With Marian moving on alone last night, I decided to begin walking before dawn on Friday. I told Carrie, the Canadian woman of my last post, that I would be leaving at 4 am if she wanted to tag along, but she didn't show. So after starting a rosary while an angry dog took up a cry against me from behind a fence, I set off alone under the stars. I wore a trekker's headlamp to shine a light on the yellow arrows marking the Camino.
It was spooky walking alone on a path I didn't know. I shook off the ancestral fear of wolves and bandits, and eventually I began to think about faith. Walking the Camino in the dark is exactly as reasonable as Christian faith. One does it with confidence, knowing that generations and generations of Catholics have walked this path before. As I moved west through darkened farmlands, I walked parallel with a highway to my right. I became aware of a stroboscopic effect, as what seemed to be lights on the edge of the highway flashed off and on in no particular order but without let-up, like flashbulbs going off in a small theatre when a celebrity steps on stage. Only later did I learn from a fellow walker that the lights were on the rotors of wind turbines on the distant hills to the north, to ward off unwary pilots.
After 3 kilometers, I came into the first small village just as the cock crowed. I checked my watch: still before five with not a hint of dawn in the sky. How did the cock know it was time? I passed through the village and out the other side, but not before passing a pilgrim with headlamp moving in the opposite direction. Was he returning to the head of the Camino? Another possibility slowly dawned on me: I had missed a turn! I doubled back just as three more pilgrims were exiting an albergue and heading off in the same direction as Mr. Headlamp. I followed the five of them around a corner I had missed and into the dark again.
As I came abreast, I tried greetings in several languages but discovered that they were Italians. That's what the phrase Buen Camino is for. It is the one greeting we all share, wherever we are from. I went on past them, but throughout the morning we would continue to pass each other. First they passed me when I stopped to rest; then I passed them because the eldest of the four had a sore foot and they had to slow down for his sake. By the time we all reached the village of San Nicolas del Real Camino (St. Nick of the Royal Way), the pink glow of dawn was making silhouettes of the cars coming west on the highway.
I rolled into Sahagún, a regional grain depot, about 7:15. Checking my e-mail I found a message from Carmen San Diego, aka Marian Bull. Where in the world was she? Her message was non-specific, perhaps to prevent paternal surveillance. All she said was that she was taking the "alternative route" toward Léon in the company of Fabian and Sara. I knew those names as a German man and woman we had met four days before and realized that she was in good hands.
Over café con leche at a bar in Sahagún, I met "John-Paul," also covered in my last post. When we discovered that we both spoke French, we agreed to walk together toward the next stop. Since Marian was taking the alternative route, I told John-Paul that I wanted to take the less scenic one, which runs parallel with a regional road all the way to El Burgo Ranero. And so we did.
I realized the value of a feminine presence beside me when I remembered I had forgotten to apply sunscreen. Fortunately, I have had enough exposure that I was not burned to a crisp. Then I nearly lost my one-liter water bottle twice—saved both times by John-Paul. Together, we staggered into El Burgo Ranero under a beating sun. Shut out of the two hostels by reservation-makers who hadn't arrived yet, we found ourselves first in line at the Albergue Domenico Laffi, named for a 17th-century Italian pilgrim. And so we continued joining hands with our ancestors in faith.
If the weather cooperates and the predicted cooling trend arrives, I hope to get up even earlier Saturday morning and trek 38 kilometers all the way to León. That way I can take a complete day of rest on Sunday, while waiting for Marian at the 6pm Mass. But as my friend John-Paul would say, On verra!
[NOTE: This series of posts on my Camino continues here.]