It was day #15 on the Camino. The previous two days had delivered a steady bone-chilling rain and I awoke that morning in Hornillos del Camino to a deafening downpour. I wasted two euros trying, without success, to work the coffee machine, and I was homesick. By the time I left the albergue the rain had stopped and I stood in the puddled street trying to hook up to wifi to send Sam a text, as I did each morning. There was no signal, so I posed for a smiling selfie I'd send to him later on. I didn't want to burden Sam with my sadness - it was a gift for me to fly to Europe and walk across Spain. Complaining wasn't a luxury I allowed myself.
|A forced early-morning smile on day #15|
As I walked out of town the chorus of birds lifted my spirits and soon I was taking photos of wheat fields glowing in the early morning light.
|Early morning light|
The dirt track was wet, and in places deep mud made the walking difficult. Flattened wheat suggested that Pilgrims ahead of me had gone off the path into the farmer's fields to avoid the mud, but by now even those newly made paths were muddy so I trudged on.
After an hour and a half of walking totally alone, no others in sight, I stopped to leave a small pile of my dear friend Sue's ashes on a stone wall. Since leaving St. Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees two weeks earlier I had carefully selected places to leave the ashes, always with a view. At times it was as if Sue was with me and I could hear her laughing as I imagined her delight in my experience.
|I left some of Sue's ashes here|
I paused for a few moments of reflection and then took a short video of the view. As I filmed the trail behind me I spotted an approaching Pilgrim. He was gaining on me quickly; an older gentleman, with a slight limp. When he was near I commented on how quickly he had caught up to me. Laughing he said, "Well no one has said that to me before." Our conversation was easy and I welcomed the companionship.
Trevor walked ahead of me through the muddiest sections and as I slipped and groused behind him he offered steady encouragement, "We're almost through this section. I see dry road ahead." Not always accurate, but the words that I needed to push on through the thick, clinging sludge.
|Not my favorite walking|
Most days on the Camino I walked alone. I enjoyed the solitude and preferred to respond to my own pace rather than that of someone else. But on this day the Camino provided exactly what I needed, and that was a companion to help get my mind off of myself. Trevor and I walked on to Castrojeriz where we checked into an albergue and met up with Cameron, a millennial from New Zealand with whom Trevor had walked earlier.
|With Cameron and Trevor in Castrojeriz|
The next day we added Mary from Boston to our little group and later Jackie and Laura, a mother and daughter from Ireland joined us. We were crossing the Meseta, the high plateau that many consider the most tedious stages to walk. But we were all enjoying the Meseta, and the company of each other.
Our last day as a group was in León, eight days after Trevor and I first met up. Jackie and Laura were returning to Ireland, and Trevor and Mary stayed an extra day in León to give injuries a rest. Cameron and I walked together off and on for another few days before I went off on the Invierno route by myself.
It has been nearly three years since I walked the Camino and I have remained in touch with several of the people that I bonded with while walking. Linda visited while we were still in Oregon, and Lin stayed with us for a few days soon after we arrived in Spain.
|With Linda in Oregon|
|With Lin in the Alpujarras|
Sam and I enjoyed a fabulous weekend in Porto last May visiting with a group of five Portuguese who embraced me as their friend within minutes of meeting them in a bar near Santiago.
|With the greatest group of Portuguese friends in Porto for my birthday|
And yesterday Trevor and his wife Christine came and stayed the night with us.
|Trevor and Christine|
There is something special about Camino friendships. Thousands of people walk the Way each year, but each person chooses a particular day to begin, and as you walk you soon recognize many of the people who started on or near the same date. Days or weeks might pass and then you run into someone you shared a meal, or a bunk bed with.
I met many Pilgrims and offered a "Buen Camino" greeting to hundreds, but something clicked with a handful of people and those became my "Camino family."
|Early Camino Family|
Sam has heard the stories and looked at the photos, but there is a special joy for each of us in sharing a bottle of wine and a brilliant sunset with a friend who was a special part of my Camino experience.
|New friends Sam and Trevor|