Walking the Camino, right out of the gate you can watch some Pilgrims view this as a race. Which is entirely foolish. There will always be people in front of you. And there are new Pilgrims starting every day, in every city, all along the route. Who is in first place would be impossible to determine. And ridiculous.
But competition drives some people. And I am not immune. I’ve met people who pride themselves in walking 45k a day. Only to hear they dropped out in Logroño or Burgos. The Camino is ‘too difficult.’ Or they injured themselves. But for those 10 days they were the talk of the trail. ‘That guy is amazing!’
A woman on one of those online Camino groups once chastised me for being nervous before my first Camino. ‘It’s just a big long walk! Grow up!’ But I don’t know what Camino she walked, or where she started because ‘a big long walk’ couldn’t be further from the truth. Young or old.
A Camino is an entirely individual experience, even if you are walking with other people. Your challenges are not their challenges. You bring your entire history with you, including in your pack. As a wise woman once told me ‘We pack our fears.’ Often carrying solutions for potential problems that never occur. But we pay for trying to anticipate ‘what-ifs’ in weight. And our bodies feel every ounce over the course of hundreds of miles.
This time I have kept my pack lighter. And the weight low. But I packed something I didn’t in 2017 – Expectations. And expectations are a dangerous thing.
Five years ago I didn’t know what to expect. So I was free to experience it all with fresh eyes. It would be what it would be. A liberating experience. But this time I knew what to expect. And I’ve discovered my desire for goal setting to be a hinderance rather than an asset.
I am not the person I was five years ago, on any level, but certainly physically. And it’s taken me nearly three weeks to come to terms with that. By this time in Leon, Emilie and I could do 30-35k a day. Without trouble. And it was at 35-40C. Easy. This time it’s -5 when I walk out the door in the morning. But it’s not just the cold that is different. Sure, I am stronger than three weeks ago, but I can’t do 30km a day. And I need more rest.
Jeff and I talk every day. We agreed to meet in Ponferrada this Saturday. It’s my north star and I’ve been pushing to make it. I looked at the elevation map and charted out my daily rate. Even as my legs ached more each day. I needed rest days but I didn’t take them. My eyes were on Leon. The knee would have thanked me. But last night I looked at it all again and called Jeff.
‘I’m pretty tired. I’m not sure I’ll make it to Ponferrada by Saturday. So you might not want to come.’
I have to go over Cruz de Ferro four days from Leon. And down the steepest descent of the Camino since Romcesvalles, where I injured my knee. I felt dejected.
Jeff laughed. ‘You know I have the car. I can meet you on Saturday wherever you are.’
It was then that it struck me. I need to stop comparing myself to myself of five years ago. Creating artificial goals and expectations that are often just out of my reach. Only to feel bad if I can’t make it on that day, or don’t measure up. And the funny thing is, no one is doing this to me but me.
A Pilgrim friend said goodbye to me yesterday. When she hugged me she smiled. ‘Remember, we just walked nearly 300 miles. Enjoy your rest day. Maybe take another one. You’re doing great.’ It made me teary. I am doing great.
Jeff’s words were the first thing I thought of this morning. He’ll meet me wherever I am. After almost 300 miles, maybe it’s time I meet myself there, as well.