The first day on my Camino – walking out of St. Jean, in southern France at the foot of the Pyrenees, I had no idea what I was in for. I had not really trained. But within an hour it would be abundantly clear to me I was in over my head. I stood at the foot of a very steep climb, the first of 100’s I would make in the next 5 weeks, up and out of the valley towards Honto.
I remember looking up and I couldn’t see the top and was already winded from the hike out of the village. Others were sitting down on stumps at the side of the road – breathing hard, resting before they started up. I said out loud, to no one in particular ‘You have to be fucking kidding me. I can’t get up that!’ Those who heard me nodded in agreement or just kept going. Then I started to kind of hyper ventilate. But I also knew I couldn’t stay there. I had to start going up too. So I did.
It took me an hour to go no distance at all. I thought about camping out and sleeping there. If only I had known then, by the end of my Camino – 36 day’s later – I would be able to run up this little piece of nothing, backwards, with my fully loaded pack and my weekly grocery shopping,. But on this first day, I was panicking. And I also learned something about myself. Looking up and trying to gauge how far I had to go was unhelpful. It was UP – that’s all I needed to know. And the only way I was going to get to the top, was to put one foot in front of the other.
I also realized it was my feet that were going to get me over the mountain – or the hill. It was my brain that was getting in the way. I just needed to make sure I kept taking a step – not so hard. I also made a deal with myself. When I encountered these obstacles, I would allow my eyes to look up just once from the bottom, letting that panicky feeling wash over me. And then I’d look at my feet and not look up again. Asking ‘how much further’ was a fools errand. It was as far as it was going to be – and I had gone as far as I had, so far.
‘OK. We got this.’ I would say out loud. And then I would take the first step.
I am sitting here remembering this today, because some of the things I’ve had to figure out since, even before we moved to Valencia, have felt like that first climb up to Honto – and then on to Orrison, to collapse and get a bed for the night. Wondering what the hell I was doing. I’ve taken them each, one at a time. Sometimes it’s seemed like what we need to do is so daunting, confusing and never ending – and I’ll never figure it out. And then I remember that day. Being a big believer in talking to myself – out loud if need be – usually my self talk goes ‘You just gotta break it down. One step at a time and start at the beginning.’
I had been putting off getting my driving license. Driving in Spain seemed hard and scary. As an American, I’d heard from so many people it was a huge deal and an epic hassle and it was going to take forever – if I ever got it. I read so many forums and the requirements seemed impossible to fulfill. A medical/psych eval? Where do you get that? And where would I start to figure out how to make the appointment with the scary, unhelpful guard at the Jefatura? And even if I got one – how am I going to communicate? And the documents and forms required and all the copies? The rules are crazy with double negatives, and back flips, and if you don’t stick the dismount…? Yup – I’m mixing my metaphors. But don’t get me started on practical drivers training in Spanish.
Then one day – NOT driving, was getting harder than it seemed these tests would be. And on that day, I sat down – not on FB forums or expat websites where they tell you you’ll never be able to do it – and translated the ministry website. Guess what – it wasn’t really that big a deal if you break it down. Then I signed up for practice tests online – and that was really helpful. Suddenly, rules that seemed Greek to me a few weeks before, started making sense. Carol sent me the English manual (Thank You!) and it all came together. Just like my Camino – one foot in front of the other.
And I’m happy to say that, while I’m not at my final destination (EU license in hand), I’ve climbed the first hill. Early yesterday morning, I took the taxi out to the trafico office in the middle of rice fields, with my appointment, and my plastic folder, and I took that test. Drum roll please…I passed my theory test! My result was ‘Apto, or Suitable! I’ve never been so happy to be just ‘Suitable’ in my life. Just 2 mistakes. I had one as a buffer for good measure. Now I can sign up for the driving instruction classes, and then take the practical test. Did I hyper ventilate a little before answering those 30 questions out of a possible 3500? Sure. I was less nervous taking the SAT’s. But once I started it wasn’t so bad. Just read and re-read one question at a time.
And I just conducted the official ceremony handing over the ‘English Driving Manual’ to El Jefe. He was happy I passed, but he seemed less than enthusiastic that he’s up to bat now. My fate in this life is to be the guinea pig, the crash test dummy or the canary in the coal mine. Take your pick. He will draft in my wake on this one. But his competitive spirit will kick in any day. I feel sure when he takes it he’ll strive to beat my 2 small mistakes.
There were a lot of lessons on my Camino – Em and I are doing the Portuguese this June, and I’m sure they’ll be many more. But I think the most important was the first one, in the first hour, of the first day. And like most things on the Camino, each subsequent one came at just the right time. At the moment of the lowest ebb, where you think you’re going to break. And then you don’t, and you find out how strong you really are.
Challenges in life are big and small. Looking back, it’s been more than a year since we started this journey and the lessons of the Camino still ring in my head. Giving me small reminders every day ‘You got this’.