Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Camino de Santiago - finished!

Just to let everyone know that I reached Santiago de Compostela, or more accurately the cathedral at about 09:30 yesterday morning. 

Since then I have been pottering around, simply enjoying the energy of the place and the massive sense of positivity that is ever present. Much time for reflection. 

And I've been eating 'some' ice cream!!

In bare figures, it took me just over 12 days to travel just under 800km (500 miles). I covered between 54-72km/day, averaging around 63km/day. Including sight seeing, chatting and food rests, I was out for 8.5-12 hours daily. 

However, this was never about time, distance or numbers. Yes, of course it was a big physical challenge, but that was not the primary reason for doing the Camino de Santiago. It is a pilgrimage and it has been has been a pilgrimage for me. I have had many, many very special experiences, encounters, and conversations.  Many moments of sheer wonder. It has been a remarkable experience - one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.  

Now I am looking forward to getting home tomorrow.  

I will fill in the gaps in my daily updates on my return and will upload photos. When I've got myself suitably recovered, I will put some thoughts and conclusions together. 

Thanks to everyone who has followed my adventure and sent encouragement - always greatly appreciated. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Camino de Santiago Monday 25th May: Day 13

A Rua – Santiago de Compostela
21km, total time on the way 3:30

Woke in a pool of sweat. Body is really breaking down and all the waste products are fighting to get out. Left at 06:00 chomping my standard breakfast on the go. My calf wasn’t quite as sore as yesterday morning and I was able to walk  properly quite quickly. It was also a lot warmer than yesterday morning.

Start thinking about my journey. The start in St Jean Pied de Port seems so long ago but also seems only like yesterday. What an amazing adventure. More than I ever expected, more than I could have ever hoped for

The kilometers roll by. At the 10km marker I begin to feel excited, and start singing to myself like a little boy. But the next few kilometers seem to pass so slowly and my calf is stiffening up.

Through the outskirts of Santiago and into the old part of the city. I arrive at what I think is the entrance to the cathedral….but it’s actually the back. Round 2 more corners to the main entrance. All but the top of one tower is under wraps for renovation, and the classic entrance is closed.

Finally find the entrance on the 4th and final side.

It’s all a bit underwhelming. 

There’s lots of noise, too many people. More than ever, I truly comprehend that it’s the journey that is so important. The sights, the people, those moments of utter bliss and understanding. The birdsong.

I go into the cathedral but I’m told to leave as I’ve got my rucksack on!

Deposited my rucksack at left luggage (for 2€) and decided to get my compostela. There’s a long queue despite the relatively early hour. Some are excited, some quiet and lost in their own thoughts. Meet Nilton from Brazil again.
I ask nicely and smile sweetly, and get my compostela dated on my birthday.

Next challenge…find a hotel. Parador is very expensive. Everywhere else seems to be booked up. One lady say “Oh yes. I have a lovely room for you. Internet, living room, bathroom, kitchen” It’s a really grotty room with all facilities shared. I leave.

I come up with a cunning plan. I’ll walk a further 10km towards Finisterre where there is a recommended albergue. Grabbing some lunch, I set off with my newly purchased guide. After 2-3km, my calves are intolerably painful. I turn round, walk back to Santiago and book into the Parador!!

At last I started to relax a little and very nearly fell asleep in the bath.

I wandered around Santiago a bit more, had an ice cream, and met 3 other people that I met on my journey. What are the odds of that?

Had a walk around the cathedral which was much quieter now. Peaceful and moving. Visited the tomb of the apostle St James. There is a real sense of reverence and something feels very special. Find prayers being held in English just as they are finishing. Lovely chat with a very Irish priest – Father Joe. In my diary for tomorrow.

Nice seafood dinner, followed by another ice cream and some chocolate. Saw Nilton again.

Missing home/Jenny a lot this evening. Decide to move my flight forward from Friday to Wednesday. Will be home for my birthday.

Tomorrow will be a chance to take time and get my thoughts together. Camino Companions at 9, Pilgrim Mass at 12, prayers at 6. Plenty of time to reflect.

The journey is over for now and it was the journey that was so special, so meaningful.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Camino de Santiago Sunday 24th May: Day 12

Ventas – A Rua
58.6km, total time on the way 11:15hrs

If yesterday was tough, then today was…well, tougher.

Rubbish sleep. Really restless and sweaty, and aware of my calf stiffening up all night. Had half planned to get going at 5am but quite honestly couldn’t be bothered and also, in my heart of hearts, I knew that 80km just wasn’t going to happen.

After massive taping of feet, I left at 06:00, eating an omelette bocadillos as I went.

From the outset, my left calf/soleus was incredibly painful and I was barely able to walk. I was close to tears. I couldn’t see how I could possibly get to Santiago and I just wanted to sit down.

There were none of the usual Camino waymarks for a bit and I passed through a village not on the map. I became increasingly concerned that I’d gone the wrong way – and, with the pain no better, I was beginning to panic. I dropped a glove – retrieval was a further black spot.

Reassuringly, I reached Ligonde, which was on the map. I stopped for a coffee and some toast. I was so hungry and so very tired. I was finding it really hard to get warm – I had 5 layers on my upper body and for the first time on the entire Camino, I had put on my running tights. Really miserable. I prayed for strength.

After 1.5 hours, my calf finally began to loosen and I could at least walk properly now. I even managed a mini-jog. “I will reach Santiago de Compostela. I will complete my pilgrimage”.

I reached Palais de Rei. Lots of pilgrims were starting their day here. I visited the church and cried…a lot. Today was going to be an emotional day.

Started chatting to anybody and everybody. Couple from Uraguay – a new country on my Camino list of nations. Realised 3 hours had passed now…relentless forward motion.

Entertaining chat with 2 Irish guys. The Irish are always a good laugh. They christened me “The Camino King of Lincoln Green” but pointed out that “Queen” would have fitted better!!

One can often tell someone’s nationality from a few murmurs before you can actually hear the words.

Passed a Mum pushing her toddler, who high-5’d me, in a buggy. They had started in Portomarin. Definitely the youngest pilgrim I had met on my travels.

Realised that I seemed to be having so many meetings and occurrences this morning, all of which were serving to lift my spirit. My strength was returning as was my positivity. I began to ooze positivity once more.

Met a Californian couple, who were raising awareness for Dewy’s dementia – their father had died from this last year.
“You’re nearly under the world record”
This was never about time or distance.

Through Melide, I started feeling rough again…just so tired. Decided to book somewhere just short of Pedrouzo, which would leave me 20km to do in the morning.

Passing through Ribadizo and Arzua, I was digging really deep. “It hurts so much. I’m just so tired”

Stopped for emergency food. Ice cream, pastry, chocolate, sweets and 2 cans of coke. The 5 main food groups!

I marched relentlessly on, and the kilometres slowly passed by. It felt so frustrating as today’s route was so runnable but my legs just wouldn’t allow it.

Eventually, I reached A Rua, where I had a room…with a bath!!! I had a very long cold bath followed by an even longer hot bath.

After dinner I felt very nauseous. Probably a combination of pain, exhaustion, dehydration and sunstroke…and anything else going.

Today was one of the hardest days in my ultrarunning/endurance memory, both physically and mentally. I probably managed to jog less than 2km – the rest was a forced march. But I asked for strength and I found it.

I fell asleep thinking of Santiago de Compostela. I will be both happy and sad to be finish.

Phrase of the day:
Relentless forward motion

Comment of the day:
Anything that stopped me thinking the pain!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Camino de Santiago - update after 11 days

So, 11 days on the Camino now. Another 64km/40miles or so today. Body/legs feeling it now - very sore and stiff calves, painful feet, nice blister on heel and another involving the whole of a toe!!!

Within striking distance of Santiago now. I've covered the best part of 700km in 11 days - just under 80km/50miles to go. Might have a crack at that tomorrow but given how my calves felt today, I'm not so sure that I can manage that kind of distance after 11 consecutive days covering between 55-72km daily. Plan to get up early and just see how it goes.

Truly an inspirational experience but painful now!!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Camino de Santiago Saturday 23rd May: Day 11

Alto do Poio - Ventas de Naron
65.7km (+2-3km for navigational errors!),  total time on the way 11:30hrs

A tough, tough day. My left calf/soleus was sore and stiff all day, my feet were just generally hurting, I had a most peculiar pain in my right big toe on and off, and I developed a nice blister on my right heel.

I left at 06:30 after a cafe con leche and a pastry, having really struggled to get my shoes on due to superbly swollen feet.

Blue, cloudless skies for the third consecutive days, and the birds sang to ease my pain. The countryside is much greener in Galicia, almost English-looking. Some lovely downhill trail towards Triacastela initially loosened my calf up a little. It was much warmer than yesterday and I was in a t-shirt by 08:00.

Tricastela was a pleasant little town, still waking up. I managed to go the wrong way out of the town and added at least a kilometre. 

On the way to Sarria, I met Marty Coffey from Arizona. The conversation was started by the fact that we had identical shoes on - Hoka Stinsons. Now well into his 60's, Marty is an ultra runner having completed Western State 100 and Badwater in the 1990's. We had a great chat.

Arrived in Sarria. This is typically the point where a lot of Spanish weekend-trippers join the Camino. To get your compostela in Santiago, you only need to have walked the last 100km - Sarria is approximately at the 110km mark.

The main church was closed. I popped into a sports shop and checked out their shoes. My Hokas were getting a bit battered, but there was nothing that would give me the extra cushioning I needed to get me to Santiago. It was me and my Hokas all the way.

Had a very tasty bocadillos and also found some proper ice cream - only the second such occurrence on the camino. It had been mainly Magnums to this point. On the way out of Sarria, I quickly visited Monastery de la Magdalena. I had to ring a bell to enter, but inside it was a haven of peace.

Managed 2 further wrong turns before Portomarin. Noticed many more walkers with small packs - the Sarria starters. My calf was hurting all the time now, limiting the amount of running possible.

Sign posting in Portomarin was a little confusing and just to make matters worse, a taxi driver directed me in the wrong direction. Thanks!

I wasn't feeling in the best humour by now and realised that any further distance today was a bonus. I decide to go on a bit further and was happy to see "Santiago 100km" sign. Never though I'd be happy to see a 100km to go sign!

It was a steep climb out of Portomarin, at the top of which my blister became agonisingly painful. I was reduced to a shuffling hobble. Fortunately I met another pilgrim and our conversation took my mind off the pain. This lady had started from Le Puy in France and had just gone past her 1500km mark!

Stopped at the very pleasant Casa Molar in Ventas, with its dorm in a converted barn. Took my sock off to survey my heel blister and discovered that my 4th toe had been completely taken over my a blood blister. I hadn't even noticed that one!

Had a beer and 2 packets of crisps as recovery, then a pleasant meal, followed my a Magnum! Back in the dorm, someone suggested I see a doctor about my blister if it was no better in the morning. No comment.

I am now 80km from Santiago. Will give that a go tomorrow but now sure that my legs have got that in them. I have now covered 55-72km for 11 consecutive days - no wonder I'm a bit knackered!!

Phrase of the Day:
Courtesy of Marty Coffey: "I fricking love it out here" - and that pretty much sums it up.

Comment of the day:
Canadian ladies: "Why are you running?"
Richard: "Probably for the same reason you are walking"

Friday, May 22, 2015

Camino de Santiago Friday May 22nd: Day 10

Molinaseca – Alto do Poio
68.6km, total time on the way 12:00hrs

It was tough work getting going this morning with calves and Achilles particularly stiff. In fact, this was the first day when the whole thing became tough and everything started to hurt.

Left around 06;20 and ate a couple of pastries on the go. Made good time to Ponferrada and its magnificent Templar castle, which was, at 07:00, naturally closed.

Grabbed my second breakfast in Columbrianos at 8:10. This food stuff is beginning to get expensive.

Passing through Fuente Nuevaas a small chapel caught my attention. I felt drawn to go inside. A German lady was sobbing. I went up to her, put a hand on her shoulder and asked if she was OK.
“It’s just so hard….so tough…..walk, eat, sleep, repeat….day after day”
I tried to console her and reassure her that she would be OK and that she could do it. She smiled and thanked me. A very nice but somewhat surreal experience.

I visited a lovely little chapel in San Roque and through several small villages before swinging off through farmland to Valtuille de Arriba. This tiny village took ‘sleepy’ to a new level – ant sleepier and it would have been hibernating.

In Villafranca del Bierzo, I stopped for my regular chorizo y queso (chorizo with cheese) boccadillo, some cake and an apple. Fortified, I start on the long trek to O’Cebriero, 29km away.

The Camino now went gradually uphill along roadside concrete/tarmac for about 20km. My feet were really beginning to hurt as were my calves and I wasn’t having much fun at all. A magnum had little effect and I was forced to have a sit down in Trabadelo to fortify myself again – coke, doughnut & chocolate.

I trudged onwards through several more villages. In Vega de Valcarie I got some nice chocolaty, spongy thing.

At Hermianos, the road started getting significantly steeper, and then at last we were onto trail up to La Faba. Now the trail opened out and we were treated to spectacular views in all directions as the way entered Galicia.

Feeling much happier now, I made short shrift of the final few kilometres to O’Cebreiro. I decided to carry and drop down towards Triacastela a little.
Hospital de la Condesa looked like a good bet for a bed but everywhere was full. I rang ahead to Fonfria – again all complete (full). I was beginning to get a bit worried as I had now been out for the best part of 12 hours.

Fortunately the albergue at Alto do Poio had a space. At 1335m, this is the highest point of the Camino in Galicia. The hostel itself was a bit grotty and both showers were broken with only a trickle of hot water. However, the meal was absolutely superb. Pasta with chorizo, followed by a superb beef stew and potatoes, and then Tarte de Santiago. One lady appeared to be doing all the checking in, cooking and serving. Her husband seemed to be helping by sitting at the bar.

A really tough day – my legs were not happy – but a great day as well. When the view opened out approaching O’Cebreiro it was magnificent.

Phrase of the day:

Comment of the day:
“Walk, eat, sleep, repeat”

Life is that simple.