my Camino today on the canonization day of Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II said "Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you". Fitting, yes?
I got up at six (but let's be honest: I woke up at two and four as well thanks to some ridiculously loud snoring from a man who should probably be sleeping with a CPAP) and quickly got dressed and packed my belongings and headed down to the kitchen for breakfast. Jan (pronounced John) handed me a bowl of hot water and put in two scoops of brown grainy powder and said "Sit! Sit!" I sat at the table where there was a spread of breads and butter and jams and smelled my bowl of brown liquid -- coffee. Go figure. After two pieces of toast and a bowl of coffee, I was ready to make my way out of St. Jean. I walked down the cobble stone street and over the old stone bridge and then walked straight. up. hill. Welcome to day one of your Camino.
The mountains were absolutely breathtaking: I know my pictures won't do them justice. The higher we got, the prettier the view. But as breathtaking as they were, they brought on quite a bit of huffing and puffing along with aches and exhaustion (but thankfully no blisters!!!). I kept a running mantra in my head: I can do all things through The Lord who strengthens me. (step) I can do all (step) things through the (step) Lord who strengths (step) me. As I went uphill, I chanted this in my head (and sometimes out loud) and it kept my pace even, my breathing even, and my mind focused. When I did need a break, I allowed myself one decade of the rosary for recovery time, asking the Lord for strength for the next part of the path. There was no up and down, there was only "straight up" and "slightly less straight up". Today I hiked 32 kilometers (which is 19.87 miles) starting at an elevation of 170 meters and topping out at 1450 meters (if you want to know what that's like, try to walk up your bedroom wall). I left St. Jean at 7:25 and arrived at Roncesvalles at 3:35 -- just over eight hours. Today, according to the people in the Pilgrim's Office, is the hardest day.
After a day of crazy weather (we got rained on, sleeted on, snowed on, and nearly blown off the mountain) and going nowhere but up, the last three kilometers were straight down. In the mud. Blech. Although I have to admit: the squishy mud felt really good under my feet after all those rocky paths! I got to Roncesvalles and stood in line to get a room at the city alburge and promptly took a shower -- never underestimate the joy that comes with being warm, dry, and clean ... which was what my clothes needed to be, so I did my first ever load of laundry by hand. Next I needed a full belly: four euro got me a sandwich of fresh French bread, thinly sliced ham, and goat cheese (mom: I can hear you groaning, but goat cheese is my favorite so I couldn't have been happier!)
I've met so many wonderful people along my path today: Sue and Linda, two friends from Florida who are writing for a travel newspaper, a couple from Croatia who are trying to complete the Camino in just twenty one days, a lady from Barcelona who is completing here fifth Camino, a girl from Italy who is only doing the first five days of the Camino (her boss wasn't nearly as wonderful as mine and only gave her a week off if work), two fellow nurses, one from California and one from Arizona, and a girl named Vera from the Netherlands who is in the bunk opposite me tonight and who is sitting next to me blogging herself right now. Though our bunks are cozy, we found a cozier nook down next to the laundry room that is warm and dry and quiet.
Here are a few pictures from today:
Yellow arrows are everywhere showing us where to go -- no getting off the trail!
Cold, wet, and on the Camino!! Also: we now know that my yellow rain coat is waterproof!!
Water fountains for refilling my Nalgene were prevalent for the first eight kilometers ... then no more. (Luckily they warned us so that we were sure to fill up.)
See those towns down at the bottom? That's where we started ... and I'm only about half way to the top.
My pack is wearing his shell (yes, my pack is male ... and named Hector) which is the sign of the pilgrim.
And my bed for the night.
It has been a truly beautiful day -- through the pain and the wind and the fear of failure came something so joyous: the satisfaction of completion and the knowledge that I am stronger than I thought.