Day 19: El Ganso – Molinaseca: 20 miles
Wednesday, September 28, 2016: Departed: 7:30am, Arrived 4:15pm
Upon waking up, we had some tea and biscuits for more of a “snack” breakfast, so when we reached Foncebadón, we sat down for a more hearty breakfast, and I changed from my Chacos to my hiking shoes for the trail ahead. Today was our return to the mountains proper; the climbs increasing through the morning. It made for perhaps a tougher day on the trail, but our spirits were aptly compensated by the scenery. In addition the pattern of increasingly charming villages seemed to increase with mountains.
We soon summited at Iron Cross, a place we had been anticipating for a long time, but it caught us off guard because we did not know when we would come upon it, and we were not expecting it so soon. It is a pole, with a small iron cross atop, and a base of stones like a little hill. This is the place where every pilgrim leaves a stone, and perhaps a note or other memento to commemorate their own journey, or perhaps in honor of a loved one. While such an “everybody does it” place could feel campy, I was actually moved by it, seeing other pilgrims praying or crying atop the mound. I thought about how beneath my feet, were thousands of stones, that got there by way of someone’s personal story and journey. The mound was perhaps 20 feet high, but it was literally a Denali of individual aspirations, burdens, and love.
Kim and I came with our own stones from home. She places several small stones in honor of her family members. I had brought a single stone. Prior to the trip, I had selected it from the soil on my property in Asheville. When I moved to Asheville 10 years ago, it was a priority for me to own land – I’m not talking a ranch, but a few acres. I’m not sure why since I didn’t have any ambitions toward farming or land development. I guess “land” more so than a house represented “possibility” in my mind. For the record, I ended up with 2.8 acres where I live now. While I’ve done some landscaping and projects on the property and my house, I still feel like I’m meant to do more – something creative and an extension and enhancement of community in Asheville. I’ve talked about it a lot, but have been in a bog in terms of action. Anyway, as it relates to the Camino, I did not want to walk with my “intention” being one burdened by deeds and obligations. My intention is to “savor serendipity”, so I have not given much meditative thought to responsibilities back home, but at the same time, when I say that it is an “honor to leave sacred footprints” I did not merely mean footprints on the Camino, I mean throughout life. In terms of environmental and resource usage, the term “footprint” refers to impacts that should be minimized. But when I think about my home and property as something that will outlive me, I think I should look to “enlarge” my footprint, in terms of how it will impact community. I trust that serendipity and the pilgrimage of life will guide me in what this will look like. And so I have carried a stone, a little piece of my own Smoky Mountain earth, with me in this journey till now, and now I have left it at the mound of a million aspirations at the Iron Cross.
After continuing a bit over the mountain range, and reaching nearly 5,000 feet, the tougher part of the Camino was the long descent, often steep an over rocky and lose trail. Despite the elevation, it felt like one of the hottest days we’ve been walking. A cold beer, and some chairs in the shade at Acebo, helped us complete the rest of the day. I barreled ahead of Kim for much of this stretch since I like to make bounding strides on such terrain, and she, like most females, likes to take more careful deliberate steps, especially with a sensitive ankle. Upon bottoming out in the broad valley, we were rewarded with one of the finest village towns we’ve stayed at on the Camino. Molinaseca is accessed via an old stone bridge over a cold and clear river into a grid of narrow charming streets. While not listed in our book or papers, we found the new Albergue Compostela. After securing beds and dropping off our stuff, I went for a cold, but refreshing swim in the river. After drying off in the sun, we got a jar of sangria and sat by the river, where we were happy to cross paths with our friends Mangus and Roxanna, probably the people we’ve overlapped with the most on the Camino – first meeting them on our 2nd day. We had a nice paella dinner with other pilgrims at our albergue, and after a blue light stroll of the town, retreated to our beds. It’s been a long and rewarding day.