Sometimes I hear people talking about their elderly beloved, and how “sharp” they “still are.” The qualifications tend to be a combination of having a great grasp on vocabulary, and the ability to conduct a lively (read: interesting) conversation with other participants in spoken format. Given those parameters, I suppose that I’m suffering from early onset dementia. I frequently struggle with capturing just the simplest words out loud, and immediately tire of in-person conversation, even with those closest to me. I suppose it must be cognitive dissonance that keeps the same friends who declare their elderly to be “losing it” from deciding that I’ve joined those numbers. Are they not listening to me? Are they giving me leeway? Are we all speaking our own languages and just pretending to ourselves that someone else knows the words?

That being said, I started to write this blog to capture the fact that tonight I’ve been visited by the ghost of Annas past. I frequently find myself mentally visiting specific locations that I’ve visited in my younger days – bars, bathrooms, particular shop windows, settings at specific times of day – at the spur of a moment. I feel like a time traveler when I do this. It’s SO sudden, it could give you whiplash. It’s not the same as something reminding you of a place. It’s like being at Applebee’s, enjoying a margarita at the bar, then suddenly looking up to realize you’re at the beach in Cabo three years ago. Realistically, you can see that you’re still here at Applebee’s, but the memory from that trip long ago is so very strong that you’re almost there for a moment. You’re a time traveler. I’m definitely good at that sort of time travel. There’s a reason that I can so clearly recall my days on the Camino. My brain is not so good at the here and now, but my long term memory is incredibly sharp, and for reasons I still don’t quite understand, every now and then I get pulled back to a place that I once loved, in a way that’s solid and violent and sad and good and true. I don’t know if that’s normal or not, but I’m happy about it. In the here and now, I tend to live on my own frequency. Sometimes I find other people to explore the here with me, but normally I’m pretty much living here alone and trying not to get too sad about it. When I go back in time, I can slow things down and re-interpret the moments. I can be in the presence of people I love, at the times I most enjoyed sharing with them.

Anyway, this all goes to say that I know I’ve visited some places tonight in passing, but the last two were specific to old birthdays, and also quite enjoyable. For a split second I was drunk on the dance floor of a club in Vienna, about a mile’s walk from K’s apartment. It was my birthday at midnight, which means it’s my birthday now. The band has gone home, the lights have come on, the staff is cleaning up, and the rest of the crowd is dwindling away. It is way too late, and we’re still here. She’s angry about something, in that funny belligerent way that she has, the one that lets me know it’s totally OK (even though she’s SO DEADLY SERIOUS). She’s a part of me, and I know how to counteract this, and I do (but that’s a story in itself, and it ends with me under a bench and with us missing a flight to Berlin).

The next memory is also in Vienna, also with K. It’s my birthday again, but another year. It’s always my birthday in Vienna. Or maybe it’s always Vienna on my birthday? Maybe that’s the smarter way to play this rotten old world. Anyway, it’s Vienna, it’s my birthday, and it’s the second time that I’m at The Prater. I visited the park on my first time in Vienna, but never managed to ride The Reisenrad. This time around, I do. It’s terrifying. I’m surprised, for no good reason. It’s creaky and old – it’s the oldest operating Ferris wheel in the world, after all. The cars swing more than any I’ve ever encountered (and I’ve rode many – I love Ferris wheels, and make a habit of riding them in every city I visit, around the world). It’s a quiet night as we head to the park. We go to a museum about the Ferris wheel. We ride the wheel in question. We leave, but we’ve just missed the tram. To pass the time, we go to a bar across the street. It’s cold out, a quiet Sunday night. We are the only two in the bar, getting our beers, and we end up sitting on the patio alone. There aren’t even tables and chairs out there anymore. It is awkward in that comfortable way, the way that tells me I am fine there, and only uncomfortable because the other person is not feeling great about being there. K wants to get home and get ready to work in the morning. I’ll fly out pretty early.

I can’t remember how the night ended, but I know this was the same trip that I dropped a vegetarische sandwich and caught it in mid-air, like a drunken ninja. I know that there was a Billa AND a Bipa within a block of the apartment. I know that I slept too much of the morning, and ate too much sonnenblumenbrot every single day. K’s bed was broken, and her couch was magically a futon and some sort of treasure chest for blanket storage. I had just started dating Dan, and I remember our online conversation as having a film of darkness to it. Is it just my memory playing tricks, or was I already disenchanted? Or maybe I was disenchanted but believed that was the norm? In looking around, I can see this potentially being true. I have seen too much of my friends and their relationships, and I know that I approached that with a learned pragmatism. I set myself up for that one.

But now I am tired. I can’t remember the other places my mind pulled me tonight, but they were weirdly OK. A street corner in Chelsea at 2am – nothing special, just a hug from a man I admired but didn’t yet know enough to call a friend. An elevator in Gold Coast, a few months after Katrina, feeling ashamed but used to it. The basement of a palace in Astorga.

I’m writing with one eye closed. I think that means I should call it a night.

Thoughts Re: My Last Birthday

I had a great realization today. In just a couple of weeks, I’m going to turn 37. A few months back, realizing that I haven’t had a vacation since November 2016, I asked for my entire birthday week off. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do something extravagant, but just getting the chance to not go to work is HUGE. After some finagling, I figured out a way to use various rewards points and an unused flight credit to get a free round trip to Chicago to visit friends – I’m beyond excited to go back to a city I love, and to see some of my favorite people in the world.

I’ll be back in New Orleans in time for my birthday, and I’ve planned (sketched out, really – planning makes me anxious, which is ironic, given my profession) a quiet night at my favorite little bar, inviting just a few people whom I think will get along together, and will not require any tending to. I think I’ll spend the day going to the spa or doing self-care things like getting my hair and makeup done, maybe going dress or shoe shopping, and just generally taking my time and doing my own thing. On top of all of this goodness, one of my friends is coming in from out of town, and that weekend I’m going to go to our 15-year college reunion weekend, hopefully to see a bunch of other classmates I haven’t seen since we were bright young things.

Sounds great, right? I think so. It’s not anything too huge, but overall, a really nice week.

What’s funny is that I was talking with a friend today, and we were generalizing on what a difference a year can make. All of a sudden, it hit me that in this case, the platitude is strikingly true. Last year, my boyfriend of three years dumped me a couple of months before my birthday. I wasn’t surprised, exactly, but I was still devastated. I loved him, and I will always struggle with having a connection like ours severed, but c’est la vie.

For years now, I have had a joint birthday party with a very dear friend, but since this friend is also best friends with the ex-boyfriend, I suddenly no longer had a boyfriend OR a birthday party. I’m sure I could have scrounged up a few people to hang out with, but the effort seemed pointless. I was terribly depressed. I came home from work and spent the night sobbing my heart out in my apartment. It was neither the first nor the last time that would happen over the course of the last year, but it was one of the worst times. It was a really shitty birthday. Bottom of the barrel bad.

So today, I’m talking with my friend, thinking back to where I was, mentally, a year ago, and things are pretty good. Not perfect. Not wonderful. I’ve got a long way to grow. But I have friends, and a place to hang out where people know and like me, and I am 99.9% sure that I’m not going to cry myself to sleep on my birthday this year. That’s pretty good stuff. I’ll take it.

Dead End

This business of having a crush sucks. I’m tired of it. When will it go away? It’s been months now since we met. We’re getting to be friends. He brings out my bright side. I want to stop being so attracted to him. I will myself to, but it’s not going away. The more I talk with him, the more comfortable he is with me, the more I like him. He was flirty when we met, because that’s his regular behavior with women. He’s no longer flirty with me, and I struggle with that. Is it because he knows I hate it, and wants me to be comfortable? Is it because he’s comfortable, and doesn’t feel like pretending? Is it, as I suspect, that he’s never seen me as anything other than one of the guys? If I had half a brain, I’d just ask. But I’ll never ask. It would break my heart to find out anything, good or bad. I will concentrate on revealing nothing. There is no way through from here. He’s just a handsome dead end.

Shadow

I Dreamed I Was A Raven Art By Cathy McClelland

“I Dreamed I Was A Raven” by Cathy McClelland. View more of her works and purchase this as a giclee on Cathy’s website.

There’s this hint of an idea, rattling around my brain, and I want to try to capture at least a fraction of its essence here. Please bear with me. Note that this will not be a full blog post, and it probably won’t make sense. I’m merely wool gathering in the digital realm.

Thoughts, in no particular order:

  1. It was said to me today: “You just need to embrace who you really are instead of fighting it.” At first, I was confused. Then hurt. Then a little angry. Then irritated at the presumptuousness. It felt vague, like a fortuneteller’s comments. Of course we all need to embrace ourselves. But the question was, what was this person saying to me in saying this? Which one of mes do they think is the real one? What version do they believe I am embracing? What version am I fighting? Because hell if I know. I don’t have one particular personal brand that I’m trying to sell, here. I don’t even have an ideal self in mind, the way that other people seem to. Most of the time I seem to be here to observe others. Just passing through, if you will. All of these things passed through my head over the course of the day, and in the end, I returned to being annoyed. I decided that perhaps the person was saying that I should just stop fighting the inevitable, and crumble under the weight of it all. But then I thought:
  2. The other morning, I woke up with one driving impulse. It was so clear in my head that I didn’t even pause to consider if it was the remnant of a dream. It just WAS. And now it IS. No quibbling required. I woke up knowing that I needed to become a battle mage.
  3. I believe in the Fae. Not the cute type that are made of light and sprinkle faerie dust and bring sweet dreams – the Other type. The type that allow us to live here, but would eat us in a moment (and often do). The tricksy types. The types who will turn a kind hand your way for a nice saucer of cream and a bit of cake of an evening. The ones who drink the whiskey left out for our forefathers on All Hallows Eve.
  4. I have always looked at the world with sorrow and resolve.
  5. I have more backbone than anyone I know. That’s not pride speaking, just truth. I am simply resilient. It’s in my genes, perhaps. Or maybe just in my zodiac. Maybe a bit of both.
  6. About nine months ago (which sounds rather ironic right now), I decided that Elen wasn’t doing it for me right now as a goddess. I needed a warrior. I needed someone who would understand my rage, sorrow, need for physicality. I needed The Morrigan, but in particular, her sister/self Macha. I have healed with a warrior goddess as my guide, even if it has been a little too casual, up until now.
  7. My cousin, whom I also call my sister, and is also like a part of me, is best described as “ethereal.” She is full of light and magick and all of the smells of autumn and comforts of a perfect summer afternoon. Not to say that she comes without faults (that would be boring, and kind of frightening, now that I’m imagining it), just that she balances them out with lots of love, and care for those around her. But here’s the thing – we are somehow twins without being at all alike. It’s confounding, but also comforting, to know there’s at least one person in the world who will never need further explanation. We both operate on the principle that all will become clear in time. It’s like fishing for yourself in a pool of stars. That’s a pretty picture. But with all of the similarities, there are major differences. One is that I can say something like “fishing for yourself in a pool of stars,” and think “what a lovely image” and also “ugh, that’s some trite bullshit right there.” And my cousin can hear me thinking of her from literally a thousand miles away and text to see what’s up, and my response is both “well, of course, we share a bond,” and “it’s just a coincidence.” We even once had a conversation about Fae, she getting excited about meeting some sprites in the wood, me simultaneously planning protective measures to ensure that I wouldn’t get eaten by one of those crafty little buggers. I allow myself to see and believe all, but also to disbelieve all with even measure.
  8. I both believe in ghosts and disbelieve in ghosts, pretty equally. God is multiple and singular, male and female, and living inside of Schrodinger’s box (which by the way, looks a lot like the inside of the bottle from “I Dream of Genie.”) More than that, all cats everywhere are both alive and dead, as evidenced by how often I indulge in sorrowful, vivid daydreams of how I’ll handle my favorite cat’s cremains.
  9. The other day, I answered one of those stupid FB questions, “If you could cure cancer or discover a new planet, which would you pick?” My answer was neither, because they were both pointless endeavors (of course, I spent a couple of paragraphs explaining it from both sides, and felt utterly secure in my analysis). One of my friends remarked that reading the answer made her feel like she was looking down an endless black tunnel. A few other friends (whom, it should be noted, I instantly wrote off as lacking in imagination and, just maybe, intelligence) remarked that curing cancer was the obvious choice – even after I’d explained why it wasn’t. Anyway, this isn’t to say that I’m right and they’re wrong, or they’re right and I’m wrong. After all, it’s a huge, pointless hypothetical meant to get people talking, and that’s what happened. Just that I tend to see all sides of a thing, and I see dark, and the dark doesn’t seem to mean the same thing to me that it does to others. It is nuanced, thick, full of texture and possibility. I see now that some people ignore the dark out of fear, try to paint over it with false light. But false light is its own dangerous form of darkness. We act like negativity in its base sense is evil, instead of just the flip side of positivity. Dark is not inherently bad. It’s what you do in the dark that sets you up for the fall.
  10. All this going to say that I realized that all this time, I’ve envisioned myself as a lightbringer, a white witch. Of course, that’s pretty funny, when viewed from this angle. I HAVE been fighting myself. I can’t tilt the scales of my own spiritual makeup. I can’t pretend that the balance of my inner truth skews toward the sun. I have always been one for grey days. The world requires tough choices, based on truth rather than fancy, on solid fact rather than hope for what may be. There are plenty of healers, learning their craft, keeping the world from going under, one heart at a time, like my beloved cousin. When the time comes, the healers will require a solid line of defense. I will happily take up a place in the shadow if it means giving the light a few more minutes to work.
  11. I have spent a lifetime focusing on being “good,” but to me, “good” meant not rocking the boat. I’ve lately come to realize that, however unintentionally, I have built a fake persona that most people don’t/can’t see beyond. This comes in handy for me, as I have limited energy for human interaction, so only the creme de la creme make it my front door, so to speak. But thus I have built up a toolbox of secret skills that can be repurposed, with none the wiser. That being said, some of these learned behaviors will have to go. Mostly, patience with mediocrity – including my own. It’s time to stop hiding. It’s OK to not know who or what you are, or even what you want. It’s OK to be afraid, to not know what to say. It’s not OK to stop fighting your way forward, finding ways to call others, wearing your colors proudly so that your comrades will know to fight their way to your side.
  12. Vive La Résistance.

 

If Turnips Were Watches

When can I begin? When do I get to give myself a break?

There’s this song that I’ve identified with ever since it came out in 1997, called “Graduate.” Of course, back then I was a high schooler, and it seemed like forever until I’d graduate. The song meant what it said. But then I got older, and it started to ring true to me in other ways. Still does. Sometimes I wonder if I inadvertently programmed myself to it, but then I think that’s probably too optimistic. Maybe a lot of us feel this way, trapped in circumstances just outside of our sphere of control, watching as the world whirls around us, thinking that any minute now, we’ll figure shit out, right? But that’s never going to happen. You have to live now, and stop concentrating on things getting better tomorrow. There’s no tomorrow.

I don’t know when I get to do what I want. Why do I live in fear? Why am I shut off and shut down? Why can’t I be a success at being myself? And if I know the things that I want, why can’t I get them? Haven’t we reached a point where anything is possible? Is my problem that I don’t believe I can have what I want? (I know right away, as I write this, that’s not true.)

My problem is that I believe I’ll get exactly what I work for, and I still won’t like it. It will be broken, off-key, a demented lie. It will be what it always was. It’s just that my vision was skewed. I’m afraid that I see what I want through rose-colored glasses, and that I’ll surely suffer the consequences if I reach out to take it.

And so I’m shut down. Shut off. Stuck in 11th grade for-fucking-ever. I’m tired.

 

Day 22: Calzadilla de la Cueza to Sahagun

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

It was nothing new to wake up in pain by this point on the Camino, so when my legs were swollen and stiff on the morning of Day 22, I shrugged it off, gave myself a quick calf massage, popped an Ibuprofen, and joined the other pilgrims in packing to leave. The mood and energy level in the dorm seemed rather low, overall. No one was really hustling to get out, and there were groans from those pilgrims who realized their boots hadn’t dried out completely overnight. I was proud of myself for having worn sandals the day before, so that my feet could be warm and toasty this morning. Once again, I realized that it’s the tiniest details that make or break a day. Even though my legs were really hurting, warm feet on a chilly morning improved my mood greatly.

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Hobbit houses!

 

The other thing that really made my morning was seeing hobbit houses! Somehow, I’d missed the memo about the bodegas in Moratinos, so seeing these perfect doors cut into the hillside was a wonderful shock. The bodegas are underground structures, primarily used for wine storage (or perhaps general storage) by families in the municipality, but they look exactly like something out of Hobbiton. I was told that they are also sometimes used as drinking dens / man caves, but didn’t get to see this for myself first hand. Instead, I had to be content with visiting Bodega Restaurante El Castillo de Moratinos, a bar and restaurant set up in an old bodega. We had a quick snack, and walked on, making it to Sahagun shortly after lunchtime.

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This made me laugh.

 

Since we were both so beat from the day before, it was decided that we’d stop early, get beds in a nice albergue, and just relax. The reviews for Albergue Viatoris were excellent, so deciding to stay there was a simple choice. From the extensiveness of the grounds, was pretty obvious that the place was its own bustling city center at the height of pilgrimage season, but when we arrived, it was a ghost town. Despite the proverbial tumbleweeds blowing through, things were looking up when the hospitalero led us to a nicely appointed room with only six beds – only half were bunks! – and showed us a kingly private bathroom down the hall with a lovely shower. We each took a non-bunk bed, and drew straws to see who’d shower first. Jakob won. He was only gone for a few minutes before coming back, looking cleaner, but not too enthusiastic about it. It turns out that our posh digs had no hot water. We mutually decided to move on with life instead of complaining, so I took my own icy cold dip, then we headed out to find food.

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Very special chicharrones 🙂

What happened next was one of my favorite dining experiences on the entire Camino – an Irish pub with Spanish beer and Italian food. I don’t know if it was the sheer relief of not having to exercise anymore, or if it was just the simple economics of pouring more alcohol in, but the rest of the afternoon was exceedingly pleasant. Jakob and I sat and bullshitted for awhile in the bar, enjoying beer and each other’s company. We had chicharrones at the bar, as well, and I was surprised to find out that he had never tried pork rinds or cracklins before. It made me weirdly proud to have been present for the first try, especially since he liked them.

Afterwards, we decided to pick up some snacks for dinner so we wouldn’t have to leave the albergue again that day. On the way to finding a grocery store, we ended up wandering into an Asian general store. There’s at least one of these in every slightly large town. These stores are a cheap one-stop-shop, with strange and varied wares, and I loved to visit them all along the Camino to see what kind of random stuff I could find. In Sahagun, I found cheap Halloween decor, masks, and sparkly top hats. I was too pleased with the hats, and ended up wearing one for a few minutes. I was brushing glitter out of my hair for a couple of days.

At the grocery store, I got to experience another first for Jakob – his first packet of Double Stuffed Oreos. It turns out that he loves Oreos, but they didn’t have the double creme version in Germany. He was pretty much overjoyed to see the packet in the cookie aisle, and I realized that he got just as excited about food as I do. Along with the typical wine, cheese, bread, and sausage, that packet of Oreos had to come back home with us.

The rest of the day was very laid back. We did some preliminary reading for the next day’s walk, then caught up on posting photos to Facebook and getting in touch with family who were waiting to hear from us. Once it was apparent that no other pilgrims would be joining us in the room, we spread out a little. I actually ended up feeling weirdly exposed to not have a bunk above my head, so I moved down to sleep in the bottom of one of the two bunks in the room. Lights were out early, and I fell asleep quickly. Since it was just the two of us, I didn’t bother with my ear plugs.

Around one or two in the morning, I woke up to a strange rustling sound that took a moment for my brain to interpret…until I heard a crunch, crunch, crunch. It was the middle of the night, and two beds away, my new friend had woken up to eat Oreos in bed. I couldn’t have loved anyone more in that moment. I laid awake, listening to him eat a couple more cookies, then roll the bag shut and put it aside. I fell asleep smiling. As I recall, he had a stomach ache the next morning.

Day 21 (Part 2): Villarmentero de Campos to Calzadilla de la Cueza

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

All beautiful moments must come to an end, and soon enough, it was time to pack up and leave the garden at Albergue Amanecer. Buoyed by our little break and the lovely surroundings, my moodiness from the morning disappeared as we hit the road again. The weather had cleared up over the course of the morning, and once again we had blue skies and puffy clouds.

As we walked, Jakob and I discussed who we were and why we had each decided to walk the Camino. Despite our easy friendship, our lives had been extremely different. I was an only child, raised in a rural area by a lower income family.  I moved a thousand miles away at 17 and never looked back. At nearly 34, I had three college degrees and dozens of seemingly random jobs under my belt. My dreams of singing and writing hadn’t even gotten off of the ground, and I’d bounced around from idea to idea all of my life. I was pretty good at most things that I tried, and job transitions weren’t too difficult, but I’d yet to find a job about which I could be passionate. I was introverted, introspective, and struggling with depression. I was walking to find answers to questions I didn’t know yet. Though I enjoyed the religious architecture along the route, my only connection to Catholicism was my slight obsession with St. Francis, and I found him more in nature than in the built environment.

By contrast, my new friend grew up in a close-knit family, in conditions that many would call comfortable (both of his parents are professionals, and his father is well-known in his field). His family had lived in the same area of Bavaria for many generations – longer than my family had been in America. At 30, Jakob had only recently finished his law degree after many years of school. His dream was to become a judge, and he was almost there. His Camino had long been planned to span the bridge between graduation and job placement, and as we walked, he was keeping track of his job application process as it rolled along back home. I was surprised to learn that in Germany, there is no requirement to practice as a lawyer before becoming a judge. We discussed what the job meant to him, and the nuances of job hunting for a judgeship near his home in Munich. He was driven, optimistic, and given his patience and open-mindedness, I couldn’t help but marvel that he’d be great at his chosen profession. He was also religious, and for him, the Camino was a way to connect with his name saint, James the Apostle (called Jakob in German tradition, from the Latin Iacobus).

I was surprised, given how much I liked my new friend, that he was also highly active in his college fraternity. It took me awhile to wrap my head around how different it was to be in a frat in Germany vs. the U.S. He showed me a photo of their old-fashioned uniforms (complete with funny hats and military braids). Involvement seemed strict, and academics and conduct were of the utmost importance. Connections lasted a lifetime, and older members made sure that the college-age brothers didn’t stray off the path and embarrass the organization. But like the American frats with which I had more experience, beer was also a key ingredient. How could it not be, in the beer capital of Germany?

Speaking of imbibing, we found great kinship in discussing the party reputations of our respective hometowns during their two biggest festivals – Oktoberfest for him, and Mardi Gras for me. We shared funny stories of various debauchery we’d witnessed, and popular misconceptions of what these giant, world-renowned parties were actually all about. We each issued unconditional invitations for a festival exchange program – one day I still plan to make it to Oktoberfest.

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Bocadillo, Aquarius, Coca Cola – who could ask for more?

In early afternoon, we reached Carrion de los Condes, and sat down to have lunch at a little cafe. I had no idea, but this was about to be one of those life changing moments. We posted up at our table, me with an absolutely giant sandwich. I pulled out my phone to peruse the WisePilgrim app, and he pulled out his yellow guidebook (then only published in German – the English version came out a few months later), looking up our options. We were about to hit the longest stretch of the Camino with no opportunities to stop, and if we chose to keep walking, we’d have to really commit. No bathrooms, no water, no cafe con leche, nowhere to rest our weary feet! It would be hours before we’d make it to a stopping point, and it was already afternoon. Was it crazy? Should we do it, or just stop here for the night? Once again, I got this feeling that the Universe had put us together as some sort of challenge, to keep each other encouraged.

As we ate and mulled over the choice, it was also in the back of my mind that we must be reaching the end of our time together soon. It seemed natural to me that we would walk in each other’s company for a few days or so, then split up. Easy. No pressure. I was on track to find Natalie again, and also practicing a kind of detachment. Despite how much fun I was having, at some level I was letting things wash over me without getting too involved. Perhaps I was guarding my heart? I don’t know what I was thinking.

But then, over that jamón y queso bocadillo muy grande, somehow the conversation turned to books and TV, and I mentioned that I really loved the miniseries “Band of Brothers.” Weirdly enough, the show was my introduction to the Peace Prayer of St. Francis, and it was a series that I rewatch yearly to remind myself of determination, grit, bravery, and goodness. Jakob immediately geeked out, and gushed that the show was one of his favorites, too. In fact, he’d watched it multiple times in German and English, to make sure not to miss any nuances in the dialogue. I told him that years before, when I was training to run the Chicago Marathon, I’d spurred myself on in difficult moments with Easy Company’s battle cry, “Currahee!” He said he’d often done the same. With that simple exchange, something shifted. No more conversation was necessary – we were all in. We could keep walking. We could do this. That was also the moment that I realized I’d been handed a new Camino family without even trying.

The next albergue was 18k away, in Calzadilla de la Cueza, which meant at least another 4 hours walking at our current pace. We’d be very lucky to arrive before dark, and there were storm clouds on the horizon, so we’d probably be walking through crappy weather. It was a stupid decision, made out of false bravado, and one which had terrible consequences. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On our way out of town, we stopped to purchase two cheap ponchos. I had a raincoat and a pack cover, but had found that my pack was still getting wet inside when I walked too long in the rain. Luckily, I’d packed all of my clothing inside a big space saver Ziploc bag, so my clothes stayed dry, but I still didn’t like the moisture in the pack. Additionally, wearing the raincoat made me feel like I was in a walking sauna. I thought maybe the poncho would do the trick if we encountered heavy rain, and soon, I got a chance to test out the theory.

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Within about an hour after leaving Carion de los Condes, the sky went from somewhat cloudy to absolutely treacherous. The wind whipped up into a frenzy, and we were hit with heavy bursts of rain. I changed out of my trail runners as soon as the weather shifted, to attempt to keep them dry. Instead, I switched to my Teva Tirras, worn with socks. My feet were cold and damp, but didn’t chafe – and I knew I could count on dry shoes the next day. Underneath the socks was the typical layer of moleskin on all of my “danger zones” known for chafing, plus a thin coat of Unpetroleum Jelly (made by Alba). The rain was so relentless that in the end, I ended up wearing the raincoat and the poncho together.

Between the insane crackling of the poncho and the wind whistling across the open Meseta over the Camino, there was little conversation. We marched on, wet and miserable, all afternoon. From time to time, the rain would let up a bit, and one of us would point out something funny or weird to examine along the road, from old boots left behind, to road markers. From time to time, I’d begin to despair that we would see civilization again. The road stretched on forever in those moments. Inevitably, though, as my spirits sank, Jakob would draw my attention to some small wonder at the side of the road. For awhile, we both put in our headphones, and realized we could walk “together” but separately, singing along to our own tunes. Singing is always a spirit lifter for me, and this worked out perfectly. Towards sunset, we stood and admired the clouds racing along the horizon. There was power in the land, and prayer in the walking. We were discovering something important together. It was still an incredible relief to see the first rooftops of Calzadilla de la Cueza appear on the horizon.

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It was dusk when we walked into town. Luckily for two completely exhausted peregrinos, the Calzadilla de la Cueza Albergue Municipal was on the left, immediately as you walk into town. I don’t know if either of us could have walked another step. As it turned out, the facilities were cheap and pretty nice. The bathrooms seemed newly refurbished and very clean, and the beds were comfy. There were maybe 10 other pilgrims there that night, including Tom, the older American guy I’d met with British Mark a couple of weeks before. I said hi, and he not only acted like he didn’t remember me, but was also a little rude about it. I was too tired to care much, but Jakob later told me that he saw the interaction and was taken aback on my behalf. As we started to unpack our things, I heard Jakob start laughing, and looked over to see that he was peering at me through a giant rip in his poncho. I’d already decided I couldn’t stand the way mine crinkled as I walked, so I told him he was welcome to have mine as a replacement. My pack would just have to get wet now and then.


After a hot shower and putting on some dry, warm clothes, I felt slightly more human. However, my legs were killing me, and my face was chafed from the wind and sun. It was obvious that the day’s activity had taken its toll on my already tired body. I massaged my legs with Volaren, popped an Ibuprofen, and donned compression socks, but even with that, I could tell I’d done some serious damage to my legs and feet. We’d walked around 34K over the course of the day – over 21 miles, almost a marathon. Even with all of the walking I’d done up until now, it was a huge leap in distance, and I knew I’d pay a price. Leaving the albergue in search of food was out of the question, since I could barely walk. I ate a few random choices from the vending machine while checking my Facebook messages in the break room, and went to bed before the dorm lights were out.