So it’s on to Los Arcos. Day Six. I’ve put down about 70 miles at the start of this walk. This one will cover about 13 miles, and then the leg onto Logrono should stretch out to about 18+ miles. I’ve discovered that I really have no appetite for a breakfast; as it delays my departure, and takes my mind off of my task for the day. So today, I’m out ahead of most of the other peregrinos, and I sense I need that today; to walk alone.
Today is the day to reflect on the simple discipline of walking. I believe this is a big part of my walk, as it is all about making the most efficient use of the body and its movements in order to sustain the walk for so many miles without becoming overly spent.
First, it’s one step in front of the other. Sounds simple, huh? Well when it’s done on dirt paths (many times muddy), that have been disfigured by the thousands of foot falls by recent pilgrims, or the gravel roads, where washed out gullies pervade, and rocks the size of baseballs are scattered cross your path by the thousands, let’s just say that the going gets both tough, slow and muy dificil (difficult). Your eyes have to be on a constant defense against the many and continuous snares for your footfall, otherwise one could quickly fall prey to a twisted ankle, a slip that pulls a muscle, or a fall that could lead to greater problems. Yet at the same time, one has to keep a constant eye out for the many obscure markers that point the way. I guarantee you, you don’t want to walk a quarter mile out of your way, with a twenty pound backpack on, just to have to turn around, walk back, and discover that you missed a small, yellow-painted arrow that emphatically said right, and not straight ahead. It a balancing act of attention.
Second, it’s the art of the walking stick. The best way I can describe its use is to look to the giraffe. I know for a fact that I could never have accomplished that first day if it were not for my pair of walking sticks. They provided a balance and a support that enabled me to keep going on such rough terrain and difficult weather.
Have you ever noticed the physical nature of the giraffe. Its front two legs seem to be out of proportion with the rest of its body; lifting a four-legged creature into an almost two-legged creature. Those two front legs appear to carry the weight of the body, and maintain its lofty position; seeing out over the landscape. When it walks, its front legs seem to pivot from the knees; moving out in front, pointing the direction, ensuring the stability of the body.
Well it’s somewhat the same for a human with walking sticks. On flat ground, the sticks assist to propel me forward with balance, and they alleviate about 15% of the weight of the backpack. Can you imagine the weight the front two legs of a giraffe is carrying? I keep my hands in a standard grip, wrapping the handles. My pace is steady, with good strides.
When I travel uphill my stride shortens greatly – according to the incline – and I use the sticks much more to carry the weight of the pack; keeping them under me at all times. One step with the left foot, and my right pole coincides. One step with my right foot, and my left pole coincides. Back and forth in a steady pattern. Again, my grip is standard, but with my thumb on top. I have found this most effective in both maintaining a pace on difficult inclines and I can travel long upgrades without becoming tired or winded. I’ve come a long way from that first day.
When I travel downhill, again I shorten my strides, but in this case my poles or sticks serve another purpose. I spot each pole plant as I go. The trail is usually very rough, pitted, gouged, and strewn with rock, gravel and slippery mud. I locate the spot in which I am going to plant my pole. I want that spot to be stable and solid. One slip of the pole and my feet my well go out from underneath me. My grip has changed now so the top of the grip is in my palm with my fingers encircling the grip.
After a few days of learning these techniques, it became pretty obvious that this is all a metaphor for life. Not only do I have to contend with changes in my life – the flat stretches, the uphill and the down – and I must learn to master them, but I need to be devout to what I have learned to date; to hold true to the absolute. It is a discipline – that if we hold to the course of truth – we find the journey much more fruitful.
Enjoy the pictures. The countryside changed as we moved into the wine growing region of Northern Spain – La Rioja. It was a most enjoyable walk. The weather turned warm, and for the most part, the countryside was gently rolling with both expansive views attention grabbing attractions. Los Arcos is a good “old city” town with an active plaza just next to the Church of Santa Maria. I was able to attend the Pilgrim’s Mass that evening, and afterwards the Pastor blessed us all for our safe journey.
God Bless and Buen Camino – Reese