I am So So So Very Proud of the four could-have-been drowned rats today. They walked a marathon (literally – and accidentally), and really struggled at the end, but never once complained. Not one murmur.
But before I tell you how it all happened, please allow me to introduce another principle character: Oma Gertrud. Born during the war in Poland to German parents, she is now 74 years old. Just after the war her family was forced to flee Poland – refugees! She has been walking ever since. She’s done all the Camino trails, plus many more in France, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. Usually by herself. She is strong and fast. Her husband has been “under the ground” seven or eight years and her two sons are grown.
But back to the story. We knew it was going to be a long day – 29km. We knew there would be about 16km of walking on the road and then we would have the option to enter a natural park. The park would have beautiful views, but a steep and slippery climb. We were erring towards staying on the road, but reserved the final decision for when we arrived at the park entrance.
The weather forecast was 90-100% chance of rain all day. Let’s keep the story short – it didn’t stop, not for one minute of the ten and a half hours we were walking. The main problem with rain is that it makes everything wet! There is nowhere dry to take a break, nowhere to sit down and rest your feet.
We were trudging on up a hill early in the day, cold enough to have stopped to put gloves on, but in good spirits, when we felt pounding on the asphalt. It was Bruce from Hamilton, New Zealand, and as he has just spent three months walking the length of the South Island, he is walking fit. We chatted, a mixture of seriousness and Kiwi sarcasm. He and his wife, Jenny, who have done lots of walking and have been caught in a thunderstorm in Armenia and spent the night with smelly nomadic shepherds, were planning on taking the road. A thick fog was blanketing the park and it seemed pointless to go that way. But, lo and behold, when we reached the entrance they were deciding to abandon the road and take the pretty route.
There is a tiny concrete structure beside the gate with a small seat in it. We huddled inside to open our packs and prepare lunch. More people came so we vacated the puddled but sheltered spot quickly for them, having not sat down and with a roll in our hands. Oma was just arriving and she too was changing her mind and deciding to traverse the park. What’s more, she’d done it before and was confident it would be OK. We were already 17.3km down and everyone was feeling good, and the youngest really wanted to go through the park, so…….
We were chilled through, but we were thankful to get off the road. It really was most beautiful and was mostly downhill. The sun almost came out (even though it kept drizzling) and we stopped for a few moments, perching on the side of a low-walled concrete bridge to rest the feet. Oma caught us up, explained the differences in tree plantings from ten years ago and walked on. We followed and were surprised to soon see her in the distance going nowhere. She mimed swimming. She was here, at the only photo we took all day:
Those lovely big rocks were not submerged, but they were placed too far apart for the girls to have a foot on two at the same time. They would have to jump. The longer we stood there, the harder it rained and the rocks were slippery. It had been pouring all night – so much rain across the whole country that later we would see it on the television news broadcast. The river was running fast. I whispered a prayer for wisdom and immediately Oma, who is short, said (in German), “We cannot do this. It’s impossible. It is too dangerous for the children. If they slip they will be swept away and you couldn’t do anything.” I stepped up onto one rock to try it out. She was right.
“Let’s walk up the river and see if there’s a better place to cross,” she suggested. Really? Why don’t we just turn around now? We couldn’t leave her climbing the bank on her own so we followed again. She found a spot with lots of greenery in the river, which she thought we could hold on to, but we had climbed higher up the hill and could see on the other side of the bushes there were a couple of meters of fast-flowing water. We took her up the hill and she was convinced. But she was also adamant that around the corner it had to be better. I offered for the kids to sit down and wait on the rocks while I would walk on with Oma. If we found somewhere I’d come back for them, if not we’d both come back and return to the road all together. Showing Naomi-like devotion, the kids insisted we stay together. Even with the details of numbers of kilometers laid out, they were certain it was right to choose the hard way. They also agreed we couldn’t leave 74-year-old Oma to go off crossing the river by herself, so we went on. Eventually Oma found a nice quiet spot. But her walking pole almost submerged completely when she tested it. This time it took no convincing that this was not the ideal crossing place. I had run out of hope that there would be anything better, the rain was starting to get heavier and so we made plans. We got her surname to add to the first name we already knew, and agreed to notify someone if she did not arrive at Almaden tonight. And we turned back.
It was all uphill. In driving rain. And we were shivering cold.
We walked and walked and it was looking like we would arrive by 4pm, which really wasn’t shabby. But with 10 to go (i.e. after 31km) the girls started hobbling due to sore ankles and sore feet and Levi was limping, but couldn’t identify what was hurting! The pace slowed, the rain became torrential and then cleared a bit, but never actually stopped.
We talked about the blog post’s opening sentence. I wouldn’t have blamed anyone for complaining! But they didn’t.
We talked about not really being happy, but not grizzling. We decided it was OK to be sad and to acknowledge hurts, but that these things were not license to complain. We decided gratitude is the antidote, it brings healing. Not happy-clappy-manufacture-a-false-emotion, but gratefulness. We know by heart “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Tessa and Micki had recently read about Corrie ten Boom, so they had more examples to share.
With three kilometers to go I looked back. A tear was rolling with the raindrops down Ella-Rose’s face. Her feet were hurting, her calves were burning, her hip was aching and it was raining. I took her hand. Ella-Rose does not like holding anyone’s hand, but she gripped it tightly. She let go only when a car approached and we had to walk in single file. She sobbed quietly, she refused to let anyone take her pack because she wanted to do it herself, she did not complain. Throughout the day Micaiah had walked with her, offering encouragement and warming her cold, wet, white wrinkly hands in his dry, warm pocket.
By the time the town came in sight, Ella-Rose could hardly move and it was clear we would not be arriving before 6pm. We had already turned the phone off, because we were almost out of battery. The boys were gutted that there would not be proof that they had walked 42km! (41 on the way and another kilometer later)
Levi and Tessa had found a second wind. I sent them off ahead to see if they could get beds for us, aware that cyclists get given beds from 6 onwards. When we reached the town, a man approached and asked if we wanted the Municipal Albergue or a restaurant. Was it just him, or does everyone in the south slur their words together in a mumble like no other? We explained we were going to the albergue and he promptly turned us around and showed us a shortcut. I was a little concerned for the two who would be following signs, but I was more concerned for Ella-Rose, who was by now completely sodden and shaking with cold as we were shuffling so slowly. I figured I could go back and find the others once she was in the shower! As it turned out, they passed the end of the shortcut street as we were walking along it. They had also been stopped by the same man, but had not understood him, so simply followed the signs.
Soon after arriving, who should turn up, but Oma! She was staying in a private residence, but wanted to check we had arrived and let us know she was OK. She had scrambled along the riverbank for another half hour. She found a favorable crossing, took off her boots and trousers and waded across! Go Grandma!!
Back at the albergue the showers were hot. A Belgian lad, who spent three months volunteering in Togo and is now into his fourth month of cycling home gave the sorest two a professional massage. We went out for a hilarious and delicious dinner. Josiah called. We tumbled into bed at 10:40, and now two hours later I’m lying in my bunk, a snoring man on either side, and I am amazed. What a day!