8 straight days on the trail…

You wake up as night gives way to day. You stay in bed a few extra minutes to contemplate your journey. You give a little stretch as you get out of bed. You grab your trekking clothes for the day and head for the toilet. You use the facilities and change.

You head back to your bunk and pack your bag. You slowly make your way to breakfast. You drink your cereal bowl sized coffee or tea, and eat your bread with butter or jam… cheese if you are lucky. You use the toilet one more time before heading out. You strap on your pack, grab your walking sticks, and you are out the door. You walk for a couple of hours before finding a nice place to rest.

You pull out a snack, or perhaps today you stopped at a cafe for a hot tea. You use the toilet if one is available. Back on the trail for a few hours. You struggle with the hills and the rain. You ask yourself if you are really going to keep at this for over a month. You second guess your shoe selection. You question your training. Finally a long stretch with flat land. You stop for a five minute breather to give your feet a rest. One hour left. You push forward.

8 straight days on the trail…Finally, after about 22km, you are done walking for the day. Exhausted, you crash on your bed in a communal site. You are too tired to take a shower, so you opt for a siesta instead. You wake up after two hours, and decide to clean yourself up. Still tired, you head to the communal eating area. You meet a few people, and have a superficial conversation about nothing in particular. One night you end up talking with a guitar playing Welsh boy, or a war baby born to a Vietnamese mother and African American father who was adopted by a Swiss lady married to a Cuban man.

You have your dinner together as pilgrims, and it’s delicious. A five course meal with wine, not bad! You return to your bunk, and are too tired to write in your journal. You change into your jammies, and it’s lights out.

8 straight days on the trail…This has been my life as a pilgrim for the last 8 days on the Chemin du Saint Jacques, or more commonly known as the Camino de Santiago. I started my 1000km-trek in a little French town called Barcelonne du Gers, not too far from Aire Sur L’Adour. This is the last stage of the Le Puy route before it meets up with the popular Camino Frances in St. Jean Pied de Port.

I was lucky enough to meet a lovely group of French folks I was able to tag along with the first two days. I am not sure I would have made it without them. Those first days were filled with rain, mud, and cold. The Southwest of France was experiencing very heavy rainfall, and flooding was an issue. Millions of Euros of damage had occured, and villages had been swept away.

8 straight days on the trail…We walked through forests and small villages all day. I just love all the little villages. They are quaint, cute, and old. Everything seems to center around the church. We found refuge under a shelter made for cows to have lunch one day. The cows were giving us a curious eye, but it was the only shelter around. I quickly learned on those first days that pilgrims help one another out, because sharing is caring. 8 straight days on the trail…

On the second day I decided to do a short day, I didn’t want to push my limits just yet. The French group I was walking with was a group of eight friends who have met up for the last four years to walk for 10 days on the trail together. Ranging in age from mid 20′s to mid 60′s, they took me under their wing. The eldest of the group gave me a sweet kiss and caressed my cheek as we parted ways. It was bittersweet.

8 straight days on the trail…I made my way to the communal site for a shower and a rest. Later that same day I encounted a couple from Australia named Savas (a palindrom, you see) and Denise. Savas was actually born in Greece, and Denise was actually born in the USA. However, they both considered themselves Aussies after living there for so long.

I woke up early to catch them before they headed off so I could walk with them… I certainly was not ready to be on my own. Savas had a pace quicker than Denise and I, so he was usually out front. 8 straight days on the trail…Denise and I chatted about all different topics. Luckily, the weather was taking a turn for the better, and the rain was ceasing. I was so happy to have met them, as we ended up walking together for six days until parting ways on the trail to St. Jean Pied de Port. This was their ending point, they had started up in Le Puy.

Those six days were just what I was hoping for. It gave me confidence and experience before tackling the Pyrenees. I formed new friendships. I learned how to navigate the way markings. I learned when it was necessary to carry food and snacks. I also learned how to treat my feet.

8 straight days on the trail…Savas was somewhat of a Camino guru, I would say. This was his third Camino. He had walked the Frances Way and Via de la Plata. He looked after my blistered filled feet every night, and taught me how to deal with my toe issues. I will forever be grateful to Dr. Savas for teaching me those valuable skills.

Looking back, I may have set a pace too quick while walking with the Aussies, which led to some of my toe issues. I was always playing catchup with Denise and Savas, because I didn’t want to be left behind. The Camino waits for no one, you see. It was not until the eighth day, walking into St. Jean PdP, that I was completely by myself and I was not worried. The nervousness had subsided into excitement. Now I had the Pyrenees to conquer.

I have to constantly remind myself why I am doing this… It is in honor of my twin sister, who serves as inspiration for my non profit, 2 Hands 7 Continents. That is my motivation. That is what keeps me putting one foot in front of the other. That is what keeps me going.

8 straight days on the trail…

Crystal Steinmueller

I was born and raised in Vancouver, WA, and can’t imagine living anywhere else. For the past 8 summers I have traveled extensively, and volunteered in 9 countries. I hit my goal of traveling to 30 countries by the time I turned 30 years old. During the rest of the year, I work in Special Education at Battle Ground High School. In the winter of 2012, I started a non profit, 2 Hands 7 Continents, to assist others in volunteering locally and abroad. I live downtown Vancouver on Officer’s Row.

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