Distance walked: 13.9 miles
Albums of the day: Blitzen Trapper (VII, American Goldwing, Furr, and Wild Mountain Nation)
Today’s plan was to walk all the way to Burgos. I was feeling good. My friends and I joked about the description of walking into Burgos from the Camino guide written by John Brierley. While the book is a wealth of information in a small package, some of his “mystical” reflections can be a bit too much for me, and he always seems to view cities in a melodramatically negative way (whereas we look forward to them as a place to enjoy Spanish urban culture). We have held dramatic readings of passages from the Brierley book: “Waymarking may be disturbed, so stay fully focused or you might lose your way- or your body. If nerves become frayed, you can always take refuge in [a smaller town].” It has become somewhat of a joke with us.
The weather was cold and rainy upon leaving Agès. Usually I don’t mind walking in the rain as long as I have a good rain jacket and my rain cover on my pack, and this was no different. I sloshed along through Atapuerca and up the rocky path of Sierra Atapuerca. At the top, I passed a cross and then saw a figure in the distance who appeared to be pacing back and forth. As I moved closer, I realized that the figure was Paivi, a Finnish woman who had shared a bunk with me in Belorado. She was not pacing but instead winding her way through a spiral labyrinth on the ground that someone had created out of rocks at the side of the Camino. “I walk from the outside all the way in, ” she shouted through the rain, “and now I go back out.”
Sounded like a good idea to me. Pilgrims passing by got a glimpse of two crazy women in rain gear, spiralling to nowhere in the wet grass.
I was content to be walking in the rain, even though it showed no signs of stopping. Somewhere at the halfway point, I looked ahead and saw the Camino detour sharply from the road, head down a bank, and continue through a narrow path in a wheat field to another road. It seemed like an unusual path, but I saw the brightly colored rain gear of other pilgrims trudging through the field ahead of me, so I followed.
When I reached the bank, I saw that it was much steeper and muddier than I had expected. I gingerly stepped downward, trying to stabilize myself on my trekking poles as much as possible. But it was too wet and slippery in the rain, even for the poles: my shoe started to slide down over the grass, and the next thing I knew I was falling down the hill, landing awkwardly on my side in the mud with my left arm outstretched above me, poles still in hand. Shaken and filthy but not hurt, I struggled to get up out of the mud. I slipped around but finally managed to get onto the muddy path through the wheat field. There was not much walking space, and the mud was so thick that the tips of my poles would stick, causing the metallic tubes to come apart when I pulled up, with only the internal cord holding the pole together.
It was then that I looked up and saw the road that went around the field. I wasn’t even on the Camino: my fall had happened during an unnecessary shortcut.
Son of a….
I let out a few choice words which (thankfully) went unheard in the rain, then continued on to join the main road… which was also 100% mud. Every step was a challenge, between concentrating on not slipping and trying to kick off the platters of mud which were quickly accumulating on the sides of my shoes. Have you ever seen Dick Tracy, where the mobsters kill Lips Manlis (yes, I remember fictional movie characters’ names, thank you) by filling boxes around his feet with cement and then throwing him into the river? That’s what the built-up mud around my shoes felt like.
Once the muddy part stopped, the walk was actually not too bad. I trekked past the Burgos airport and into a small suburb, where the road split into different options. One unpleasant-looking option stretched next to the highway into town; when I tried the other option, however, it led me to a secluded area that bordered what looked like a trailer park. I hadn’t seen another pilgrim in over an hour, and the overlying dark clouds made the woods ahead appear very ominous. I was getting the creeps, so I quickly turned around and headed back towards the highway.
The markings along the highway started to become somewhat scattered after a while, at times taking me past an area of abandoned buildings covered in graffiti parallel to the highway. This was the first time on the Camino that I ever felt unsafe, so I was relieved once I got into town. Even so, I think I may have somehow taken the wrong road, because I walked for what seemed like forever without seeng any type of yellow arrows. I stopped about four times for directions and then became aware that I was walking through a city wearing hiking clothes that were covered in dried mud; no wonder I was getting strange looks from passersby. I stupidly hadn’t eaten in a long while and so was getting that cranky, helpless, Becky-with-low-blood-sugar feeling.
I thought back to the Brierley guide and didn’t know whether to hysterically laugh or cry as I thought, “MY NERVES ARE FRAYED!!!!”
I was at the point where I was just wandering around aimlessly because I didn’t even know exactly where I wanted to go when an older man approached me. “Albergue?,” he asked. “Si,” I replied, not having the energy to do anything else. I learned from him that all of the municipal albergues were full, so he took me to a group of privately owned rooms called Hostal Lar, where I paid, got my credencial stamped, had the hostel owner take a photo of my mud-covered ensemble, and then promptly passed out for the next few hours on my bed.
When I woke up, I got an email informing me that Colin, Lukas, Chris, and Jasmin were also staying in the same hostal, but a few floors down. And then it was time to enjoy Burgos with my friends.