Day 3 on the Camino de Santiago

I’d agree it wasn’t the best way to start a marriage. Spending three months walking 1,500 kilometres across France and Spain with my new husband was one thing. With my father-in law was quite another.

A retired judge, Terry was set in his ways and keen on statistics.

“I have read that Day 3 is the deciding point,” Terry remarks on the morning of the third day, noisily rustling plastic bags while packing his rucksack. “In long distance walking, most of those who are prone to give up do so after Day 3.”

Since leaving the steps of Le Puy’s Notre Dame Cathedral two days ago to embark on the Camino de Santiago, Europe’s ancient pilgrim route, we had taken it easy. Walking leisurely, we had rested when tired, eaten when hungry. Admittedly we weren’t on schedule according to Terry’s spread sheet, but we were still finding a rhythm.

That was until we met The Frenchman. Wearing knickerbockers which revealed muscly legs like knotty tree stumps, The Frenchman had walked the same distance in one morning as we had taken two days to cover. Terry, together with his friend Tom, the SAS trained fourth member of our party whose long legs took one stride to my every three, was put to shame. Immediately plans had been made for a thirty kilometre day.

Leaving fellow pilgrims snoring in their bunks, we set off in darkness and, for the first hour, walk straight uphill. The chilling wind blasts constantly against my right side, blowing my hat off and making me irritable.

“You have been walking at exactly 3.9 kilometres an hour” Terry calculates as I reach the top.

We eat breakfast, squatting in the damp beside the road. “Gorgeous view” observes Tom with a mouthful of croissant. I look up for the first time but a cloud of fog engulfs us, obscuring all. As we begin our descent, it starts to snow.

We walk without a break until midday when I stumble into Saugues, a featureless medieval town. We find a bar to have coffee and eat the by now soggy baguettes Tom has been carrying. I look over the shoulder of my husband as he sketches a pretty stone church with an unusual octagonal spire. “Where is that?” I ask. “It was just as we came into town,” he answers. “Didn’t you see it?”

Stiff with cold, I change into my thermal underwear in the confines of the urine stinking squat toilet, unsuccessfully keeping it off the floor. Outside the others wait for me impatiently, packs on, ready to go.

“Pleasant temperature for walking” comments Tom, breath steaming, setting off at a brisk pace.

I heave my pack onto my shoulders and follow behind. Always behind.

The renewed energy from our lunch break is not to last. I have terrible blisters and the tendon on my left heel gives way which Terry says they’ll have to shoot me for. Traversing farmland, the path crosses an electric fence line which my three tall companions clear easily. I step over just as the electric pulse zaps me in the crotch. The others express insincere sympathy before losing control and blurting into unrestrained laughter. I fail to see the funny side.

“Not long now,” my husband encourages me. “The book says just another five kilometres”.

The book is wrong. We walk another twelve.

It is dark when I finally limp up to the door of our accommodation. The three men, the knickerbocker wearing Frenchman and the Madame, the proprietor, all stand in the doorway watching my hobbled approach. The Madame is taken aback when I engulf her in a hug.

Later, revived by a hot shower, I join the others by the fire and while lancing my blisters, listen incredulously to talk of picturesque gothic villages, snow dusted fields of daffodils and shrouded forest paths, none of which I recall. Our daily average is now 21.6 kilometres, apparently.

“A terrific day!” sums up Terry cheerily.

All charge their glasses in agreement. All except me.

“You can’t be serious?” I cry.

It is then that my father-in-law suggests that I might want to drop out. That perhaps I am not cut out to walk for three months through Southern France, over the Pyranees and across Spain to Santiago de Compostela.

I am astounded. I never said I wanted to give up! Where did he get that idea from?

I may see things differently, but I am not one of his Day 3 statistics!