A few days ago I met Bob and Bloo, two Scotsmen, also travelling solo. We've been walking together.
Bob's 73, a grandfather, salesman, and extraordinary storyteller. His stories of the personal lives of European nobility from last century have restored my faith in history.
Bloo (don't ask!) is 62, an ex military pilot, with 35 years experience in the army. Last year he had a stroke, lost his power of speech, but with dogged will and support, has regained it.
When you're walking for up to 8 hours a day, every day, the heat burning down on you, the wind chilling you to the bone, your feet navigating the rocks on the path and screaming 'rest', it tests the fibre of your being, it tests the fibre of your doing. Out on 'the way', in conversation with the other, your common day-to-day censor, fried by the sun or buried underneath the old meat and peas in the deep freeze, becomes inaccessible. Camino Dementia! You become very personal, very quickly.
Keeping pace with the two B's has meant walking faster and further than I normally would. Two days ago, while walking the longest straightest stretch of nothing to date, a 16 km gravel road with no shade, no villages, and nothing to occupy the mind but mind itself, I asked Bloo to tell me what a soldier might be trained to 'think' in similar circumstances. He contemplated the question for a little while and replied 'see that puddle ahead? How far do you think it is?'. Make a guess, then step it out, he suggested. A bit later he continued. 'The horizon, do you want to know how far it is?' Math was never my strong point, but for the sake of conversation, I nodded. His response included words like height, square root and multiplication. Try it, he said. I spat the dummy. 'I'm not playing' I replied. 'That kind of game reminds me of questions thrown at me as a child, questions I could never answer. You remind me of my father!'. OUCH! He stopped, looked at me, and the offence was obvious! Censorius Unavailabilius! What a bitch!
Some time later, falling back to walk separately, my mind attached itself to how strong I was becoming, how powerfully I was walking, and, wait for it, comparing myself with the cripples on the path. Sure, I'd had some blisters but they'd healed. Fifteen minutes later, striding along confidently, my foot suddenly, and momentarily, went numb. I was concerned for half a minute, then not. A kilometre down the road I was crouched on the grass by the side of the road, shoe off, pain searing my foot, the two B's at my side offering comfort.
'4 days, no walking' said the doctor. Tendinitis!
Bye Bob and Bloo. Thanks for the lesson.