There are few notable days when you are backpacking for so long. They all sort of seem to run together in an endless stream of looking for water, looking for a place to stay and making sure that no one steals your pack during the
night. Something that started out as so extraordinary as walking 18 miles in
one day, turned into the daily drudge that we had all started the Camino to get away from. Still, a few notable days stand out, Desert Day among them.You see, back in the time of Elizabeth I, the Spanish Armada needed wood to build their ships. they turned to a great forest in the middle of Spain in order to supply their demand. They ravaged the land so cruelly, that the trees never grew back and that part of the Iberian Peninsula became known as the “Meseta’. At least that is the story that the pilgrims told around the dinner table later that night.
The meseta is a 220km stretch between Burgos and Leon with fewer rest stops, potable water and albergues than most other sections of the trip. One particularly hot day for us was a stretch of at least 10 miles without water, rest stops or villages along the way. We prepared ahead by bringing at least two liters of water a piece and filling every spare inch of our backpacks with fruit, we knew we would need the sugar if nothing else. We set off around the same time every morning 6:15/6:30 depending on the severity of the hike. Desert Day was no different, except instead of spending our late morning and early afternoon foraging through mountains and looking for our next caffe con
leche, we were traipsing through an absolute desert of a corn field with no water, very little shade and even fewer people. We had a group of three and we were mostly alone for the entire day. Other pilgrims speak of the meseta as the part of the Camino where they were able to get their mind right with nature and contemplate the reason for their being on this trip. I can say unequivocally, this day in the desert, we all three lost our minds. Whether it was from dehydration, heat exposure or the giddiness of good friends, we all went absolutely mad and lived to tell the tale.
The gravel crunched under our boots, the dust, too dry to even make clouds around our feet. Slowly, doggedly, we put one foot in front of another and kept moving forward. There are a few lessons that hiking outdoors for 35 days straight will teach you and Desert Day taught me this: you must always keep moving forward, there is nothing behind anymore. We had already walked 8 of the 10 miles, turning around wasn’t an option. Stopping where we were wasn’t an option. The only option was to keep moving forward. And that is what we did.