Well, let’s just say that I did it. I managed to push through 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) today to reach O’Cebreiro; just inside the region of Galicia and leaving the Castilla and Leon region. Lulling one to a sense of relaxation, the first 22 kilometers were a slow, but constant ascent on a path that paralleled the Rio Varcarce. With the forest tracking your footsteps up on the surrounding hillsides, and the Rio Valcarce running alongside below, the peaceful nature of this countryside could not be ignored. The coolness of the gentle breezes and the clarity of the sun only added to the sense of well-being that this beautiful land gifted one’s spirit all the day long.
It wasn’t until I passed through the small town of Las Herrerias, that I found myself confronted with what I had heard about and read in my guide book. The last 8 kilometers took me from about 700 meters in altitude to 1300 meters. That was tough enough. Add in the twisting dirt and rock strewn trails that forged their way up through dense and mature forest, and one had a real adventure. I should have known what I was in for when I saw, coming down the narrow, rocky path towards me, a local farmer, his dog, and a humongous bull. I mean his shoulders were at my head as he passed. A casual, inadvertent toss of his head and I would have been thrown to O’Cebreiro; in which I could have avoided the impending climb.
Perhaps one of the more unique characteristics of the forest climb was the darkness. The sun is almost directly overhead, the sky’s clear, and yet the trail was so dark that I had trouble at times with my foot placement on the trail; trying hard to avoid rocks that could lead to a twisted ankle. Out there with a bad ankle, and they could just shoot me. Also, the scents – the smells – of the forest were really prevalent as I walked along. My nose was pummeled with green scents of lemon, lilac, fennel, mint, and a host of other scents that included good old cattle and horse dung. I could smell the sheep on the hillsides. I mean it was almost more exciting to concentrate on the scents of the forest than to take in the visual feast that was right there at all times. And the small towns were profuse with roses. It was lovely.
Yeah, the climb hurt. One of the greatest of sufferings in the climb had to do with the inability to anticipate the length of any one section of the overall climb to O‘Cebreiro. The forest trails obscured you vision with their twists, and when you were out in the open, tracking along a sunny ridge, the trails would snake up a mountainside in a dizzying fashion. The bottom line here was the fact that it seemed to go on forever. You get to what you thought was the highest point of the ascent, and guess what? Just go around that corner and start up again.
What was fascinating about my attitude during this ascent though, was I never engaged any sense of dislike; no despair came forward, or wondering when will this all be through? I played no mind games to avoid the creeping sense that I didn’t want to be doing this. No. What was and will be there forever, I believe, was the steadfast sense of just persevering. It makes no difference what the suffering is, the goal – my obedience to God and the completion of the mission He has sent me on – must completely overshadow any potential suffering and/or sense of loss. Was their physical pain I was experiencing? You bet. My shoulders ached from the weight of the backpack, my neck muscles were tightening, my thighs ached, and my feet were wondering why I hated them so. All of that is but temporary though. At some point I would come out at the top of the ridge. At some point that ridge would be O’Cebreiro and the Albergue. It’s just time. It’s just one step in front of the next. I can do that.
And it was O’Cebreiro at the top of the ridge, and I did get a wonderful shower, and I did wash my socks and hang them up to dry, and I am snacking on cookies while writing this post.
I am one week away from Santiago de Compostela. Just yesterday I was thinking…. “Well, I am on the final leg of my journey; The Way, The Way of St. James, the Camino de Santiago, the Camino Frances.” However you want to say it, I’m coming to the end of something I had anticipated, yearned for, fought for, and dreaded for almost a year. Not only that anticipation of what will come at some future date, but once I started those first days, actually the first 15 days, it all seemed so mysterious, eternal, and vague. Now, all I know is that I am out here; I am actually walking this pilgrimage out, and now, after four weeks, I’m one week from finishing.
I suspect a lot of feelings are going to invade my attitudes, and that’s not a bad thing on the surface. I must remember why I came out here though, and that was not to experience feelings – that are but fleeting expressions of the human condition – but rather to develop long-term virtues that become the foundation of my Catholic faith going forward. Christ needs soldiers. In these modern times, Christ needs lots of soldiers; soldiers who understand hardship and are not struggling with free will choices as if there is any validity in them for man to even consider. There isn’t.
I sense I am different now than when I left. I thank God every morning for giving me the understanding that one must train with all of God’s weapons, and one must seek out and bind strong the weakness in one’s armor. Saint Paul understood this. Change for God, as He would have you change. That is the first thing He has willed me to do. When in God’s service, what good can I be to others if my work is clouded by my weaknesses of character and spirit, and my actions betray my words. Work must come from humility, and not from pride, so that others may truly sense God’s presence within you. Be like Christ.
Love and God Bless – Reese