Saturday, September 30, 2017

Traveling to Spain

The adventure begins with the glorious task of cleaning up my house. I had arranged for some guests to stay at my house while I would be away. So, I spent quite a few hours cleaning and organizing things into the early hours of the morning. Finally I finished and it was time to leave. Well, leave for Houston. My flight left out of Houston so I had to drive three hours to get there. I arrived into Houston just in time for rush hour traffic. Yeehaw! I eventually made it to my mom's place where I was planning to leave my car. She was kind enough to take me to the airport. 

From Houston I flew to Charlotte and from Charlotte I flew to Madrid. 

Bienvenidos a Madrid... the airport. 

I picked up my checked baggage. This bag contained my hiking poles and a lightweight camera tripod that I could not carry on the plane due to regulations. 

I breezed through the immigration and customs services. Then I found this cafe inside the airport. 
I had purchased a bus ticket from the ALSA bus company for my journey to the north of Spain. My flight had arrived at 7am, but my bus was not leaving until 10:45am. I had some time to wait. While I was waiting a Moldovan American girl sat down next to me and we began to talk. I always talk to strangers. I learned quite a bit about Moldova, the history, politics, economy and other tribal information. Maybe I’ll visit someday. 

Eventually my bus arrived and we quickly departed. 

It would be a full day of bus rides. I traveled from Madrid to Sonria to Pamplona to St Jean Pied de Port. There were just a few stops. I had to transfer in Sonria and Pamplona. 
After some 48 hours of traveling I was a little tired. Here I am resting in the Pamplona bus terminal waiting for my last connection that would take me to the small town of St Jean Pied de Port in France. 

I eventually arrived into SJPP at about 7:30pm. I quickly referenced google maps to look for this place. I walked about a half mile up the main street which was lined with cobblestones to find the official Camino de Santiago Pilgrims Office. It was here that I picked up some valuable information - a map, a list of Albergues (accommodations) and a scallop shell. 
Although my journey started thousands of miles away at my home in Texas, this would be my first official sello (stamp) in my pilgrim's credentials. 

After gathering the necessary info, I quickly scampered up the street to this place - the SJPP Municipal Albergue. It doesn’t sound or look glamorous by any means... and it is not. 

However, inside this door is a welcome and warmth that you would not believe. It’s like walking into a family restaurant or a familiar bar or a fraternal order. There’s immediate understanding, acceptance and community. 

The room is shared with others. The bathrooms are shared with others. The beds are metal bunk beds. Pretty basic accommodation, but really it is all that one needs - a roof to keep one dry and a pillow to lay one's head. 

I was lucky enough to get the last bed available in the entire Albergue. It just so happens that it was at the end of the room and next to the window. I think that I had the best view of the city. 

El Camino provides!

It was almost 9pm by the time I settled in and showered. Everyone else in the Albergue had already eaten and most were getting ready for bed. Pilgrims often start their day at 6am to begin walking. 

An Italian guy was nice enough to share with me a tip about a little restaurant down the street that offered tasty meals at reasonable prices. He pointed down the road and held up three fungers. Number 3. It was really all the assistance that I needed. I walked down the street and found number 3. Inside was a wonderfully warm and welcoming French restaurant. I ordered the Pligrims meal which included three course - tomatoes and noodle soup, chicken with potatoes and salad. 

And this slightly sweet and lightly tart pear dessert. The French really do know how to dine. 

Full and content, with my meal, my travels and where I was at this moment, I walked back to my Albergue. 

Who is Saint James?

Who is Saint James? Why is there a pilgrimage named after him? And why am I walking the pilgrimage?

Here's a short backstory.

The simple explanation for the notoriety of James is that he was one of the twelves Disciples/Apostles of Jesus. He was born as the son of Zebedee and Salome, so he is often referred to as James of Zebedee. He had a brother name John who also became one of the twelve Apostles. Zebedee and his sons lived in the tiny fishing village of Capernaum located along the Sea of Galilee; and it was here that they made their living by fishing. Also, it was near the Sea of Galilee where Jesus met James and John and offered to teach them how to be fishermen of men.

He was one of Jesus' first disciples and was present during many of Jesus's teachings and miracles. Following Jesus's crucifixion, James became one of the most vocal advocates of sharing the Christian Gospel across Israel, the Roman Empire and for nearly forty years in Spain.
James became a victim of King Herod Agrippa’s wrath in 44 AD when the King, intent on maintaining his popularity, had him killed. This was during the time when the Christian church had begun to grow in numbers and the authorities had become very wary and antagonistic towards the expansion of the church. 
As he was not allowed to be buried following his martyrdom, his remains were taken to Compostela, Spain, by some of his followers, who buried him. In the ninth century his remains were discovered and moved to a tomb in the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. 
The English name James comes from the Italian name Giacomo. Giacomo is derived from the Latin name Iacobus. In the Spanish Galician dialect Iacobus became Iagois.  So the Sanctu Iacobus in Italian became Santiagois in Galician and Santiago in Spanish. 

El Camino de Santiago or The Way of St. James was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during the Middle Ages. However, the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation, and political unrest in 16th century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s, only a few pilgrims per year arrived in Santiago. In October 1987, the route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe; it was also named one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. Since the 1980s the route has attracted a growing number of modern-day international pilgrims.

So why am I walking El Camino?

Like many things, my reason for setting out on this venture is a multifaceted one. Part of me is attracted to the recreational aspect of hiking a long distance. Part of me is interested in the social aspect of many individuals from various backgrounds sharing in a common experience. And there is a part of me that believes - that in a complicated world with tragic natural disasters, increasing humanitarian crises, an apparent decline in civility and a growing lack of hope - that a simple walk or pilgrimage can rejuvenate my and other's faith, hope and love.

So I walk and invite you to walk alongside me.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

El Camino de Santiago - The Adventure Begins

El Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James, is a network of pathways that lead to the town of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Tradition has it that the remains of the apostle Saint James the Great are buried in the cathedral. Many follow its routes as a form of pilgrimage, spiritual growth, penance, escape, bucket list fulfillment or simply for recreation. 
There are many paths that lead to Santiago de Compostela from all over Europe, however the most noted and established path is called El Camino Francés (The French Way). The French Way runs about 500 miles (780km) from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela through the towns of Roncesvalles, Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos and León. A typical walk on the Camino Francés takes at least four weeks, allowing for a few rest days along the way. 

I've known about El Camino for a number of years. About two years ago I was asked by my sister to accompany my niece on her walk, However, at that time I had just returned from my trip to Cuba and was not really in condition to walk El Camino. 

Over the past two years I've often thought about walking El Camino, but different circumstances always seemed to arise that prevented me from starting.

But then last week something happened - everything fell into place. I discovered an inexpensive airfare. I received some funds to help cover the cost of the trip. I found someone to stay at my house so that it would not be left vacant. Some nagging issues with my knee and foot seemed to miraculously heal. So I bought a ticket on Thursday to depart the following Thursday - one week to prepare. I would finally walk El Camino.

I learned that a group called the American Pilgrims on the Camino provided official credentials to walk El Camino. I found their website, filled out a form and within four days I received my Credencial del Peregrino. 

While on their journey along the Camino de Santiago, pilgrims carry the Credencial (Credential) - a document with which the pilgrim authenticates his or her progress by obtaining sellos (stamps) along the way. 

Sellos can be obtained at most hotels and inns, restaurants, churches, museums, city halls, police stations and at all albergues (hostels). Without a Credencial a person can not stay at an albergue reserved for pilgrims. When registering at an albergue, pilgrims will be asked to present their credential to verify that they are walking El Camino. 

In addition, upon reaching Santiago de Compostela, at the Oficina de Acogida de Peregrinos (Pilgrims' Welcome Office) pilgrims can present the stamped credential to confirm that they have walked their chosen pathway, whereupon they are able to receive a Compostela - a document that certifies their pilgrimage.

Here’s a breakdown of the hike by segments. 

The adventure begins...

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hiking the John Muir Trail - A Glimpse of the Range of Light

One year ago...
While on a short backpacking trip with a group of friends my friend Johnny mentioned that he was hoping to do more hiking trips and perhaps someday hike the John Muir Trail (JMT). I've never been a believer in "someday." I'm a believer in yesterday, today and tomorrow. So I said that if we could obtain a backpacking permit, I would accompany him to hike the JMT. 
The John Muir Trail is a long-distance trail passing through wilderness areas in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. It is sometimes referred to as the Range of Light. From the northern terminus at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley and the southern terminus located on the summit of Mount Whitney, the Trail's official length is 210.4 miles (338.6 km), with an elevation gain of approximately 47,000 feet (14,000 m). The trail passes through some of the most picturesque areas of Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. The trail was named in honor of John Muir.
John Muir was a Scottish-American naturalist, author and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt accompanied Muir on a visit to Yosemite. Even before they entered the park, Muir was able to convince Roosevelt that the best way to protect the valley was through federal control and management. Muir and Roosevelt set off largely by themselves and camped in the back country. It is said that this trip encouraged and inspired Roosevelt to double the number of national parks and set aside 148,000,000 acres of forest reserves.

Obtaining a backpacking permit to hike the JMT is no easy matter. Applicants often refer to obtaining a permit as "winning the golden ticket." There are thousands of people that apply for permits and 70% get declined. To obtain a permit one must apply exactly six months ahead of one's planned start day. In our situation, we were hoping to start hiking in mid to late August, so we started applying for a permit on February 28th. We believed that our chances of obtaining a permit would be increased if each of us independently submitted applications. For over two weeks we each faxed in an application. For over two weeks we each received daily rejection letters. I had just about given up hope.

I posted on my Facebook, "I thought the mountains were calling, but maybe it was just the wind."

Two days after my post, Johnny sent me an email, "Got it!"

The adventure began... six months later.
During the summer, I was road tripping around the northwest part of the United States. Johnny caught a flight into Reno, Nevada. I drove to Reno, picked him up at the airport, and then we traveled towards the mountains.

In the small town of Lone Pine, we parked my car for safe keeping in the parking lot of the Chamber of Commerce. We made a sign with one word... YOSEMITE!
Teaching Johnny some bad habits... hitchhiking. Our plan was to hitchhike from Lone Pine to the town of Lee Vining, then catch a ride into Yosemite.
We caught a ride from Lone Pine to Lee Vining with a Navy Pilot named Ben. He dropped us off just before Lee Vining at the intersection of Hwy 395 and Route 120.
Route 120 is a road that leads into Yosemite. At the beginning of Route 120 there was a little convenience store. We took a short break at the store,  then walked back out to the road. We crossed the road and held up our sign. The first car that passed by stopped. We caught a ride into Yosemite with two free spirits who had just spent two weeks at Burning Man named Sam and Cambell. Sam said that she was trying to practice radical generosity, so they offered us a ride. Into Yosemite!
The adventure begins... the mountains are calling.
Looking beyond.
Carrying my home on my back.
The dawn of a new day.
Straight ahead.
A meadow painted red by the color of the flora.
A coyote sitting in a meadow.
Old trees hold memories.
Pit master
Catching rainbow trout like they were fish in a barrel.
When the moonlight is so bright you cannot sleep.
Awakened by the breeze and the morning sun bouncing off the side of the mountains.
Cathedral Lake under Cathedral Rock
Fall colors beckon, but may the summer never end.
A fallen giant lifting heavy stones by it's roots.
Mapping out our route moment by moment.
The light flows from above and shimmers down the river.
Caught in a hail storm, but still having fun.
Our destination for the day.
Footprints left behind. Friend or Foe?
People you meet along the way - Zoe a solo hiker that traveled half way around the world to hike the JMT. Dreams do come true.
Hikers you meet along the way - Alex a friend hiking with a friend, just because that's what friends do.
People you meet along the way. Janet and Tony, a couple that get up early every day, walk side by side and demonstrate how a little persistence pays off.
People you meet along the way. Paul and Scott, a son paying back his father for a lifetime of guidance. Scott was guiding Paul up Mount Whitney as part of his father's last mountaineering experience. Scott carried his backpack, his father's backpack and water up Mount Whitney. His father walked up on his own two feet. Determination.
Crossing Donohue Pass.
Too beautiful to keep, this little guy got released back into the water.
Basalt + fire + ice = The Devil's Postpile National Monument.
Looks like a hammock camp, feels a little like heaven at the end of a long day.
Living out of a backpack sometimes means eating out of a bag.
When a bug flies into your soup, just leave it in there, that's added protein you might need.
First fish caught on a fly. Now you're hooked. Congratulations Johnny!
When you play with fire, sometimes you get burned. My favorite adventure pants will be turned into my favorite adventure shorts. Or I'll think of this burned hole as a little souvenir from the JMT.
Conifer cones as big as my face.
Even a weed holds beauty.
Twisted wood
The colors of autumn come together.
Resupplying with food was a little like performing magic. Fitting the contents of the orange bucket into the blue bucket (Bear Canister) required some slight of hand.
Topo Athletic trail runners, Sole insoles, Darn Tough socks and some dirty, swollen, crusty, abused feet.
Put some tape on that blister and keep walking.
Lips and nose chapped by the sun, wind and cold.
Laundry day. And my laundry typically consisted of only four items to wash - a shirt, some underwear, a pair of socks and my bandana.
The natural environment for an Osprey
Cooking trout in aluminum foil over a wood stove
Light shouldering the mountain tops.
Alpenglow on the mountain.
Rae Lakes
Grass reaching up to the light.
First fish caught on a fly. She did it with the rod in one hand and a snack bar in the other. Congratulations Zoe!
We knew that it would be a cold day when we saw ice forming on the surface of the lake.
Bundled up
The early bird gets the worm or in this case warm oatmeal for breakfast.
Red is the meadow
The meadow reaching to the water.
When a trail passes through a meadow, along a river, into a forrest, pass a valley and over a mountain, I will follow it.
Nature has a texture that can only be felt by reaching out and touching it.
A schism as old as the ages
The walk down from Forrester Pass.
A solitary moment to contemplate one's place in the world
Stepping into Autumn.
The path ahead is no greater than the path behind.
Chilling near Rae Lakes
Chilling in my Chacos near Rae Lakes. Trying to decide which lake has more fish to be caught.
Guitar Lake signaled the beginning of the end... sounded good to me.
Sunset at the Whitney Portal Junction high camp at 13,500 feet.
A sign of the time. 1.9 miles up, 1.9 miles down and 8.7 miles out
Casting shade on Mount Whitney.
Walk on through to the other side.
On top of it all.
A quiet moment between two men.
For a brief moment we stood higher than the other 318 million people in the contiguous United States.
Celebrating a summit with a Pop Tart.
Leaving the trail before old man winter arrives.
Thanks John Muir, you established a path for others to follow.
The forrest holds secrets known only to these old trees.
Finished the John Muir Trail. Climbed to the highest point in the contiguous United States. Time for some rest and relaxation.
Double cheeseburger, fries and a Coke to celebrate the end of a great little adventure.
Me... after a visit to the John Muir Trail Salon and Spa.
Exfoliation by the dirt
Wash and Rinse by Charlotte Lake
Color by the Sun
Style by the Wind
Have you climbed a mountain today? Or two or three or four mountains.
First time I've ever looked at the health app on my mobile and the number of steps I've walked. I think these numbers might be a little skewed.