Taking a hike and remembering Finisterre

Finishing is hardly ever a cut-and-dried event for me. I completed my Camino in stages, like layers of an onion, narrowing down toward the essence of the journey. Arriving in Santiago was the first layer, then arriving in the cathedral square, then attending Mass and receiving my compostella certificate, but the walk for me was always about Finisterre. The true end of the road.

I’ll write more about that actual arrival in a later post, but these last seven weeks I have been reading my journal from last year, day by day, remembering as much detail as I can. This past Sunday was the day Meg and I walked out to the tiny spit of land, piles of massive stones jutting out into the Atlantic. There, my Camino journey came to an end.

This arrival and subsequent completion was so significant for me, I couldn’t let the day pass this year without honoring it. I just had to walk.

When I woke up, I could feel a bubble of desire rising in me to be out there, pushing the limits of my body, soaking in the sunshine, bathing in the freedom of nature. Being a lover of ritual and ceremony, I wanted to go somewhere that felt like Cabo Finisterre to really remember this day, to re-live a little, and feel grateful for all the souls who guided me, saw into me, helped heal me so deeply on the Way.

So I put on my teal green Camino shirt, the same bright blue shoes, even my scallop shell necklace and the fraying rosary bracelet I wore. It felt like putting on a prayer shawl imbued with memories and sacred energy. Just donning these items had me standing taller, feet firmly rooted on the earth, and feeling like the confident girl I’d been on the Camino.

With assertions that I’d be home after sunset, I packed up the car and headed out alone to a place on the Oregon coast called Cascade Head. It’s a jade green jut of land preserved by the Nature Conservancy which harbors wildflowers and butterflies known almost nowhere else in the world. The hike is difficult — about 6mi/10km in length — with a narrow path, steep slopes, and dramatic elevation gain.

When I was training for the Camino, this hike defeated me. That day, I’d forgotten to eat breakfast, gotten dehydrated, and suffered sun stroke. Today, none of that worried me. Today, I was a pilgrim again, seeking out that ascent and the clarity that awaited me.

This hike was everything I needed.

I felt undaunted by the steep entry, delighted that the sun had come out. My favorite bird, the Swainson’s thrush, was present among the boughs above me, its spiraling swirl of a song floated around me as I crossed little streams and bridges. I found a “thin place” amongst a stand of old-growth hemlocks that was carpeted with candyflowers and moss and sorrel. I took unabashed selfies (a luxury I did not afford myself on my Camino) with delight.

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Exiting the deep woods at last, I came out into the bright grassy meadow that revealed a view so beautiful, so breathtaking that I cry, no matter how many times I see it.

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Taking in this wide swath of sand and ocean, I grinned like mad, wet cheeked and feeling grateful that I’d decided to ditch the couch and Internet for the day. I marveled, so pleased with myself, with life, that I could walk in this beauty, that I could give myself this gift of spaciousness and time. Without really noticing it, I realized that my life had gradually gotten smaller after the Camino. I realized how long it has been since I felt such joy and deep contentment.

Still there was a long way to go to the top of this hill and I kept at it, working hard, stopping to catch my breath, drinking up my water. Wild iris and lupine and foxglove greeted me, shaded by a few small manazanita. With their gorgeous wings, vultures made arcs below me in the wind and warm currents rising from the steep hillsides.

Cascade Head hike 031At the top, I sat at the side of the trail to eat my lunch and write a heartfelt letter of thanks to one of my Camino friends. As I wrote, the wind ruffled the pages and felt so refreshing. On top of the world — or at least this small part of it — I remembered the same breezy day in Finisterre a year earlier, feeling unspeakable gratitude for this journey of a lifetime.

As the sun lowered into late afternoon, the light began to reflect off the ocean just the way it did as we wandered over Cabo Finisterre’s sacred rocks and down through the prickly gorse to the lighthouse.

Cascade Head hike 034Eventually, I started to feel chilly up there in the whipping breeze, so I began my careful descent the way I came. Stopping for a few more photos and marveling at the color of the water, I smiled at hikers still on their way up and greeted them pilgrim-style as they passed.

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By the time I arrived back at my car, I felt completely sorted out inside. Whole. Grateful. Restored.

But I had one more place to go next.

Not far away, there’s a quiet, wind-swept beach where I parked and walked out onto the sand to watch the sun set, the way I did in Finisterre, the way pilgrims have for longer than time can tell. On this visit, there was nothing to burn, but I brought to mind the beautiful, spontaneous ritual Meg and I shared as we watched the sun get lower and lower in the sky, the kind German guy who shared his wine with us to toast our completion.

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When it finally got too chilly, I sat in the car to watch and eat the same meal I ate that day — Bugles and chocolate. With a plastic cup of wine in hand, I spent several moments toasting by name the many pilgrims who had crossed my path and thus blessed me, the people who believed in my journey, who offered support with finances and practicalities and love. And then, tearfully, I remembered to toast myself for having given my spirit this gift of pilgrimage — and the new life I’m discovering in its wake.

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After what feels like the slumber of a year, my heart is blossoming open again because I now realize that I don’t have to walk across Spain to find peace inside of me. I don’t even have to drive myself to the coast for a difficult hike.

Now I know that I carry an Ocean of Peace inside me.

I had to walk on a winding, earthen path to discover that The Way is Love.

Cascade Head hike 055aAnd on that path, there is no end.

5 thoughts on “Taking a hike and remembering Finisterre

    1. Thank you, M! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

      Greetings are nothing official, but in my experience there’s a certain openness, more smiles and eye contact, and a sincere curiosity about others. Not everyone is this way since everyone walks for different reasons, but there’s lots more time on the Camino than in everyday life for connection — so greeting strangers is pretty normal.

  1. In this piece you put your finger on what it is to love yourself. This is what you have found. So young and with a long Camino ahead of you as well as behind. And such a beautiful place to embrace your right to be a part of this beautiful world.

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