Post-Nap Porto and the Beer Pilgrimage

This is part of a series on my trip last year. You can read the first and second posts here.

Part 2: September 30, 2019

It is dark in my room when I wake up. The curtains are closed but I can’t see what time it is outside. Is it Tuesday? Or has only a half hour passed? My earplugs, still saturated from my post-shower hair, have expanded in my ears, and for a solid 15 seconds, and I cannot get them out. I am in darkness, I cannot hear, and I have no idea where I am. I paw desperately at the squishy earplugs. I am off to a great start.

I finally dislodge them and sit up, a new woman. I slept! It is 6pm, a perfectly rational and safe time to still go outside without knowing where I’m going. My anxiety about getting lost in the city in the dark is still too strong, so I decide to trace my pre-memorized route from my hotel to the Camino itself. I pocket my whistle, just in case (of what? I’m not so sure.)

The Camino, no matter the route, is famously marked with painted yellow arrows. In some areas, the road includes blue-and-yellow scallop shells–the symbol of the ancient hike. Finding a yellow arrow sends comfort down your spine. It is a reminder that you didn’t goof up, that you’re still headed in the right direction. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve zoned out on the trail, only to come back to reality 20 minutes later, terrified that I missed a turn. Arrows are great.

Continue reading

Saudade and the Day I Fell in Love With Porto

This post is part of a series. Day one of my trip lives here!

September 30, 2019: Part 1

When our plane finally coasted into Monday’s sunrise, my shoulder mate rose from his sweet slumber and thanked me in Spanish for not waking him up. I helped him and his wife order breakfast from the flight attendant that only spoke English and Portuguese–which was only possible because we were using all the basic phrases on learns one Duolingo in the first three months. “He wants coffee without sugar please.” “Do you have a bottle of water?” High five, persistent little green bird.

With a jolt of caffeine in my system, there was now a better chance I would get to my hotel in one piece. I desperately hoped they’d let me check in early. I was becoming a bit cross-eyed and it was supposed to be a particularly hot day. If they didn’t, I had four sweaty hours ahead of me until I could lay my head on a pillow, and my body could not fathom that many hours in the standing position with my pack.

Continue reading

A Year Ago Today I Got On An Airplane

I haven’t written a blog post since March 21st.

I write for myself in my journal and I have a job where I write for companies that want to sell something or help people sell something. I’m thankful for both of those outlets.

But, what do I write to you? I don’t have a clue what to tell you about the past six months. I don’t have advice yet, I don’t have hindsight. I’m still scared.

Still, a year ago today, I got on an airplane at Newark Airport bound for Porto. I know about that at least.

I’ve fallen back on my Camino writing many times in the past, and so, here we are. I’ll write about that because I have nothing else to say. I’ll write about that because I could use a reminder of a great adventure when there was a road in front of me that made sense and hope for what came at the end of it.

And I can hope that next year I will write about my fourth Camino–this time with Ben.

Day 1: EWR to OPO, September 29, 2019

In case you’ve stumbled upon this blog for the first time (hi!), I’ve walked the Camino de Santiago–an ancient pilgrimage-turned-spiritual hiking trail–three times since 2009. My previous two trips began in a small French town called St. Jean Pied de Port, climbed over the Pyrenees Mountains, and headed across Northern Spain to a city called Santiago de Compostela. Both trips were about 500 miles and took five weeks to complete.

Continue reading

Learning to Be Still in a Hurricane

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

I woke up this morning and reached for the trusty words of Pema Chödrön:

“Underlying hatred, underlying any cruel act or word, underlying all dehumanizing, there is always fear–the utter groundlessness of fear. This fear has a soft spot. It hasn’t frozen yet into a solid position. However much we don’t like it, fear doesn’t have to give birth to aggression, or the desire to harm ourselves or others. When we feel fear or anxiety or any groundless feeling, or that the fear is already hooking us into “I’m going to get even” or “I have to go back to my addiction to escape this,” then we can regard the moment as neutral, a moment that can go either way. We are presented all the time with a choice. Do we return to the old destructive habits or do we take whatever we’re experiencing as an opportunity and support for having a fresh relationship with life?”

Continue reading

A Freelance Writing Guide for the Coronavirus Shutdown

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Friends. I started this blog in 2010 when I was brand new to the city. Back then, I was mainly an actor, which meant I was actually paying my bills by temping, babysitting, and catering/working auctions at events. Any breakdown in social structure–such as our current state with the coronavirus–tossed my budget out the window in just days.

When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, my now-husband and I were both living freelance paycheck-to-paycheck, but our recent move to Jersey City meant that our income essentially halted. The Path trains to NYC shut down for a month, and though private busses started up eventually, you typically had to wait in line for hours to get a seat. Our income was non-existent for about two weeks, which was more than enough to make us scared about groceries and rent. After the whole debacle, we both took full-time jobs and focused away from theatre for nearly five years (and never truly turned back, honestly).

For everyone suddenly separated from their only source of income, I hear you. Times like these are not only scary for next month’s rent, but can scare you out of the field for good. If there’s one piece of advice I learned from our experience, it is to never make life-altering decisions or declare massive changes when you’re in a panic. However, the massive change after Sandy did eventually help me find my current full-time freelance career in marketing writing.

If you are interested in learning a new work-from-home strategy while we all have time, read on!

Continue reading

13 Sensible Reasons to Walk Across a Country

I spend most hiking conversations doing one of two things: 50% secretly convincing the other person that they should also walk across a country and 50% defending why I don’t go on “normal vacations.”

I’m very aware that I’ve spent a perhaps-unhealthy amount of time talking about the Camino de Santiago on this blog, but as I said, I am either defending my strange choices or slowly convincing you to join me.

I’ve already listed the lofty reasons to walk for a really long time. It can reorganize your brain, connect you with people on a genuine level, and shatter the way you see the world. Great.

I’m not here to talk about all that stuff. I’m here to talk about all the reasons I grasp onto when I can’t fathom all the lofty business. The I-don’t-want-to-make-dinner reasons. The I-don’t-want-to-answer-another-email reasons. So if you’re not convinced because of all the out-there stuff, think smaller.

Without further ado, here are:

13 Sensible Reasons to Walk Across a Country

Continue reading

Tips for New Freelance Writers: Avoiding Shady Job Posts

Photo by Hannah Wei on Unsplash

Now in my third year of freelance writing, I occasionally catch myself turning down potential clients and invitations to interview for no discernible reason. I’ve been burned more than a handful of times–as many freelancers have–both before and after I’ve done the requested work, so I can be a little quick to judge.

On one hand, just because something sends up a red flag doesn’t mean the client will drag me through the mud if I give them a chance. On the other, finding new work is a large percentage of freelancing, so it’s important not to spread yourself thin if you know the client won’t be a good fit.

So how do you know a potential freelance client is worth pursuing? And once you get started, how do you welcome a potential client while clearly communicating your needs?

UpWork was (and still is) an excellent resource for my freelancing career. However, whenever I speak to new writers looking to break off into freelancing, I say, “There are a lot of garbage job posts out there. Same as any other site, you just have to sort through them to find the good ones.”

Though you may never know if you’re a perfect fit with a client until after an interview or initial assignment, you can pick up on a few clues before getting started. So if you’re just jumping in (or if you’re a freelance veteran and have some to add), take a look at these red-flag job posts I’ve learned to avoid.

Continue reading

“I’ll tell you where the real road lies.”

My confidence has been knocked down a few pegs this evening. I tried an aerial yoga class, and though the teacher was very supportive, I felt a bit like my chonky cat tangled up in the shower curtain while the rest of the class flipped around like trapeze artists.

So as I ice my bruised armpits, I’m going to write a story about the hardest day on my Portuguese Camino. I haven’t been writing many blog posts on my recent hike. But I am happy to report that I am finally moving along with my book! It’s slow, but it feels structured and real this time. One can hope.

Arcade to Briallos, 28 Kilometers (17.3 miles): Day 10 of 12

I pulled out my hiking playlist for the hardest parts of the day, especially if I needed to be in my own head. The recent musical Hadestown makes several appearances on it, including the climactic song at the end of the second act. Hermes, the narrator, yells out the following lyrics as he sings to a traveling Orpheus and Eurydice:

You got a lonesome road to walk.
It ain’t along the railroad track.
It ain’t along the black-top tar
You’ve walked a hundred times before.
I’ll tell you where the real road lies:
Between your ears, behind your eyes.
That is the path to paradise,
And, likewise, the road to ruin.

*********

With only 12 days to get from Porto to Santiago de Compostela, I’d have to get through some longer days to balance out the shorter ones. These eight-hour treks seemed more reasonable toward the end of the trip — I’d have more muscle mass, more awareness of how to walk alone, and an overall greater sense of bravery. Day 10 was set to be my longest and I prepared my head for it the day before.

Up until this point, I remained in step with my tight-knit Camino family. We’d leave within an hour or so of one another, meet at the first cafe for a croissant, and message each other about any wild dogs (yes, this was a legit issue), confusing arrows, or in one case, a very tasty fig tree at arms length on the edge of town. Though I planned to meet my friend Neha at the hostel in Briallos, I knew my slow pace required a lot of time, and so I left significantly ahead of the pack. I was also worried that the public hostel in Briallos–the only option for a good deal of time–could fill up quickly if I didn’t hop to it.

The day would probably take about 7 hours of walking time, 8 when you factor in breaks and other random hold ups. I’d leave at 6:30am and hope to get there before 3.

The night before, I packed my bag as far as I could and folded up my clothing by the foot of my bed. My eyes shot open 15 minutes before my alarm went off at 6. Despite my fear of walking alone in the dark, I was ready for a day that felt like those on the Camino Frances–unpredictable and long with a mighty reward at the end.

(Not from the day I’m writing about, but a solid Camino sunrise shot.)

When I headed out the door of the hostel all suited up, it was still pitch black. Forty-five minutes until the sun was set to rise. We’d spent the night in a small village on the edge of a river. A man leaned against one of the buildings smoking a cigarette and I fumbled with my headlamp to show I wasn’t in the mood to have a chat with a man on a dark street. I also pulled out my emergency whistle, wrapped it around my wrist and held it at the ready.

Friends, word of advice. If you want to save money on hiking equipment: do so on a t-shirt or a hat. Do not save money on a headlamp. When you need your hand lamp to work, it needs to quickly. My clearance lamp activated with a very confusing series of swipes across the top, not with a button like any reasonable human would invent. After about 15 failed attempts, it lit up across the path in front of me. I pointed it down slightly so it wouldn’t pick up the thick mist, and closed my mouth from fear of dive-bombing buggies.

Continue reading

Coming Home Requires Patience

Coming home requires patience. I’m three weeks out from my trip and I still find myself retreating into the solitary part of my mind that shielded me from a world of little red notification flags at the top of a screen.

What’s odd is that I am having trouble recounting each hiking day in my mind, despite their vivid differences and difficulty.

I could sort through my photos, look at my hiking app or read my journal, but I don’t even have any interest yet. The hardest part is not having the words to express the trip around those I love. Yet again, the Camino took me into its arms and let me go without a way to package up my story into any understandable form.

I was my other self for 12 days.

The two selves do not compete, they are equal, they help one another, but they are different people. The goal, of course, is to meld the two into one persona no matter where I am. How many more Caminos will that take?

The thing that confuses me the most is the frequency of two questions: How long did you walk? And, did you go alone?

The first makes sense to me. It is the most relatable stat if you know little else about the trip. It’s a way of wrapping your head around the basic logistics of what I’m telling you.

It is hard, however, to feel that the other question is not rooted in inadvertent sexism, no matter how well-intentioned everyone is. We all say these things by accident; I know I do. We just don’t realize that we, on some level, distrust a woman’s overall competence or her ability to remain aware of an unsafe world. One of my favorite Outside Magazine articles talks about how, statistically speaking, the most dangerous place for a woman is her own home, not the hiking trail.

My favorite quote:

“…being solo in the backcountry is one of the only times in my life that I’ve been able to exist as a body and a person without worrying about how other people might try to claim my body as their own. Crossing frozen rivers on my hands and knees, curling up in my sleeping bag, waking at dawn in a bed of dew—these are the moments when the shadow of that vulnerability fades, and the only thing that exists is the beautiful, indifferent landscape and my own strength and skills. Going alone into the wilderness is one of the ways I reclaim myself. It is an act of joy and an act of self-defense.”

But the moment a woman travels abroad, sound the alarms! She’s a wild one just asking for trouble.

After the hike, I rode a bus from Santiago to Porto next to a man about my dad’s age. He was a kind, quiet guy who had just walked from Leon on the Frances route for the first time.

“I have to ask you something,” I blurted out before we parted ways, “Do people act surprised that you are hiking alone?”

He looked confused as he thought back on it, “Not even once. People have never commented on it.”

*****

Back to the first confusing question, regarding the distance. The NY marathon finish line is just a few blocks from our new apartment.

This past Sunday, on the day of the big race, I wandered over to 80th and Columbus to get a cup of coffee and see if I could spot some racers finishing up. What I found was something incredibly similar to Santiago de Compostela. Fazed, bleary-eyed runners wrapped in blue emergency blankets walking on their hardening leg muscles as if they were slowly turning into petrified stilts.

Cozy, scarf-bundled onlookers greeted them all with a “Congratulations!” with a small yet appreciative nod in return.

This is the closest thing I’ve seen to finishing a pilgrimage. When I literally stumbled (I was a bit under the weather from some questionable squid) into Santiago this time, I had to brace myself on the stone wall before turning the corner into the final plaza in front of the cathedral. The earth seemed to spin around in the wrong direction for a moment, it shifted and shook like I was waking up from a dream. I nearly sat down to get my bearings.

But around me, music played. The touristy city went on with its sightseeing—one of the sights being me, a pilgrim for which the city is built. The visitors, grasping damp ponchos and curled up city maps, watched me with concern and curiosity. Not exactly the same energy as the marathon, but the separation between worlds feels the same.

When you reach the end, I’ve never thought about the mileage. I don’t mean this to sound profound or mysterious, the mileage is all relative, and at times, irrelevant.

What does hit me are how many mornings I awoke to a room of pilgrims slowly rolling out of their bunk beds, muscles aching from the day before, to dig out their hiking pants from their pack in the pitch black.

I think of slipping my shoes over delicately wrapped feet and ankles padded only by slightly damp socks that didn’t quite dry on the line overnight because of the dew the crept in after the sun went down.

The dinners around a large, loving table mix with the nights spent eating Galician soup alone or with a group I share no common language. I think about the scraps of hoarded food still tucked into the pockets of my backpack in case I got caught on the trail without a place to stop.

I measure my trip in the real challenges: counting out the kilometers to make it to your destination on time, fussing with your headlamp in the pitch black of the forest before the sun comes up, struggling through Portuguese and Spanish to explain to a pharmacist that your skin is breaking out in a confusing heat rash and you have no idea why. I think of all the nights lying awake as the orchestra of snores begin their song around you while all you can do is think about your husband commuting home from work at that exact moment.

I think of all the spaces in between, filled with the layers up layers of saturated eucalyptus forests, conversations with a pack of horses by the side of the road, laughing until you can’t take another sip of your drink because of a joke you’ll never be able to retell once you’re home.

As for the mileage? A marathoner and a hiker can tell you that one mile on a beautiful morning after a fresh breakfast is no comparison to one mile on a sore ankle in the rain. There are days when your backpack feels like a load of rocks stretching your shoulders closer to the ground and others when it’s a warm koala giving you a soft squeeze. There is even the great phenomenon that the final 4 kilometers of a hiking day is always more painful than the rest, no matter how far you’ve gone.

****

I was recently asked about my career endeavors, to which I surprised myself by answering, “I don’t have any right now.” Where does that leave me? I want to complete my Camino book, but I want to write it so people know about the possibility of a life focused around a constant journey. As for the business side of it? Nothing fires off in my brain, nothing sparks. As for theatre, I’ve enjoyed auditioning lately, but the thought of marketing my body and artistic interests the same way one would market a jar of pickles does nothing for me.

I am not sad, I am not unmotivated, I just want to be. Was this the point of all of it?

I just left a world where people don’t need anything beyond their basic needs. If someone needs help, you give it to them – you don’t make assumptions about why they don’t have it or if you’ll need it more later. What you packed at home was just as much for you as the people you pass.

Perhaps you can never 100% come home once you’ve lived that way. Like Narnia or Hogwarts. You’re always aware that the other world exists at this very moment, even if you can’t or don’t want to live there all the time.

I am happy to be home. This is the space I need to let that world settle and gain worth in my bones. But like I said, coming home requires patience. I will keep moving slowly, as I did before.

My Heart is Still in Porto

Marcie–the South Carolinan sitting to my right–held my hand during the entire, hair-raising, hour-and-fifteen-minute descent into Newark airport. She saw me panicking during our last bout of turbulence that sent even the flight attendants rushing to their jump seats, and gripped my hand without even looking up from her book. As life would have it, she’d also walked a part of the Camino the year prior. A pilgrim by my side until the final moments of my trip.

Three loud and generally uncomfortable Portuguese people in the 70s in the row ahead of us spent the flight annoyed by everything and everyone. I can’t blame them; I’ve always been more of a “feet on the ground” person myself. Flying is a necessary evil of travel for me. During the descent, however, they audibly prayed to each saint, one by one. My Portuguese may have been confined to “obrigada,” “você fala ingles?” and, “Um cerveja, por favor,” but the rhythmic chanting of the litany of the saints was pretty recognizable.

“I think the rest of us are praying to St. Seagram’s,” Marcie’s husband dad-joked as the plane slanted uncomfortably for the umpteenth time.

Continue reading