Today was an extraordinary day, really.
I climbed to the highest point on the Camino, at 1515m. I put a piece of Mudgee slate at the base of the Crux de Ferro (Iron Cross) just as the sun was coming up, I walked across what seemed to be the top of the world, and ripped down into valleys full of the first flush of blooming wildflowers.
The sun was out all day. There was no wind. Blue skies. What a great day to walk the Camino!
I got up early, and was out the door by 6:30am, keen to get to the Iron Cross by sunrise (7:30am).
The Iron Cross is one of the major landmarks on the Camino. Tradition has it that you bring a stone, or rock, or some keepsake from your home, and place it at the base of the cross, or on the cross itself.
My wife pulled a piece of Mudgee slate from our garden, and I placed this at the base of the cross.
Then I climbed further to the top of the mountains, all the while taking in the magnificent views as the sun began to rise fully.
But then of course, I had to come down, and it was tough. A very steep descent over several kilometres. But what made it especially tough were all the rocks. So so easy to twist an ankle. And it wasn't too good on my bad knee too.
I went down really slowly.
And as I was picking my way down carefully, and painfully, it occurred to me that once again, the Camino is like life.
Yesterday I surged up a very steep climb to Foncebadon. I almost ran, I felt so good. And then this morning, I climbed even higher, up to the heights, and I walked along this elevated ridge in awe of the beauty around me.
And then I dropped down. And it hurt. And it was unpleasant.
How often have we seen people climb to extraordinary heights – whether in business, or politics, the entertainment industry or sport – and then they drop fast. Painfully fast.
It's often an ugly rocky fall from the height of their greatness.
How can you avoid that? How can you reach those heights, and stay inured from the fall.
Today when I was walking towards Ponferrado, I heard the tap tap tap of someone walking up behind me. This surprised me, because it was about 2:30pm and few pilgrims walk after 1:30pm or so.
But this bloke walked up beside me and we got to talking. His name was Pieter, and he was from Holland. He had started in St. Jean Pied de Port only 17 days earlier. That meant he was zipping along.
He said he was averaging between 30-40 kms a day. He hadn't had one injury. And no rest days. He walked long hours each day, but also took long breaks.
What impressed me about him was his smile, and his ease. He had such an incredible sense of calm. He said good bye and tap tap tapped off, and it occurred to me I should take a photo, but he'd gone.
And then of course I thought of the rise and fall of the Camino. He had levelled it with his calmness. When you're calm, and content, as he seemed to be, there are no rocky descents.
There is just easy effortless forward movement through life.