Camino del Norte

Day 2: Saint Jean de Luz to Irun

Start: 7:45am Saint Jean de Luz
Finish: 4pm Irun
Distance: 22 kilometers (13.67 Miles)
Where I Received the Sello: Albergue de Peregrinos – Irun

Stepping into the city well before it was awake felt different than yesterday’s introduction. The once-bustling shops were still dark inside and the only sounds of life were from schoolchildren gathering for their studies. The wet morning was bound to keep people inside for as long as possible, especially after the severity of last night’s storm. I was startled awake at 2 am and was up every hour from the violent rattling of my windows. Despite the disruptions, I felt well-rested and ready to take on the journey to Irun.

Past the fishing boats and at the base of the stairs leading to the main road, I finally saw my first yellow arrow. Having come so far without seeing one, I wasn’t sure how it would feel to be on the right path (or if there was even a right path for the Norte). But alas, my heart was bursting and an immediate smile took residency on my face. I was feeling hopeful for what the day would be, even if the clouds hovering over the coastline remained to be ominous. The more arrows and yellow tape I saw along the journey, the more it felt like being reunited with an old friend. It was rare when I found them, but I was always so happy when I did.

The arrows led me away from the sea and onward to the backcountry roads of France. Rain continued to pour and I walked further and further from civilization. You don’t anticipate how much energy is exerted fighting the rain, but I found myself struggling more than the previous day. I made the point to pick up gaiters at the recommendation of The Stingy Nomads and I’m so grateful I did. Between the poncho and the gaiters, my shoes and leggings were kept dry even if the cold of the wind was piercing. In conditions like these, being dry while so exposed to the elements is the ultimate luxury. If I had a way to protect my hands, perhaps I could have pushed past the discomfort a little while longer.

I think the walk today is the beginning of what I will come to know discomfort to be. My gaiters kept falling despite being the right size of my calves and it slowed me down to have to constantly adjust their height. My feet felt fatigued two hours in, but there was nowhere to rest in the rain. It was so heavy, it was better to stand under the open sky than a patch of trees for shelter. The water accumulating and then falling from the leaves were more like pelts than raindrops. The one time I was able to stop, the grass was covered in goat shit so I remained strapped into my backpack while I ate the peach and banana I purchased in Saint Jean de Luz.

This is also the first time I’ve become concerned about the wellbeing of my feet. After yesterday’s walk, I already had a blister under my big toe on the right foot. Today’s rise and fall on the paved and winding roads amplified the aching I was already feeling and revealed new hotspots in my boots. These are the same boots I wore trekking in the rainforest, so I expected them to handle a more docile terrain even if the distance was quadruple what we were doing every day in the jungle. I used Compeed and Moleskin on the tender places and wore double socks, but there was no stopping the pain. I still had two hours to go and was now in a race with a negative headspace. Not wanting to wear earphones as a means of distracting me from the environment (or the sound of rapidly approaching cars), I finally gave in and threw on an audiobook. How can I focus on the pain when I’m trying to retain information at 1.5x speed?

After three hours of no clear direction and getting lost in the voice of Rolf Potts, I finally found a yellow arrow painted on a telephone pole pointing me in the direction of Hendaye. This is the last town before the borders of France and Spain meet and I hoped to find a cafe there to rest before crossing the bridge to Irun.

The city began to form, but there was no restaurants or cafes to be found. At the first sight of a covered bus stop, I sought shelter from the rain and unstrapped my aching body from my pack. I finally pulled the worn socks from my feet and allowed them to dry before applying new Moleskin. I didn’t think it would be necessary to carry food from one town to the next, but I was grateful I had the foresight to grab some munchies before heading back to the hotel last night to sleep. Tabouleh has become my favorite quick pick me up and I savored the mix of basic ingredients.

Noticing my body temperature dropping from the sweat meeting the cool air in my remaining still, I knew I needed to move again to retain my warmth. I piled on my layers including new socks and struggled to get situated beneath my poncho. The bones of my hips were tender from the shifting weight of my pack, but there was nothing I could do to alleviate the pain. I remembered the Arnicacream in my bag and promised myself a massage as a reward if I continued on.

As soon as I was strapped back in, the sky burst open with a new relentlessness of pouring rain. A man joined me from the other side of the road to finish his cigarette and we spoke a while in French. Everyone seems so surprised when they hear it will take 40 days to reach Santiago. Perhaps I’m slower than most, but I want to immerse in my surroundings as much as I want to give my body a chance to recover. 40 days feels so far away, but it doesn’t feel like it will be enough.

After he left for the approaching bus, I realized the Camino will be a test of all the weird things I will be forced to do. I’m not going to skimp on the details of these less than desirable moments because they’re just as memorable as the rolling hills dipping into the crashing sea.

The truth is, I didn’t pass through a village for four hours which meant my bladder was ready to burst. I took shelter under where the garbage bins are kept for the apartment complex. I squatted in the corner behind one of the dumpsters trusting the contents of my bladder would be carried away with the rain. I suppose there are no feelings of shame to carry when no one is around to judge your decisions, but I won’t use that as an excuse to behave inappropriately. I just desperately needed somewhere to pee.

I watched from the shelter as the rain continued to pour in sheets wondering if this is the reality I will have to deal with every day for the next week. I was starting to become grumpy, and with an hour left of walking, I was in no mood to still be fighting the weather. There was no sign of letting up so I opted to keep walking. If the rain hasn’t stopped me now, what’re a few more kilometers dripping wet going to do?

It wasn’t until I started crossing the border into Spain when I realized I had been wearing my gaiters backward the entire way. The hooks, which are supposed to hold onto your laces, were mangled from getting caught under my boots. The black strap they’re affixed to barely hanging on by their threads. I flipped them around and immediately noticed the straps were no longer sliding out of place and they were secured perfectly below my knee. I wonder how much time I would have saved not having to stop every five minutes to recover them from their falling. I became frustrated with myself more than the gaiters and tried to remain grateful to be mostly dry. As if the last six weeks of constant rain wasn’t enough to dampen my mood, I can’t wrap my head around another seven days of terrible weather. It’s very possible this rain will be the death of me.

Or at least the death of the dreams of finishing the Norte.

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