Last night was a reunion of sorts. After settling in at the the little town of Ventosa, another quintessential Spanish town with winding, cobblestoned streets and built around a church on a hill, Cormac and Pasquel prepared pasta with a bolognese sauce, the Portland girls made a tasty salad, and I bought a bottle of red and a bottle of white, smartly labeled with the name of the auberges. We ate outside in a little courtyard just big enough for 5. It was still hot- around 90 but we had a fine dinner, the wine flowed, and we got to know each other a little better. The Camino does that (so does the wine).2016-07-21 15.35.35

Before dinner Cormac had chatted up the proprietress of the auberges. According to her, pilgrims these days ain’t shit. They aren’t out here for the right reason. Apparently she knows the right reason. I posit that if you’ve come out here to walk 470 miles in this heat, just the fact that you are going to go through, well, getting here, pain, blisters, etc puts you here for “the right reason”.

No matter what you are going to have to, at the very least, look inside yourself, dig deep and reach for the things that you need to simply get to the end of your day, your destination. No matter what you’ll come away with a better understanding of yourself, physically, mentally, and possibly spiritually. Hell, I figure anyone who’s out here for whatever reason should at least get a few points on the cosmic scorecard.

After dinner, I was on the phone when Cormac tbrieold me he was going to leave early. He’s got a little catching up to do – he’s using Brierleys (‘A Guidebook to the Camino” by John Brierley) itinerary, which means he has to walk an extra 10 k tomorrow. Brierley is god, or el diablo, depending on your mood and feeling about his sometimes curmudgeonly opinions about things.

Since I was on the phone I really only got the gist of what he was saying- that he would be leaving early and he said we’d meet up in Burgos. He needed to get there by Saturday to meet his girlfriend who, I think I mentioned, was going to walk with him for a week. So I would be on my own the next morning.

The Portland girls woke me up at 430 (Barras bunk was directly above mine). I couldn’t get back to sleep so I followed suit. I had to apply new Compeed  (like Brierley, a godsend or a curse, depending on your experience) to my blisters. Compeed is a weird rubbery bandaid frilled with some sort of emulsion. So my preparations to get out the door took a little longer than usual.

I left the auberge and it was a clear morning with a full moon as I walked down the windy streets of Ventosa alone. It was beautiful. I looked for the little spray painted yellow arrows that marked the way and followed them out of town. The path led along vineyards, big wineries with warehouses, fancy signs, wine tasting! Maybe some other time.

2016-07-20 21.49.50Being alone in the dark by myself I was a little apprehensive. There were enough signs- it seems like every time I looked up I would see the yellow spray painted camino arrow or the “official” tiles often laid into the street. But still, with blisters on my feet (even though I felt good, strong) I was hoping to see some indication that I was heading towards Najera, the next town along the way.

I was also a bit concerned since I hadn’t consulted Brierley. I guess when you’re in a strange country and you’re walking across it you should consult a map once in awhile. This was a good test though. I would be independent, not relying on Cormac for direction. not that flying to Madrid (having never been to Europe) and embarking on a 470 mile walk across Spain doesn’t show some independence.

As mentioned, the days I had traveled with Cormac had allowed me to defer to him for logistics, but I will be on my own once we hit Burgos when Cormac meets up with his girlfriend. It’s funny that things work out. Cormac and I ended up traveling a good chunk of the first quarter of the camino together, and will part ways soon. It was probably good for me to travel with someone this first chunk, allowing myself to ease into this otherworldly (for me) way of being, and then be forced to go it alone. And this is another example of, well I can only say, what makes the Camino special. It seems like it provides for you what you need, what you are looking for (even though you may not know it) gently, when you’re ready. With grace.

One of the reasons I came here was to move towards a place, within myself, where I am no longer codependent, and can fully move my life forward, be 100 % responsible for my actions, and decisions. It’s part of the reason Amanda said we should both have some space during the summer, so both of us could get our shit together.

At the time I didn’t want to believe her but, again, I knew she was right. I don’t know how to explain it, but I have never known a woman who can look inside me like she does, and help me become the man I know I can be, even after other’s have convinced me that I’m worthless. And that’s probably why I fell in love with her. Well besides the fact that she’s beautiful, sexy, smart, and loves to laugh.

As the sky got light and the moon got covered by clouds, I was sure I was going the right way but still had that voice in the back of my head throwing out his fucking two- cents worth now and then: “You haven’t seen anyone, you must not be on the camino”, “You may be on the path, but you’re going the wrong direction”….This is one way, it seems to me, codependency manifests itself.

That voice in the back of my head knows I didn’t look at the map. So the voice in the back of my head is questioning my knowledge, my insecurities. And it’s right, I had deferred responsibility to Cormac, I should have taken a look at the map when he told me he’d be leaving early. So the voice in the back of my head is just trying to protect me from harm, the unknown- as I mentioned I didn’t consult the map so he had some foundation for telling me I was a fool. But again, it’s the scared little child throwing rude comments my way. I reasoned with him, and we made peace. I continued on.

For the hell of it I stopped to look at the GPS. I found that the camino is actually marked on the map. As I was checking it out, who should walk up but Cormac who had lended up leaving after me since the Portland girls had given me an early wake up call. We wandered into Najera together and had breakfast after crossing the requisite bridge into the town. A pilgrim who had walked through the night to experience walking the camino under a full moon stumbled in to have a cafe con leche and we spoke to him briefly about his adventure.

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We walked out of Najera, and all of a sudden we were in the hills. In a short time we got to the crest and looked over the other side into a long wide open valley. We walked for 8 more kilometers of rolling hills, wheat, some vines. We hit Azofra, another small town where we stopped for a break and met two Californians we chatted with for a little while. ethika

Speaking of underwear, I had my doubts about my underwear selection for the walk. I packed 4 pair of Ethika underwear (2 pair were given to me by a lovely woman I know, and I bought the other two). They’re tight fitting, snug. I was taking a chance though, I thought they may be too warm, make me sweat in…we’ll you get the picture. Fact is, they were the perfect choice. They don’t make me sweat, they’re comfortable, and they feel good. So, if you’re going to hike across Spain, even in the middle of summer…

We left Azofra and were quickly into walking through wheat fields and rolling hills. After a few miles we came to a guy selling fruit, cokes, etc by the side of the road. Anna and Pasquel were there and Anna told how one of the woman at the auberge we stayed at the night before (the one who I spoke with while waiting to get into the auberge, and who had kindly brought my pack inside for me when the auberge opened early and Cormac and I were at the local cafe) had gotten a call saying her daughter had died in a car wreck.

When I heard this, I was overwhelmed, I couldn’t even breathe, I started choking and spitting up coke. Cormac had to slap me on the back. I had to walk away. I was crying. I realized I had related this story to myself. I too have lost a daughter. She is twelve, almost a teen so she does have some attitude. But she has been distanced, I feel, from me by other things, beyond my control.

Amanda had told me that I would have to make peace with my daughter and mend my relationship with her before I could move forward with my life. And I know she’s right again. So another one of my main objectives for coming out here was to reflect on that, come to terms with it, and figure out how to proceed. Hearing this story out here seemed yet another way for the camino to nudge me in the right direction.

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We left there and walked a relatively straight shot thorough more wheat fields. Finally we got to Cireuna. We walked through a few tracts of houses that looked relatively new, but abandoned like out of some twilight zone episode. It was the first city I had ran across in Spain that felt sad. Sad and desolate.

We kept walking, still it seemed that no lived in this crazy sad town, it was like the city didn’t want any people there and no people sure as hell wanted to be in that city. But we finally did find one place open for lunch. There was one woman manning the bar (and making the food I think) who had the personality of a bag of hammers. In fact, when I ordered she didn’t even acknowledge me, so I figured it was a 50/50 shot I would even get any food. It did arrive, and was actually quite a good chorizo sandwich, although later I questioned the wisdom of having chorizo in the middle of walking 25 kilometers on a 95 degree day.

We ran into Mike and Diane, who we had met in Azofra earlier in the day. They were the first Americans I had come run across, besides the Portland girls. They had some roots in the South Bay where I’m from, so we had something in common. They weren’t walking the entire camino, but had walked a section before. It felt good touching base with someone from the states.

We said goodbye and headed out and onto the highway, then into grapes and wheat. It was a slow steady. The sky was light, but overcast. We walked a few miles, and then along a highway, then onto another broad road through fields. Got a few drops of rain, put the rain covers on our packs, which of course made the rain stop.


We left and ran into the Portland girls again, and walked with them for awhile. It was a straight shot to Santo Domingo. When we got to the outskirts of town, we stopeed for a moment to rest. We had walked 30 k, my blisters were hurting, and Cormac was getting his first taste of them . Sometimes when your spent, tired, and in pain all you can do is laugh, which we did as we walked into town. We ducked into the first auberge, climbed into our bunks, and fell asleep.

Just try to live each and
every precious moment
don’t be discouraged by the future,
forget about the past.

between a laugh and a tear,
smile in the mirror as you walk by
Thats as good as it can get for us,
ain’t no reason to stop trying
                 -John Mellencamp

“At the start of therapy, Mr West presented with acute distress and anxiety due to marital discord. His wife had labeled him the problem and “sent” him to therapy. The treatment is supportive psychotherapy with a focus on issues of self-esteem building, trauma recovery, codependency, and adjustment to ongoing, major life changes. In the couple relationship the wife has been berating, controlling, and humiliating Mr. West for years. Though Mr. West has never used the work “abusive”, I maintain that his wife was emotionally abusive…

-Psychological assessment, 2/10/15

Janice suggested I go to therapy. I’ve always a proponent of it (but had never been) so I agreed. i think (of course I’m just guessing) she thought I would see the errors of my ways, admit I was the one causing discord in our marriage and would begin to acquiesce to her demands.

Much later, after we had been separated for a few months, we met in the park near my house. We talked about the separation, Hannah, other things. Janice asked me if I would consider moving back in. I said I would if she would consider therapy.

I was served divorce papers that evening.

4 or 5 months after we started going out, Amanda and I made another trip to Santa Barbara. We went wine tasting to a few places in Santa Barbara, had a great, fun dinner (best brussels sprouts ever!) and then retired to the Fess Parker Inn. We had a little more wine and were sitting on the balcony feeling the warm wind wash over us.

I think at that time, I felt closer to her than I ever had to anyone. It’s funny though, I knew that it wasn’t just her. I had grown up a lot over the past year, and I think others may have shown me the same, Maybe even Janice, but I just wasn’t ready to accept it. To accept love.

But I also knew that I had never known anyone like her. We shared things, we talked about things I had never discussed with another woman. She has a deep, intuitive, soulful nature. She taught me things, showed me parts of myself that I didn’t know were there. Parts that needed mending. And no matter how hard I fought her on those things (I didn’t want to admit to them), in the end she was always right.

Out on the balcony we talked about life, everything. And she started crying. And she told me how much she loved me. And she started making plans that included me. Flying to Slovenia to visit her 93 year old grandmother, to Switzerland to see her daughter.

But what I learned over time is that whenever we got close, she would retreat into some place that I wasn’t allowed to go. I wanted to, to help her, but the walls were thick, the barriers impenetrable. It happened more than once and I now see it for what it was. But back then, I could only see it as rejection, and the reinforcement of my own insecurities. But there, on that balcony, it was as if we were sharing our hopes and dreams for the future, the scars of our pasts, while holding on to each other for dear life in the present.

I sit at my table and wage war on myself
It seems like it’s all, it’s all for nothing
I know the barricades
And I know the mortar in the wall breaks
I recognize the weapons, I’ve used them well

Reach out for me
Hold me tight
Hold that memory
Let my machine talk to me

This is my world,and I am the World Leader Pretend
This is my life, and this is my time
I have been given the freedom to do as I see fit
It’s high time I razed the walls that I’ve constructed…