A Walk Through Healing
Between September and October 2015, I embarked upon what was to be my biggest adventure yet. I decided to hike 500 miles through Spain as part of an old pilgrimage route: El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, or The Way of St. James. I kept a written and visual diary to remind me of my journey. Over the course of 36 days, it turned into more than I could have ever imagined.
Thursday, July 30, 2015 | Woodstock, NY
The scariest thing about the next few months is giving up control. For most of my life, my anxiety has provoked me into controlling situations whenever possible. Starting on July 31st, 2015, I will no longer have a central base. The decentralization of my life has been a long time coming. Like a car crash: the seconds feel like minutes or hours, until the impact finally sets in.
For some strange reason, I’m not completely terrified. I know things will work out. The next few months are about learning to live again, about trusting my instincts, and pulling apart my mind to seek a form of clarity. For the first time in a long time, I am making it up as I go along.
And I can’t tell if I should cry or smile.
Saturday, August 1, 2015
The air feels alive with possibilities. It’s pulsing and radiating outwards from my mind, racing five hundred miles a minutes towards the future. I’ve stopped placing hopes in things and started just believing things will happen. The talks I’ve had with people seem to be on point. The colors of the world seem to match this sensation. I’m hoping I can hold onto this feeling.
Something big is on its way, I just know it
"Courage isn’t having the strength to go on - it is going on when you don’t have strength." Napoleon Bonaparte
There is a major difference in being voluntarily homeless and becoming homeless by force
August 27, 2015 Paris, France
Leaving feels incredible until you know longer know what you are leaving or why you keep running from point a to point b. You can’t really run from yourself no matter how hard you try. It just keeps popping up at inconvenient times until you learn your lessons and can move forward.
Living life in perpetual motion without getting motion sickness is a talent few have mastered. I pass through time zones and continents trying to find where I feel whole, but maybe the point is you never really feel whole even when you find peace in yourself. Maybe some people just can’t feel that, ya know? The piece may have been lost too far back and its fucking stupidly small so you kind of just say “screw it” and go on with everything else.
You can’t really search for something that doesn’t want to be found so try looking for something else that allows you to feel whole and see further into time and space and all that jazz.
In four days, I will be starting my Camino. The thought is both exciting and terrifying. Part of me is worried my body won’t hold up, but the other part recognizes that this is pretty much mind over matter at this point. I’m doing this to figure things out. I’m doing this to prove to myself I can accomplish this task I have laid out for myself. I don’t know all the lessons I am supposed to learn on this hike, but I kind of think that’s the point. Going in with little or no expectations means things can happen as they are meant to happen instead of being forced.
I’ve been keeping a journal lately. I haven’t kept one outside of a sketchbook seriously since middle school. There is something incredibly therapeutic about it- having a space that is mine without judgement. I realized I have a lot to say that I never bother to let out, partially because most places online are read by others (which I guess is the point of putting things online) and partially because I know that I don’t know how to talk a straight line. Depression started sinking in a few weeks ago and has been a bit rough lately. I’m hoping the act of walking and being outside of myself and my norm will allow it to find a way outside my system. I also think I need to scale to the top of a mountain and scream- that will be my first order of business.
"If you’re brave enough to say ‘goodbye’ life will reward you with a new ‘hello.’" Paulo Coelho
So whenever people ask me why I am making this big ass hike through Spain, I generally tell them it’s because doctors told me I couldn’t (true) and I wanted to prove to myself and them that I could do it (also true). But the real reason is a bit more complicated.
I’m someone that deals with things later on. When my father passed on a Sunday night, I woke up Monday morning and went to work. When I was in the first accident, I just started doing mental health things until I could start walking (and taught myself to walk - with help - in three months). When I knew I was about to be homeless, I pressed on through the two months of modeling and said, “I will deal with this later.” Later, later, later. I’m good at dealing with things later.
And by later I mean in two-three years when all the straws on this camel’s back weigh too much to carry any further and I have a massive mental break down. My last one was roughly 2.5 years ago. Each time I have one, I learn a lot about myself and what to do next in life. This last one made me realize my old job was making me sick in all facets of life and so I quit and ended up modeling.
The thing is, I never learn to deal with things in the now. I go go go until I collapse, sometimes physically, always mentally. And this really isn’t any different.
I’ve let the last three years build up in my life and somehow found myself hiking through Spain just as the newest breakdown was starting. It started back in May-June, when I was running myself into the ground to keep everything afloat. It solidified while traveling in Europe, a strange person in a somewhat familiar land. And I’m finding myself aware of the collapse to my mental psyche. I’ve been watching it slowly crumble for months and trying to ignore it like I always do. Because that’s what I am fantastic at. I can take care of other people, but I rarely remember to take care of myself.
When I set this trip up, I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, man! You’re giant mental breakdown is approaching again! Better schedule a trip to clear yourself!” I was thinking, “I want to do this, this is when it works with my schedule, oh cool, I’ll be turning 27 while hiking the Camino!”
But that’s the thing with breakdowns: even if yours seem to fit a rough schedule of mania and depression, they still take you unawares.
When I was crying while hiking, I was trying not to go into a full on anxiety attack because I honestly don’t want to think of the future. So I’m trying to be proactive and deal with the issues now, not carrying dead weight around with me for another two-three years so I can enjoy a massive snap that sends me to bed for a month. I can’t keep doing these two-three year breaks- they’re honestly not healthy for me. And I think the thing about the Camino that is so beautiful is that you have to live in the now. One foot in front of the other. One kilometer at a time. One breakfast, then second breakfast (and sometimes two dinners because you deserve it champ).
The thing with these breakdowns is I always find a clarity. They always seem to set me off on the next path in life. I wish there were a more eloquent way of going about it, but maybe that’s the way my karma plays out in this life. So I’m trying to let myself heal- physically and mentally. I’m trying to shed the old weight and observe things as they happen to me, to vocalize my feelings instead of bottling them up for a later day. It kind of sucks having a breakdown while being around hundreds of people on a daily basis, many of whom are now close to you and want you to succeed, but maybe that’s how I break the cycle. Maybe that’s how I learn to experience the now and go from control to flow. Maybe the next breakdown will be smaller, less frightening than being in a place where you understand the language but can barely speak it (except to non-Spanish speakers. Then I am a fucking badass apparently and can remember how to say things).
Maybe the key to the way is to walk the Way and allow yourself to feel everything as it happens. Sometimes it’s the only way to make it forward. One step at a time.
August 30, 2015 Paris, France
Today marks the start of a new chapter in my life. I’m currently waiting in a Parisian airport to board a plane that will take me to St. Jean Pied de Port (well, I have a transfer and a car ride really before I get there). Literally the only mode of transportation I haven’t used on this trip is a bike.
So much of me is freaking out like “HOW THE HELL WILL YOU PULL THIS OFF?!?!” while the other part of me is supremely calm. It’s kind of now or never.
James reminded me of how there is a part of the hero’s story where they go into the wilderness to find themselves. So many have done this over the course of history- it’s almost mind blowing to think that is kind of what I’m doing. Me- a scrawny kid from Woodstock, finding herself in the vast Spanish landscape. Seems unlikely but then again most of my life has been unlikely and unimaginable. I have scaled mountains, lost my virginity and heart in the desert, learned to live again in Ohio, explored Al Capone’s secret tunnels under the Town Ballroom in Buffo, and lived an entirely improbable life. I’ve survived death and mental illness to walk through fire and save myself every time.
My warrior tattoo used to be a reminder to myself. Now I think it’s a statement.
August 31st, 2015 St. Jean Pied du Port to Roncevalles
I survived the first day. 23.4 km from St. Jean Pied du Port to Roncesvalles. I crossed the Pyrenees from France into Spain with a girl I met from Mexico, Edna. She is really awesome and I honestly loved hiking with her.
The hike was difficult- you scale uphill 1400m in altitude, for roughly 15 kilometers. You walk through farm land with horses, cows, and sheep all around you as the Pyrenees start to go smaller and smaller in the background. It was honestly so beautiful. When we got to the top, we screamed out “YESSSS” because we (wrongly) believed that after the flat part it went gradually downhill. It didn’t. You cross from France into Spain on a blessedly flat part only to discover you still have a little more to climb. Then you basically go straight ass downhill. My leg hates me from the downhill, but man, the forests you enter into after that initial falling down reminded me of home. I kicked the fallen leaves like a five year old, happy as a clam, trying to distract myself from the 22 pound bag on my back.
I feel like a champion. I honestly do. Me left knee hates me (kind of like how most of normal America hates Donald Trump) but I survived. The rest is honestly going to be hard, but I think surviving the Pyrenees after passing so many grave markers of pilgrims who didn’t make it, anything is possible.
When I arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port- I realized that every single pilgrim here was thinking the same thing- “what the fuck have I gotten myself into?” Somehow the thought was comforting
September 2, 2015 Zubrini to Pamplona
Today went a lot better. I started off with a group, singing at the top of our lungs winding through the early morning light, only to find myself ahead of everyone after a few kilometers. I eventually met up with this awesome American couple from Missouri and thought they were incredibly spot on with the state of things in America. When they left to take a break about the halfway point, I found myself completely on my own. Wasn’t quite sure how it happened, but there was a point where I didn’t even see another person for 5-6 kilometers of the trail. It was honestly kind of nice.
It gave me a lot of time to try and think things over but the funny thing was that after a while, my mind just went blank. I thought I would have all this wonderful time to work through my personal problems and then- nada. The one thing I did come to realize was that I really do enjoy modeling. When I started doing it just under three years ago, I always said I was only going to do it for three full years then stop. I didn’t want to feel like I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself or to feel jaded by the whole ordeal, and in a lot of ways, I realize that I was becoming jaded by the hustle. I’ve decided to some degree, I want to continue; not sure if I will do it full time still or go down to just part time traveling, but today made me realize that I honestly love creating with others.
Who you start the Camino with may not necessarily be who you end up with. I lost track of Edna today, but Vito magically showed up and grabbed one of the last spots in the albergue I’m staying at. I feel like your soul knows who to find along the way and who will come and go. It’s been an honestly really interesting learning experience- so many people from all walks of life coming together to make it to Santiago.
The road to Santiago may be fucking long, but it’s shared by the spirits of those present and those of the past.
September 3, 2015 (Day 4) Pamplona to Puente la Reina
So I honestly thought my entry for today was just going to be: “Man, my butt better look fucking incredible after this hike.” But as it turns out, after 15 km, my mind started thinking of other things.
I was thinking of the things we carry (thanks, Tim O'Brien) both physically and emotionally. I unloaded over a kilogram of stuff in my bag yesterday and the weight difference was incredible. I have a tendency to think I constantly need to bring things with me- to haul around physical memories from town to town. I’m learning maybe I don’t necessarily need that. I’ve found that the lighter I can travel the happier I am.
I carry around my past a lot, too. My years with John (former step-father), the trauma to myself with the accidents, being bullied as a kid. I carry around old wounds and old loves like that lady in Labyrinth and I feel like it’s time to let things go. You can’t change the past no matter how many times you think and rethink a situation. It’s already happened. The only thing you can change is how you view it and if you are still willing to bring it around with you.
I decided today I was done with hauling around old baggage. I don’t really have the time for it in my life and thinking up snappy retorts to past remarks doesn’t really do me much good. I think so much of my universe exploding these past few months has been a way to open up to the changes taking place.
You can’t move forward with your feet stuck in cement and life is truly about taking one step at a time. Sometimes slowly, sometimes running, but always, always forward.
Things you stop caring about while hiking the Camino: Wearing socks and sandals. Seriously. You get over it after hiking all fucking day
September 4, 2015 (Day 5) Puente de Reina to Villamayor de Monjardìn
The only thing I have to say about today is my period has started, I hiked roughly 30 km and I wouldn’t wish that level of pain on my worst enemy.
That is all
September 5, 2015 (Day 6) Villamayor de Monjardìn to Viana
I was thinking back on my track years. Thinking specifically that I was grateful to them for preparing me for this adventure. I learned to work through pain and that if you keep at something, it gets easier. Your body responds to trains and conditioning- you never truly know what it is capable of until you push it to that limit. I’ve covered over 150 km in the past six days. In the past, more than ten miles and I would be miserable. Part of it is definitely realizing that I want to make it. I want to make it to Santiago. I want to be able to say I hiked myself through Spain and celebrated my 27th birthday on the northwestern coast. I’ve determined this hike is about 90% will poet and 10% physical.
I also thought back to Coach Burkhart. How he taught while coaching- how I know the sensation in my left leg is shin splints and how to heal them. I remember him telling this kid Matt that every time he looked back during a race, he would lose a seventh of a second.
I thought about how that could be applied metaphorically to life. I don’t know if the math is honestly true or not, but think about how much time you lose every time you look into the past. Minutes? Hours? Days? The amount of time realistically lost is mind boggling.
I find it interested that when I decided I no longer wanted to carry past weight with me, my body got its period. A physical shedding to go with my spiritual one. I spent the more thinking of things in my pack to get rid of- I’m down at least another kilo and it felt amazing.
I also spent today thinking of the ways in which we control our lives. We have a choice whether to be happy or not (even those of us who aren’t neurotypical). You can allow yourself to become a victim and stay in that mindset or you can say, okay, today isn’t a good one but I saw a butterfly and that was sweet. The idea of something or someone outside of yourself controlling your life, emotions, and destiny is kind of preposterous. It places the blame on someone else and removes the individual autonomy in life. The only person controlling your life and actions or reactions is you- you hold the blame for things you’ve done or said. The energy you put out into the universe always finds a way to make it back to you.
September 6, 2015 (Day 7)
Today I hit a wall of pain that forced me to cry. Something about the pavement and my shins coupled with questions about what I planned to do now that I’m homeless caused me to just lose it. Well, I honestly lost it more when I finally got to Navarette and saw the bed I was assigned taken by someone else and just didn’t know where to actually sleep so I just sat down and cried for a long time. I cried for pain, I cried for the hundred miles I’ve already hiked, i cried because I am bleeding heavily on this period, and I cried because I saw little kids walking a part of the Camino so they could be peregrinos for one day. I cried because the sunrise was incredible and because I didn’t want to walk out to Navarette (but also had no interest in staying in Logroños). I took a pain pill and a weird cold short shower (albergues don’t always have nice hot long showers available) and felt better.
Today was a rough day. Tomorrow will be better.
In an attempt to look on the bright side and not all whiney about pain- two amazing things about the Camino:
1. The people you meet from all walks of life doing this for every reason imaginable.
2. There are black berry bushes all along the path you can eat while hiking.
These are the two things that keep you going each day.
"Overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now." Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
September 7, 2015 (Day 8) Navarrete to Nájera
I have officially hiked almost 130 miles (over 100!!! Holy shit!!!). I think I needed my pity party yesterday so I could break through the pain both mentally and physically. I walked a shorter day today and felt more human again. I have a tendency to push myself because I think I need to instead of just letting myself feel things in the moment and that is definitely what this trip is really about- living in the moment and truly feeling things.
It’s ok to feel and show pain- you aren’t a super human or immune to anything. Everyone feels it. Bottling things up until you explode later is honestly unhealthy and kind of a shitty thing to do to yourself.
A couple of days ago, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get from Estella where everyone I knew was staying up to Villamayor de Monjárdin. As I sat for a break, Rebecca came up the hill. Getting myself up and going (and struggling), I saw a double amputee going up the hill in a motorized wheelchair. I realized then that I shouldn’t be bitching when my legs actually work (most of the time).
I met a girl from Toronto named Sarah who is carrying the weight of her father with her in the physical form of his ashes. His favorite song was by the Rolling Stones. I thought of my father and realized that while I knew he loved operas, I don’t actually know if he had a favorite song.
As I was chugging along today, I found Peter, Mark, and Paul (three men I met early on on the Camino - Peter actually was the first person I met) and we walked most of the way with them. The constant talk distracted me from my pains.
We arrived in Nájera early today (yay short 17-19km day!) and finally the original groups I started with caught up to us so I saw tons of friendly faces everywhere. I was able to welcome them into town and felt a sense of joy in seeing them again.
The universe will send you reminders that you can make it. You just need to open your eyes to see them.
September 8, 2015 (Day 9) Nájera to Santo Domingo
Hit another wall today- it occurred to me belatedly that I did not actually have shin splits but a sprained ankle last night when I saw how swollen it was. I sent my pack along to the next town to see if I was able to hike without the weight. I did make it to Santo Domingo but totally in tears.
I cried during the hike when the pain was terrible and I realized that if I didn’t make it to Santiago, I literally had no where to go and didn’t know what exact to do. I still haven’t made a full decision on modeling and if I was busted, I couldn’t exactly do that right away.
After I cried (read: sobbed), Paul came up and kept me distracted. We spoke of the King of Jordan in the 80s offering himself up to the officers when they wanted to over throw him. When I reached the top of the hill, a man about my age was selling things by donation and had a sign saying that he (and roughly 60% of Spanish youth) was unemployed. I gave him seven euro for a cookie and a medal for my mother. While we sat a moment, Let It Be by the Beatles came in and I like thought about how what you put out into the world comes back to you eventually.
I had a surge of energy after that but hit another wall coming down a hill. The downward pressure and the rocks killed me. I held it together until inside the city near the albergue then started openly sobbing again. Everyone was so sweet and really concerned but it made it sort of worse since I couldn’t seem to pull myself together and felt so embarrassed with myself. I realized hiking at this pace just for the sake of doing it was going to do lasting damage. I would rather be safe then permanently injure myself.
I’m someone that always sets lofty goals for myself. I push and push to the deterioration of my health and I need to learn to stop doing it. I’ll make it to Santiago, of that I am certain. But I need to stop playing superman and realize that I am in fact a human.
September 9, 2015 (Day 10) Santo Domingo to Grañon
I took it easy today and only walked about 9 km. I needed to keep moving forward but was too nervous to go very far ahead with my ankle. I walked a kilometer outside of town to this beautiful albergue in the forest and am honestly grateful to be away from crowds of people for a bit.
Today I thought heavily about ego, about mine in particular to be honest- I have a rather massive ego. I remember being in high school and deciding one day I wanted my ego and feelings about myself to be as big a Kanye West’s. Nobody loves themselves as much as Kanye loves Kanye (Kim K is a close second), but you can still get caught up in trying.
I realized this weird “go go go” attitude I’ve had my whole life, this feeling like if I stopped moving I would fall behind, was nothing but ego. I pushed myself stupidly on this trip and the universe told me to stop. I walked slowly today and enjoyed every minute of it. It took me two breakfasts (SECOND BREAKFAST!!!), one church visit, and three hours (part of which was spent playing with the street cats) for me to make it to my albergue and it felt fucking awesome.
I’m listening to my body as it heals the next few days (and honestly next few years and lifetimes). If I make it one town over- awesome. Two towns: great. But I’m done pushing myself for no reason other than to satisfy my own ego.
Step by step, I get closer and closer. I’m grateful to my ankle injury for having to slow me down. I found an albergue in the woods yesterday for some peace and quiet and today I walked another 9km to an albergue sponsored by Paulo Coelho. My ankle is almost healed and I will finish the last 10 km tomorrow to the town most people took a day to travel from Santo Domingo to. I sat on a hill this morning and found old friends; I played the sage while taking my time and realizing I don’t always need to rush around in life. I think I needed this reset the last few days so I could get my mind and body back in order. Buen Camino (at Refugio Acacio & Orietta)
September 10, 2015 (Day 11) Grañón to Viloria de Rioja
After my big confession last I started thinking about how my breakdowns are usually break-throughs. While on this trip, I read and re-read Papertowns by John Green about ten times (I finally got rid of it in Ronscevalles). I identified with Margo Roth Spiegelman more than any other character I have read in a long time. The thing that got me was the ending- about how maybe we are all vessels and as time goes by cracks start to show. Some show slowly, some are ruptures, but what happens over time is the light starts to shine through. Breakdowns are only breakdowns if you refuse to move past then and learn the lessons. They can be break-through a when you allow the light in- it may not show through brightly all at once, but your soul shine does shine through the jagged edges.
I realize a big lesson in this trip has been to slow down. Rebecca and I were forced to learn this lesson and now I’m kind of enjoying it. Everyone seems to be rushing to beat people to get a bed and truthfully, I was doing that as well. I was also rushing myself headlong into a mental snap knowing it had been building but not knowing the exact when it would happen. When I go into those modes, I have a habit of shutting my soul shine down: not feeding it, but feeding the monsters in my head.
It’s easy to get caught up in your head when you don’t know exactly what you have left to work for. We all like to view ourselves as these very important people in the great play of life. Maybe it’s the others that remind you to shine that are the true stars- or at the very least a guiding force.
September 11, 2015 (Day 12) Viloria de Rioja to Villofranca Montes de Oca
I upped my mileage again today and felt fine. I think I honestly needed a break mentally and physically to recharge and feel human again. I splurged on a single room for myself tonight- it was kind of needed so I could have one last reset before its back to the municipal albergues and other people’s snoring. I miss Rebeca already; I knew she only has a few days left with me anyway, but her companionship was missed on my hike alone today.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the tenfold rule and guiding forces. For a while, I had three apostles walking with me (Peter, Mark, and Paul), my own biblical Rebeca, and one night an archangel Gabriel sang me to sleep with his ukulele. The day I donated 5 euro to the unemployed youth, an apostle gave me 50 euro so I could slow myself down, heal, and not worry about how I was going to have enough to make it to Santiago. It was quite frankly a manifestation of the tenfold rule.
I picked up Paul Coehlo’s The Alchemist again last night. I wanted to start another one of his books but the message kept coming to re-read it. I’m honestly glad I did. I feel like I get so caught up in the what ifs and comforts of things that the realization of my own Personal Legend takes the back burner.
I thought back to what I wanted to do as a child and I was one of those kids who wanted to do everything and be everything. The one common denominator that sticks out was the act of creating. I’ve always wanted to create- to tell stories and make new worlds. I’ve been lucky enough to do that the last few years and honestly have felt so incredibly alive. I have a book I want to start on my 27th birthday and a movie (well, a four-part movie) I want to create next. Somehow they feel like the correct things to do.
I think things are starting to become more clear to me these past few days. I just need to keep following my heart and reading the omens.
September 11, 2015 (Day 12.5)
Sometimes on the Camino you are bored enough to start tweezing your leg hair and contemplate the meaning of flies. I honestly forgot how good it is to listen to music until today- this is the first time since Paris/the plane rides that I put on music and it feels incredible. Granted I put on “Live Like a Warrior” by Matisyahu to get “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin out of my head but still.
I remember reading this story of a woman who was going to be the youngest female to sail solo around the world in some big ass race. At one point, she started tweezing all here’s hairs out of sheer boredom. I remember that and that she decided instead of rushing and setting some record, she was going to take her time. Something set in and she realized rushing was pointless so she gave up her parents dream and lived out her own. I couldn’t tell you the name of the book but parts of her story stuck with me.
I always knew I wanted to live an improbable life but I never really knew how. I trusted my instincts and sometimes they were spot on and other times I fell flat on my face.
But I think that’s okay. Life really isn’t a linear line from birth to death. There are peaks and valleys and sometimes circles are you try to figure a lesson out. And that’s okay. Sometimes we spin round for a while but eventually most of us find our feet and our voices in time to make the next steps. The first ones after the circles may be a bit wobbly, but sometimes the earth wobbles too. It’s all a part of the Great Plan of Life.
September 12, 2015 (Day 13) Villafranca Montes de Oca to Agés
Part of me wants to continue the joy of walking but I sent my pack ahead and it hasn’t arrived so the universe decided I was to stay in Agés tonight. I feel like that’s okay- I will walk the 23km to Burgos tomorrow and buy new shoes. I will see where Franco was declared Generalismo in 1936 and for now will sit and contemplate life.
I am finding that I am enjoying my now solitary journey. I still meet people but it’s on my own terms and in my own time. I’ve found more beauty in things lately- more joy in things. I think I was meant to do this differently than others. I was meant to experience things in my own way and on my own time.
The trees and the landscape seemed more alive and more beautiful than they had in the past few days. The break gave me the boost I needed to clear my head and kind of start this journey again. Part of me is excited to experience Burgos tomorrow and part of me is dreading the noise o the city after the quiet for so long. It will be good for me to see if I can keep this peace in the midst of the rush and madness. I believe it will be a good test and all warriors are tested at some point or another.
After deciding it was my boots that were causing the ankle problems, I found others who had experienced similar things. The fear of not enough support led me to overdo things and this trip seems to be about learning balance.
On my walk today, I decided I was no longer angry with John (my former step-father). I had a vision of telling my lessons and my story, getting it published, and mailing him a copy with a check for the money I owed him. Somehow this seems like the correct path. My mother may not be able to write her story with him but I can write mine and see the lessons in each battle. Without them I wouldn’t be on the path I am on and that is incredibly important for me to realize.
Life may not be a song, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a wonderful melody.
September 13, 2015 (Day 14)
Two weeks ago I set out from St. Jean Pied de Port. I made a bunch of friends along the way and lost them to go ahead when I got injured. Today I left my boots at the municipal albergue in Agés since the message was to leave them and I figured I could get new ones in Burgos not realizing it was Sunday and everything is pretty much closed. So I trekked on in my sandals for now- they were comfortable today so maybe it was a sign. New ones will show themselves when I am supposed to have them I believe. I also realized that since it’s Sunday, I can’t mail anything home so I shoulder my load and carry on.
My early morning thoughts after silently cursing the woman whose phone went off at 4:30 am was about how you rarely read about a heroine who has other body functions that peeing. Like- Katniss Everdeen never seems to need the Panem equivalent of Kotex or has issues with explosive diarrhea while in the arenas. Not that this was my issue or anything but the only time I’ve read about them since “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” was in A Song of Ice and Fire (Sansa and Dany’s stories) and we all know Martin is a fucking sadist.
I walked for two full hours in the dark on rocky terrain, unsure of whether I was on the right path but always trusting I was, and fell in love with the silence. The wind whispered in my ear and kissed my face as the stars reminded me of home. I love that no matter where you are on earth, the stars remain in their fixed positions changing with the seasons. They are friendly reminders of other people and places. I kept having to stop randomly and eventually the thought came that I was supposed to meet someone up ahead. A few towns over, I found Mike from Manchester (someone I walked with the day prior) just starting out. He bought me two breakfasts before we parted ways.
Being around people after so much solo adventuring these last few days has been weird. I can do one on ones, but anything else is too much noise for me. Things are calling out for silence now and I am happy to listen to it.
A moment ago I watched the golden hour splay light on the cathedral. As I sat waiting for my food, a procession of purple robed figures came round the corner carrying what I thought was a funeral casket. I stayed to watch them set it down, feeling it wasn’t my place to take pictures, watched the sun bounce off their robes, and left. All I understood from the garbled language was that it was for the peregrinos - the pilgrims. My mind wanted to believe it represented the burden you shoulder on the walk of Saint James; that the multitudes of people carrying this large object were doing it to carry the Saint himself. I left before I could learn what it was for. Sometimes the mysteries are more incredible than the realities.
September 14, 2015 (Day 15) Burgos to Hornillos del Camino
The wind froze my bones today, but it was supremely beautiful so I didn’t mind. I’m starting to hit the plains area on my hike and feel happy in how things are going. I’m learning to enjoy going more slowly. I felt like I could have hiked further today but realized I would run the risk of a 30km day the next day and had no reason to push it. I’ll hike 20.5 tomorrow then do roughly 25 the next day going across the plains. Better to know my body and how it deals with things than to push it and end up exhausted on the 18km stretch between towns that is coming up.
I started thinking about how I haven’t pulled my camera out much since I started hiking. I think I needed a break from hiding to re-experience life. I realized that I have been writing more and more like I used to as a child. I used to find comfort in words, and still do in many ways, but gave up my voice a bit over time. Maybe it’s one of the answers to what I will do next- write. I knew I wanted to get down 27 stories from my life for my 27th year and this journaling may be a kind of preparation for it. Or it may be something else altogether, who knows?
Anything and everything feels possible these days. I’m not worried anymore about more than where I place my foot at a moment. The Camino forces you to live in the present moment. You can let go and work through the past. You can figure out roughly where you are going for the future. But you can really only deal with a square foot of present moment at a time.
I met a man named Jim earlier today and thought about my grandparents. Pop-pop is a Jim and they are truly responsible for my love of travel.
Between their children, there are thirteen grandkids. They chose me when I was about 10 or 11 to go with them to Europe for my first time. We started out in Brussels and while I remember bits of the city, I remember this wild day-long hunt to find the peeing boy fountain.
I remember being dragged all over the city, though plazas and side streets to find it. They thought is was this massive thing and could ’t understand why they missed it. After a couple hours, we finally found it tucked in plain sight. It was only a foot and a half at the top of the fountain.
We went to a World War II cemetery in France I believe after that for a military service. I remember the rows of crosses to mark the graves. Order coming from a time of chaos.
We ended in Norway- the whole point of the trip. My grandfather had become obsessed with his family tree and found the village his family originated from. We met long-lost relatives and traveled the fjords. They had given me my first camera for the trip- a Coca-Cola 35mm camera: red with a polar bear on it. I still think about that camera and that trip, about how my grandparents must have seen the path I would eventually take, and I imagine my grandmother smiling in heaven.
Sometimes others show you the path long before it fully opens itself to you. The nurture of childhood can become the dreams of adulthood if you see the light.
Today I witnessed the meaning of gratitude. A Japanese gentleman got caught in the downpour while hiking today and ended up in Castrojeriz late. The albergue owners found an extra mattress for him and let him in to sleep even though it was full. The man started to stammer and hug the man, almost crying with relief that he was out of the rain and done hiking. When his stuff was inside, he turned to the room and announced his name, that he was 71 and from Japan, and the whole room clapped for him. The smile on his face for having a bed and getting warm was incredible. Someone brought him something to eat and I wanted to hug him to tell him I was so glad he was with us.
September 15, 2015 (Day 16) Hornillos del Camino to Castrojeriz
I met a man while walking this morning. He was old and tiny and kept talking to me in Spanish. I fumbled along trying to answer him back. He picked wild rosemary and gave it to me before kissing me on the cheek. Shortly thereafter we parted ways and when I turned around to wave again, he was gone. I found a feather a little while later and thought of my father as the ruins of an old convent came into view. I found boots finally after debating going on from Castrojeriz and decided I had had enough omens to stay for the night.
September 16, 2015 (Day 17)
Today, dear readers, I ate a giant slice of humble pie. A whole pie as a matter of fact.
When I set off this morning, it was raining but manageable. Within 3 km, everything changed. I pressed on through a horrific storm with raining coming straight at me and winds threatening to topple me over. It took me almost three hours and getting lost twice to make it the 11 km to the next town (hooray for things being far apart this morning!). At one point I had to cut through muddy wheat fields to get to the main road to orient myself since the trails weren’t marked properly. I sobbed and spent my last hour hiking straight into the wind screaming out in frustration. I was wet and freezing and upset so I just kept screaming at the top of my lungs as rain stung my face and saturated everything I had on. I couldn’t tell if I was actually crying or if the rain was just doing it for me. When the first town came into sight, I summoned all the strength I had left to get there. The wind mocked me and sent my screams elsewhere.
When I finally stumbled into town and found a bar, I got a tea and tried stripping off the layers of clothing I was wearing. Even in rain gear, I was soaked down to my underwear. I had to try and change into a few articles of remaining clothing in this small bathroom to try and gather up some heat again for myself and went out to drink my tea. Everything was soaked including my pride and the tea barely brought sensation back into my hands.
I sadly put on my stuff to try and finish the last 14 km to Fromista and made it less than 200 meters in the wind and cold before gritting my teeth and turning around to go back to the bar. I uttered words I never thought I would say on the Camino:
“Can you call me a cab to take me to Fromista?”
I realized in those less-than-200-meters that if I had tried to attempt to walk the rest of the distance to Fromista, I would be sick. I was wet and cold and still had very little feeling in my extremities. I knew my situation wasn’t good and I had to swallow my pride to save my body.
Driving in the taxi with four others, I saw people walking in the now sunny, still freezing and windy day and felt tears well up again. It occurred to me that maybe these were people who waited and didn’t have to battle a massive storm, but I still felt like a failure anyway. I realized 14km isn’t the end of the world when I am hiking like 800 just to Santiago and another 100 plus kilometers out to Finisterre and Muxia, but it still felt stupid. My ego kept trying to get in the way, but I knew deep down that I shouldn’t be an idiot and catch hypothermia (which I have had before so I can catch it easily, especially with my nerve and muscle problems).
When the cab stopped for the first person to get out, I noticed it was a hotel and got out as well. I couldn’t deal with an albergue in my current state and I knew I needed to take a really hot bath to try and warm up again. I didn’t care about money in that moment because I genuinely knew that my health was infinity more important than 65 euro was.
I battled the wrath of the gods this morning and had to take a lesson in humility. But I would rather make it alive to Santiago than push unnecessarily just for my ego’s sake. I’m finally warm again and I figured if I was already spending money, I would also just pay the extra 4 euro to have all my clothing washed and cleaned. Sometimes you need to get stuck in a hard place in order to come to the realization that in life, you need to be humble and know what you are capable of. And even if you are an incredibly capable person, nature is always going to win against you.
September 17, 2015 (Day 18) Fromista to Carrión de los Condes
I’m currently sitting in the woods by a river and fall is in the air. The minute I saw the woods coming over a bridge at the end of town, I smiled. I couldn’t find an albergue to save my life and everywhere else seemed to be booked up but I found a beautiful, cheap hotel in an old monastery and knew I wasn’t going to have to walk another 18km to the next town. Carrión de los Condes is the first town on the Camino where I feel like I would be ok staying an extra day, it just for the woods and monastery. Part of me is worried that I will run out of money before the end of the Camino but I have faith that I will make it. I’ve found that if I worry instead of trusting in the universe, things go very poorly for me.
When you are fulfilling your Personal Legend, the universe conspires to help make it come true to paraphrase Paulo Coehlo.
I feel like I have to talk about the elephant on the Camino: a couple of days ago, they finally found the body of the American peregrina who went missing back in April. Her name was Denise Thiem and she was from Arizona. Everyone has been on a bit of high alert since the news broke out. I think it’s part of the reason I freaked out so much getting lost yesterday in the storm.
The day the old man gave me the Rosemary, I had a weird occurrence. A man in a red sedan drove by as I was walking on the road near Castrojeriz and turned his car around after he passed me. He stopped his car about 100 meters from where I was walking and got out to head off into the field. The couple walking 300 meters ahead of me turned around when the car stopped and seemed to slow their pace slightly. As I got closer to the car, the guy finished staring at the horizon and started walking/jogging back to his car. I gripped my pole, ready to swing if necessary. Thankfully, he got back in his car and drove away but I was paranoid and memorized his plate number (BU 3030 Z). I shook it off and continued walked as the town was in sight and the couple ahead of me was still in my line of view. As I crossed into town, another little old man slowed his car down going over a little bridge and rolled his window down to ask if I was okay. I replied I was and went off to hunt for an albergue, feeling that the universe loves to give omens to those willing to keep their eyes open.
Yesterday when I ended up on the alternate Camino route in that storm, every noise that was out of place made me jumpy. I really didn’t want to die in a fucking field in Burgos province. I’ve just been hella cautious and left later today to try and walk with more people, though, thankfully, still alone for most of the day.
I’m planning my days to be around others more if only while on the trails. So many women walk the Camino on their own and honestly if I let one creepy dude ruin this for me, I wouldn’t be learning my lessons. There is always someone who is missing a few screws and wants to ruin the fun for everyone else, no matter where you are in the world.
“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” -Cheryl Strayed
"Run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams, across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal." - Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
September 18, 2015 (Day 19) Carrión de los Condes to Terradillios de los Templarios
Tomorrow I hit the halfway mark to Santiago. It’s kind of surreal to think about. I spent the first few hours this morning hiking in the fog. I felt like it matched my mind and mood. I started thinking of my family while hiking- something Nichole had said to me the other day kept rolling through my head:
“In some of your writings, I can actually see the Jacci I met… The sense of love of adventure without the burden of what might be going on in your home life… It makes me smile. Keep at :)”
And I thought back to when I started worrying and remembered the first time I met John. I had just returned home from Norway when my Ma wanted us to meet him and his kids. I didn’t like them right off the bat. His smiles seemed fake and his kids were horrible. I think intuitively I just didn’t like the situation. I think people chalked this up to the somewhat new divorce and this being the first person my Ma introduced us to, but looking back I think I just read the signs.
Living with John and his kids could be like living in a battle zone. His kids were violent and family vacations usually ended in bruises and sometimes broken bones. I remember being dragged down a small flight of stairs by Megan after coming up to check on my mom after a particularly violent fight involving a butcher knife.
The worrying and depression started when we met his family. I was twelve when I had my first suicide attempt: I would learn later this was the same age as my father’s and thought that sadness could be transmitted through bloodlines.
Over the years, I’ve had a couple people tell me I worry too much about things at home (Michael Dunn has set me down at least twice with this conversation). It’s hard to not worry when family and taking care of them no matter what is hard wired into your head. With or without John’s involvement- I worried.
Living in an abusive situation, whether it’s psychological or physical, can create a sense of Stockholm syndrome. I remember when my father got back advice and had to stop paying child support (he was in his 70s and broke) and John made us stop seeing him. I remember my little brother crying himself to sleep for two months and for years I wouldn’t see my father. I stopped calling him dad and only called him St. Julian when we interacted. During that time, apparently I wrote an angry note to John denouncing my father and saying he was like a real father to me and I knew he wouldn’t leave.
He saved that note and showed it to me a few days after my father had passed.
Funny enough, I’m not angry with John anymore. He was a healer and while his ego got in the way 90% of the time, to his ultimate undoing, living with him and learning survival ultimately healed me.
I realized today that I couldn’t act as my family’s safety net anymore. I am my own safety net and over time, my net is starting to get holes. This isn’t to say I wouldn’t go into the Arena for my family. I would kill for them and almost have. This train of thought was prompted by a brief, frustrated exchange of words with Ma Dukes last night. I like being back to the girl who adventured without a care, but I’m still working on that truthfully. Becoming home less and the universal blow out forced me to have to break old energy and realize it’s not a generally normal thing to worry about at 26. I put my life on hold to take care of my father after college and I put my life somewhat on hold again when my Ma lost her job. This about shedding the old to make way for the new.
Today found one of the three apostles back in my life. I found Peter towards the end of the Meseta and convinced him to come to Terradillios de los Templarios to stay at Albergue Jacques de Molay. I basically wanted to stay there so I could shout, “I call the King (Phillipe) and Pope (Clement) to a tribunal in heaven by the end of the year! I curse you to the thirteenth generation!!!” Because I am a massive nerd.
September 19, 2015 (Day 20) Terradillios de los Templarios to Bercianos del Real Camino
Today for the first time in days, my mind was blessedly blank again. The smell of fall was in the air and the sun was warm on my face. I think getting out of hypothermia and finally putting my worries to page allowed me to break the energy and allow peace to return.
I found myself remembering my cross country days. When I would run for miles and miles to work out my frustrations. My mind would clear and it would only be the road and I, the trees and my breathing. I learned to love the burn in my legs and the beautiful feeling of feet on country roads.
I thought that sensation was gone to me after the first accident, after I tried in vain to get qualified to run and jump by the NCAA. I found it again when I started hiking. Fell in love with it again as I’ve walked the Camino.
It’s days like this that I realize everything really will be ok.
September 19, 2015 (Day 20 part 2)
Sometimes the truths we speak hurt those we love. They may be necessary for our own evolution, but can create shock among others. Looking back on my post yesterday, I felt like it was the correct thing for me to say. Yet when my mom only texted brief sentences today, I knew I may have hurt her.
I’ve never been in love. Truthfully, I genuinely don’t know if I am capable of it. I know I can love people familiarly, but the ability to move beyond that capacity is out of my reach. I say this because I don’t know then what things love makes you do. I don’t know the lies you tell yourself when something is bad and you desperately want it to be good. I can only vaguely understand the repercussions of giving yourself fully to someone only to have them swallow your world whole.
I loved my father (and still do). I love my mother and my siblings. But I’ve never understood Eros, Amor, that sensation when it feels like your heart, lungs, and stomach meet to trill and frighten you. The consumption of yourself by another who gives you that same thing back.
In Spanish there is a difference between “te quiero” and “te amo.” One is passionate while the other is friendly. I think of Forest on The Playa telling me he loved me and not saying it back to him. I think of Jason proclaiming he loved me enough to physically throw up on my car (which he did) because it twisted his stomach into knots.
I think of being small on my mother’s lap as she brushed my hair and how every day she tells me she loves me to the moon and back. I think of how some realizations that make you proud, may ultimately make her cry.
Illuminations may occur at any point in time. You may be calm all day, then have that moment of illumination- when the lights come out and you realize that important truth. It may hit you while walking or sitting or crying or laughing.
But it illuminates you all the same.
September 20, 2015 (Day 21) Bercianos del Real Camino to Mansilla de las Mulas
Certain smells or sounds always remind you of people. My father was turpentine and pipe tobacco. He was the tenth anniversary dream cast of Les Mis. Farms and Tech N9ne remind me of Whitney. Orry is music: that boy can look at an instrument and it starts to sing. David is Budweiser and Bone Thugs. He is chili in a pit and the stubborn but that always burbs on the bottom. My mother is sunflowers and the Virgin Mary. She is old time Alabama and silver.
The things you associate with people may change over time or may come in stronger. Memory begets memory and the strings of time overlap and run amuck. Once in a while you can rewrite memory- make it what you want, repeating it until it becomes a new truth. Or you can erase memory: throw it away with the old trash when it becomes too painful. You can drink it away, bask in its glow, let it consume your life, or hide it deep inside where no one will find it. It can catch you unaware when someone smiles or you walk into a store and that song is playing.
The hike today reminded me of apple picking when I was young. Fall is my favorite time of year and it’s not for “pumpkin spice lattes” (which I am so fucking glad I have not seen nor heard uttered since my hike). It’s crisp and clean and crunchy. There’s a brief return of summer and my birthday in early October. Early fall is layers without the bone numbing cold New England can get from November on. Part of me is sad to miss a Hudson Valley fall- it would realistically have been my last one. But Northern Spain has a lot of similarities and while I can’t get apple cider donuts, I can get 3 euro wine and crunchy leaves in the mountains.
That and the sun is all I can ask for for my birthday.
September 21, 2015 (Day 22) Mansilla de las Mulas to León
"And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about."- Haruki Murakami
Last night as I was going to bed, I overheard a conversation between two Americans and a Spanish woman in the courtyard. I know the other male and female were American because they kept informing people of it and going, “well in the States…”
The conversation at one point shifted to what “Real Pilgrims” do. Real Pilgrims must never send their pack along ahead, they must always carry their weight. They must never make reservations at albergues. They must never take a taxi or bus. They must walk in all weather with all their gear all the time. I mean, c'mon there was an ancient woman walking with a clearly too heavy/big pack going super slowly today so everyone must therefore do it.
I started getting angry. I almost walked downstairs to say, “Fuck you, Fellow American Asshats! You don’t know someone’s situation or why they have to do the Camino their way!” I went as far as turning over before I realized why I was angry: because those exact or similar words had come out of my mouth earlier this trip. And while I do agree that those who bus to another location should maybe not check into a municipal albergue and only hostels, casa rurals, and hotels should take reservations, not albergues- I realized that I had learned my lessons not to judge the hard way.
When I sprained my ankle, I had to send my pack a head for a couple days to let it heal. I had to make reservations because I honestly could not walk farther than I already was on my ankle. I remember the day I decided not to listen and take a bus- I sent my pack along for the first time and hiked 22 km up and down these hills on a sprained ankle. I remember sobbing and realizing what an idiot I was as I limped along and hoped I didn’t tear something. At one point, I walked by this woman and overheard her say as I limped by, “Good for her! She’s still walking the Camino!” I thought about how fucking stupid that was. I mean, the lady didn’t know me or my situation so it really had nothing to do with her, but I remember that if I tore something because I was too proud to bus it than it would end up much worse than just sucking it up and dealing with my problem head on.
I remember the deflated sense of pride when I had hypothermia and had to catch a taxi to Fromista. Everything in me was against this: “I’m supposed to WALK the whole thing! You’re a failure! Only tourists and old people take taxis! Blah blah blah” But having mildish hypothermia and saving yourself from worse was infinitely smarter than continuing to battle a storm for some Camino cred that I walked though it and caught full on hypothermia and pneumonia and whatever else.
I thought of Peter being out for two/three days with food poisoning and him asking me if I planned on trying to catch up with our original group that was two days ahead of us now. No. That was pretty much all I had to say. The universe put me back with a different group for a reason and I have new lessons to learn with them.
I sat on my high horse and held lofty opinions on things with how I planned on doing the Camino, and got knocked down, trampled over, and humbled. Some people do the Camino one way, some another, and who the fuck am I to judge? I judged and karma bitch slapped me into reality. And while I can say my experience and warn others, honestly they need to go their own way (YOU CAN GO YOUR OWN WAAAAY) and learn their own lessons.
So, silently cursing the Americans (and grateful most people assume I am Spanish), I turned over and went to sleep. I wasn’t going to cast the first stone again.
September 22, 2015 (Day 23) León to San Martín del Camino
Somehow I managed to walk about 25.5 kilometers in 4.5 hours including a coffee break. I walked over 6 km an hour apparently with my pack (my break was 15 minutes). That blows my mind. My body has been responding really well to the terrain and I just got into this rhythm and flew, losing myself in the world. It feels good. I just keep thinking that. This hike is the first time in nine years since the accident that I feel like myself again. My body feels like mine again.
When my leg was shattered, a lot of dreams were shattered with it. New dreams arose in their place but my body still fought me. The second accident five years ago kept me a prisoner in my body: nerves and muscles freaked out when they please and my mental state deteriorated with the stress.
Now I am excited to get up. I am excited to move and i always feels weird when I stop for the day (even though at that point I am tired and need a break).
Ever since I was a child, I’ve thought with my body. My whole life has been about motion and for a long time I thought the crunch of steel on steel had put an end to it. My anxiety has gone down again because I can push it out through my body.
I have 290/292 kilometers left until Santiago and I honestly feel like I would be happy even if it were further (which is it with Finisterre and Muxia). I want to see where else my feet will take me in this wide world.
I think it will be wonderful.
The closest thing I can describe to people about the sense of community on the Camino is to compare it to Burning Man. People look out for each other. They make sure you are okay. They make sure your feet are okay (Playa dust can fuck you up if you’re not careful and the blisters on the Camino are serious enough to make people stop hiking). You meet every nationality and kind of person. Half the time you know their life story before you even get their name.
September 23, 2015 (Day 24) San Martín to Astorga
I’ve decided Astorga is my favorite Camino town for basically two reasons:
1. I found a Star Wars Buff
2. I found a very manageable sized peanut butter
Both things have me ecstatic right now.
Today took me off the road for the first time in days. The landscape rolled and took me over streams, through fields, and woods. I could see the leaves changing and as I got over the hill, I saw Astorga in the distance and the mountains beyond it. When I started going downhill there was a cross and a man playing guitar on a bench. He twirled his guitar and asked where I was from so he could change the words of his simple song for me. It was completely enchanting. Probably my favorite entrance into a town and I am so happy that I chose the alternative route away from the road. I just kept smiling this massive dorky smile and feeling content with everything.
I feel like the lessons of Burgos allowed me to take things in with new eyes. Things are becoming clearer again. I’ve reset myself and come away clean. León province has been good to me. I adore the people I am currently surrounded by and feel like there is more to learn, do, and see. My depression lifted some and I’m no longer terrified of what will come whenever I get home.
I’m less nervous thinking of my options and I think it’s because I am living in the present moment. The past holds a lot of sadness I don’t want to revisit and the future is composed of noes. The future only follows the present and right now it is so very full of possibilities.
September 23, 2015 (Day 24.5)
I came to the decision that I was going to give myself a day off finally tomorrow. I’ve gone 24 days straight through a sprained ankle, tendinitis, and hypothermia, through one pair of boots and now a second (which is causing a lot of blisters). I am tempted to get a new pair but don’t really have the money and I am wary of the risk a third pair could cause. I will definitely burn this pair at Muxia after making it out there. I feel like I have been just trying to read the signs and go with it these days. Sometimes it works, sometimes I miss them, but I have been working on it.
The signs today led me to Astroga in a good mood but a little battered so rather than make things worse for myself, I will just take the day off and let things heal. So much has healed over the past 24 days- why screw it up now? I’ve learned to take care of my body: it would be stupid to end up having to relearn lessons because of being stubborn.
My mom has come a long way lately. She finally broke the energy of John. She finally found a job and starts on my birthday. She has moved from anger and depression and found some peace. I am so incredibly proud of her. She is finally living for herself, something she has not been able to do since she was a teenager.
Living my own life has been all I’ve ever wanted. It’s part of the reason why I don’t want children (that and I don’t want to continue to pass sadness through the bloodline). Part of the reason why I’ve done all the things I’ve done.
I want an exciting life. I want to look at it and feel happy and amazed by what has happened. I want the sorrow and the path to feel lighthearted and joyful. I want to see sunrises and to dance in the moonlight. I want to embrace my crazy and treat it gently. I want to catch my tears in a jar and let them caress someone I love so they know the breadth of my feelings for them.
I want to live every life imaginable. I want to taste things and feel like my world is constantly moving and growing.
I am pretty excited to have walked another 6 km/hour day today. It makes me feel strong and like I used to. Like my body is mine again. Like the limbs all work and like I can finally say fuck you confidently to all the doctors who told me no.
I just want to live, in every sense of the word.
Pay It Forward
When I was a kid/teenager, I remember seeing the movie Pay It Forward and being blown away. Not necessarily by the movie itself (I mean, it’s good), but the act of paying it forward. And how the world could change if everyone did it to one, two, or three other people, a random act of kindness that can only be repaid by passing it on. Not looking for compliments (but being able to accept a thank you gracefully if not done anonymously), but just asking someone to do something for another person.
I’ve always had people who have helped me out along my journeys. People who did it just because they wanted to or because they could. And their gestures have always made me cry because deep down it gives me a small piece of hope and you never really expect hope in dark times. I could never fully express the gratitude i feel towards those individuals, but I wish I could paint them sunrises and the wind to tell them what it means.
Tomorrow I decided I wanted to pay it forward. I’m taking a day off of hiking (the first in 24 full days- tomorrow would be day 25) figuring it was time. I got a blister and my one ankle is starting to act up right before Astorga. I had always said that if I found a town that I could take an extra day in, I would and honestly had not found it before today. Astorga is incredible. The mountains in the distance give me hope and I feel like it’s just perfect timing with everything. I am hanging with this girl Maud and going around town and have a surprise set up for her.
Taking a day off means that I will officially be getting into Santiago the day of my 27th birthday. I feel like that’s a sign. It feels good and I am ready for a small break.
September 24, 2015 (Day 25) Astorga (break day)
I got to surprise Maud with a hotel room across from the Palacio de Gaudí for tonight and convinced Carolin to come and stay with us instead of walking on. The morning was beautiful- we went into the cathedral and Palacio de Gaudí: the arches and architecture were incredible. Astorga really is a beautiful town, peaceful and somehow full of life without being overwhelming.
After running around, I decided to go into the hiking store to see if I could get a fix for my boots. The blisters they caused are sort of terrible and the tendinitis in my ankles was acting up again from them. Apparently I could not save them and my feet together. I had to make a decision. I had to purchase pair number three.
As the woman rang them up and told me the price, my heart sank. “All By Myself” by Celine Dion was playing over the loud speakers in some kind of mockery and I wanted to cry. It was either save my feet and ankles to make it to Santiago or continue on in terrible boots. I paid and the song still blaring over the speakers quietly exited the building as an anxiety attack started mounting up. I got back to the room and just started sobbing. It felt like in that moment, there went Finisterre and Muxia just with one pair of shoes. And while I knew it was the smarter choice with the mountains for the next three hiking days, I just felt utterly deflated.
Everything comes in threes and I am just praying that these shoes are the ones to last and fix things. I’m praying that things work out and I can still hike to Finisterre and Muxia. I’m bummed because I tried so hard to be nice and do something special and then got set back again. I don’t regret surprising Maud and Carolin with the room- Maud cried and just the look of joy on their faces at not having to worry about snoring or bed bugs or anything made this day so incredibly special. And you can’t win all the time but having someone smile and be so happy can make it be ok.
Sometimes life throws curve balls into your side and you can either take the hit gracefully or allow it to paralyze you. I think of Cheryl Stray having her boot fly off the side of a mountain while hiking the PCT and realize that maybe blisters and tendinitis are minor things compared to that. I have shoes and can continue on. I can possibly beg for rooms or sleep outside if I really need to if I want to make it to the coast.
You can’t chose the lessons life gives you. You just have to work with them, learn from them, and let them happen. Tomorrow I hit the Iron Cross near the summit where you leave your burdens. I will donate the second pair of boots I had to get before I leave town (and with them the blisters and pain will hopefully dissipate) and will leave my hair, stone, and some Rosemary at the foot of the cross. I will say a silent prayer to whatever God or Goddess wants to hear me that the answers I am searching for will come and trust that things will all work out somehow.
They have to in the end, right?
September 25, 2015 (Day 26) Astorga to Foncebadón
Carolin and I walked together today and spoke of life, death, love, and souls. We started to climb the mountain today, stopping in Foncebadón because we didn't want to carry on another 13 km. I thought about something Robin Williams once said- about how the saddest people always want to make people laugh and be happy. I thought about sadness flowing through your veins and the urge to make the people around you happy because it pierces, however briefly, through your darkness and remember the light. I thought about how the Eskimos have 400 works for snow, how the Greeks have four words for love, and how many words exist for the full breadth of human emotion. And how little truly do it justice. I though about my father's fear of death and how strangely unafraid of it I am. Maybe it's because I remembered my past life as a child and know death is really not the end. The end of one thing is but a new beginning. The circle of life can be the circle of death. Everything in memory goes on and on and on until matter disintegrates from light and everything ends as it all began with a Big Bang. We walked up to Cruz de Ferro to lay down our burdens. I laid the bag with some of my hair, a stone from New York, a shell from Holland, a piece of the rosary from when I first went to Santiago, some rosemary, and my father's funeral card. I decided I was finished thinking of him in death and the moment I watched him take his last breath. He was life and deserves to be remembered that way. You see all the stones other pilgrims have laid- the collective height of all their burdens. It's honestly a beautiful thing. It reminded me of the Temple at Burning Man. There is an inherent beauty that occurs in the collective weight of release. Something incredible in the thought of how many things are let go of. I've let go of a lot of things on this walk. Shoes, expectations, people, anger, ego. I still don't have the answers for what comes next, but I think for them to come, I need to release past energies. While Carolin meditated, I sat and heard "Break Free" play over someone's radio. It felt fitting. To really fly and experience life, you need to do it. You need to break free.
September 26, 2015 (Day 27) Foncebadón to Ponferrada
Today was a bit of a strange mix. Last night there was music and a bit of a party at the albergue. Getting to sleep wasn’t exactly the easiest task. I woke this morning and started hearing the news from the other room over breakfast. While something had told me upon entering the albergue to sleep in the back room where the beds were on the floor- the main dorm room had a harasser. This man Santiago was following women into the bathroom in the middle of the night, freaking them out and causing trouble.
When the hospitalero found out, he woke Santiago up to yell at him and kick him out. The cops were called and the hospitalero told the man to get the fuck off the Camino. Santiago went and sat in the store across the way and the reception people were constantly checking doors to make sure he didn’t come back in. They took his photo, had his information and planned on sending it on to the other albergues. It was a fucking weird start to a morning.
I spent most of the day hiking with Carolin, going slowly and just generally taking in the mountain. Our conversations were all over the place and I adored hanging out with her. It felt strange going so slowly but I appreciated taking my time and just experiencing everything. The villages we passed through were tiny and adorable and the landscape was a strange cross between a desert and a mountain.
We took a break under a tree to eat lunch, enjoying the shade and the people walking by. I started getting antsy but waited for Carolin to finish. A group of loud Italians started coming around the corner and my stomach went up into my throat. Santiago comes bounding down the path, moving in a weird, fast way.
I felt angry. I felt freaked out. I actually pulled my knife out at one point even though he was now ahead of me. The weight of it made me feel better. I kept my knife ready and kept my distance from him: in my stress, I ended up abandoning Carolin to the German man she was talking to and walking fast again. I got to the next town and saw him parked on a bench. I booked it past looking to put as much distance between us as possible.
In the town, some woman almost backed her car up into me and I was completely exhausted from the sun, how long we had taken to hike anywhere, and Santiago’s reappearance. I pressed ahead to Ponferrada and somehow ended up doing extra mileage by following the arrows through this village Campo. I took it as a sign when I finally made it to the far far end of Ponferrada and found an albergue/hostel. I had wanted to do the municipal since it was donativo but I have a feeling that if that guy pressed on to the same town that he would go there and I needed to stop my massive anxiety attack.
So far, since sharing this story: I found two girls he also harassed at some point and one guy who, after Santiago got drunk, violent, and brandished a knife, strayed up all night a few days ago to make sure no one in that room in the albergue was hurt during the night.
I think I need to go wander away the stress right now to try and find Carolin and get myself together. I am NOT down with my beautiful day being ruined by a potentially violent harasser.
September 27, 2015 (Day 28) Ponferrada to Cacabelos
I lost a toenail today. Didn’t hurt but I was silently cursing Martin Sheen for not preparing me for that aspect of life.
We saw the masturbating man, Santiago, again today. The police apparently did have a talk with him. He slept a room over from Caro in Ponferrada and I was glad I decided to stay elsewhere.
We crawled through vineyards and forests today. We have another mountain tomorrow but today was Sunday. It was a day of rest and only 16 kilometers. When we saw Santiago moving ahead of us, we made the call to stop in Cacabelos and not move forward. We started walking out of town and discovered the municipal albergue located around a church. Rosemary was growing outside and we took it as a sign.
Cacabelos is situated along a river- there are vineyards everywhere and a sort of festive feeling in the air.
I’m still trying to decide what to do after the Camino. Part of me wants to keep traveling and the other part knows the right answer will come in time. I’m still trusting in the universe. Maybe the correct answer is no answer. Or maybe it won’t come to me until I am back stateside. I’m really ok with it. I no longer worry about it- I can’t change my situation and I feel like thinking about it isn’t going to do me much good. I know if I didn’t have student loans to worry about, I would probably stay on the road. Get my computer to write on and my camera stuff and continue tramping a perpetual journey.
Sometimes I wonder if I travel so much because I am searching for a feeling of home. And sometimes I wonder if it’s because I know I am not permanent; that I enjoy being transient and floating through cities and people like a time traveler. The feeling of stability some people crave off balances me. There is a satisfaction that comes to me from a life spent searching. I don’t always know what it is I am searching for but I feel like I usually find it.
The life of a traveler is a life displaced in time. Each location you visit runs of its own accord and you find things changed whenever you try to return to a familiar spot. It can be a lonely life or it can be constantly full of new and old faces and experiences.
I suppose it’s just what you make of it
"The truth within me makes me strong." Sophocles, Oedipus Rex
I realized I lost a toenail today. It was already kind of dead from the first pair of boots but I looked at it today and realized the nail was falling off. Another victim of the Camino!
I have no clue what day it is until it is Sunday and then everything is closed so I have to just wait and call all other days “Not Sunday”
September 28, 2015 (Day 29) Cacabelos to Vega de Valcarce
I’ve been in a bit of a catch-22 lately. I love walking with Caro because I truly see so much. I described it yesterday to her as not just seeing things but really experiencing them. It’s been beautiful- today was spent crawling between mountains and a river for 25 km. Fall is in the air and the leaves are changing. My only problem is that walking slower makes my body hurt more. The pack starts to wear on me more and my legs start killing me knowing if I were on my own, I could be at the town I want to stop in by now. The breaks we take tire my body instead of invigorating it and I don’t really know what to do about it.
I want to keep hiking with Caro: our conversations run the gamut from poop to death and everything in between. But my body doesn’t do well slow; I’ve never been slow to do anything. There’s more pressure walking slowly on my legs and my limp becomes more pronounced over the course of the day. I end up smoking more just to take my mind off of things.
At the beginning of the trip all I could focus on was my physical body. Then the physical started to fade in favor of the mental. Now the physical is back: it’s a strange cycle and it probably has more to do with the mountains than anything else but it’s frustrating.
I walked by a sign today that said “just give up.” The funny thing was, up until I saw that sign, I was debating giving up. The thought first came to me at Cruz de Ferro. I was sitting there thinking of the culmination of people’s burdens when suddenly my mind shifted to “this is fucking pointless.” I thought that none of this meant anything. And I was weirdly calm about it. The thought stayed going round and round in my mind. Like, why the hell was I hiking across Spain to get answers? Maybe Martin Sheen was wrong. Maybe all I’m doing is running and I’ll be broke when I get home and I don’t have a home and on and on and on.
I’ve been pushing through this feeling for the last few days and the thing is I am incredibly stubborn. I want to make it to Santiago and Muxia. I want to say I did this when people told me no. And that little piece of writing seemed like a giant “Fuck you, Fishburne!” I wanted to scream at that sign. I’ve wanted to scream for days really but there have always been too many people around to do it without causing alarm and I don’t think I can explain in numerous languages that I am ok, that I just needed to get this out of me to feel better again.
I want to get this pent up rage out of me again and sit by a stream and get back to that happy stoked feeling instead of being overwhelmed by people and my body.
But I don’t. I keep pressing forward because there is no option to go back. You can only go ahead at this point. One step at a time.
September 29, 2015 (Day 30) Vega de Valcarce to Triacastela
Today I made the mountain my bitch and made it 35 km.
I separated from Caro to hike faster today. I needed to just be in motion and really physical again. I ended up pushing on from the original stop town and decided to finish down the mountain. Honestly, I’m glad I did: that would have sucked in the dark tomorrow on a possibly fractured foot (I’m past assuming this is still tendinitis since it hurt like this the last time I had a small fracture).
At one point on the descent I started silently cursing myself. Why the fuck was I doing this? I am not in a hurry! This mountain isn’t going anywhere. You should have stopped to let your body rest and not pushed too far past Caroline and why are you not taking your time, wasn’t there a lesson in slowing down? BUT THIS WOULD SUCK IN THE DARK TOMORROW MORNING. I’m glad logic won out this time around. This biker who stayed at the same albergue last night passed by me near the end and was impressed I had made it that far in the time I had (6:30 am leaving Vega, 2 pm making it to Triacastela with a couple small breaks).
Kind of made me feel better but that downhill still fucking sucked.
I’m bummed I past Caro since she was fantastic company but I knew I needed to fly and to just let my mind go blank for a while. When I go slow, I find myself with the time to suddenly dig up the past. And it’s not necessarily healthy especially when it’s something really stupid and you are moving past these things. When I fly it’s just nature and my body. Sometimes cars and other people. Occasionally cows. Actually today was a fuck ton of cows doing the Camino to other pastures and it was great since they were adorable and Bovines but horrible because where do I move when a hoard of cows are coming at you?
Seeing everything from the top of the mountain. Entering into the last 150 km and reaching the Galicia region. I’m really goddamn close.
My birthday present to myself is walking less than 10 km on my birthday. A fucking cake stroll.
I mean, I can do 25 km a day then 5 km on the fifth if I want to.
September 30, 2015 (Day 31) Triacastela to Sarria
I’m 110 km from Santiago and I for sure have a slightly fractured foot (stress fracture not a major one). I’m questioning exactly how the hell I am going to make it. You need to walk the last 100 km to get the certification and right now it seems so goddamn far away.
I accidentally took the longer route today. What should have been an 18-19 km day turned into a 26-27 in day. It was honestly worth the pain just for the beauty alone: streams and forests and fields shroud in fog this morning, puppies coming to greet me and a giant monastery. Even though I struggled, I was grateful to see it all.
It’s strange to think I am so close to Santiago. I’ve hiked roughly 700 kilometers so far and stared into the abyss a few times. I’ve had a sprained ankle, tendinitis, hypothermia from the cyclone I got stuck in (found out what that Flooding of Noah storm actually was: a small cyclone, of course), and now I have one fractured foot with still healing blisters on the other. I’ve had a black cat lead me into a church, a dog cuddle me in the same town where Paulo Coehlo encounters his fear dog, crossed mountains and plains, and found myself in the whole process.
I’ve learned what I can accomplished and to make sure I see the signs from the universe. I’ve been an outsider and an insider. Smoked hash with Italians and Germans (both groups are awesome but man are they loud). Walked with three apostles and had a Gabriel sing me to sleep.
I’ve stared into myself and saw a child staring back. Smiling, we walked together into the unknown as morning broke around us. As worried as I am about the next five days, I know it will be alright. I am a warrior, hard wired to survive.
And I will fucking make it to Santiago.
October 1, 2015 (Day 32) Sarria to Portomarín
If Emilio Estevez directed Martin Sheen’s Camino journey, then I am pretty sure Michael Bay must be directing mine. I spent most of today hiking through forests shroud in fog. At my first stop, a man from Morocco gave me tea, a bracelet, and a pin for buying something small. I came across two horses crossing the path and it seemed like one of them wanted me to follow it. I’ve been mistaken for an Italian and a Spaniard and been told I speak Spanish well (though I think it’s more that I can pronounce things properly since forming sentences is still hard). I was scammed by a Roma woman for a few euro the other day and when I saw two doing it again on the trail I learned my lesson and passed by.
I’m still not sure if I will make it out to Finisterre and Muxia, not matter how much I want to see the End of the World. I did math and even being a cheap ass finances aren’t the best. Santiago is the real goal and I know I will make it there for sure. I’m just trying to determine if I can continue on or if I need to just sit until my flight home to make sure I have the money to make it upstate when I return stateside. It’s all about trust. I can always hustle NYC for a few days if I really need to. Or I can trust a millionaire will happen upon my path and say “Oh you want to go to Muxia? Here is a hundred euro! ¡Buen Camino little girl!”
Today the pain was manageable until the last five kilometers. I’m realizing downhills (steep ones specifically) are not my friends. We are kind of enemies actually. Like Buffy and Vampires or the Light Side and the Dark Side of the Force. I think the thing with living with chronic pain is that you can trick yourself into a feeling of normalcy if you really want to. This way when something is really wrong, it’s pretty freaking wrong. Everything else is just its own normal pains and when you realize how many people hurt while hiking the Camino physically, mentally, or emotionally, you realize maybe a fractured foot isn’t terrible. Your leg didn’t give out on you so that’s like a gold star, right? Okay maybe not gold, but definitely silver.
I noticed that nine years have passed since the first accident. I will be entering into Santiago on a nine birthday (27 is 2+7=9 in numerology). Nine is turning to spirit. My life right now is reduced to numbers, ideas, spirit, and where my feet are leading me. It’s finding my voice again after being silent for so long. It’s wondering about the future without putting weight behind it. It’s acknowledging the past without being held back by it.
It’s six bikers coming full tilt at you down a narrow forest trail and you having to jump back to avoid being hit. It’s laughing as you say “¡Buen Camino!” because you know you look ridiculous pressed against a rock wall to let them pass.
As Caro would say each night: “WE ARE HEROS”
October 2, 2015 (Day 33) Portomarín to Palas de Rei
Another foggy morning through the forests. The Galicia region is absolutely incredible and it makes me want to walk forever. Only the last five kilometers hurt again but I think I hiked faster than the past day or so so I think that is okay in the long run.
I thought about the realities of living with chronic pain and invisible disabilities on my hike. Like much else, you can either give into it and allow it to make you a victim or you can acknowledge its presence and move ahead.
Hiking the Camino, you meet people from really all walks of life and health levels. There is a woman with MS who hikes the Camino at full tilt to feel her body because doctors told her she may not be able to in a few years. This is her third Camino. There is Victoria who has limited use of her left arm due to a sort of palsy. There are hip and knee replacements, strokes, mental issues: you name it, you will find it on the Way. It’s like everyone just wants to move past the pain for a moment and together they push each other along.
No matter how in shape you are, the Camino is rough. 800 kilometers of varying terrains can bring the strongest to their knees at some point. It actually makes me feel normal because everyone hurts. Between blisters, feet, ankles, backs, and knees, everyone has something going on with their bodies.
Personally, I never liked the idea of becoming my illnesses. They can be a part of me in the same way you could say I am tall or a brunette, but I never once wanted them to define me. I don’t want to be the girl with a bum leg or extreme anxiety and depressive issues. I want to be Jacs. Human being. Mance Rayder’s road manager. Warrior.
Caro described me as someone who sees a goal then proceeds to smash through it. I’ve always been like that; it’s been the cause of a lot of anxiety over the years because my expectations for myself are insanely high. I’ve always wanted to be as close to the best that I humanly can. It’s a mental game and often mentally exhausting.
The Camino has a way of calling you on your shit. It makes you take a look at things and checks you when you get out of hand. And honestly, it’s nice. You get to be an authentic version of yourself. You get to let go of old hang ups and just be reduced to movement, food, and sleep.
It’s simple and for someone who always complicates things, simple is nice.
"Be proud of yourself. Remember the nights you crumbled under the weight of your pain, and the mornings you fought to open your eyes, and won. Remember how you put yourself back together, brick by brick; remember the ache in your shoulders as you laid each stone. Remember that life is often the more difficult choice, and that it takes a special kind of bravery to choose it anyway." (ironedout)
October 3, 2015 (Day 34) Palas de Rei to Arzúa
Today felt like I was on a mission. I don’t know what the mission was precisely but I walked as though I would get to Santiago by sundown. I walked so I could feel my body. I walked so I could feel the cold in my lungs. I went through groves of eucalyptus trees; the smell coming off them mixed with the dead leaves and wet earth smelt familiar and I thought about how many people I’ve met from the Seattle area and how maybe that was a sign to move out that direction when I return home stateside. I realized that while I like the idea of one day hiking the PCT, the reality is that I need too much food in one day in order to keep my blood sugar and body weight up and don’t think I can haul like 40 lbs of food on top of everything else I would need to survive in the wild between reload stations. I thought about how people always talk about Christopher McCandless as this genius and great role model yet fail to realize he was a massive fucking dumbass who failed to listen to any advice given to him by locals of the area (HE WENT TO ALASKA THINKING OH MAN I READ A FEW BOOKS I CAN TOTALLY SURVIVE OUT HERE WITH NO PLAN) and then fucking died. He may have been poignant and you may like the idea of giving everything in your life up to just go live in the wilderness but the reality of something vs the idea you create of something is two vastly different things. Seriously, Chris McCandless was a fucking well spoken idiot.
Yesterday I slept for twelve hours. I felt alone in a huge group of people and realized I feel the most normal when no one is around. Most of my Camino has been about solitude and thinking things through. I love the community element of it, but I feel pretty outside it most of the time.
I feel outside a lot. Most of my life is spent almost floating outside my body watching it interact or move or speak. Almost as if I were watching a movie. Maybe it’s why I remember things the way I do. Half the time it’s like a film and the only difference is that I’m sometimes staring in it and sometimes not. There’s a soundtrack that goes through my head and often cinematic lighting. Sometimes there are explosions in the distance, like there was today (I could hear them but had no clue where they were coming from or what exactly was happening). I do not, however, have a talking animal friend. I’m still hoping for one to show up and give me sassy guidance.
The thing about being on the outside a lot is that you get to be a sort of bridge-gaper. You can unite random groups of people and float around where you want. No one really gets annoyed with you if you beg off something- most assume you won’t show up anyway so it’s easier for them to get excited when you do bother to show up for a social occasion.
The easiest way to put it is that I spend so much time trying to live life and take it all in that I get exhausted being around people in more than a one-on-one setting. My head is interesting. It knows a lot of songs and facts. It’s remembers things vividly and grants me lucid dreams. It sees the world in a series of images and ideas, a play of light and color that sometimes is heavily saturated. It’s not a lonely place. I only get lonely when I am in crowds of people.
October 4, 2015 (Day 35) Arzúa to Monte del Gozo
I’m sitting in a bar less than 5 kilometers from Santiago and it’s finally hitting me that I am making it. I passed by the airport today and thought about the first time I saw Santiago.
The first time I was invited to Europe to model, the person arranging the trip asked me where I wanted to go. I could have said anywhere in the whole world but the only place that came to mind was Santiago de Compostela. I had just watched The Way and re-read The Pilgrimage in May 2013. Something about the walk drew me and I figured if I didn’t know if I could physically handle the walk to Santiago, I sure as shit wanted to see the city in person.
The person I was originally supposed to travel with and I had a massive falling out a couple weeks prior to going. My travel partner was changed and the other girl was given her own trip. She could have picked anywhere she wanted to go but she chose to take the same trip as me. Not sure if it was done as a fuck you or whatever but part of me laughed when I heard it.
“She realizes Santiago is basically a massive church at the end of a pilgrimage route, right?”
When I was in Santiago, I had a hard time leaving the old city. I felt incredibly alive and watching the pilgrims come in took my breath away. You see people from all over the world: some are crying, some are cheering, some are being carried into the plaza and church by others. The sight is really moving.
Part of me wondered if the girl would understand what she was witnessing or if it was just another city to her.
For me, Santiago was more than a city and church. It was a plan, a shining beacon of light that was going to put my life back together. As I sat watching the pilgrims come in, I knew that somehow, someway, I was going to make the walk.
Santiago represented a yes to all the no’s that doctors and the NCAA had told me over the years.
It represented a chance to get back my body and my life, much of which felt stolen from me the first time metal slammed into my body, taken from me with my father’s last breath, and my mother’s forced restart.
It was a fresh start and a chance of letting go. It was finally releasing my breath after my father took his last one. It was taking authority of my life again and getting back to myself.
Over the past 35 days, I have scaled mountains, battled storms, gone through three pairs of boots, and won a lot of scars. I walked 35 kilometers today in the rain and wind but instead of the anger of the cyclone, this time it felt like a baptism. Like all the bad, the anger, and the sadness was being washed away. I was stumbling forward solely by the weight of my pack towards the end. I hurt, I was happy, and somehow my feet knew to keep moving forward.
All the trials of the past 35 days will be wiped clean tomorrow. Tomorrow I walk the last 5 kilometers to Santiago to finish reclaiming my life. It took 800 kilometers to get it back. 800 kilometers of trials and tribulations. 800 kilometers of joy and sadness.
And as I sit at the 5 kilometer mark, I am crying. Only this time, they are tears of joy.
The final decision has been made: my feet are too fucked up to walk another 100+ kilometers to Finisterre and Muxia. I will be taking a bus to go see them and will go to a doctor when I get home
"You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other." - Carl Sagan, Contact
October 5 & 6, 2015 (Days 36 & 37) Santiago de Compostela
I wanted to give myself some time to articulate my thoughts after finally making it to Santiago. I started crying when Caro and I reached the city sign and it was 7:30 am and raining. We walked through the New City, winding through streets until we reached the cathedral. I cried when we went in, dripping wet, backpacks still on under our rain gear. No one troubled us that early in the morning for clearly ignoring signs and crying while we walked under the arches and touched the statue of Santiago behind the altar.
We went out to get our Compostelas. The official statement that we had completed our pilgrimage. That we had survived the Way of St. James.
I was overwhelmed. I got caught in a down pour after breakfast where the steps turned into waterfalls and the streets were small rivers that pilgrims and tourists floated down. I didn’t know what to do after I got my Compostela. There was this feeling like: “Oh, what the hell comes next?”
My birthday was just a weird day in general: the downpour, Correos not locating one of my packages, and generally being a complete and utter mess both physically and mentally. I was officially 27 and limping into Santiago on two fractured feet. Like I hit 500 miles and fell apart like a shitty car.
I stayed with Marina last night and loved being away from the Camino for a bit. All day while I was out in the old city, people kept congratulating me and saying happy birthday and I was just so shattered and like so almost lost without this goal of making it to Santiago looming over me that I had a hard time being out in public. I was so fucking proud of myself and everyone who made it here. We walked and hurt and loved and suffered and dreamed and believed all in this goal of reaching Santiago. And I felt like I was also run over a couple times but a couple monster trucks.
It took a bit before I could be on my own to try and figure things out. Before I retired for the evening, I had Caro come with me to this park along the Portuguese Way with with this really crazy view of the cathedral. I slammed my (broken) toe earlier today and on our walk back to the hostel, I stepped and felt a crunch. I think there is now more than one thing broken in the left foot on top of my fractured right. I felt better earlier today and ready for Finisterre then POW! Done. Neither were going to walk me 500 miles more. I was not going to be the girl who walked a 1000 miles to fall down at someone’s door. I was half that and a mess. They couldn’t walk the 100-something kilometers to the coast. They can barely bring me to go eat granola bars and cry on the toilet (which happened earlier and I just looked down at myself and realized I was in need of some major sleep or something).
And the thought partially depresses me. The rain, the lost (but thanks to Marina’s super awesomeness, found again) package, the VERY fucked up feet. The universe is telling me my actually walking ends at Santiago. I can still take a bus to Finisterre and Muxia. And I may, but it somehow feels rough. It was part of my original plan and the part I was the most looking forward to. Seeing the end of the world. Walking to the End of the World.
I should eventually go to a doctor but the whole no-Spanish-insurance-nor-desire-for-new-high-medical-bills makes it kind of hard. I have to sleep on how to do this.
But as shattered as I feel, I deep down feel like I survived a fucking hell of a time to get here. I’ve battled the elements and myself, learned when I physically cannot go any further, and know now when to acknowledge it.
Everything in the last 36 days has been a lesson in self-preservation and humility. A lesson in compassion, awareness, sunrises, and being on my guard. I witnessed the depth for which people will go to care for strangers- those both in the physical and Internet world. I am grateful to every single person who has helped me in this journey. I have walked over 800 kilometers or 500 miles from France across northern Spain. I walked under Orion’s Belt as the world awoke and felt the wind blow me away.
I made it to Santiago on my birthday. A day that was a palindrome. A day the stairs become waterfalls and I ran across the plaza, watched by the towers of my goal, with some friends - wet, but happy.
“Bang my head against the wall | Though I feel light headed, now I know I will not fall | I will rise above it all | Found what I was searching for | Though I feel light headed, I should have failed, and nailed the floor | Instead I rose above it all” (Bang My Head - David Guetta)
October 9, 2015 Finisterre
I’m writing this from a place known as the End of the World. I’m sitting in a cove by the ocean, thinking of how, if I drew a straight line, I could be in New York. It’s been a long journey and I think I am still processing a lot of it.
I walked 500 miles and was disappointed that I couldn’t cover 80-some odd miles more. But that’s okay. I know now that I wasn’t meant to walk to Finisterre and Muxia this time around. There can always be a next time. I watched the sunrise over the cape and ate breakfast. I know now what my body is capable of and when to call it a day. And for me, that is a MAJOR life lesson. I made the goal of Santiago, blowing through that goal to Finisterre and Muxia could have been overkill.
Part of me is excited to go home again. To see my family and think of all the things I’ve experienced. In a lot of ways, it also doesn’t feel real. I feel disconnected from the normal world after living differently for the last few months. I’m realizing that while I am starting to think of working again, I’m not pushing anything until I am fully healed. It’s scary because it means I need to figure a way to pay my bills, but I feel like things will come together with time. They have for the past few months.
The Camino has changed me in a lot of ways. I know my limits. I know humility and to check my ego. I know the reason I fly is because there is peace in motion, but that you see so much more when you slow down. I know that smiling through the pain can help when around others. To never judge until you know the full story. That people are inherently kind and love in some form will always, always find you. I know I’m responsible for myself and for producing my own fears. I know I am a fucking hero.
I traveled the north of Spain and can be simplified. My life mission to is to create and I believe it’s a mixture of verbal/written and visual that will accomplish my goal. Stories. Adventure. One foot in front of the other. One day at a time. My life is wild and beautiful and I know now how to feel so very alive. Tears can flow from my eyes and mix with rain. My shouts became the wind. And somehow between St. Jean and Santiago, I found my voice and it spoke of peace.
I let a lot of people and things go. Things feel lighter. The future will come or it won’t. The past has already happened. The ocean doesn’t recognize the passage of time; it moves in its own rhythm and changes with its own patterns of certainty.
And somewhere across this ocean is New York. Waiting for me.
October 20, 2015
I’m finally back in the 845 and am completely overwhelmed. My car is kind of fucked since I don’t have $900 on top of the $1200 I need for my bills in November to fix the catalytic converter. Which means I can’t get it inspected or pick it up. I keep trying to go through my storage unit but I get bugged out and leave; in my head, none of it is terribly important and it’s too much. Too many clothes, too much old artwork, too much too much. Food is expensive and normal cigs aren’t happening since its NY so I’m rolling with the tobacco from Spain and wishing I could crush a normal cigarette. I’m out of a few medications and can’t get them before Thursday and Friday when I see my doctors so I’m all twitchy and shit.
It’s a lot to come home to. Part of me wishes things would just magically get taken care of so I don’t have to keep staring blankly at everything and everyone. For all my sense of purpose, I feel utterly lost.
The overarching questions seemed to have been answered through the Camino but no immediate ones. The one good thing that came from the experience (and there were millions of good things) is that I am strangely very calm right now. I kind of joke and tell people it’s shell shock but I think the hike just let me release a lot of unwanted energies and a lot of things seem pretty trivial to me right now. After living out of a pack and only worrying about the basics for so long, it feels like anything else is just noise and too much stuff. I want to torch it all and feel justified in the removal of the past.
I’m trying to make things work- I just feel like I am currently stranded in the ocean with a vague idea of the direction of land but nothing concrete enough to hold on to to make it there. I’m watching people I love go through important events I was supposed to be a part of and I’m not there, just off on the sidelines in a daze. I’m not even fully understanding what half those events even are anymore.
Strangely, I finally feel like picking up my camera again to document this time period. It might be good for me to work through myself as I see where I fit in everything. I did the same thing after my father passed but for some reason this almost feels more personal. Someone told me that I was a person who hides in plain sight and it struck a chord with me. I do that- I’m there and you may know things about me but it’s all relative and only what I feel like answering. I keep things bottled up inside thinking people will crack the code or suddenly realize what I’m doing but get shy when people bother to point it out. I think it’s something I picked up from childhood and I’m not sure how to bridge the gap.
Life is about making it up as you go along. Sometimes it makes sense and goes grandly. Sometimes things fall apart and you look out over the ashes knowing it’s time to start again. I’m the girl standing in the burning city of a past life seeing the sun shyly coming through the wreckage and trying to pick a direction to start in.
October 24, 2015 Saugerties, NY
I have a tendency to compare myself to others. Why am I not more like this photographer or model? Why I am not one of those famous five year old? Why am I not more this or that? What happens if others were right and the Hokey Pokey really IS what it’s all about? Why in the flying hell do I do this to myself exactly?
Growing up in our hyper-competitive society, this tendency is almost considered normal. Everyone supposedly compares themselves to someone else instead of celebrating their own triumphs. These triumphs can be seemingly small (yay! I took a breath today!) to out of this world (holy shit I just walked over 500 miles!!), yet we trivialize them when we see someone else doing well and imagine that is the life we are supposed to be living.
The worst thing for perpetuating this feeling in me in actually the Internet. I have this feeling that comes over me whenever I get sucked into social media: panic. I look at gallery represented toddlers and wonder what the fuck I am doing with my great creative desire at 27. My work doesn’t look like what’s “in” and I look different than the Internet “popular” people. My mind goes a million miles an hour and I feel this tightening in my chest. That panic settling in. Which is a shame because the Internet has given me an incredible support system and so much love that I have to call myself on these thoughts and feelings.
Once I remember to take in air and unplug my brain, I’m okay with these things. I didn’t come out of a factory mold to be the Flavor of the Month or Year. My story is going to be different from Tommy’s and Gina’s and Johnny’s and Denise’s. It’s supposed to be. It’s my life and I am in charge of this choose your own adventure. If everyone looked the same and liked the same things, always producing the same work or believing in the same things, it would be boring. Variety is the spice of life and just because you are not “en vogue” right now in your mind doesn’t mean to someone else you aren’t the coolest person in this solar system.
My older brother had a heart to heart with me last night. It was probably the most I’ve heard him speak in years. He told me how proud he was of me, how he didn’t worry about me doing my travels, and how much he loved me and my heart just melted. Sometimes hearing your concerns soothed by voices of those who love you helps put things back into perspective. I feel better thinking about my family and knowing I am making them proud. I feel better being outside of the cookie mold.
Sometimes you really really want something and you hit your head against its walls so often all you feel is pain and you debate giving up the dream. The people you surround yourself with are supposed to be there to show you where the cracks you made have started letting light in. Then you let it all in.
October 25, 2015
I had an experience today that I wanted to share. While on Instagram earlier, I saw a friend of mine had tattooed someone else I used to be close with. My first reaction when I saw the post was “yay tattoo!” then I saw whose body it was on and couldn’t get my finger to hit like. Just couldn’t do it. I sat there staring at it instead, lost in thought.
In the past, I’ve been someone who holds grudges. Once I am done with a person or situation, I am very done, especially if the person hurt me in some way. But hurt is a two-way street and I am always sure that I hold some measure of blame in a given situation. So while my reaction to the girl’s name was initially “UGH,” I called myself on it and gave pause to think for a moment.
And in that moment I realized that I was completely past the issue and didn’t actually hold any emotion towards the girl. No good, no bad, just “next.”
In letting go of the past, I let go of everything. Life is too short to be biter or hold onto old news. While I don’t particularly want to see said individual, I realized today I wouldn’t desire to hit her or yell at her if I did. I would just quietly leave the situation. End of story.
That’s kind of a big thing for me. To replace the rage that simmers inside with compassion for the situation and person and to be self-aware enough to say honestly that I am no longer effected by it is a huge step. Each person is on their own journey and our ending was karma playing out. Who knows? Maybe I was a massively terrible person to her in a past life and this was how the energy had to clear out in this life. Maybe I should have listened to my sister when she heard I was first hanging out with the girl. I didn’t, the cards were dealt, and I played my hand to the end. Strangely enough, even after it ended, I genuinely wanted the girl to find the help and happiness she seemed to be chasing.
Growing up brings all kinds of people into your life. Some are temporary, some more permanent, but all hold a lesson if you are opening to learning it.
October 27, 2015
I keep trying to keep the sadness and worrying out of mind but I’ve learned these things do my just go away because you walked 500 miles to find yourself. These things take time to work through and release and honestly some may never fully go away. The sadness and anxiety are chemical imbalances in my body passed down through DNA from past generations.
I’m nervous, just as I was whenever I sat at the starting line in high school. The race hasn’t started and I’m tensed on the blocks waiting for the signal. The only difference this time around is I’m the one who is waiting for the race as well as the one holding the gun. What if I false start? What if I pull the trigger too soon? What if I fucking win?
It’s scary starting over- if anyone tells you otherwise, I would say they are lying. It can be exhilarating but standing on the edge of a cliff trying to decide whether to jump or retreat back to safety is terrifying. When you couple this with living with mental illness, this fear can be paralyzing. You worry about money and your bills, your mental state, your safety, your sincerity. You wonder if you’ll be one of those who gives up on their dreams or if you will actually succeed. You start to realize the only thing that sets these options apart is willpower.
Right now, I don’t know what I’m doing but I push forward like I do. The lesson that I loved the most from the Camino was “never go back.” Make a decision and push forward, even if it means you have to continue on to the next thing. If all you do it look forward, there is no time to dwell on the past or the various mistakes you have behind you. Mistakes are only mistakes if you fail to learn the lessons in them. If you do, those lessons help form the foundation of your life and success.
Anxiety and depression can make hearing the signal gun difficult. All you can do is take a deep breath, prepare yourself to do what you know you need to, and take off. Sometimes you fly, sometimes you stubble, but you always, always move forward.
Sometimes you are at the start of a journey. You’re packed, you have enough snacks to see you through a couple days (or hours…let’s be real, I eat a lot), your mind is ready for whatever will come. There is a fluttery feeling in your stomach and your lips start to draw up at the sides. You’re sitting at the start of a journey and suddenly - you freeze. Can’t move. You feel a little panic as the words “What the fuck am I doing?” slowly leave your mouth.
The only thing you can do at that point is take a breath and pick a course. Most people view life as a linear event. You go from point A to point B to C and on and on and on, from birth to death. The truth is no course in life is linear. Sometimes you start at point A, jump to point K, loop back around to C, realize that you forgot something at B, and continue forward.
Sometimes the things you picked up years ago as a hobby are what you are supposed to do in the present, only you are too self conscious or pig headed to realize it. You think you are only meant to do this Thing because you are good at it and you think its where your path lies. Teachers, peers, family all believe in you and want you to succeed, so you keep on doing this Thing because everyone seems so goddamn excited about it. You keep banging your head into walls and stumbling into things in the quest for perfection until one day you decide to let your guard down. You remember those other things you liked to do when you were younger and, feeling frustrated with your current art, you add them in just because you needed the release. Something clicks and a light ignites to guide your path where there was only darkness before.
Walking the Camino, I learned that sometimes the answers don’t present themselves in clear ways. You need to really pay attention to them. Take what’s coming next for example: I’m moving away from modeling, into photography, and trying to go back to writing at the same time. I’m debating graduate school, trying to find where I can call home, while simultaneous trying to keep my head afloat. The universe conspires to help those seeking out their personal legends. If I was meant to do modeling and photography, I honestly think more opportunities would present themselves. I would sell more prints and galleries would come knocking (well, they still may, I am young after all). I’ve learned that my best response comes from the blending of visual and written works. Telling stories. Telling them honestly.
Sometimes the journey you think you start out with is not the one you are truly meant to be on. Sometimes it’s a stepping stone to get to the next place. Sometimes its just a brief period of happiness before you truly test yourself.
And every once in a while, you decide that the Journey itself is enough, that it is the Masterpiece you have been searching for. So you take a step and steer a course, trusting that things will work out the way they are supposed to.