Today’s Miles: 15.1
Total Miles: 4,782.5
Grañón, Spain – March 6, 2017
Wind pushes across the open landscape, shoving and howling a constant roar over the line of pilgrims stretched out to the horizon. It’s more people than I’ve seen before, I count almost twenty ahead or behind, many new faces, new packs, new jacket colors. Different start dates are mixing together as paces catch up or fall behind, as the trail weaves each thread along its path.
Daya and I stare up at the trail ahead. It stretches forward like a runway before rising up a hill. Some pilgrims are close, others are far specks, like tiny ants marching up the hills toward Santo Domingo. I count eleven that I can see.
“How many do you think we can pass?” Daya asks.
It’s not fair. Her legs still remember Katahdin and Springer, mine remember Norway, Sweden, and racing winter over the Alps. We are thousands of miles ahead of everyone, used to longer, harder, meaner days. Our feet aren’t riddled with blisters. Our muscles aren’t sore. Our equipment isn’t new and unfamiliar. We paid those debts long ago.
We stare toward the distance. It comes down to numbers. We both throw a few out. Four. Nine. Six. I look at the rise. I wish the hill went higher. Half the specks are already rising in the distance. Maybe six is right. Maybe seven. We’d pass them all if that hill were three times higher. Climbs separate, they reveal, they leave no place to hide weary legs.
I stare up at the distant line of colorful packs and jackets. I imagine them as walking cookies, croissants, and warm bread.
“How about 50 cents per person,” I say, “to spend on pastries.”
Daya nods. We both take off. The first person is a hundred feet ahead. Blue jacket and a long hiking staff. A croissant, I think. A croissant with chocolate sprinkles.
I pass him quicky, gliding by, not really thinking. I hear a cash register ring up 50 cents in my mind and I stare at the next person a few hundred yards ahead. My steps are a little longer, a little faster, each shrinking the distance between me and the next croissant.
I hear footsteps, running. I turn to watch as the man in the blue jacket, the one I just passed, comes running by me, his backpack bouncing on his back, his stick in one hand. I stare in confusion and he shoots me a mocking grin as he passes, runs another fifty feet, then slows to a walk again.
I glance back at Daya in disbelief. Did that really happen? Did this man just run down the trail because I passed him? I see him glance back at me. I almost laugh.
“That croissant thinks he can roll by like that?” I hear a voice say from somewhere deep inside. “Better ask somebody about me.”
“Who the hell else would it be,” Wally says. “Are we running down that croissant or what?”
Wait? What? Wally? Is it really you?
“Did you miss me?”
Wally! It really is you! Where have you been? How is life? You still living in the gut?
“I’ve been on little vacation,” Wally says. “Europe. The simple life.”
“What? I can’t go to Europe? I’m very sophisticated.”
“A little Scandinavian summer, some German villages, the Swiss Alps, Italy, some French countryside, and now a bit of España!”
Wally, that’s everywhere I’ve been.
“You say it like I don’t know.”
So you’ve been here the whole time?
“Of course I have. Do I look like I vacation in Europe? Do I look like I vacation at all? Who the hell do you think is holding this whole thing together?”
I have a guess.
“I’m down here in the stomach working my butt off to keep every joint, muscle, and bone together and you’re up there staggering across Europe like a drunk trying to walk a straight line. Can we take a longer route? Is that possible?”
But I thought you liked Italy.
“Italy is life! Coffee. Pasta. Wine. In any order! Those are my people! But do we have to walk everywhere?”
What? Not up to it?
“How dare you! Not up to it? I didn’t build these legs to stand still. This giant ass isn’t here to sit on. We’re still moving aren’t we?”
Wally, I missed you. Hanging out in the gut, hearing about the various repairs going on.
“Please. Don’t think I don’t know you were trying to keep me a secret.”
I would never.
“Didn’t want to bring old Wally out on the journal this trip, thought the readers couldn’t handle me.”
Well, you are a bit odd, you know, an imag…er…oh, oh um…
“Did you just use the I word with me? Did that just come out of your mouth? After all we’ve been through you’re going to throw out the I word like that.”
You know that’s not what I meant. It’s just hard to explain a repair person who lives in my stomach, loves ice cream, and fixes anything that needs it, you know? People don’t understand you.
“So we’re only friends when it’s convenient?”
You’re right, Wally. You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m with you through it all.
“Good because I’ll shut this whole operation down with a twisted ankle if I even think I hear that again. Try me.”
Easy, Wally, easy. You know I love you. You’re the best. It’s good to have you back.
“Great. Yes, yes, yes. I know, everyone loves Wally. Wally is the best. Wally come to my party in the liver. Wally come hang out at the knee sometime. Wally we miss you down at the ankle. Blah, blah, blah.”
You want that croissant, don’t you.
“No, I want the whole damn tray.”
There’s the Wally I know and love.
“Fire up the engines, boys, let’s see how fast this croissant in the blue jacket runs uphill.”
My stride lengthens, my pace quickens, my legs begin to chew up the distance. The man in the blue jacket disappears behind me. One. Longer strides. Faster turn around on each step. Two. Three. Four. Keep breathing. Five. My lungs find their rhythm. My heart beats. Six. Seven. Blood pumps oxygen through my muscles. Eight. A bit of sweat runs down my skin. Nine.
It feels good to fly again. Ten. To pour myself into the steps. Eleven. To feel the earth moving underneath me.
I catch twelve on the long approach to Santo Domingo. There is no one else. The road to the city is empty. The whole damn tray is behind me. I walk on, relishing the wind, the ease, the fall of feet on trail.
“Thanks, Wally,” I think. “Love you.”