First of all, I have to thank Tim Casey for very generously contributing to my birthday fundraiser. Tim is a dear friend of me and my husband, and also an inspiring running coach!! Thank you Tim!!
I’ve been struggling with the idea of writing today because I had one of those nights. One of those–watching the hours tick by as your desperately try to sleep–kind of nights. I’ve been followed by on-and-off waves of insomnia since high school, and it’s never gotten easier. The mindset that develops during these long minutes of solitude are usually determined by how much activity awaits you the following day. Luckily today, though long, is relatively mindless. As long as I don’t take someone’s head off at my evening work meeting and storm away in a huff of chucking papers in the air, we’ll be set.
But other times, I have not been so lucky. The worst being the night before my first day of hiking on…you guessed it…the Camino. You know, that thing I keep writing about. You can read a long, rambling version of my first day here. But for now, I’ll tell you about what lead up to this.
Before you reach St. Jean Pied Du Port, a traditional starting place of the Camino Frances (one route option of the Camino de Santiago), most people board a train from a nearby city. In Bayonne, France, you board a smaller train–not so different looking from the Path from NYC to Jersey City, but this time with all the hikers awaiting their fate. It is the last means of transportation for five weeks other than slumping along on foot. So as you can imagine, the energy of the train is somewhere between a nervous enthusiasm and dreadful anticipation.
We stepped off the train at the entrance of this tiny province, and shutters flung open as the townspeople looked down upon our arrival. It was not unlike the village from Beauty and the Beast–just with less dancing…or bakers…or well, chauvinistic men harassing women via the art of song. Before heading to the public hostel, we stopped by the Pilgrim office for our official rundown on crossing the Pyrenees the next day. A small, feisty French women sat us down, group by group, and highlighted the treacherous route through the often unmarked path to Roncesvalles. It was by far, the steepest, highest, and longest trek of the whole hike–which at least gave you a lot to look forward to.
She smacked the highlighter against the paper in several spots, remarking that “here and here” were the last places to get water for at least 10 miles. She then looked us in the eye. When you real “The field,” you will know it. If the weather is bad, you will have some trouble, so walk carefully. There is no path in the field, you must find the first marker and walk in an absolutely straight line, otherwise, you will not come to the marker on the other side.
Have you seen the movie The Way? You know how Martin Sheen’s character’s son dies because he falls off a cliff (spoiler alert)? Yeah, it’s on this day–probably somewhere around the field. Little did we know, we would walk on one of the worst weather days that year, with such terrible visibility that the hostel should have held us for a day. Ah well, I’m here in one piece.
Anyway, reality begins to set in after that calming chat, and Claire and I head to the hill on the side of the mountain to the monastery-turned hostel. This long, stone building filled with happy pilgrims, stretches far in either direction. The long hallways are dotted with doorless rooms, each with two beds. At the end of each hall is one communal bathroom, and one communal light switch. Once lights are off, they are off.
But Claire and I are up for the adventure. I take my first “Camino shower” (a 5-minute, vaguely warm shower while a line of other pilgrims wait outside), and am thrilled for sleep. Claire and I take some happy photos of ourselves getting ready for the day, and we curl up in bed and someone called lights out.
And then, my friends, I laid there. I laid there thinking about all the things you think about when you can’t sleep–
Taking me a while to wind down, hmm. How fascinating.
I wonder how much time has gone by, probably should check that out. I bet it’s been 10 minutes. It’s been 2 hours.
Maybe if I meditate, I will fall asleep. I meditate, I start to overanalyze how I meditate incorrectly. I bail on meditating.
If I get at least 7 hours of sleep, I will be okay tomorrow.
Another hour passes
If I get even 5 hours of sleep, I will be okay tomorrow.
Suddenly, I have to pee.
Good thing I have this headlamp, I bet a change of scenery will help.
I return, it did not help.
This is stupid. We shouldn’t even go tomorrow. What happens if I just keel over? I won’t keel over, because as long as I get 4 hours of sleep, I’ll be fine.
I suddenly get a weird cramp in my side. I realize why.
Oh good. So on top of insomnia, tomorrow, I will have cramps all day. So glad I have this 20-pound pack wrapped around my abdomen all day.
Somewhere around 2 am, in the midst of this cyclical madness, I fall asleep. I wake around 6 to find Claire reading a Spanish copy of Harry Potter that she found in the hallway, strangely enough just after I fell asleep. We exchanged our woes of sleepless madness and begin to gather our things for the day.
So on four hours of sleep, with a storm of wind, fog, and sleet in the distance, we begin our first day…
For the first story, check out my Day 1 post from a few years ago.
The moral of the story is, each time I have insomnia, it never compares to that night. I may have a long day and tedious meeting this evening, but I did not hike 28 km over the Pyrenees this morning on four hours of sleep with terrible cramps. So hey, everything is relative.