Day 2: Valcarlos to Roncesvalles – The BIG climb

Getting on our way

Technically, at its highest point, the “lower” route to Roncesvalles (ron-cess-ba-yes) is 395 meters lower in elevation than the traditional Napoleon route.

This fact leads most people to conclude that the walk is a breeze. It’s not. Not even close.

The reason: An unforgiving 45° angle. Uphill.

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The Cat (Day 1: Saint Jean to Valcarlos)

A word of caution to the reader: While the following post contains a powerful spiritual insight that I received on the Camino, the circumstances involved a suffering animal.

You may want to pass on this one if you have a soft spot for critters. I just wanted to give you advance notice. This was the most upsetting — and revelatory — event of my Camino.

If there’s an Entity that decides when and how lessons are meted out, I give credit for the timing of what happened on my very first day.

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Day 1: Saint Jean Pied de Port, France to (oops, not Orrison) Valcarlos, Spain

Waking up

After a sound and solid night’s sleep, and the memory of the previous days’ warm sunshine, I awoke to rain. I felt so excited to be starting at last, the damp skies seemed a tiny matter. Today my Camino journey would begin.

The theme for the day was discovery. I discovered two things in particular this day — what it was like to walk as a real pilgrim and what amazing people my fellow pilgrims were.

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A nourishing rest day in Saint Jean Pied de Port

Waking up

My first full day in France was a rest day. Almost vacation-like. I wanted to get oriented, rested, and heart-nourished before beginning the biggest walk of my life. That exact intention revealed itself and the day filled up with myriad blessings.

When the sun was barely up, everyone at the albergue was on a tear to get out. If you’ve read anything about the Day 1 route, you know it terrorizes many in anticipation. The facts: a very steep grade, the highest elevation on the entire route, changeable weather, and a remote 23km path with no rest stops along the way. For some, Day 1 to Roncesvalles makes or breaks the pilgrim (or at least dents the pride) crossing this mountain pass over the Pyrenées.

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I’m a guest blogger!

Each year, my friend Courtney McHill writes a blog during Lent. She is a pastor at a local church and all-around great person. I was so excited when she accepted my offer of being a guest blogger.

You won’t be surprised when I tell you that I wrote about the Camino. 🙂

The gist was to write about one of the daily readings, so my language there is more religious-sounding. If that’s not your scene, I hope you’ll enjoy the message underneath.

Here’s the link in case you want to check it out:

Arriving in Saint Jean Pied de Port and getting right in the head

“You’re leaving tomorrow,” the Pilgrim Center volunteer half-asked, half-instructed me.

“Uh… Umm… No, I think I will stay in Saint Jean a second day before I start walking to Santiago. I haven’t slept for 24 hours. J’ai besoin de dormir.

He frowned slightly and said in French, “It’s good to get going right away.”

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Getting from Biarritz to Saint Jean Pied de Port (or how to be a noob)

In the Biarritz Airport, I recognized my first fellow pilgrims.

Being alone and far from home, I nearly grabbed that first girl I saw. She had short-cropped, sandy hair and a flushed, cherubic face that said “I spend time outdoors,” but I knew she was a pilgrim from her pack. I asked if she was going to Saint Jean. She was and told me there was an Irish guy outside waiting for the bus that would take us to the train. In a whirlwind five minutes, I suddenly had friends and direction!

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