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.