A note for readers: This is the sixth in a series of articles intended to describe my experience of walking two of the many pilgrimage routes that make up Spain’s Camino de Santiago. Although I documented those experiences on Facebook as they were unfolding in October 2023, this is a much deeper look into their implications.
Should you need to review previous articles for context, please scroll down.
By the time I’ve taken the first few hundred steps on this high route, the sobbing has dissolved, the tears have air-dried, and I’ve settled into a mindful movement of walking the path upon which I’ve been placed. The pain of my initial resistance is now left behind along with the illusion of choice. The only way forward is through the unknown, along the foreboding trail that lies ahead.
It’s summer warm, I’m low on water, and I’m walking an optional spur with a difficulty rating of “high.” Significant climbing is before me. I’ve not seen another pilgrim since leaving Pajares, so there is no doubt I’m utterly alone. Any experienced hiker would suggest I’m out of my mind. This is precisely where I am. All I have is faith in what placed me here. It will have to be enough.
As I walk easily along the shady, wooded trail, the Camino lulls me into thinking this may not be as difficult as I’d thought. There is a valley to my right seen through occasional breaks in the foliage. I’m walking along the waistline of a mountain ̶ ̶ a mountain I will most certainly summit.
It’s not long before the path cuts left. My new direction is up. There are parts of this climb that are so severe I must stow the trekking poles; they interfere with the need to grab onto hand holds. My progress slows to a crawl in the ascent. Every placement of foot and hand has to be considered. There is no margin, no option for a lapse in judgement or poorly placed step. I am at the mercy of the effort itself. The outcome of a stumble or simple fall could be disastrous.
Despite all this, I have no regrets about being in this circumstance. Although these views have been far more rewarding, taking the easier route would have haunted me forever. I don’t think it would have been possible, anyway. This has been a matter of deliverance, something determined long before I’d ever arrived at this trail’s head. It’s taken a lifetime to be here.
The remainder of this five-plus-kilometer spur is a painstaking exercise of several hours’ duration before a sharp descent back to the original route. Now I find myself on a claustrophobic, forested path that continuously climbs and descends. After about three tedious kilometers of this, I feel as though I can go no farther, as again the inner and outer journeys blend into one.
There is no rock or stump to sit on, and the path itself is barely a foot wide. In my exhaustion, I drop the pack where I stand, remove the remaining water bottle from the stow, and sit in the vegetation beside the trail, using the pack as a backrest. As I settle, my balance suddenly shifts to the left, and I brace myself, hand against the ground. It immediately feels as if there is a sharp object there. Looking down, all I see is what appears to be grass-like plants, but my left hand comes away covered in blood. There are small lacerations beginning just above my wrist and extending down the back of my hand. Must be a form of razor grass, I reason.
Rinsing the wounds is not an option. I have about three mouthfuls of water remaining, and at least two more kilometers to walk until I reach Herias. I have no idea if there is a fountain there, but if not I’ll knock on doors. The bleeding continues for some moments, but as it begins to slow, sweating keeps everything moist and the blood is sticky.
Anyone coming upon me now, observing me sitting across the path, essentially out of water and bleeding from one hand, would have to be concerned. Yet I have no doubt this is a perfect moment, that I have been placed here precisely as I am meant to be. Memory returns me to the sobbing I experienced back at the head of the high route and to the prayers I’ve offered for a penitent experience on this pilgrimage. I surrender.
When one is out of options, one surrenders. On pilgrimage, one surrenders to the walk. I stand and shoulder the pack.
Next: Surrender unfolds.