box of discards
at the first albergue door
the clutter and clamour
of ordinary life
Three Canadian women called me over to their table in Saceda. They found me a bit of a curiosity. I’d walked many hundreds of kilometres more than they had, and carried a full pack on my back most of the way. Their bags were ferried from hotel to hotel while they strolled along the trail with a light daypack. They wanted to know what I thought of the albergues and how I’d managed with only what was in my pack for 700 kilometres.
I reflected on their eager questions. Every morning as I’d slung my pack on my back I’d revelled in the simplicity of Camino life. Everything I needed was on my back. Nothing else in the world mattered. I had nothing to clean, adjust, or fuss over. My clothes were (usually) clean. I’d showered and slept. How simple life could be. How complicated we let it become.
I’d relished the freedom that caring for only a few things gave me. When I reached the albergue each afternoon I would shower and dress in the clothes I planned to wear next day. Before I gave in to an afternoon nap I would take the day’s wash to the albergue wash tubs or, if I was lucky, washing machine and dryer. Most often I washed the clothes by hand, wrung them out and squashed them in my towel to remove as much moisture as possible.
I washed my hair, my body and my clothes with the same soap, a shampoo replenished several times along the way. Liquid is weight. If one thing can do several jobs choose it to minimise the weight you have to carry. Once the clothes were on the line I could relax and have a nap or write my journal over a juice in the bar. Pilgrims arrived around me, settled in, shared tales from the day, and made plans for the evening.
On cold days I learned to layer: a teeshirt, a long sleeved shirt and a light jacket. If it rained a poncho went over my pack and body. The jacket usually came off first as the poncho kept the heat in very effectively. Gaiters kept the slush off my socks and trousers in mud and rain, and helped keep me warm.
I came to love my pack. It felt like it we were setting out into the world together every morning, leaving our worries and anything unnecessary behind. Life felt easy and I was content to just let it happen. All I needed was on my back.
I hadn’t realised how attached to the heft and weight of my pack I’d become until I decided to send my pack on from Najera to Santa Domingo de la Calzada with Correos. Despite the climb and my tiredness after a broken night I missed the familiar weight on my back and worried that it would get lost.
The next time I sent my pack on I was much more confident that it would be there to greet me. By that stage, on the climb to O’Cebreiro, I had also come to a state of detachment in which even the disappearance of my pack, or some of its contents would not have unduly worried me.