As mentioned in my “Pre-Camino” post, I hardly slept and had walked 5km before I even got on the bus from Pamplona to Roncesvalles. When the first bus of the day got there, it was already 11:20 and I had some serious concerns about covering the 27km to St Jean-Pied-de-Port (SJPP) before dark. This was a ridiculous fear, I would come to realise over the next couple of days, because it doesn’t get dark till gone 8pm, but I had been caught in mountains after sunset in Taiwan before and it’s not a happy place to be.
Anyway, due to this fear of stumbling blindly in the mountains at night, I decided I would set off immediately. The woman at the information office told me there were two paths to SJPP and that I could take either, as I wished. Standing at the point where the two paths diverged, one showed a climb of 500m over the space of about 1.5km, I thought I would take the other path, aware that my knees would be complaining.
There were a lot of puddles and streams and boggy bits, and after a couple of kilometres I realised I hadn’t seen a single marker. Thanks to my Hash training, I was fairly used to going offtrail and hadn’t been that fussed, but when the path disappeared, I realised I was going to have to backtrack. I’d gone wrong somewhere.
So back I went to Roncesvalles, to the original starting point. 9km already walked, it was 12pm, and I wasn’t even a kilometre closer to my destination. I got a little tearful walking back as I was really anxious about time and fatigue. Thinking about that first day, I realise just how much I learned on the Camino about letting go of such silly anxieties, and about not beating myself up when making mistakes. I started on that journey extremely anxious about planning everything ahead — I came out of it two weeks later able to let go of this anxiety which has plagued me for many years.
Anyway, there I was, Camino Take #2. I was at the bottom of a mountain trail, and now I needed to get to the top. Had I known just how hard it would be I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it, because it was so steep, like CRAZY steep, that the people walking DOWN it were freaking out. For the majority of pilgrims, it would have been their first day too, and they would have come all the way from SJPP and have been very, very tired — the temptation to just lay down and roll down this trail must have been strong. Many of them told me as I went up that it was hard, hard work — ça monte! ça grimpe dûr! they told me, and I gritted my teeth and kept climbing.
Eventually I reached the peak — the Col de Lepoeder, alt 1410m — and could turn around and see where I had come from. What a view!
I was pretty pleased with myself:
I stopped here for a brief lunch, then set off again, ever aware of the minutes ticking away. It felt fantastic to be going downhill, especially as everyone else was going uphill and looked hot, sweaty and exhausted. The views were incredible, and I wished, not for the last time, that I had something better than my dodgy phone camera to take pictures.
(I only did a couple of self-portraits and some landscape snaps on the first day and then ran out of interest in taking pictures fairly soon thereafter, so I’m putting most of what I have up for this first day)
I think my feet started to hurt around the time I crossed the Spain-France border. I was still only about halfway to SJPP but I’d already walked those 9 extra kms before getting started so I was starting to realise I was NOT going to make it to my destination — time wasn’t a problem, it was just that my feet were really sore.
I stopped at the Vierge d’Orisson for a minute, trying not to panic, and in fact barely giving the poor virgin a second glance.
Then I set off again, keeping my mind focused on walking and walking alone — worrying would not get me to my destination any faster, and there was nowhere else to go but straight on. Then just as I was becoming so focused on the pain in my feet that I thought I might have to lay down in the road and pray for deliverance, I rounded a corner and was met with a sight for sore eyes (and feet): L’Auberge d’Orisson.
The Auberge is quite pricy — 32 euros a night — but the nice lady informed me that they had a cheaper hostel (15E) down the road, just one more kilometre to go.
I had stopped my RunKeeper but I restarted it for this one last stage before the much-needed repose that was so close and yet so far… I’m surprised looking at the result that it was only 13 minutes — it felt like at least half an hour!
(I know these RK screencaps aren’t very exciting for most people, but this is also written for me, in this blog about things that I did for me… so please bear with them. Plus they are the only visual record I have after my phone’s camera went batty).
And at this shell of a hostel I stopped, showered, changed, ate, watched the sunset and then rolled into bed at 9pm (a record for me) and slept 12 solid hours till 9am. One of the best sleeps of my entire, sleep-poor life.
Total distance covered: 5km in Pamplona + 21.75km on the trail = 26.75km