Final Chapter – Unexpected Endings

Those that know me well understand when I say I consider myself a ‘precision guy’.  My preference is to plan, analyze…systematically…and then plan some more.  If you’ve followed my blog up to here, you see that there was a commitment to consistency; to post my activities daily.  That’s also why many of you reached out to me when there was no final chapter upon returning home.  Where is the closure JT?  Is it the bum ankle that waylaid you?  The short answer is ‘no’; but in an ironic twist it probably has played a part in my being able to write this post.

As I wrote on my May 11 post, my blown-out tendon had forced me into bailing on the final 2 legs of my walk into Finisterre.  As it turned out, those 2 days were without question the poorest weather days of the entire journey.  Rain pouring down, wind blowing it at 45 degree angles, temperatures dipping to the mid 50’s but feeling much, much colder.  In other words weather that you get sick in.  Problem was, I was already sick…but much worse than I or anyone knew at that point.  I had left Florida on April 21 with the all too familiar signs of a sinus infection.  I told my wife I should probably go to the doctor and get some antibiotics, and she looked at me as to why it was even a point of discussion.  Problem was we had our inaugural Men’s Night at our church the night before I left and our Discipleship group happened to be hosting.  Between that and being a bit stressed on other packing issues, I neglected to do the one thing I should have prioritized…take care of myself.  It turned out to be a bad mistake as that sinus infection moved down to my chest, morphing into an acute upper respiratory infection, bronchitis and pneumonia.  I knew I was sick when I arrived, but convinced myself that through the daily walking and a regular diet of the expectorant Mucinex that I could manage things until I returned.  Boy was I wrong.  Nearly dead wrong.

By the time the driver dropped me at my hotel in Porto on May 12 I was so weak that I couldn’t carry my suitcase up the stairs.  Later that night was probably the most frightened I’ve ever been in my life.  I awoke mid night to a violent coughing spell, trying in vain to expel a buildup of mucus that had filled my lungs and throat.  When it got caught mid throat and my lungs started to spasm, my head told me I would suffocate right there and die alone in this hotel room.  As I wheezed desperately to take in air I prayed for God’s help.  I made it through that episode and a couple more later that morning and on the plane home, where a justifiably concerned Catherine looked at me and began the search for an urgent care clinic.  I medicated with OTC products until we made it eventually to the ER in Melbourne, where they immediately admitted me and put me on a drip IV of heavy duty antibiotics and steroids.  There I stayed for 3 days under close observation, until released to come home to continue my convalescence. It’s 2 weeks since I returned and I remain very sick and weak.  I hope to see a pulmonologist this week to get a more specialized diagnosis of my coughing and lung congestion.

Morals of the story?  Many.  Recognition of who you are and your condition pre-trip for starters.  Recognition that 10 hour international flights, in compressed air with other sick people, followed by a 6 hour time zone change and different climatic conditions than where you’re from negatively impact your health.  Recognition that the wear & tear from walking 15-18 miles/day and eating different foods, sleeping in different beds every night take their toll.  In combination, these factors proved too much for me to recover from an existing illness, and I nearly paid the ultimate price.  In retrospect, I’m thankful for the hard lesson learned, and certainly for God’s intervention in getting me home safely.

I felt badly about my ankle tendon interrupting my well planned walking schedule, and worse yet about how it transformed the message of my Camino.  The ironic blessing of the hurt ankle tendon was that it kept me from walking in weather that likely would have had me in a hospital in Spain instead of home, so God does work in mysterious ways.  Absent that ending, it was a beautiful trip filled with many lifelong memories.  I had great fortune on the weather until the end, met people I’ll never forget, saw sites that will be indelibly blazoned in my mind, and had some wonderful time…and talks…with God.  For those I’ll be forever grateful.

Walking a Camino is a great privilege. The common icebreaker questions upon meeting other pilgrims are ‘where are you from’ and ‘why are you walking the Camino’?  Many honestly don’t know what the pull was.  Many claim not to be ‘religious’, yet they can’t identify the mystic pull of St. James to his resting place at the Cathedral in Santiago.  The melding of nationalities for a common cause…completing the task…overcomes most of our differences.  Indeed it’s those differences working to a common goal that makes these pilgrimages so very special.

Returning from my 2nd Camino, striping away the focus on my illness, evoked many of the same emotional and spiritual feelings as the first.  While happy to be reunited with my bride, I had an overall sense of preferring isolation.  My heightened sensitivity to life as I left it, with all the corresponding noise, busyness and expectations was, frankly, depressing to return to.  Instead of my eye seeing the beauty of new surroundings, I saw yard work to be performed, emails to answer, bills to be paid, aging parents to be tended to.  Life as I knew it, and left temporarily behind, was eager to get back in my face and invade my peace.  That’s why, in light of all the pain, stress and strife involved in walking a Camino, I would gladly pick up my backpack and walk another.  They are simply that special on so many fronts.

I always encourage my family and friends to walk a Camino if that door cracks ajar in their lives.  I know firsthand what awaits them and how life changing they can be.  The fraternity of pilgrims that have completed their walks may find it hard to express their feelings to others upon returning, but the kindred spirit we share is undeniable.  I can only hope that you come to understand what I mean when I say that.

I do want to thank you for following my blog and encouraging me along the way.  Your support and prayers were very uplifting for me, and I hope in some small way I vicariously changed your life as well.  That was certainly my hope.  That was certainly my prayer.  To those other pilgrims I met and befriended in Portugal and Spain, no matter how briefly our time together, know that your friendship will last a lifetime…and that I truly hope our paths cross again.

Until that day arrives, Buen Camino / Bom Caminho peregrinos.  May God bless you and your families abundantly.


To the End of the World

Finisterre, or ‘finis terre’, was once thought to be the ‘end of the world’.  It’s easy to see why when you stand at Faro de Fisterra and marvel at the vastness as land gives way to endless ocean.  It is truly a spectacular sight, one everyone should strive to visit, and one I’ve had the good fortune of seeing twice now.  It is one of the Camino’s great hidden treasures and renown as the westernmost  point in Europe.

The Fero de Fisterra…the final edifice at the end.

Ara Solis…the altar to the sun.

Way mark 0.00 km…the finish!

The cross just below the Faro de Fisterra.  It’s straight down to the sea from here.

No, that’s not my boot…but it could be!

The gorse with it’s yellow bloom and thorny edges is a fitting plant for the craggy coastline of Finisterre.  The different shades of blue as the water crashed against the shore were brilliant.

Today, special in so many ways, was not only the end of my pilgrimage, but happens to be my 63rd birthday.  Celebrating here may not be as cool as my 60th with Catherine in Pamplona, but it’s a close 2nd.  The Hotel Rustico Spa I’m in is quaint, charming and has great views of the ocean from the room windows.  I’m on the western facing side, so I’m told the sunset is spectacular, but it’s also very late (approx 10 pm) being so far north and west.  It won’t make this blog post, but hopefully tomorrow’s as I begin my trek back to Porto for my flight home on Saturday.  When I arrived here early afternoon the weather was really brutal…high winds, cold and raining…sometimes very hard.  To escape that into the warmth of this quaint inn, and then have a truly unexpected surprise…the gift of fine cheese, sausages, hams, bread, wine and a slice of birthday cake…all arranged by our daughter Meghan…was very emotional.  Thank you Megie!  One of the best birthday gifts ever!

Spanish birthday cake!  That’s one heckuva candle, no?

Look what a beautiful and delicious spread Megie had waiting on me when I arrived.

The birthday boy with inn proprietor Juan…a really good guy.

Oh Santiago…the weather you endured when taking your message of love and salvation to the people of Spain.  God bless you good and faithful servant.

A distant and majestic view of Faro de Fisterra.

The perfect place to give thanks for a safe pilgrimage.  Thank you Lord.

Gorse and the endless Atlantic frame the Faro de Fisterra.  It’s quite a sight to see.

The vast Langosteira Beach surrounding Cape Fisterra.

My injured left ankle isn’t any worse today, but it’s also not any better.  My good friend Briant back home happens to be a Podiatrist, but he also happens to be vacationing with his bride Nydia off the coast of Portugal in Madeira.  I took a chance yesterday and sent him a picture of my swollen ankle with hopes he’d have a suggestion.  Thankfully he received the message and responded that he thought I had some posterior tendon issue he coined as PTTP…but then went on to say that we should probably rename it to mean ‘Portuguese Trail Tendon Problem’.  Yeah, that’s what 265 miles will do to you when you take a city car offroad.  Somewhere along my walk from Melbourne Beach to Key West I blew a tire in Marathon.  These walks really are insane when you start putting numbers to maps.  Catherine and I walked the equivalent of Melbourne Beach to Atlanta in 2014…and not on smooth, flat roads.  This one was supposed to be ‘just’ 300 miles.  The mind was willing, but the body didn’t agree.  Life happens on the Camino.  You learn to deal with it.

Only in Spain does the snack bar sell sardines and wine.  You’ve gotta love the Spanish!

Better than Coke, Pepsi and Mountain Dew, right?

I’m very glad to be here…even more glad to be finished and heading home!

The PTTP syndrome…hurts like hell.

I had to go for the risotto with pulpo and shrimp last night…and a Rioja to chase it.

Tomorrow I have a typical 3.5 hour car trip back to Porto, Portugal that will probably be more like 4.5-5 hours based on word that there will long security lines crossing the border due to Pope Francis being in Fatima for the 100 year anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin Mary.  That’s worth the delay.  An amazing time to be in Spain & Portugal.  Buen Camino family and friends.  Adios St. James…Buenos tardes on Saturday Catherine when we’re together again at MIA.  I can’t wait to see you honey…I’ve missed you very much.

From Cee to Shining Sea

Today I took the only true option available to me…a cab from Olveiroa to Cee.  The family owners of the inn at Olveiroa, from the Dad that checked me in, to the daughter that translated my English, to her Mom who cooked the meals, to Tony who drove me to Cee this morning…these folks were angels that showed kindness and provided assistance to a peregrino in need.  My hopes for an improved ankle were dashed the minute I tried to stand from bed.  This is not a minor injury but will have to await further diagnosis until I return to the States on Monday.  But I am safely in my hotel in Cee and it feels good to be here.

Tony…the young man who drove me to Cee today and showed me many of the stunning sights along the Way.  God bless you young man.

The remainder of my post today is of 2 incredible spots we stopped at to marvel and both God’s and man’s works.  The panoramic views of Cee from above (with Finisterre in the distance), and the engineering marvel where the Xallas River meets the Atlantic Ocean.  The cascading flow of water to this confluence is where there is a one-of-a-kind hydroelectric station where 5 turbines are spun 24/7/365 to produce electricity for the Galician coast.  I hope the pictures and video capture at least a minimal experience of what I witnessed.  By the way, Tony told me that had I not injured my ankle and taken a car trip, that I would NOT have been able to witness either of these sights as the pilgrim path was much more inland.  A problem that created an opportunity.  Found treasure.  Thank you Lord for the gift of this day.

Where Cee meets the sea…wow!

The seaside town of Cee with Finisterre (the ‘end of the world’) in the cloudy distance.

This mountaintop is where the cycling Camino ends.  With my injured ankle, may I catch a hitch senora?

The view was purely majestic.

The confluence of the Xallas River to the brackish water below.

Thunderous roars of water cascading down well worn rock facings.

​The descent starts up here…

​Look, listen and enjoy.  What God has provided through nature, man has harvested for the benefit of many.

From Agony to Ecstasy

As I left Negreira bound for Olveiroa my walking notes said “prepare for a long day”.  OK, so what’s different with that and most days?  What they should have said is ‘ this is a RIDICULOUSLY long day…25 miles of walking through open farmland, up & down severe grades, and with no cafes or places to sit and rest your weary feet and bones in between.  Lord have mercy, this was my definition of agony.  You see, it wasn’t just my blisters and bruised toenails from the previous 17 days of walking long distances; it wasn’t just my sore back and aching meniscus repaired knees; and it wasn’t just the bacterial crud on my chest I’ve been living with for 2 weeks.  Now there was a new bedfellow, one I hadn’t encountered before.  I had a notion of his visit the previous day before arriving Santiago as I started to feel an odd sharp pain in the front of my left ankle.  I had brushed it off as yet another ache or pain associated with the miles on the odometer.  I suppose the day off walking in Santiago allowed this visitor to lurk in the shadows, waiting to pop out on the longest walking day of my life.  And pop out it did…literally & figuratively…on the last 6-8 miles of that walk.

Leaving Negreira…note the pickpocket behind me.  Beware peregrino!

The early paths were quiet and lovely.

As we scaled mountain ridges I ran into a crest of wind turbines making electricity.

It was when I encountered the sole cafe for a midday cafe con leche and a pastry, and removed my rain pants to inspect this now throbbing ankle pain, that I discovered that someone had surgically implanted a golf ball into my ankle.  There was this pronounced bump with redness and swelling around it that underscored the pain.  Another pilgrim, watching this discovery unfold, said ‘oh yay…you’ve ruptured a tendon’.  You didn’t need a medical license to see something was very wrong.  What were my options out in the middle of nowhere?  Proceed.  With caution.  The last 6-8 miles took me literally 3 hours to traverse as I would step with my right foot and slide my left.  Not pretty, but pretty damn painful.  I finally arrived at my hotel, showered, took Aleve and placed inflammation pads on the ankle.  It’s still very sore this morning but there is no walking for me today.  This is a day-to-day observation…disappointing as the finish line was so close.  Life happens.

The barren coastal scrub alongside many of the paths.  Reminds me of northern Scotland.

The Spanish ‘pick me up’ of cafe con leche and apple pie.  Sugar & caffeine…what can be better?

One of the many Galacian granaries seen in the farming districts.  Harvested crops are stored here for preservation.

The weary mind plays tricks on you.  I swear this cow whispered ‘eat more chikin’ when I passed by.  Out of respect, I ordered the pollo for dinner.

Part of the vast farming meadowlands distinct for the lack of homes and people.

So as I crested this agonizingly steep hill, a revelation hit me as I turned to take in the glorious view behind me.  What did I know of adversity when others go days without food or clean water?  What did I know of pain when friends of mine have lost spouses and children; when my own brother has lost a son?  Our discipleship group back home reads devotionals from Streams in the Desert and My Utmost for His Highest, and a repeating theme is how the Lord teaches us ecstasy from agony.  How else would we know His love when that ecstasy arrives?  The pain only serves to prepare us, to sharpen our rough exteriors, to break us down from the pride and hubris that disrupts our ability to love.

Part of the ecstasy that awaited me.  Thank you Lord for the reward of these views.

It took a long time, a lot of sweat, blisters and pain to reach this mountaintop.  Amazing!

Today has started gray and wet.  It can’t always be paradise.  Life gives you the spectrum of good and bad.  I’ll take today as the gift it’s intended to be.  Rest, quietness…stillness.  Thank you Lord for guiding my way.  Buen Camino.

A Bittersweet Day…Santiago to Negreira

Good morning Lord.
Oh St. James…you picked such a lovely spot to rest your weary bones.

When I woke today to the sound of my 6:30 am alarm, I struggled to get out of bed, not being sure what was more sore…my feet, my ankles, my knees or my back.  I felt every bit of my age…and then some.  Then I pulled open the window curtains and saw this glorious sunrise over the Catherdral.  I did not want to leave Santiago.  Do you blame me?

I encountered some unique way markers today.

OK, I get the idea…it’s that way!

With due respect to Finisterre and it’s ‘end of the world’ history, it felt anticlimactic to pack my bag for another 4 days of long walks instead of for home.  I was tired and missing my wife BADLY.  I had so wanted to see and kiss her sweet face and have a bottle of wine, telling her all about my journey.  Instead I faced 17 miles of mostly uphill graded paths and roadways until I limped in mid afternoon.  My body felt like a union shop on a work stoppage.  Nothing worked.  Even blisters popped and covered in trusty Compeed bandages hurt like hell as new neighbors formed alongside them.  Then a tendon in my left ankle decided to join the strike and my stride slowed to a crawl.  Would I ever get to this Negreira, and if I did, would I be a wounded version of myself.  Today was just flat out hard physically and mentally.  But then the Lord delivered…a beautiful waterfall and old medieval bridge rejuvenated my spirit enough to get me to the finish line.

I wish all my paths today were this nice…they weren’t.

Beautiful blooms along a wall.

Yes sir, I hear you loud & clear!

A hunter in action.

I used my ‘cat whisperer’ skills to get this kitty to chill.

​A medieval bridge I crossed over on my walk today.

​This made my day.  The sound and sight were refreshing.

So tomorrow’s walking notes say to expect an 8 hour walk, my longest yet.  They advise to start early and not take too many breaks.  Did they know that the weather forecast is for 100% chance of rain and a high of 60 degrees?  Double argh.  I’m going to ‘give it up’ to you Lord.  I’ll take up my cross and do the best I can.  Buen Camino.

Farewell my Beloved Santiago 

When I awoke to a stunning sunrise my emotions were scattered. Part of me wanted to shut off the alarm and go back to sleep and stay another day. Part of me wanted to pack for home. None of me wanted to tie boot straps and sling a backpack over my shoulders, but here I am doing just that.

My second trip to Santiago has been more than I could have hoped. Perfect weather, 3 visits to the Cathedral, obtaining my Compostela of Completion and enjoying the energy of the city. It is truly a unique place.

Good morning Lord.

St. James…I love your resting spot. Well done good and faithful servant.

A cross in the sky on the way to 7:30 pm Mass on Sunday. Coincidence? I think not…

​The majestic Convent of San Francisco.

​Street artist fill the air with music on many corners in Santiago.

And so I bid you fare thee well Santiago…I will miss you. Perhaps the Lord will bless me with a future visit to your magical grounds. Wishing you all a blessed Monday. Buen Camino!

A Day in Santiago…

Hola family and friends.  Today is my first day without walking since April 23 and the wall of exhaustion hit me as the adrenaline waned.  Of course I was able to rally to eat a huge breakfast and lunch and do some shopping, but was disappointed to find that the daily Mass in English operates on the other 6 days of the week.  So I popped in to the Cathedral to hug St. James and catch the tail end of the 10 am Spanish Mass.  This time I sat on a different angle than yesterday to see the Botafumeiro swing above my head.  A bit scary to be sure, but certainly more so for the 6 Tiraboleiros as it appears to barely miss hitting their heads.  High risk, low pay job…but oh are the spiritual benefits amazing!

A beautiful morning dawns in Santiago.

Statue of Mary in the Cathedral.

This one is my favorite…so loving.

The back of the St. James statue they let you touch and give thanks for a safe journey.

​One of the impressive ceilings within the Cathedral.

​Just watch and be in awe…

So tomorrow I pack up again and start the 4 day leg to Finisterre.  The forecast is for nice weather tomorrow, but then my Camino gets rugged to finish as the final 3 days are forecast to be cold and 80-100% chance of rain.  Staying healthy as well as upright will be the goal.  Lord give me the strength to finish this pilgrimage.  I asked for this to end on my 63rd birthday in Finisterre; I have faith you’ll continue to hold me in the palms of your merciful hands.  Thank you for all the blessings you’ve given me Lord.

Pilgrims up and about early on Sunday.

And now you understand why pilgrims lose very little weight, even when walking long distances daily.  The pastries and coffee are superb.  Trust me….I’ve tried them all!

2 mimes performing in the Cathedral square.  Note that the one dressed as St. James appears to be floating.  I wasn’t about to ask how!

​I volunteered to have my swollen and bruised feet used for this sculpture.  Payment?  A pastry and cafe con leche, of course!

​Many street performers serenade the pilgrims in the squares.  This bagpipe player probably wouldn’t make the cut in Scotland, but in Spain he’s ‘prime time’.