Wrap-up and Final Thoughts?
|Total Ireland:||52 miles.|
|Total Spain:||77 miles.|
|Total Switzerland:||131 miles.|
|Total This Camino:||260 miles.|
|Total All Caminos:||1365 miles|
|Intercontinental Airplane Tickets:||$2000|
|Inter Europe Airplane Tickets:||$770 ($300 Ireland -> Spain) ($220 Spain -> Switzerland) ($250 Switzerland -> Portugal)|
|Total Transportation (Trains/Busses/Taxis):||$350|
|Total (not including food):||$4600|
Notable memoriesDuring Camino 2019 over 30 days, I thru-hiked 260 miles in Ireland, Spain and Switzerland, starting on the west coast of Ireland on the Dingle Peninsula, then next to Galicia Spain, walking to Santiago de Compostela, and finally crossing Switzerland from the French border and climbing 7000 feet in the Swiss Alps to the Great Saint Bernard Pass on the Italian border.
Yet despite sets of beautiful sights, quiet pleasing sounds and a plethora of sweet smells, a theme to link the entire journey into a seamless story, proved one step too far. I am left with only a series of anecdotes.
On Ireland's west coast, the deep-blue Atlantic Ocean joined with the wind-blown, white-capped Ventry Bay.
On the north shore of the Dingle Peninsula, the exhausting Mt Brandon rose over 3000 feet from Feohanangh (Fi-o'-nak), and where, on the descent, the slickness took my feet out from under me, rolling down the mountainside, ending up with mud all over and a tattered ego.
In the streets of Ferrol, in Galicia Spain, the dusk light played a trick of the imagination run wild and created a gathering of ghosts, spirits who stood mutely in the rain, lining a restaurant patio to startle the passers-by. A trick of the streetlights in the rainy darkness? An over-active imagination? Yes. Or a window on another world? Maybe.
In Santiago de Campostela, Jesús and I shared one last meal together, talked over the past days and looked forward to what the future held. As we said good-bye, we wished each other well and, of course, 'Buen Camino'. Jesús is at this moment walking the Dingle Peninsula, inspired by someone else's stories of beauty.
Lake Geneva, also known as Lac Leman, with a view of the Alps reaching skywards, sits between France and Switzerland. The Dutchman Antonio, a vagabond pilgrim hiking to St Peter's Basilica in Rome, and I broke bread there and extended our wishes before separating on the trail.
Walking farther and farther into the Rhone Valley, the terraced vineyard slopes of the Alps kept narrowing the landscape of the plain. Having climbed 4000 feet on the previous two days, the final day Regina and I tackled the last 3000 feet climb to Col du Gran San Bernado, the Great St Bernard Pass. Getting lost, finding the trail, always onward, always upward, the final steps to the top ended in strong emotions of pride and self-satisfaction. Admittedly it was a small part of the Alps, but a thru-hike of the Alps nonetheless. There Italy lay before us, now scant steps away, and tho' neither of us crossed the border, ten days ago, she was a hundred miles in the distance.
This Camino, this set of trails, was like nothing experienced before. Whereas every other Camino unified under some significant thought, there were no profound moments of inner realization, no brilliant insights nor any deep philosophical moments. The trail conditions did not allow for self-realization, constantly demanding my focus and attention on the roots and stones, and the foot-wide trails with steep ravines with fall-offs, measuring hundreds of feet.
Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins are the body's mechanisms for creating happiness. The beauty of mother nature, the interaction with hiking companions, the relaxation under a tree and the self-satisfaction of a challenge met and conquered all lead to happiness in the moment. On the other hand, constant challenge and increased demands for alertness lead to the production of cortisol. The former leads to self-reflection. The latter leads to stress. And that interferes with the mind's ability to process at a deeper, reflectional level.
Without the opportunity for introspection to create a unifying framework, I didn't figure anything out. Without that framework, I can't say that I'd undergone a profound change.
At a minimum and at the maximum, Camino 2019 happened with a raft of physical challenges met head-on and conquered.
It was almost a letdown that there was not some flash of realization, a quasi-religious 'acid trip', so to speak. The id, primitive and instinctual, kept driving forward against the physical challenges. The ego, with its realism, balanced risk versus reward on the trails. The super-ego, the conscience, submerged into the constant attention to terrain and conditions, had little time or energy to ponder deeper meanings.
What remains at the end of it all is only a persistent soft-watt light bulb illuminating the darkness. There are shadows, and traces of light all over, revealing indistinct and out-of-focus objects. The shapes are visible so that I don't run into them, but any recognizable pattern is absent.
And that is the crux of the confusion, the bewilderment. Everything wanted out of this adventure and everything expected out of it did not happen, while all kinds of unforeseen challenges and unanticipated consequences took place all around me.
Weeks later, the encounters and anecdotes and stories remain somehow disconnected.
At some point in the future, the greater context of all those moments will gel into a narrative.
An overarching theme will emerge from these moments to sort out the chronological set of stories.
Not to be nihilistic, but this Camino was so different from the hopes and expectations that I found little time for spiritual meaning.
Perhaps the final meaning of the trails, mountains and loneliness is like the hapless person who finds him/herself transported to a strange universe in a strange state of being and not being.
Rod Serling might say: "The journey is complete. Or is it? We leave our sojourner neither at the beginning nor the end, neither inside nor outside, but only one step away from "Twilight Zone."
It's just under three weeks since I returned from hiking Europe. Tonight I went to see the Brad Pitt movie "Ad Astra". It hooked me because the central character's main issue is what I felt. Disconnectedness. Life being a series of events, forward propelled by forces not under control.
At the end, Maj. McBride realizes what is important, what connects him to the world. To paraphrase the principal character's final dialog:
"All we have is each other. I know what matters and I focus on the important, the essential. I am loved, and I love, and I am in love."
The Camino provides.