The Intentional Expat

Living Your Best Life Abroad

Walking the Walk: When the Going Gets Tough…

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I’m doing a #tbt Blogger Style series here where each Thursday I’ll be posting reflections on walking a part of the Camino de Santiago in 2013. You can read about how the plan got started in part 1 or see everything I learned on the first day in part 2. Today I’m writing about my second day on El Camino, where I asked myself “When the going gets tough, do the tough really get going?” Is that catchy idiom really true in terms of how we should react when our surroundings look bleak? Read on to find out my answer.

Monday morning I woke up exhausted, but despite feeling like I could have easily slept a couple more hours, it was time to hit the road. Thankfully, we were greeted by a sunny morning as we headed uphill, bidding farewell to the lovely Portomarin, with the Rio Miño fading out of sight behind us. We noticed right away that our legs were not in the same shape as they were the day before and we hoped that the 25km (15.5 miles) that awaited us would level out at some point.

We weren’t on the road for more than ten minutes before one of our fellow hiker’s foot started to kill him. The day before his hiking shoes had given him a blister on his heel and his solution was to change into his regular tennis shoes. He had started to notice that his foot was bothering him when we were out sightseeing in Portomarin on Sunday evening and therefore decided that on Monday he would bandage up his heel and put his hiking shoes back on. However, it was too late. The damage had already been done.

We all doubted that he would make it through the entire day with the pain that he was obviously suffering, but he proved us wrong and probably helped in inspiring us to continue on during the difficult day that awaited us. If he was experiencing pain with every step, but was unwilling to give up…how would we be able to justify our own failure? Sometimes when you feel like giving up the best thing you can do is look for inspiration in others who have continued on their journey despite the pain and obstacles that they encountered.

Not that I didn’t consider giving up at several moments throughout the day. Thankfully, all of the alternatives to continuing that I considered seemed too impossible to reach (i.e. knocking on a random strangers house and asking to them to drive me to the next town). And above all, they were out of line with my goals. How you react in moments of pain and suffering speak so much to the courage and strength of a person. People often tell me that they couldn’t possibly live in Europe, so far away from their family. They tell me this as though they think it is easy for me. It never is, but continuing to go on when you feel like giving up gives you a sense of personal strength, which helps you to overcome those bumps and hurdles along the way. And ultimately, you have so much more to gain by continuing on, and so much to lose by giving up. At least this has been the case for me up to this point, because of course there are times when you have to recognize that you are not on the right path and therefore it is more a question of being honest with yourself and your goals rather than being a quitter. Thankfully, the choice to continue on the Camino was not this complex.

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All set for day 2! Or at least I thought I was…

It wasn’t long before it started to rain just like the previous day and once again it was time to pull out our ponchos. One of the guys on the trip was insistent that putting on our rain gear wasn’t necessary yet. He was convinced that it was going to stop raining soon enough (like it had yesterday). Little did he know that this drizzling was only the start of what would turn out to be five whole hours of nonstop rain.

That day I added an important word to my Spanish vocabulary–“calado,” which means soaked. During my four years in Spain the word “mojado,” or wet had always been sufficient enough, but this day it did not aptly explain the soaked to the bone situation I was in. Our ponchos were no longer sufficient, the water had gotten into our bags, and the moisturizer with SPF that I had viewed to be so necessary was now causing problems as the rain made it pour down my forehead and into my eyes.

The day before we had encountered several points in the road that were muddy, where we had to search out alternative ways of getting by them, such as scaling a rock wall up to a field that we walked along until the muddy areas had been passed. But on this second day on the road, we frequently encountered places that were impossible to escape. We had to carefully choose where to step in order to avoid submerging our feet, an activity which required a great deal of mental effort when done for five hours on end.  Between the mental and physical effort I was exerting, I even found myself confusing English and Spanish throughout the day, something that rarely happens to me after having lived in Spain for four years.

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 Our trek to Palas de Rei not only differed from the previous day’s journey in terms of the weather conditions that we encountered, but also in terms of the scenery we walked past. Much of the route bordered the highway and we frequently had to cross this busy road as the route changed sides, which seemed incredibly dangerous. There were also many more hills awaiting us than we’d had to deal with on the first day. Needless to say, no one was really in the mood to play games to pass the time like on the first day, nor was I really in the mood to suggest them.

We took very few pictures, as to not expose our cameras to the rain and even though we felt hungry, we didn’t stop to eat snacks because anything we pulled out would have gotten immediately soaked. After walking through the rain for an hour and a half we were eager to take a break around the 10km mark. But we managed to hold out a little longer and eventually stopped at a bar alongside the road to grab something to drink and eat the sandwiches that we had packed, as well as commiserate with the other pilgrims who were escaping the severe weather outdoors. After having spent a half hour resting, we decided it was time to get back on our way, only to discover that our plan to take a break from the rain had failed. It was now raining harder than ever! When the going gets tough, do the tough hide out in a bar to escape from it? No!

Getting ready to hit the road again

This second, wet, miserable day on the road taught us that you have to find strength in the small pleasures. These are the things that lift your spirits and give you hope to keep going on. One such moment was when we noticed that the knees of one of  our fellow hiker’s pant legs mysteriously started to foam. Or the time when we reached a GIANT puddle blocking the way and our only solution was to head up the muddy hillside to avoid it (which offered its own set of challenges!) and only moments later we had to cross another muddy stretch and I submerged my entire foot, up to my ankle, in the mud. Like I said, it was a mental challenge to avoid the muddiest spots, and apparently I had reached my limit. The only way to clean it off was by pouring an entire bottle of water on my foot, which was fine, since it was soaked anyways. All of our feet were soaked by this point, even the waterproof hiking shoes couldn’t handle this amount of rain.

This day on the road also taught me that sometimes the only way to deal with pain and discomfort is to not think about them. This was an interesting discovery for me, since I pride myself on being in tune with my body and reacting to any sign of something out of the ordinary. However, there are many cases in life where this is actually counterproductive, especially when this pain is inevitable. And not thinking about the pain doesn’t have to necessarily mean that you ignore it. You can acknowledge it, but decide that it is not helpful to dwell on it right at the moment. Because sometimes you need to get farther along on the road in order to be at a spot where you can acknowledge that pain without it being debilitating to you, which is what I think we all did as we neared our hostel in Palas de Rei.

We arrived soaked, exhausted and a little embarrassed at our appearance since we were at a relatively nice pension. However, the receptionist was incredibly friendly and helpful. Probably because she felt so bad having had to break the news to us that the entire region of Galicia was on a high rainfall alert and that tomorrow an even more difficult journey awaited us. After drying off and strategically organizing our wet clothes on the heaters, we headed out to find lunch, which proved to be difficult because 4pm is late for lunch, even by Spanish standards. When we finally found a place with a simple menu, I inhaled the entire plate of pasta put before me!

The rest of the afternoon was spent in our hostel rooms chatting and relaxing. I was in a bad mood and everyone did their best to try and cheer me up. However, I tried to explain to them that sometimes you just have to be in a bad mood. That would be another lesson to learn on the road, that even though the external circumstances are all the same (same road, same weather, etc. for all of us), the way they affect each of us may be different. That day in particular sucked all of the optimism out of me, but in other moments when I found myself filled with motivation and energy, others would find themselves feeling hopeless. This is why friends (and therapists!) are so important. To encourage you to see the light when you find your brain immersed in darkness, and to stand by your side despite your pessimism because they understand that this feeling is only temporary. The saying isn’t that “When the going gets tough, the tough ONE gets going,”  it refers to a more collective sense of “THE tough.”  So even though it doesn’t sound as poetic, perhaps the saying should really say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going–TOGETHER.”

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A relatively unmuddy part of the camino

The second day on El Camino was by far the most difficult for me, but was overflowing with lessons to be learned and moments to bond. More than a year later, it doesn’t even seem like it was that bad. But that’s the funny thing about the difficult things in life, the passing of time helps to soften the edges of your memories and help turn them into great stories worth telling (blogworthy ones!) Check back next week to find out why all pilgrims should take a break  on their way to Arzua to enjoy octopus. 

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Author: Melissa

Born in the rainy, green Northwestern corner of the United States, Melissa relocated to the almost-always-sunny city of Madrid, Spain five years ago. After getting her master's degree, traveling to places her friends at home drooled about, falling in love with a Spaniard, and having her heart broken by said Spaniard, it's safe to say that she's learned firsthand about the less than glamorous side of living abroad. Thankfully, she gets to use this experience, along with her professional expertise, in her work as a mental health therapist in Madrid where she helps other expats learn to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of living abroad. This blog is designed to be informative and is in no way intended to serve as a substitute for therapy.

One thought on “Walking the Walk: When the Going Gets Tough…

  1. Pingback: Walking the Walk: Why Was It So Life Changing? | The Intentional Expat

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