Don't be scared to walk alone
Don't be scared to like it
There's no time that you must be home
So sleep where darkness falls
―John Mayer, The Age of Worry from the album Born and Raised
On our first day out of Leon, my mom decided she needed to go home. We had spent about four days resting and in just a few kilometers, she could tell the swelling in her feet was just as bad as it had been when we stopped in Burgos to rest.
At the first albergue we came to, a sweet family greeted us with chilled white wine, little pools to soak to our feet, and a pinwheel of colorful hammocks in the front yard.
I connected to the WIFI and finally got ahold of my dad back in the states. My mom’s plane ticket needed to be changed so she could go home weeks before her planned departure. He was able to get the ticket changed to leave from Madrid in two days. I now felt like it was my job to figure out how to get her to Madrid. Her phone had been broken since early on. So I booked her a bus ticket on my phone and wrote down all the confirmation numbers so she could check in at the station in Leon. We found the bus stop in town, but then the cook offered to drive her to Leon in the morning. She said she was already going that way to do some shopping, and it wasn’t very far.
The front yard was buzzing with pilgrim’s stopping for the day—most had walked much farther than we had that day.
There was a boy from North Dakota with a guitar playing “Piano Man.” He was vague and demure about what he did for work. I later found out he was on the Camino to discern whether or not he would become a priest. I predict not—he was quite flirty with the ladies.
There was a young couple we assumed were traveling together. They later revealed they actually had just met a few days prior, but were both biking the camino and had struck up a relationship. They would go on to get kicked out of the albergue at sunrise when they decided to attempt to engage in bedroom activities in a dorm occupied by multiple people.
There was a woman about my mom’s age who was a little weepy. She was walking the camino in memory of her son who had passed away. I later discovered she was also newly divorced from a pastor in the foursquare church. At dinner, this lady offered to set off with me in the morning, since I’d be setting off on my own for the first time.
That evening I sat on my mom’s bottom bunk and we sorted through our bags. Anything I didn’t want or need to keep carrying to Santiago, went in her bag. Anything I could use from her bag went in mine. We laid next to each other on that bottom bunk, staring at the plywood above us. Our camino together had come to an end.
Before the sun rose, I got up and ready to go. Getting ready pretty much just involved putting on my socks and shoes and running to the restroom—no morning shower, no makeup, no fuss. My hair was put up in a bun or ponytail or braids if I was feeling fancy. I slid my camino Buff over my ears to keep them warm.
My mom got up with us to give me one last hug. We both fought tears in our eyes as we took one last Camino selfie. For some reason we took a picture with the lady too. I don’t remember her name. I tried to have faith that somehow my mom would make it back to Leon and then onto Madrid without me.
That first morning alone was quiet. There was the crunch of the gravel beneath our feet and the tapping of the lady’s poles in the dirt. She walked faster than I was comfortable with. It was hard to see the arrows in the dark. We chatted a bit and she told me about her divorce. I told her about my husband back home and how he was a pastor too.
We stopped for breakfast at a little hotel in a small town. She ate fast and another couple came by that she knew. I slowly sipped my cafe con leche, not interested in walking with more people I didn’t know. They didn’t feel like “my people.” Whatever that meant. I was also sad that my mom was having to leave and unsure of what that meant for my camino. When the woman I had started the morning with finished up her breakfast, I told her I’d continue on at my own pace. She could go on ahead with her friends. She didn’t hesitate at all and went on her way.
I walked and walked on my own. I didn’t feel lonely, but I was aware that I wasn’t waiting for someone to come up from behind and I was completely free to make all the decisions unilaterally. I didn’t have anyone to consult with anyone or check in with them to see how they were feeling. If I passed a bar and wanted an ice cream, I could stop without speaking a word. If I reached my destination and was still feeling good, I could keep going to the next town. I had no agenda and no one to take care of.
I was completely alone, but somehow not at all.