Day 35: Gearing up with The Guys – Portomarin to Palas de Rei

And now began the part of my Camino where I just flat out walked.

Oh, I still enjoyed the journey, but The Guys were serious walkers and I felt determined to keep up without being a squeaky wheel. I’m proud to say that I did 25km/15.5 mi that day – my longest distance to that point – and I didn’t whinge or whine once.

A surprising thing occurred to me: not only were these the first Americans I’d willingly spent any time around, they were also the first men I’d walked with my entire journey. I’d avoided Americans up to this point and so far I had become acquainted with a long list of funny, inspiring, international women – Louise, Marisela, Katrin, Lies, Muriel, Meg, Catherine, Paula – with whom I shared the ups and downs of the journey.

Walking with Gary, Scott, and Mattias was a noticeably different experience for me because, in my normal life, most of my friends, co-workers, and clients are women. Spending hour after hour with these great guys was a unique experience for me, and an illuminating glimpse into how the other half of the world lives.

One of the primary things I noticed was silence. With women, silence can mean something deep is going on, possibly emotional. When there’s nothing to talk about and time to spare, many women will bring up a topic and just riff on it for hours.  Conversely, I discovered that when the guys weren’t talking and there were long stretches of silence, it’s because there was simply nothing to talk about. No secret brooding, no soul diving. Just quiet.

This unnerved me at first, but I came to relax into it and just enjoy these periods of silence in their company. It was a lovely change.

It seemed like Scott and Gary knew everyone. Our intense focus on miles was broken up by occasional stops for coffee, snacks, and later, beer. At each stop, they’d introduce me to other pilgrims and point out others as they passed by us.

They knew everyone’s stories too – which pilgrims had crushes on whom and details about their lives at home. There wasn’t an ounce of malice in this sharing, not a tinge of disparagement. Their genuine interest in other people and their stories fascinated me.

For instance, The Guys pointed out a guy who had taken a shine to a cute pilgrim. Apparently they had watched this romance bloom over the previous weeks. Gary gave me the back story on them and feeling amused, I marveled to see how things look from a man’s perspective. It was fun to be included.

To pass the time on this long day, Mattias went ahead to walk with a pilgrim from Mexico. Behind us, Gary put in his earbuds and rocked out to his training mix.

Scott looked at me and said, “Well, I guess it’s just the two of us.”

As we walked side by side through Galicia’s beautiful pine forests, Scott and I chatted a while and then he brought up a sensitive subject. During our deep conversation the previous day, I’d revealed to Scott and Gary that my life partner is a woman. Scott was curious about my experience. His inquisitiveness was disarming and genuine, so I chose to risk and be open, despite my initial caution.

What unfolded was one of the most powerful conversations of my entire Camino.

Step by step, at his request, I shared my coming-out story. How dating guys in high school had been fun, but never serious. How I later fell in love with someone who happened to be a woman. I suspected, but wasn’t sure where he stood on this controversial issue, but Scott seemed to take it all in.

It was really hard, I told him, for this to happen while attending a Catholic college with very little support around me.

“I kept opening the Bible at random for guidance,” I told him, referring to a discernment technique I’d once learned. “Every passage my finger landed on was about love. Loving each other. Loving God. I took this to mean that no matter how isolated and scared I felt, I was still loved by the Divine and that this love I felt could be a holy thing.”

It was clear that Scott was really listening to me. He asked really insightful, respectful questions. He didn’t interrupt. He didn’t repeat tired quips about Adam and Steve. We just walked together, with me making no effort to change his views nor he trying to make me wrong. It was the kind of discussion that is so hard to have in our country anymore, and I was grateful for his inquisitiveness, respect, and willingness to hear me out.

Despite feeling a mix of nervousness and courage, I revealed to him far more about this difficult time in my life than I had ever said aloud to another soul. The details are too personal to share here, but I took the risk with Scott because I wanted him to know that I was a person first and a label second, that I had truly struggled with this aspect of myself and come to peace with it.

“Basically,” I summed up, “I feel the same way about men that you do.”

He paused to consider this and then laughed gently.

“I’m really glad I met you,” he said.

Not for the first time on this journey, I teared up with gratitude for the Divine in our midst.

This powerful conversation and the day’s long walk took everything I had. By the time we reached Palas de Rei, I was spent.

We all checked in to an albergue that had been recommended to us by an intense Spanish pilgrim named Pepe. It was an odd thing: Pepe seemed to follow a group of us and recommend places along the way, speaking intensely, circling places in our guidebooks, and assuring us that it (whatever it was) was the best in town. I wasn’t sure if Pepe was getting a cut from the owners or if he just wanted to help. I saw nothing exemplary about this particular Pepe-endorsed albergue, but I was happy for the bed.

After settling in, we wandered the town and ran into an enormous gaggle of pilgrim guys sitting outside a bar, all squished into the few chairs available. Everyone was talking loudly and laughing. My buddy, Don from New Zealand, was among them and I thanked him again for the hilarious insights from our conversation two days previous. The guy energy in this big group was a little overwhelming; I felt tired and shy, so I hung back and waited until we moved on to dinner.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted. I had shin splints from the long haul and my feet hurt like crazy. The bunks were all crammed together. I didn’t care. Sunday in Santiago was calling to me.

I felt grateful to have the company of these kind companions who were inquisitive conversationalists, full of humor, and examples of simplicity. I had the sense, even then, that we would remain friends long after the walk was over (I was right). The Camino was giving me more angels, even to the end.

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