Day one started in the dark of my rather large private room at around 5am. My goal was to be out the door by 6am for the first steps on my Camino. I imagined myself wizzing up the steepest part of the Pyrenees in the early morning fresh air listening to some loud Led Zeppelin or maybe it was going to be Bob Marley, either way I wanted one of the greats to accompany me. The music would be essential because the day before I walked to the starting point and looked up that hill and let me tell you, I was going to need some intense artistic encouragement to conquer it.
I was in bed early however it turned out to be a night of very little sleep partly due to the fact that my room was an icebox but mostly due to the combination of nerves and excitement that was bubbling up inside me. I spent at least an hour thinking up horror stories of how I would get lost walking over the Pyrenees only to be found weeks later by a large French search party with a headline that read “Ignorant traveller frozen death likened to Hollywood movie The Way”. The possibility that my Camino journey could actually end on the first day seemed entirely possible and if anyone was looking for logic to prevail in those morning hours in Saint Jean Pied de Port, it was not going to be in my bed. The only logic that did come to mind was the sensible approach to have a coffee and eat breakfast before and so a 5am start was planned.
The alarm went off and I instantly jumped up and looked out the window. There was one big obvious problem. It was still completely pitch black outside and a quick google search revealed that no sun would be creeping over that hill until at least 7am. I wasn’t going to chance it up there in complete darkness and so my start time moved an hour adding even more time for horror story dreaming. Great start.
I set off just before 7am (it was still darkish) and started the hill climb that would last for the next 8 hours of which the first 3 hours were so steep that I actually witnessed a girl fall over backwards. It was tough yet it was also one of the best mornings I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was so incredibly beautiful with the sun rising over the misty hills and the lush green landscape. It was hard work but highly satisfying. I was surprised to find that I was not alone in my 7am start, apparently the rest of the world’s population decided to walk up this hill at this time, it was a bit like being in line at school. All thoughts of getting lost and the search party evaporated.
I didn’t yet know who I would dedicate my day to, I would walk for someone but this I thought would come to me as I take the first steps and so it did. As I started climbing the hill I thought about a woman that was recently diagnosed with cancer who I boldly contacted and probably somewhat insensitively asked to share her story. She kindly denied saying that all the cancer business was just a bit to real and fresh in her mind and wished me well on my walk. I felt embarrassed for having asked but as I walked the first steps I knew it had to be for her.
I sent her a quick message saying that it was her day and some randomness about each step sending good karma her way helping her to full recovery – clearly I have slightly lost my mind and might soon be seen wearing dreads and hippie trousers (let’s hope not), yet she wrote back almost instantly to say thank you. I am glad I dedicated this day to her because it is said to be the most challenging but most beautiful day.
After three hours I reached Orison stop where I was greeted open armed by my friend Kjell who I had met on the train the day before. He later told me with extreme certainty that I looked like a big red tomato when I arrived at that rest stop. I certainly felt like one.
Kjell and I decided to walk together and a day of sharing and laughing about all things in life followed. Knell is a former financial something big shot CEO 62 year old that doesn’t look a day over 50. He happens to speak a bit of almost any language under the sun which is extremely useful in these first days as sign language only gets you so far. He is very smart and I must have talked his head off those first few hours yet he stuck it out. Brave man.
Somewhere towards the last bit of the day our group grew when Mike joined. Mike is a bubbly character from England who has relentless energy and honesty. I feel so blessed to have shared this first day with such special people. We bonded, we joked and later when we reached our first pilgrimage hostel, we drank.
You cannot beat this day I thought, you simply cannot.