Sunday, April 7, 2013

Day Six - Pain was the name of the game...

Day Six - Saturday - March 30, 2013 /// Torres del Rio to Navarette /// 22.8 miles

Strava data:

Bring on the pain, the wind and the rain!  More of the same today.  Amazing views, awesome fellow pilgrims with endless comments of, "Buen Camino" and scenary to enjoy.

Storm clouds in the distance on the verge of greeting us as we approach the big city of Logroño, Spain.

This day we were on our way to the biggest city yet and the guide book warned us not to be overwhelmed by the cars, noise and fast pace.  I thought this was particularly strange because I have been living in big cities for the past eight years (Chicago and now San Francisco).  It wasn´t until we entered Logroño that I felt the awkward feeling of the people being much more impersonal, disinterested in your journey and who you were and many fewer people saying "Buen Camino".  This isn´t to say that many people didn´t acknowledge us or say "Buen Camino" altogether, however the vibe was very different.  Everyone had somewhere to be and had their attention buried in their smartphones.  In the previous small towns all the people were more interested in speaking with us about the Camino and our lives back home and of course where we were from.  The city was full of noise, loud conversations in the cafes and less patience among the people in cars.  I see this nearly everyday back home, but just a short week away and I could already see the radical difference between the two lifestyles just a day´s walk apart.

Look!  We found a rainbow as we were walking into Logroño, Spain.

Logroño was a great city and very beautiful with wonderful architecture.  For me, the best part was ducking off into The Drunken Duck bar/restaurant for a beer and late lunch with Francesco from Torino, Italy and the two Joe´s (Ireland and Germany).  We ordered some pints of weissbier by Paulander.  Joe from Germany said it was one of the best beers from Germany.  I would have to agree in this case.  I haven´t enjoyed many beers from Germany, but in San Francisco we have our fair share of imported beers easily accessible.  The weissbier was perfect and just what we all needed after a long, tiresome day.  "Sunshine" from Denmark is a real pilgrim.  She continued on as we made a break.  I ordered a delicious spinach and cheese tortellini.  The first real meal in two days.  The thing about small towns and the Camino is that most of the options along the path are "Bocadillos", sandwiches typically with ham and cheese on a long French-style bread.

My fellow pilgrims and new friends enjoying a good meal and liquid calories in the form of a Paulander Weissbier.

After two tall pints each and a good buzz we walked on another 10-14kms to reach Navarette for the night. We were all dealing with some tired feet and potential blisters and such.  It was a small pity party for our feet that evening.

Pictures and videos to come.  I know I am saying this a lot, but none of these computers are SD memory card friendly.  Keep enjoying photos on the Facebook Fan Page until the day comes that I come across a sound computer.

Day Five - Achilles tendons bruised, swollen feet..."what´s the problem?"

Day Five - Friday - March 29, 2013 /// Estelle to Torres del Rio /// 20.8 miles

Strava data:

This day we took on 35kms and we walked it all together with the two Joe´s (Ireland and Germany) and "Sunshine" from Denmark.  My feet and achilles tendons were still quite sore.  "What´s the problem?!", I was thinking to myself.  I was certain it had to be that I did not buy a size larger in my shoe to compensate for the swelling that would occur from back to back days of this kind of distance on foot.  The swelling around my feet and ankles were causing the backs of my shoes to dig into my achilles tendons with every step and my toes began to become crammed together causing blisters to begin.  I was a ticking time bomb and it was only a matter of time before I would have to purchase different shoes in order to continue.

With the swelling down from resting overnight I was able to walk with the group in the first half of the day with little pain.  As the day and kilometers ticked away my feet and achilles tendons were more and more sore.  We made a brief rest stop along an open field and small wooded area that a small creek separated where a few wooden benches had been installed along the Camino.  German Joe had a few San Miguel beers and invited us all to them.  Beer, oranges and dried cashews were the snacks of choice as we all sat a moment and rested our feet.

Continuing along the path and could feel my feet growing warmer and warmer which just meant more blood and swelling was occurring in my feet.  It was going to be a tough final 10kms walk into Torres del Rio.  Apparently this day there was a small running the bulls scheduled for 2:00pm.  We were moving quickly in the morning to see if we would arrive in time.  Sadly we arrived at 3:30pm and missed the running of the bulls.  Nonetheless we settled into the Muni for the night, dried some of our wet clothes and rain ponches from the earlier rains we had this day and began discussing plans for tomorrow and how many kilometers we wanted to complete.

Next up was Navarette.  40kms down the path with some rain and wind in the forecast.  Not so cold yet, but some gusty winds ahead.

It´s like the scene in Forrest Gump when he is describing the rain, "We´ve been through every kind of rain there is.  Little bitty stinging rain...and big old fat rain.  Rain that flew in sideways.  And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath."  The wind blew the rain every which way including us pilgrims on the path braving the weather conditions.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Day Four - "Still walking..." Getting more sore and bruised

Day Four - Thursday - March 28, 2013 /// Uterga to Estelle /// 21 miles

Strava data:

We were in for another long effort day.  This time Francesco and I walked the first 10km together and met up with the Irishman Joe, German Joe and woman from Denmark "Sunshine" for a coffee at one of the small towns along the way.  They had started just a short time before us while I had a shower in the morning at the hostel in Uterga.

From there we continued to catch up with the three of them at each of the popular resting/water stops.  We passed through Puente la Reina, a famous location along the Camino and snapped a few photos of the Iglesia de Santiago and of the bridge itself that lead us outside the city.  After a long hard walk fighting with sore feet and mud we arrived to Estelle.

When my walking buddy Francesco and I arrived to Estelle we were toast.  The feet were swollen, almost numb in a way but we could feel every step, and we followed the guide book which suggested the Albergue Municipal (Muni) which is the official hostal for pilgrims on the Camino.  It was 7 Euros and included breakfast (toast, butter, jam, coffee with milk).  Both Joe´s (Ireland and Germany) and "Sunshine" from Denmark were already checked in and staying at this Muni.  We took a look around the place to see what beds were available and how the amenities were.  The place was like a cave and cold which they attempted to make up for with blankets where most Muni´s do not provide blankets.  Traveling as light as I am with the intentions of running as much as I can I am not carrying a blanket or small packable sleeping bag as most pilgrims are.

After a night of not sleeping so well in the last Muni, I wanted to have a look around at the other Albergues available to us in Estelle.  We took a quick look at the guidebook and saw one that stated it was, "donativo", or donation based and was constructed last year.  Great!  This meant a new modern building with plenty of hot water and electrical sockets to charge the all important GPS device, a.k.a. iPhone with the Strava App.  On the map this Albergue was over the bridge, up a hill and only 1 kilometer away from where we were standing.  Even such a short distance seemed a near impossible challenge for our feet at that moment.  We pressed on to the Albergue "donativo".

The place was nice, organized, clean and new just as we expected.  Only three beds remained and we took two.  As pilgrims, the first order of business is to take off your shoes and if they are wet inside from rain, rivers, creeks or sweat you´ll need to dry them as best you can, put newspaper in them to absorb the remaining wetness overnight and begin washing any clothes that need to be cleaned and put out to dry on a clothes line in the remaining hours of daylight.  Francesco and I got busy with our "pilgrim chores" as I´ll refer to them before having a shower and heading out around town for dinner.

Dinner started with a walk around Estelle to the main plaza area where all the small town locals gathered each evening.  The place was a madhouse with children playing soccer/futbol and everyone speaking loudly to hear one another across the patio tables from the conversations around them.  After such a long day we weren´t big fans of the noise and energy level so we stopped at a small pastry shop to ask for a dinner recommendation that was not so busy.  We received two recommendations of which both were of a much higher price and not on the ´pilgrim budget plan´.  We continued to look around the town and bumped into an Italian couple that Francesco had spoken with on the Camino earlier this day when we stopped off at a creek to put out feet in the ice cold water.  At that moment we all decided to dine together and share stories about the Camino experience so far and of our lives back home.

We found a nice restaurant that had a fixed three course menu for the night priced at 10 Euros which also included a local Rioja wine.  First course was a choice of a mixed greens salad, garbanzo bean soup or smalled breaded and rolled ham and cheese pieces that resembled pigs in a blanket.  Second course was a choice of Spanish tortilla which is very common here in Spain consisting of eggs and thinly sliced potato stacked together and cooked like an omelete, seafood soup with shrimp, mussels and scallops and french fries or white fish with roasted potatoes.  The third course was a dessert of either ice cream, flan (solid pudding with caramel topping) or coffee.  The meal was enjoyable overall and the wine was a well done Rioja.

The company and conversation in three languages (English, Italian and Spanish) is what made the evening.  Such a great time meeting new people especially those on the Camino.  It´s impossible to find someone who isn´t just enjoying life and open to going with the flow and what is dealt to us each day albeit the terrain, weather conditions, etc.

Day Three - "Uterga? What?" Easy recovery day.

Day Three - Wednesday - March 27, 2013 /// Pamplona to Uterga /// 11.6 miles

Strava data:

After powering through a 50km day Francesco and I decided it would be best to have an easier more casual day.  We started it off with a stroll through Pamplona taking photos and visiting the sights since we were too tired to consider doing this when we arrived.  Steve joined us.  We even made mention of staying one more night in Pamplona to take in the nightlife.  By 2pm or so Francesco and I decided it would be best to continue onto another town but nothing too far.  Perhaps 15kms or so.  We looked to the guidebook and decided on a town called Uterga.  It was just beyond the mountain ridge that is equipped with numerous wind energy turbines that you can find everywhere in Southern California just outside Palm Springs.

The rain clouds were looming and a few spring time like showers met us throughout the day on our stroll through Pamplona.  A few of our friends from the earlier group that stayed in Zubiri arrived around 3pm.  We stayed long enough to join them for a coffee and shoved off by 4pm to make our way to Uterga.

Making our way outside Pamplona I could feel how swollen my feet were and my shoes were once again uncomfortable both on the backs of my heels on the achilles tendons and threatening blisters between my toes.  Maybe I should have considered a half size bigger in my shoes to compensate for the swelling for such an adventure?

We walked along the sidewalks to the outer limits of the city and connected with the trail head through a park leading us to the low mountain ridge with the wind energy fans.  We could see the zigzag of the trail up and over the ridge past the fans.  As we started the ascent the clouds were growing behind us and getting darker showing signs of a larger storm that was in the weather forecast for that evening.  Just before reaching the top of the ridge on the trail we entered dense fog and I took a moment to make a video diary which I´ll share as soon as I find a computer to accept my SD memory card to upload the clip.  It reminded me of the fog when running in the Marin Headlands trails of San Francisco.  Reaching the top of the ridge we punched through the fog to see over into the valley on the other side and the next town which was our stopping point for the day in Uterga.

As we began to descend on the trail from the ridgetop we could see the clouds of the storm and the fog following us and moving in fast.  We decided it best to double time it down the trail and ran.  This was a harder feat for Francesco with his 55 liter pack compared to my 17 liter pack.  Mine weighing in a 5.5 kilos and his at 11+ kilos.  Although a big pack, Francesco stayed on my heels the entire way down the trail.  At the bottom we walked again periodically looking over our shoulders to see where the storm and fog were.  Eventually it was time to run again.  Lightning, thunder and heavy dark clouds and strong winds were at our backs.  We grabbed our ponchos and began running.  It was dark at this point and it was a gravel road with some muddy spots and a surprise creek soaked our feet as we ran through it on our way to Uterga.

Exiting the valley trail onto the asphalt of the town limits of Uterga we walked the "ghost town" until finding the Albergue.  A few pilgrims were standing outside under an awning on the patio having cigarettes and speaking in English and Spanish.  Francesco and I entered through the gate to a nice patio area in our wet ponchos and into the small dining area and kitchen where we checked in with the hospitalera at 8:45pm.  We ordered our dinner of the "Menu de Peregrino" which consisted of spagetti with marinara sauce, brown lentil soap, a mixed greens salad and a bottle of wine for 10 Euros each.

As the meal was being prepared we went to the bunkbed room to drop our bags, clean up a bit and walked downstairs to greet all the other pilgrims of which we had met in Roncevalles and were marching at a good pace each day as Francesco and I had done.  The group had: an Irishman, Joe, a German, Joe also, a woman from Denmark, "Sunshine", three other Germans (one named Josephine - cute!) and a Bavarian woman.  Such a great international mix of people all at one table!  Francesco and I sat at our own table so we had room for the meal we had ordered.  Two women from the UK sat adjacent to us that we chatted with a bit.  The meal was great and the wine was reasonably priced.

The ´Joes´ invited us up to a small living room area upstairs just outside our bunkbed room for some late night conversation and wine.  They already had five bottles between seven people in hand and I purchased a sixth to share with the group.  We chatted late into the evening and drank every last drop of the wine.  I shared my first day´s experience with the group and was referred to as "crazy" several times which I agreed with.  Taking the closed route due to snow and a person dying just a week or so before was definitely a bad idea.  At least I survived...

Six bottles of wine later and our beds were calling our tired bodies and feet.  Off to bed with ear plugs at the ready.  I was so tired I didn´t even shower this night.  Since it was such a short day I only needed to wash my calves and feet.  I showered the next morning in preparation to take on the day ahead.

Tomorrow, Estelle!  35kms!

Day Two - "A big day" Roncevalles to Pamplona (50kms)

Day Two - Tuesday - March 26, 2013 /// Roncevalles to Pamplona /// 29.9 miles

Strava data:

After a challenging day crossing the Pyrenees I met a group of Italians and Spanish traveling together and joined them for the second day.  One of the Italians, Francesco, was speaking of taking on a 50km day to arrive in Pamplona that evening.  I had a similar effort in mind so I mentioned I would join him and we could decide for certain at the 30km mark as to how we felt at that point.

This day I was trying to prevent further blistering and realized I would enjoy traveling with a group to talk with and enjoy the route so I walked the Camino.  It was a tremendous joy to take time speaking with everyone and seeing why each person was walking the Camino and how many days and to where they planned to go.  As you might expect most were traveling the Camino for the coming Easter holiday.  Others for personal goals, issues or clarity.  Me?  I´m looking for sport.  A challenge and a way to clear my mind after a challenging year with school, work, volunteering and training.

This day was full of trails wet and muddy from the snow melt and earlier rains the day before which was in the form of a snowstorm for me during my time atop the Pyrenees.  Rocks, creeks, small streams and endless green rolling hills ahead the entire route towards Pamplona.  The first town we stopped to enjoy a coffee and lunch was Zubiri where a number of my fellow pilgrims decided to end their day which was ~25kms.  Francesco and I discussed going on for another 25kms to Pamplona.  One fellow pilgrim, Steve, I had met within this group the first evening arriving in St. Jean and to the Pilgrim Office to check in had already arrived to the lunch spot.  We joined him.  He just so happened to have some pain in his hip and elected to hail a cab from Zubiri to Pamplona.  Francesco and I both agreed we felt good and after a brief lunch and espresso we bid farewell to the group and expressed our hope in seeing them again along the way in another town.  We would join Steve at the Albergue later that evening in Pamplona.

Off to Pamplona for the California and the Italian.  Speaking little to no Italian I lead with Spanish when speaking with Francesco.  His Spanish is about the same intermediate level as mine so we could easily communicate.  As we walked I began to learn that Francesco spoke far more English than he lead on and we communicated both in English and Spanish.  Just a few hours into our walk we were almost entirely speaking English.  He just needed a reminder of the language.  Europeans always seem to think they know far less English than they really do.

We had a great day!  Most of it full of sunshine, some muddy trails and great views.  We spoke of home, our families and friends, our love of motorcycles and what kind we both have currently.  We also discussed our home cities.  For Francesco, Torino is home.  He has successful, easily so, that I must visit Torino some day in the near future.  It is officially on the bucket list now.

As we worked our way through the final 10kms both of us began to feel our feet growing warmer and warmer as the blood filled our feet and swelling became apparent.  I felt my shoes getting tighter and my upper heels along my achilles tendons becoming raw and feeling bruised.  Also at this time a small rain storm blew in and we slipped our ponchos on pressing forward to Pamplona.  We could begin to make out a large city on the horizon around this time and we assumed it had to be Pamplona.  This was around 6:30pm and we had approximately 90 minutes of daylight remaining.

Our conversation quickly changed to food and what we wanted to eat when we arrived to Pamplona.  The snacks we had purchased at some of the small shops along the trail that day just weren´t going to satiate the hunger we had after such a long day.  We began discussing pasta, pizza, vegetables, BBQ and desserts.  Laughing and talking about how much we planned to eat once we arrived in Pamplona as we walked and the sun was falling to the horizon.

Why is it that the finals kms are so hard?  It wasn´t quite the "Ironman shuffle", but it may have well been because I was feeling like a snail and my shoes were no longer comfortable.  This is the point when I realized that walking long distances is harder than running long distances.  Why?  Just think about the number of steps taken between the two.  There you will find the answer.

The final kms were on the asphalt and sidewalks within the city limits of Pamplona.  We could see the tall cathdral and walls around it near the city center.  As it is with most of the Albergues that we stay at along the Camino they are near these religious buildings.  We followed the Camino markers toward the city center to arrive to the Albergue after dark.  Steve was there awaiting our arrival.  We checked in, dropped our bags, asked for a restaurant recommendation that had pasta and pizza on the menu and off we went to Plaza del Castillo to an Italian restaurant.  Without a shower or change of clothes we were welcomed into a fancy, tourist friendly restaurant.  As we were walked back to our table we breezed and hobbled past the open kitchen (Toscany style) seeing the massive pizzas the staff were preparing.  I didn´t even need to see a menu at that moment.  We ordered up some pizzas, olives and wine.  I discovered that Francesco was a vegetarian at that time while discussing the menu and many pizza options.  It was a good feeling to know I had found a friend with a healthy lifestyle to enjoy the Camino with.

After devouring our pizzas we headed back across Plaza del Castillo to the Alburgue past the famed cafe of Ernest Hemmingway.  Straight to the shower and preparing for bed we met our fellow bunkmates from Barcelona.  Some cute latinas on holiday for Easter walking from Pamplona for just a few days.  Ear plugs in and off to bed...