Peter, Nadja and I began our day at three in the morning, so that we could walk in the light of the full moon. It was quiet and dark, and beautiful. We ran into a group that was doing the same, but was resting at the side of the road, and picked up Austin who was eager to keep walking.
After 17 kilometers, around 6 in the morning once the sun had risen, I felt a sharp pain and knew the skin on my left pinky toe had finally given out. I hesitated to say anything, thinking that if I kept walking, the pain would magically go away.
It didn’t, so I asked everyone to go on without me while I checked out my foot. Peter was the first to firmly say, “I’m staying here with you,” and Austin, who had only known me a few hours, and Nadja joined, as if it were silly of me to think they would have done otherwise. I sat down on my mat and rolled off my sock. The bandage I had on my toe has slid off to reveal that the skin on my entire pinky toe was missing, and completely raw. Peter and Nadja looked over, and said what we were all thinking, but I did not want to admit.
I had to stop.
I began fighting tears, because I was so determined to walk nonstop. That’s not what the Camino is about, though. People take days, or even a week off. They catch buses to the next town if they’re tired, or if it’s a particularly boring stretch between two towns. The Camino is something you do at your own pace, and taking breaks is normal. But, it was my pride that was giving me trouble. Somehow, not walking a few days felt like failing.
Nadja sat next to me and told me a Nepalese story:
There was an old man who had a horse on his farm, his only source of income. One day, the horse ran away through a whole in the fence. The villagers all said to him, “what bad luck!”
The old man only replied, “Good luck, bad luck. Who can tell?”
One morning, five wild horse appeared in the yard, having entered through the whole in the fence. The villagers all said to the man, “What good luck!”
Once again, the old man replied, “Good luck, bad luck. Who can tell?”
That week his son was taming the new horses and fell off, breaking his leg. The villagers all said, “What bad luck!”
And the man replied, “Good luck, bad luck. Who can tell?”
A month later a war broke out and the government took all the able-bodied young men from the village, leaving only the farmer’s son because of his broken leg. The villagers all said to the man, “What good luck!”
And finally, the man once again replied:
“Good luck, bad luck. Who can tell?”
Nadja reminded me that everything happens for a reason. I couldn’t hold back my tears anymore because I knew she was right. The best thing for me to do was to go to León, the next large city, to rest and heal. Aside from the pain I was in, I was at risk of getting an infection, and limping could lead to knee pain, as well. I didn’t need a rest day, but my body did. Seeing that the two were connected, I needed to put my pride aside and take care of myself.
I wrapped my toe up in gauze and tape, put my boots back on and slowly began walking. Austin carried my backpack for me, without me even asking him to. Peter gave me his arm and held on to me as I limped along another half a mile into the next town from where I made my way to León, where I am resting now.
I learned that I am not superhuman, and that is okay. I have limits; limits that I have never before reached, and by that reasoning I thought they did not exist. But I hit my limit and it was an amazing and eye opening experience.
I saw just how far I can push myself both physically and mentally. I walked for 17 kilometers, over 10 miles, with injuries I had already had and felt with every step. In retrospect, it was silly of me, but that’s something I’m working on: knowing that it’s okay to stop and say I have reached my limit.
Everything happens for a reason. What happened was unfortunate, but now I get to hang out next to a gorgeous monastery for a few days, drinking wine and writing. How very lucky I am, indeed.
My wounds are healing nicely and I’ll be back in my boots in a few days.
I am not done.