Distance: 28 and a bit km – bruuuuuuuuuuutal!

Blister Count: OF the 9 total, all had either burst or dried up. At Los Arcos one was so disgusting, on my pinkie toe, that someone else actually took a picture of it. I was almost proud. I duly pierced it with a needle and threa (sterilized) in a new technique I learned, leaving the thread hanging out to let it drain. Ick. It’s totally gross.

Injury Inventory: Pinkie toes are swollen, muscle pain, knee is bad going downhill.

This was a big day. But it was important to me to make it to Logroño, I was planning on having my day of rest there and it was a big enough city that I could go buy some new shoes and chuck the evil boots of death.

The day started badly. My formerly blister covered, now just swollen-and-nearly-avoiding-infection toes (the little ones) were really sore. As I was sitting in the lobby of the hostel in the morning, two guys were giving me advice, asking how I was, while I went through my morning bandaging ritual.

As I put on my boots, the pain made me cry. At 6am, and almost 30 km from my destination. This is not good.

One of the guys who was talking to me, took pity on me and said he’d at least keep me company for a while. This was his fifth or fourth Camino, and I guess he’d seen it all. He was a stout, sturdy Andalusian, a bit bear-like. He stuck with me as I hobbled, winced, and generally wore a pained look for hours on end, trying to keep in good spirits, to keep up the conversation, and to keep my mind off my feet. He chided me to slow down, picking up quickly on my chronic impatience. The mantra by the end of the day was “como una tortugita!” – like a little turtle – slow. steady, but sure. He was surprisingly philosophical, turning all my physical problems into psychological ones for me to consider.

I tried all diferent confugurations of things in my boots, finally tossing out all the insoles – opting for space for the toes over cushioning. It helped a little. At some point it was too much – I did what you’re definitely not supposed to do – I took off my boots and wore my flip flops. THey’re good flip flops, with foam and arch support, but still, not supposed to be done, and I could feel the strain on my tendons in my ankles and achilles heels, but the relief from teh constant pressing on my toes was great and my spirits lifted notably.

Still, its a long walk. I tried later to put the boots on again, and lasted not long at all. Back to flip flops.

And then my walking companion took my backpack. He refused to go on with me unless I let him take it. He walked at least 6 or 7 kilometers, to Viana (the stop before Logroño) with his backpack on his back, and mine slung across his chest.

I cried. I don’t know exactly why. Shamed a bit that I couldnt do it myself – I’ve always had difficulty accepting help, there’s a competitive streak there, and a part of me that’s very hard on myself (which my walking buddy also picked up on quickly -asking if it was an American thing). But also, I was so moved that he would do that for me. And with a smile, like it was nothing, like he goes along the Camino in sweltering sun with two backpacks all the time.

He left me at Viana, where I figured I’d probably stay the night. HIs name, and I’m not kidding, is Salvador. I couldn’t make that up.

At viana, where he left me, I ran into all the others I had been getting to know along the way, and it killed me to think I wouldn’t be in Logroño, capital of the wine country to go out with them for pinchos, and that in general, I’d lose my little family. These are people I’d known for a couple days, but the pull was already strong. BUt how could I do it? Ten more kilometers after the point at which I’d given up?

So I sat at a bar, bought a drink, iced my feet, had an ibuprofen and contemplated. And as I sat there, and the painkillers took effect, I thought of the faces of everyone if I walked into Logroño, no one would expect it – they all thought I was done for. And I thought of the look on Salvador’s face.

And I finished icing my feet, I let the painkillers do their work, and I laced up my boots. I walked 10 kilometers past my limit, smiling, beaming the whole time, listening to Graceland and the Shins, and fell exhausted into the sports center set up to house pilgrims ( at least there were matresses) and thoroughly enjoyed the surpised faces, and the congratulations, and even the speculations that I might be mentally unwell. And when we went out for pinchos and rioja wine and met up with Salvador I thoroughly thoroughly enjoyed a big fat bear hug.

The question that remained with me was – how could all these people have such a pull? Are we humans addicts for company? My feet told me to stay, but I couldn’t bear the thought of being left with a totally strange group of people, never to chat anymore with the folks I’d already met. The familiar face was too important. Is this good? Or is it a weakness, driving us to do silly things like walk when we should rest?

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