“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher
Because there are no coincidences on the Camino — or in life — I chose this quote at random from a collection of inspirational “fortune cookies” for pilgrims at the albergue in Logroño. It was a fitting message for the day following debilitating pain which hobbled my body and my spirit.
I didn’t roar that morning when I awoke. I sat up in bed, grinned at the giggling French ladies across from my bunk, and tentatively put my tender feet on the floor.
For the record, I’m not a fan of the word try. It’s a weaselly word that gets me credit for doing basically nothing. But I can say that now, in hindsight. Out on the Camino, in a little town, isolated from the support of familiars, all I could do was try again. I wasn’t ready to give up just yet. Putting on my shoes felt like an act of courage.
It’s perhaps no small coincidence that the woman who penned this quote is no stranger to me. Mary Anne’s studio and shop once operated in my town. During a particularly painful period in my life, I would spend hours in her store, reading every one of her inspirational messages, rummaging for tissues in my purse when a quote hit me in the heart. Those afternoons in her shop were mini-retreats, a sanctuary for me that restored balance, nourished my heart, and had me back on my feet. Finding her words here in Spain did just the same.
I would try again.
Step by step, I made a it 21km (13mi) that day, thanks in part to Katrin’s encouragement and companionship. The pain in my feet diminished with ibuprofen and alternating between my running shoes and my Crocs.
And pastries, of course. They helped too.
In Viana, we went into one of Spain’s many delightfully-scented bakeries to buy a loaf of bread, and I came out with an airy masterpiece of flaky layers topped with meringue and honey. It was a delicious nightmare to eat daintily, but that’s what a handkerchief is for!
Eating on the Camino is often a hands-on affair. In one restaurant, I was served a soup with seafood — all of which required messy disassembly. Even the tiniest bar has a counter where you can look over the edible options on offer. Tapas (or pinchos) come on tiny skewers. Bocadillos (rustic sandwiches on French bread) come with sausage, or cheese, or bacon, or dried ham, or egg. All eaten hand to mouth. The most common thing to find at a bar is the Spanish tortilla, a nourishing, thick slice of egg, potato, and cheese baked together. Sometimes they put tortilla in the bocadillo and call it a meal.
On this particular day, my lunch was a egg and sausage bocadillo about the size of a hot dog bun, with scrambled egg spilling over the sides. Yum.
We made a long slog next to the highway, but hammed it up for photos under the La Rioja sign, leaving the Navarra region for the first time since the Pyrenées. Now we were entering one of Spain’s well-known areas, famous for its wine. We’d already sampled some of Rioja’s reds as a part of the evening pilgrim meals and were looking forward to more.
Having walked together for 9 days, I missed Marisela a lot. I’d grown accustomed to looking ahead for her on the path, recognizing her red jacket from afar. I’d look ahead for her and then, with a sinking feeling, I’d remember she was gone. Most of my focus was on managing the pain in my feet, but I thought of her often.
My final stiff, painful steps of the day got us into Logroño. Its graceful bridge welcomed us into the town, spanning beautifully over a wide, flat river. We saw our first storks nesting high up on buildings.
Katrin and I soon got turned around in its busy streets, but eventually found a shiny, new albergue with some of the most gorgeous, spacious bathrooms I encountered on the whole Camino. What a luxury it was to have a locking door! I steamed up the whole place getting squeaky clean.
For dinner, we meandered along the main drag looking for an open restaurant and finally settled on a place that looked promising. When our waitress saw us struggling with the menu, she kept stopping by our table to show us other people’s food and pointing to the corresponding number on our menus. “El siete,” and she’d point. “El dos.” This cracked us up. How helpful! How ingenious! Another Camino angel.
I ended up with fried eggs on top of French fries and bacon. Not haute cuisine, but plenty of filling, hands-on food.
In my journal I wrote about my hopes for the next day: finding new shoe inserts that might reduce my foot pain and possibly a set of walking sticks. I felt tired and sore but was feeling proud of finding a way forward in spite of difficulty.
My courage didn’t roar, but I made it. I’d logged another day on the Camino and I was starting to feel hopeful about the days to come.