The Bluebird Cafe Reading: The Ordinary World

On Sunday, I read at the legendary Bluebird Cafe as part of a show, My 2nd Act: Survivor Stories from the Stage.

I’ve been somewhat speechless over the day which was full of many overwhelming emotions, so rather than try to describe an indescribable experience, I’ll just share the video of my essay, The Ordinary World.

To follow my upcoming journey on the El Camino de Santiago, sign up on the right for email updates or check back here. I leave tomorrow (eek!) and will be making my way to Spain via France and Switzerland for some much needed fun before I begin the Camino in Leon, Spain on May 18th.

To read about my first experience on the El Camino de Santiago, check out my blogs from 2012:
Why I’m Kicking Italy to the Curb
Ready, Set, Vamos
Day 1 on the Camino
4 Days to Pamplona
Getting into the Camino Groove
Camino Highs and Lows
Coming Full Circle in Burgos

To learn more about the El Camino de Santiago, check out American Pilgrims on the Camino website.

For even more inspiration, check out the nine other women who shared their stories: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLQqrfxhhpofj8XKY0TskQ7T0SoclPtrGl

Thank you!

Coming Full Circle in Burgos

The bipolar days continued. From Santo Domingo to Belrado, it was a long 23km and I was whipped upon arriving to town. Then, the next day (from Belrado to Ages) was 29km and I had energy to spare.  It was the longest distance I had done, but one of the most fun days.  It went like this: 5 minutes of rain, 5 minutes of sun, 5 minutes of uphill, 5 minutes of down hill and hours of laughs between Audrey & I. At one point when we were on the mountain top we could see the rain in the distance. It was really cool. However, later that night, as I laid in bed, my legs throbbed like never before. “Why are you doing this to us?”, they begged. I responded, “You guys just need to make it through one more day.”  Yup, tomorrow we would walk Burgos and my Camino would end. Sad face.

Audrey & I mountain top in our awesomely dorky hats

But, the Camino was not going to let me get away that easy. Before the day’s end, the my experience would come full circle and make the last day almost as challenging as the first. We had added to 2 girls from Australia (Annette & Keely) to our “family” a few days back. So, as the 6 of us walked, we encountered sun, then mountains, then rain, followed by mud and a 10km walk through the industrial area.  Someone mentioned a bus, but I was decided that there was very little that could keep me from walking to my final destination of the trip. So, the team followed me in the pouring down rain as we entered Burgos. Then, when I expected to see the hostel, I saw a sign saying we were still 2.5km away. But then I looked to my left and saw a little slice of heaven – it was Domino’s Pizza. My innate Americaness ran and the group had no choice but to follow me. I ate 5 pieces of pizza and I don’t regret it.

So, after the heartburn faded and I was rested and showered, I started to become very melancholy about leaving. I knew on this journey that I would meet people, but I didn’t expect to meet so many who are amazing, wonderful, fun, friendly, successful and inspiring. Of course, in particular, my original Camino Family. So, let me tell you a little about them.

  • Jim – he’s pretty amazing. At 66 years old, he was feeling like a rock star the first week as the rest of us young-ins tended to our injuries and blisters. My favorite thing about Jim is that he was always willing to go without so someone else didn’t.  With his eyes set on making it to Santiago in 6 weeks with his daughter, Audrey, I was happy to have been temporary adopted by him for a couple of weeks (and Franz too for that matter).
  • Franz – the “38-year-old”, German hero. After not speaking English for over 20 years, he sure put himself out of his comfort zone when he teamed up with the Americans. However, one of his best qualities is that no matter how many little mistakes he made with his English, he would always laugh along with us. Like the day when he said, “I have a head ache in my legs.” or “I think there is a lot of fuck on the mountain.” He meant fog.  These little mistakes only make him more endearing.  Lover of beer (he’s German) and his home city of Munich, his heart is set on landing in Santiago on the 19th so he can see his beloved hometown football (soccer) team beat Chelsea in the Champions League Finals. Oh, and also I think he’s great because he guessed I was 23.
  • Audrey – my partner in crime. At 26 years old, she is one of the wisest souls I know. She knows herself better than a lot of people who have decades on her. Also, I’ve never met anyone more well-traveled. After working endlessly for 3 1/2 years as a ER Room nurse, she  quit her job to travel the world for 2 years. And so she has. She recently spend 2 months in Guatemala volunteering at a clinic. And before that, 6 months in South America. Next stop, Southeast Asia (queue the jealousy). However, before she jets off to Asia, there just might be a trip to Nashville. (Hint, hint)

The amazing cathedral of Burgos

So, since it was my last night, I went to the Pilgrim’s mass at, what is known, as one of the worlds most beautiful Cathedrals (I agree).  After, the fam and I went out for a small dinner.  I wanted to make my last night memorable, so at dinner, we played a game where we all wrote down our favorite quotes and then drew another’s to take with us on our journey. Here’s the one I drew:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”   -Marcel Proust

The Original A Team

And so my Camino comes to a close. Saturday morning, I went to the bus station and bought a ticket to France on the overnight bus. To bring my experience even more full circle, I kept running into familiar faces we had not seen in days. It’s like they all came to say goodbye and I could not have been more happy to see their faces and wish them well as most of them were headed to Santiago.

One night, Audrey recommended a book to me called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  The book is about the author, Donald Miller’s, quest to improve his life story.  In the beginning, the author talked about how he floated from day-to-day until he realized his life was pretty boring.  The goal of the book is for its readers to evaluate their own story and whether they’d be happy with its chapters when it “ends”.  As I never again, may have hours upon hours to think like I did while I was walking, I couldn’t help but wonder about my own story.  My reflections made me realize that, so far, I am totally in love with my book and this chapter specifically. The Camino has brought clarity to the fact that those free-spirited, adventurous wanderlust butterflies will never go away. They are a big part of my story with Fabien and they will be part of our children’s stories.  I also realized that I must make it a future goal to not float from day-to-day.  Finally, I will forever be grateful to El Camino for giving me one of the most treasured chapters in my story.

A photo album of the Camino’s Greatest Hits can be found here.

Also, previous blog posts have been updated with photos and maps:
4 Days to Pamplona
Getting into the Camino Groove
Camino Highs and Lows
Day 1 on the Camino

Day 1 on the Camino

First things first – Mom, don’t read this post.

Said bridge of destiny…

When I arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port at the Pilgrim’s Office, one of the items given to me was a map for Day 1. Normally, you have the option of taking a path over the mountain or through the valley to Roncesvalles. However, this Spring has been particularly unusual and it had snowed the night before making the mountain too dangerous.   She told me I must take the valley and then she gave me the directions, which called for me to “cross the bridge in town and immediately go RIGHT”.   So, naturally, when Jim, Audrey, Franz and I set out the next morning, we “crossed the bridge in town and immediately went LEFT.” Not even 10 minutes into the Camino we had made a careless mistake.

Smiling…before the climb

Once we realized our mistake, we were 10km into the 27km day. We mutually agreed to keep moving on – no guts, no glory. Also, there were a handful of other rebels in front of and behind us. As we continued to ascend, we were all really excited about the challenge, the beautiful views and the bragging rights.  However, our excitement was short-lived as kept going up and up and up and up. Eventually, it began to rain and the wind was blowing so ferociously that it was hard to walk. After hours of this, Audrey and I jumped into a trench so we could have a little something to eat without swallowing the wind.

Ascending the Pyrenees.

You can see the bad weather rolling in…sigh

The famous Mary statue. The Mother of Jesus, there to protect pilgrims from Mother Nature.

After 6 hours, we stopped ascending and the path flattened out. We all laughed and exhaled with relief….that is until we saw the snow on the ground at the Spanish border. Minutes later the fog rolled in.  And as if I wasn’t freaked out enough, it started sleeting and then snowing. I just wanted to get to Roncesvalles so, I increased my pace. Stupid move – 20 minutes later, I looked behind me and Audrey, Jim and Franz were gone. Fortunately, there was a group in front of me, so I decided to keep up with them.  However, they were too fast and I eventually found myself alone and in my worst case scenario.

The last picture I took that day.

In the film, The Way (now streaming on Netflix), this is how the main character’s son dies. He was alone, Day 1, crossing the Pyrenees, it started snowing and he lost the path. I am not experienced in mountain climbing.  I did not have mountaineering equipment (poles, boots, etc.).  There was fog. I was totally alone and to be completely honest – I was really, really, really freaking scared.  There was so much snow and ice that I fell many times. Instead of trying to catch myself I just went straight to my butt. I don’t know if this was smart or not, but I just didn’t want to break my arm or leg trying to catch myself.  I kept repeating self affirmations…Stay calm. Don’t freak out. You are strong. Just keep moving. Stay alert and keep looking for the arrows and flags.  Damn, I wish I had watched more Man vs. Wild. I thought about writing my name in the snow so the others knew I was okay or to help the search party.  My heart was pumping out of my chest.

Then, I heard it…the voice of a German angel, “STACIE, STACIE, STACIE”.  It was Franz. I knew I was going to be alright. He was from Bavaria and quite an experienced mountaineer. Plus, he was big enough to carry me if I broke something or passed out from a panic attack (more likely). Eventually, he made his way to me on the trail and gave me one of his hiking poles. I was soaking wet, but warm because I had kept moving. He said Audrey and Jim weren’t too far behind and that we should just keep going. From that point, it still seemed like forever until we reached Roncesvalles.  I looked at my watch – we had been hiking for nearly 8 hours. I wanted to cry tears of happiness and relief, but I had no energy left.

We checked in, showered and waited for Audrey and Jim who came in nearly 2 hours later.  At dinner that night, the only thing we could talk about was the days traumatic events. After a huge meal, I called Fabien crying. I was really scared and debated hopping on a bus to Barcelona. Laying on the beach drinking sangria sounded a lot better than being alone in the mountains.

Obviously, I continued, but as other pilgrims heard our story, they usually countered with the fact that the day before our mountain crossing, there was a woman who got lost and had yet to be found. Or that the following day, 5 hikers had to be rescued by helicopter.

I will always cherish my Camino experience, but I regret not going right at that bridge. I do not feel a sense of accomplishment for “conquering” the mountain, but more a sense of stupidity for putting myself in such danger. None the less, for this and so many other non-related reasons, I consider myself to be one of the luckiest girls in the world.  Also, I’m lucky for my new friend, Franz.

Franz & I starting out Day 2