Updated: Sep 23
Following on from death trip and safe, day 12, Friday, 19th April 2013
The Col du Somport to Villanúa, 16 km – 4 hours
Photo: A Scotsman in shorts in a snow storm standing next to a stone wall
A Scotsman, a Brazilian, and three Portuguese men all left a bar and walked out into a blizzard. No joke, that’s exactly what happened.
After 20 meters we all stopped and looked down the signposted path for the Camino, and without saying a word we walked on, it was a leg breaker if ever there was one.
They took off on a huge loop in the wrong direction. The wind fired the snow straight into our faces, fleeces pulled up and hoods pulled down. It was a silent plod as we descended the mountain. The icy pellets turned to flakey snow turned to sleet and finally boring old drizzle. I had an excellent Keela shell jacket but even it struggled.
Eventually, the rain stopped and the wind had downgraded itself from stiff blusters to annoying gusts. It was decided by the group, not me, to stop and have a late lunch or an early dinner, I wasn’t sure which. We found an “L” shaped building to offer some protection and we cowered into the corner. As if magicians, they conjured bread, cheese, pies, olives, cooked meat, cake, and wine out of backpacks. A small stove was set up and coffee brewed. It was a grand feast, spoiled only by the wind whipping grit into every mouthful. After ten minutes I was ready to go but my jovial fellow pilgrims were happy to loll, swig and gorge on the banquet of abundance.
Photo: the four amigos crossing the bridge under the dam
Like Mary Mary, I was quite contrary. I had spent the last two weeks craving companionship, and now, I wished them gone. By the time we found an Albergue, I was freezing cold, soaked through to my nipples, and socially overloaded.
photos: left - we think this was the path we should have taken down
middle - it was a long cold plod down the mountain
right - me standing outside a random train station
The next morning, I made my excuses, I know they didn’t understand why I wanted to walk alone but they wished me a Buen Camino anyway.
It’s difficult to explain but it was like I had been living with more than one “me”. Not a multiple personality disorder but an identity with competing, and often, diametrically opposed interests. For example, I have always had a terrible fear of being abandoned but repeatedly behave in a way that drives people away. Or, feelings of chronic emptiness can instantly transform into barely controlled anger. I was in perpetual slavery to pretty drastic mood swings, an exuberant high to crushing sadness could occur in moments. I can be astonishingly brave to the point of recklessness or a coward, too afraid to say “no” to an objectionable request. I was also prone to terrible destructive and self-harming behaviours, like binge drinking, extreme risk-taking, dangerous sports, engaging with suicidal thoughts.
Many years later, I look back on the incident in the Pyrenees and count myself lucky. Yes, lucky to have survived but more than that, lucky it was the catalyst for change.
Now I understand
Further reading ... only if you want to
Think of your mind as a stage, like in a theatre. Most people have one commanding character who stands at the front and engages the audience with their performance. Maybe there are supporting characters who occasionally step forward into the limelight and retire gracefully when their performance is complete. In my life, up to this day, my stage was more a playground for competing roles, all vying for attention. And instead of a performance it was more of a badly organised rehearsal.
The event on the 18th of April 2013 was jolt to my psyche. In one very slow hour, I was confronted with the very real possibility of my death. After the crying and shakes subsided, I gradually became aware of a different dynamic, in my head. I could "hear" one voice clear and quiet. I think the panic had shocked my head into finding, and listening to my own voice.
Now, don't get me wrong. I didn't suddenly graduate to Black Belt Origami Zen Master but from my perspective it was like moving from a busy building site to suburb, and I wasn't going to waste this new experience.
The following days of solitary walking offered me the opportunity to assess my life, as a whole, I decided it wasn't sustainable. I needed to change things, regardless of the hurt it would cause. Many years later, I wish I had handled it differently and hurt people less.
Here is what I decided.
Life is too short to waste pleasing other people who don't care about me.
Life is too precious to waste doing nothing of value.
Change is hard but not changing is also hard, the difference is, I decide which hard I prefer.