A friend once joked about my hike as being my very own version of the Julia Roberts movie Eat Pray Love. So it became just that, my eat, pray love tour.
Dinner for 1
When you think of all things love I’m sure Paris pops into your mind at some stage, so of course who doesn’t dream of being in the “City of Love” for Valentines day … ME! That’s who. Who plans to start a trip of a life time on a day that celebrates every single thing I currently was not. After everything I had dealt with in the last few years, all things love was off-limits for me.
I landed in Paris on valentine’s day 2016, after an epic 30 plus hours in transit, I missed my hotel transfer, I couldn’t speak any French, My phone was dead so no Google maps, I had to ride 2 city buses (one in the wrong direction) before arriving at my hotel. I was beyond exhausted and starving. What’s worse than landing in the “City of Love” alone on valentines day … DINING in the “City of love” alone on Valentines day. I sat in a restaurant, tired, grumpy, dressed in hiking pants and boots (I was about to hike across two countries … I didn’t have any Paris Trendy clothes packed … unnecessary weight to carry) in-between tables of loved up couples. French loved up couples. Oh god so much vomit inducing LOVE …. give me a break!!!! I sat eating pizza ALONE and drinking my beer ALONE, all while trying to dodge the stares of pity. Not a well thought out idea on my behalf, I should have just got room service. Once my tummy was full and my ego had taking enough of a hit I headed back to the hotel for more alone time … I really needed to get used to this feeling.
Laying in bed that night it finally sunk in what I was about to do. What I had just flown across the world to do and my serious lack of preparation for what was too come.
Trains and Strains
I was still a full day train ride away from my starting point. I was too nervous to stay sitting in my hotel room so I woke super early and started my epic journey to the train station. 100 meters across the road. I arrived at the train station 4.5 hours before my train was due to arrive. (In hindsight I probably didn’t need to check out of my hotel at 7 am … or even get out of bed at 7am for that matter). After hours of staring at the departures board my train finally arrived. I was ready to get moving, Grateful to be leaving Paris. To get away from “love”!!
I arrived In St Jean Pied De Port, in complete darkness. Thankfully my phone had just enough power left to light up my feet as I walked in search of my hotel. I wasn’t the only hiker to jump off the train that night, and for some reason this little pack of humans had decided I knew where I was going so they followed me and my light, unbeknownst to me. Forward thinking Me had thought about where to stay the night before my big hike started, I knew I would be spending 40 odd nights in shared hostels, so I booked a Fancy-ish hotel for this night. The little pack followed me all the way to my hotel door, (it wasn’t until this point I realised I had gathered a fan club) before realising I wasn’t staying in the hostel they wanted. After I checked in, I looked out the window to see how my followers were going. I could see them huddled together in a circle under a street lamp .. I had sent them off into the dark with no light and no idea of direction. My bad. (I found out a couple of days later my fan group walked around lost in the dark for 2 hours)
And so it begins
To walk the Camino you have to get yourself a “Camino Passport.” So early morning, with boots and backpack on, I stomped on down to the Camino office. You could tell instantly the office was run by volunteers ( I nicknamed them Grandma and Grandpa Camino in my head). I was offered a cup of tea while they filled out my credentials. Gramps check my backpack fitted me well, that I had the right maps, that my shoes were comfortable. While Grandma ran around filling my water bottle and getting me a snack for the “road”
Once I had my passport in hand they gave me my greatest gift of the trip. My shell. (Without boring you troops too much, The shell is linked to the Pilgrimage of saint James. Google it. It’s a big part of the walk) The shell identified me as a hiker on the Camino. I was the real deal.
Day 1 …. Please tell my family I love them
I was walking the Camino in the “off” Season so I knew there would be times when I was completely alone. I however did not expect to be spending the first 7.5 hours of the hike alone. It was off-season because it was winter, and by this stage you have learnt that the universe loves to throw me a challenge every now and then. This challenge came in the form of a snow storm. The night I had arrived in St Jean Pied De Port, so did the snow … weeks earlier then it should have. This meant I was crossing the Pyrenees’s (Big Mountains) in snow. Not just a dusting of snow, at times knee-deep snow. 28ish kilometres worth.
*** Fun Fact: Every single person that checked in after me (I was the first to check in) at the Camino office was told to stay off the track and stick to the road, because they had just been informed the track was covered in snow and almost impossible to walk … Thanks Gramps Camino ***
It was about the 2 hour mark I had decided that I had made a poor choice in season. The 3 hour mark I decided this was a terrible idea and that I should have trained before I came. The 4 hour mark I had eaten all my food. The 5 hour mark I decided that this was going to be my first and last day on the Camino, I was getting to the next town and quitting. The 6 hour mark I started to panic, what if I’m lost … what if I get injured … what if I die? The 7 hour mark is when I started to mentally pen my farewell letter to my family.
“To My Dearest Loves,
Who the hell let me go on this trip alone? What were you thinking? I’m going to die alone, in the snow. This is your fault!
Thankfully after 7.5 hours alone I miraculously popped out of deep snow and forest and ended up on the road in front of a group of hikers. (Deer in headlights style) I was no longer alone. (Thank fuck). This was the first time I learnt about the “Camino Giving.” It was often said that when on the Camino if you ever needed help all you were to do was ask, whether it was out loud or not and the Camino would always respond. I was desperate for people, and then there they were, a group, just like they had been waiting for me the whole tome.
The final hour walk that day was amazing. It was full of new conversations, new laughs, new stories and new friends. What a life lesson hey. I was only an hour before mentally saying my goodbyes to the world, then there I was laughing a long with people I’d only know for mere minutes and life was good again.
Dorm 1 of Many
We were among the last walkers to make it into the hostel that night. I was surprised to find that the dorm was full. There were 20 of us. Where the hell had these other 19 people been all day. On the road of course … where it was safe. The first day had taken most walkers about 4 to 5 hours on the road … it took me almost 8.5 hours. (Again thank Gramps Camino) I was grateful for everything that night, grateful for the flavorless soup, the weak fruit juice, the cold shower, the freezing dorm, the hard thin mattress. So grateful for that Mattress … just to have a bed.
As I was laying in bed that night I was even grateful for the 8.5 hours I had walked that day, and for taking the “Hard Road.” I was grateful for the life lesson I learnt that day. It was the first of many lessons I would learn along the way. I could carry myself to the very edge, I was strong enough to do it alone. BUT it was also ok to need help aswell, and I was strong enough to admit when I did. And right now I needed so much of it.