What Goes Around Comes Around, Part 1

The day I walked into Pamplona, I was delighted with myself, not because I’d done anything challenging or arduous, but because I had walked a relatively short distance, had arrived there at ten in the morning, and had decided to stay and enjoy this small city rather than continuing on as far as my legs would carry me that day. It might not seem like much, but I considered it a victory that I was able to slow down and relax for a while.

There is endless pressure to go forward on The Camino. Fear of not finding a bed (mostly unfounded), not wanting to fall behind Camino companions one has come to know and like, the struggle for “personal best,” and simple momentum push one on and on. Even the certain knowledge that I couldn’t keep up fifteen or more miles of daily walking for a month wasn’t enough to make stopping and resting easy. I had to make a conscious effort to rest.

After securing a bed in the heart of Pamplona, I traipsed along to the tourist office and then to the post office to mail a birthday card. Then I plopped myself down in a small, quiet bar in Calle de la Zapatería and enjoyed a glass of wine. I’m normally a red wine drinker but it was a sunny midday, I was feeling cheerful, and the bar was gleaming in its white décor. White Navarra was just the thing. Perfect. So there I was, kicking back, taking it all in.

Calle de la Zapatería (Street of Cobblers) is not directly on The Camino so no pilgrims passed by as I sat people-watching. That made it the more surprising when a tall, obviously American woman (Americans are easily distinguished by the way they walk!) came in sight. She was struggling to make out directions on the tourist map she held in her hands as she loped along under the weight of a massive, maroon-colored pack. As she passed I asked her if she wanted help with directions.

The woman was forty-ish and a bit chunky. She said she wasn’t headed anywhere in particular as she was killing time while waiting for an evening bus that would take her to Logroño. We got to chatting and I learned that her name is Gail, that she is a nurse and that she had, just the day before, defended her dissertation at the University of Wisconsin. Having successfully navigated the defense, she headed straight for the airport and the series of planes that deposited her in Pamplona that very morning. She looked tired.

After chatting for a while, I asked Gail about the size of her pack and she said that she had been scrambling to finish her PhD and thus had been obliged to pack in a hurry. She conceded that she may have packed too much. I didn’t need to lift the pack to know that she had certainly packed too much. After so many days on The Camino, one learns to judge the weight of a pack simply by looking at it and at the person who is carrying it. (And of course, I have to admit that my pack was heavier than most so I’m something of an expert on the matter.)

My Heavier than Average Pack
My heavier than average pack…
...is not nearly as heavy as some others.
…is not nearly as heavy as some others.

“So what have you got in there?” I asked. She began to unpack right there on the white bench in front of the white bar. “Perhaps I don’t need this skirt,” she said. “And do you think I need two hats? Is sixteen ounces of shampoo too much?” And so on. By the time we were done, she had culled at least ten pounds. By my estimation, she still had too much weight in her pack and I imagined that, like so many others, she would contribute to the discard piles in the albergues in her wake. As I escorted Gail to the post office so she could mail her excess items back home, I plotted how I might excuse myself when we arrived and leave her to do the business on her own…I was eager to get back to my well-deserved relaxing.

To be continued…

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