It was so cold this morning that my hands went numb in the pre-dawn darkness. The sky was clear and the stars were bright. The Milky Way burned above me. I could see it.
I followed a gravel road out of town and alongside a river where old men stood fishing. The sun rose and I waited for it to warm my hands. I stopped for coffee in a tiny village and huddled over the cup until the steam rose in my face and fogged my sunglasses.
The trail curved and turned into a gravel path that paralleled an empty highway. There was nothing and everything to see all at once. The sun was behind me and I chased my shadow. I put in earphones and turned on a song with a harmonica.
I felt like I was in a movie. I imagined a scene where the character has undergone a long journey. The director uses shots of the actor walking. A music montage plays in the background. The director is trying to express that lots of things have happened but there isn’t time to explain them all.
I walked. At some point the gnats and flies started swarming. I took my walking stick and swung at them like they were tiny baseballs. But I couldn’t hit them so instead I tried a Zen approach. I attempted to stay calm as their stupid little bodies bounced against my sunglasses and into my mouth. Finally I yelled f—! and stopped to find something in my bag to swat them with.
As I dug through my backpack Hugh approached.
“Stupid flies!” I yelled.
“These flies are just another reason to go home,” he said. “What’s the point?” Hugh was grumpy again.
“Well, what was the point in starting?” I asked.
“I thought I’d see what it was all about,” said Hugh. “But I didn’t see Martin Sheen swatting flies.” Hugh was referring to the movie The Way. “I didn’t see Martin Sheen sleeping in the top bunk or standing in line to take a cold shower.”
“I think Martin Sheen was rich and stayed in nice hotels,” I said, trying to smooth the situation.
“Well, either way,” said Hugh, “I’d rather be at home asleep in my big bed with my lady friend. I’d rather be with my dogs. I’d rather eat whatever I felt like eating. I’d rather be comfortable.”
“It sounds like you’re homesick, Hugh.”
“Yeah, I suppose I am. I’m a little lonely too, I guess.”
I nodded and we walked together a minute in silence.
“So, do you think you’ll go home?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I’m leaning that way. What’s the point?” he said again.
I wanted to tell Hugh that there probably is a point even if he doesn’t know it yet. I wanted to tell him that you usually learn the most about yourself in the times when you want to quit but don’t. But I figured that by his age he probably already knows these things.
Hugh slowed down because his leg was hurting him and I sped up because I always speed up at the end. I thought about how the Camino is affecting me in the opposite way that it is affecting Hugh. The Camino is teaching Hugh to be grateful for home but it is reminding me that I am happy not to have one right now.
The tiny buildings of Carrion de los Condes appeared. I found an albergue run by nuns who sing folk music each evening at 5 p.m. and hold a special blessing for pilgrims in the church across the plaza at 8 p.m. I think I’ll go, just to see what happens.
Today I walked 15.2 miles (24.5 km).
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