Just when we thought the Camino Frances was pretty easy, reality hit – hard! I didn’t know our progress at that point in time, but we seemed to be making about four kilometers an hour until we hit the mountain climb. Later in our journey (two weeks later), we would sometimes make five kilometers the first hour and then average four kilometers an hour after that for the rest of the day – unless it was exceptionally hilly.
We knew we were nearly to the end of the first day’s journey. My first estimate of our finish was 2:30 that afternoon. After 2:30 came and went, I proudly announced we would be there within an hour. We rested and filled up with fluids in Arneguy. We had two water containers filled to the brim. We had been on the road for just under three hours.
We rested and ate in Valcarlos. It was around 11:30 am. We were half-way through Day 1. We thought we were in good shape to tackle the rest of Day 1 – it was only about seven kilometers to the mountain climb and then about five kilometers after that, at best. An hour and a half or two hours to the mountain and then a couple of hours up the mountain. Was I ever wrong!
The hills soon turned into mountains and every step we took was higher than the last one. I got to a point that I was counting my steps to see how often I had to take a break. Twenty steps decreased steadily to twelve, then ten. Ten steps and five or six deep breaths while I recovered. Marilyn was behind me, losing ground every time I took a step forward.
We were now in the middle of a dense forest. No breeze and the temperature was in the mid-90’s. Humidity was not excessively wet or dry. However, we were sweating heavily. Water was being used at a conservative rate, but we could definitely see the bottoms of our containers. Our progress probably fell to one kilometer an hour or less. My worst advance was four steps, then stop and take five or six deep breaths before taking another four steps.
I would always keep Marilyn in sight. However, I was always looking at her from twenty to thirty feet above the position where she was. She was out of water. I was out of water. It was late in the afternoon – around five pm. I had no idea where we were, nor when we would finish. Every step was higher than the last. The road turned so often you couldn’t get an inkling of whether you were near the top or not.
Around 6:30 pm we came to a road. We could hear the cars for about five minutes before we got there. I was able to determine that we were 1.6 kilometers from Roncesvalles. Marilyn told me she wasn’t walking another step. After a short rest, she still refused to move. I told her I would walk into Roncesvalles and get a taxi to come get her. Unfortunately, Day 1 would not end for me for another five hours.