The fourth and fifth days were the most challenging days of the Camino for me. After a night of fitful sleep in Astorga, we started off our 24 kilometer hike to Rabanal. Soon after leaving Astorga, the wind picked up until we were walking into a storm. The rain avoided us for an hour or two, however, and we were able to witness a couple beautiful rainbows to our right, pictured below.
By the time we stopped for second breakfast, it was obvious that we were about to be dealing with our first rain storm of the Camino. We donned our rain coats and shells for our backpacks, and continued onward. It rained on and off for the rest of the day, but I had some great conversations with Ethan, Rachel, and Coryn during the brief respites. As we neared Rabanal, the weather got increasingly rainy and cold, and my left ankle started to really hurt to the point that I was struggling to continue. However, I made up a poem in my head that would help me to keep going for the next few days:
The rain falls down my face like tears,
but still I will not cry,
and though the pain controls my gait,
Today I will not die.
I recited this in my head until I finally reached the albergue. I had the most delicious veggie soup for lunch, which really warmed me up after such a freezing walk. I thought that day was hard, but I had no clue what awaited me: mountain day.
Annie, based on her experience with the Camino, urged me to send my pack ahead on the fifth day, but I stubbornly decided that I would overcome the physical and mental strain and walk with my pack that day, lest the Camino would conquer me. My pack was a burden that I should have left behind; I am surprised I made it to Molinaseca that day.
When we left Rabanal, it was 2 degrees Celsius outside and drizzling. I ran out of moleskin the day before so was walking on 4 blisters with no protection. As we ascended the mountain, it was raining, snowing, or sleeting constantly; yes, I said snowing. This May was the coldest in 200 years, and we could feel it. As we struggled through the onerous task of climbing the mountain, we passed trees and power lines that were coated in ice, such as the one below.
At the top of the mountain, we stopped at Cruz de Ferro, an iconic Camino landmark at which you leave a rock that you have carried along the way. On my rock, I wrote one of my favorite J.R.R. Tolkien quotes: “not all who wander are lost”, along with a list of things I hope to find in my life. My desire is to come back to the Camino at a later point in life and see if I have found the things that I was looking for.
After leaving the Cruz de Ferro, my real struggle began. The steady downhill made my blisters hurt so bad that I may as well have been crawling at the speed I was going. At this point, it was Christina, Annie, and I walking together for the rest of the way. We slowly made our way through the mountain until the town in which we stopped for 3rd breakfast became visible. At that point, we could see the whole sun-dappled valley pan our below us, and it was a magnificent and uplifting sight.
I was so excited that I started running down the mountain, which hurt my feet less than the slow decent. We stopped in a small town for third breakfast, then continued on our way to Molinaseca. We arrived at lunch around 4 PM, to a round of applause from our fellow peregrinos. The walk into Molinaseca was so difficult that I found myself once again reciting my motivational poem to myself in my head.
Mountain day made me realize just how hard the Camino can be, and just how much experience and knowledge Annie has regarding the safety and resilience of her students on the Camino. I realized that bringing my pack that day was a manifestation of my pride and contumacy. The pain and struggle that I endured over these two days caused me to realize that no amount of training can possibly prepare you for the things you may encounter on the pilgrimage, and that it is better to admit that you need to take it easy for a day in order to be able to enjoy yourself and your surroundings for the rest of the trip.