I knew today would be contentious when I woke up at 2:21am. This was not a good start. Why didn't I wake up at 2:22? That would have been propitious. That would have been the Universe telling me today was going to be a great day. Instead, the Universe diddled me out of a minute.
I didn't go back to sleep. And the wonderful Pilgrim's hostel where I was staying in St.Jean Pied de Port has a policy that you can't get out of bed until 6:45am – which is great because it means everyone gets their sleep before the toughest stage of the Camino.
But for me, it was torture! I had to lie in that bed for 4 hrs.
So at 6:30 I got up and went with one of the ladies running the hostel up to the bakery, to collect the bread for breakfast. And I saw these pilgrims setting off in the dark, heading up the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles, some 30km away.
My plan had been to ease into my Camino – just do an easy 8kms today. But when the sun came up, and it was a beautiful day for walking, I decided to do the whole slog.
And let me state this very clearly, this was physically the hardest day of my life. I knew it was going to be tough, but man o man, it was TOUGH. It was like doing Mt. Misery 10 times. Worse. The inclines just didn't let up.
But it was also beautiful. Truly beautiful. The thawing snow meant that the streams were cascading, and the vegetation is just starting to kick in after winter.
But the jet lag meant that after about 20km going up, up, up, with my backpack 10kgs +, I just ran out of energy. I felt like those marathon runners who talk about hitting the wall. I mean, I had woken at 2:21am and hadn't gone back to sleep, so I was buggered. I mean BUGGERED.
Anyway, one foot in front of the other, and I got to Roncesvalles, after 8hrs walking. Or rather, climbing.
The other complication was my dodgy knee. It was giving me intermittent pain – not enough to stop me, but enough to make it very uncomfortable at times. I wonder how I'm going to hold up over the next 780 kms!
The pilgrims hostel in Roncesvalles is in an ancient hospital, but it's been totally modernised. Someone is doing my laundry for €2.70. These were the clothes that I wore from Sydney, so they were rank. The lady doing the washing needed protective gear because she was handling hazardous chemical waste.
The hostel is €10 for accommodation, and the same again for a 3 course meal. Strangely now that I'm here, and I've started the Camino, I don't feel tired. But after dinner, I'm sure I'm going to clunk out.
Anyway, I've started. And I've climbed over the Pyrenees. So I feel good. I hope the knee is ok tomorrow.
Note: these photos do not convey how steep this walk was today. An elevation of about 1200m I think!