It took me a little while to pull myself out of my sleeping bag the morning of day 19. It was officially the coldest night of the Camino. I didn't realize it at the time, but the reason I had the dorm room to myself was because the side of the hostel I was on was the old part of the hostel...there was no heat. A high price to pay for no snoring.
I really had no reason to hurry though. Every evening most pilgrims would get together and discuss the next day's trail. Any way I counted it, it looked like going all the way to Astorga was going to be 30 km or more (20 miles or so). I had sworn off those kind of long days once I hobbled my way into Leon, but Camino friend Juanma assured me that it was only 21 kilometers or so to Astorga. I was dubious, but then again, he had done a lot of research on the Camino and had been right on just about everything so far. So to Astorga it was!
I had a leisurely coffee with hostel owner Jesus and was on my way to what I was hoping would be a fairly short day.
I passed lots of fields--stripped corn fields, and these, which I thought were potatoes, but turned out to be beets.
I found a lost glove. It didn't belong to the ladies in front of me and we figured it was a biker long ahead of us. I decided to put it on top of my walking stick and see if its owner would turn up. A little bit later I was talking to a Korean girl when she looked over and said--that's my glove!
Snack time by the river (I was very careful not to let my bag/stick/self fall into the water!)
The trail got quite confusing around Hospital de Orbigo. There were lots of arrows pointing one direction and then other arrows that had been blacked out pointing down this way. One of the worst things you can do on the Camino is get lost. Walking extra kilometers is physically exhausting, but the mental pain you feel knowing you are wasting energy when you are so tired is acute. I stood around looking lost, unable to make up my mind over which path to take, when I noticed an official blue Camino sign far in the distance.
Luckily this path took me right into Hospital and took me over their old bridge (considered a Camino must...even if it was under construction). The bridge was under construction, and, in places, it was just wide enough for one person. Because my ankle was bothering me so much, I was shuffling so slow that I had to stop and let old people hauling groceries pass me. I was gaining a growing appreciation for tortoises.
I was out of town before I knew it. There weren't any cafes on that side of town and I was way too tired to double back into town and find one. I figured that if Astorga was indeed only 20 or so km from Villar de Mazarife I was getting close and could just eat there. (This of course, was a huge mistake.) I sat down on a bench outside an old ladies house. (She walked by and said hello. I was really hoping she would invite me in for lunch...but no such luck.) I dug in my bag--what did I have in there that I could eat for lunch? A tomato and a cereal bar.
Outside of town I ran into this grandpa. He stopped and chatted with me for a long time. He had picked some daffodils to take to his wife.
By this point in the day I was realizing that my dear friend Juanma was wrong about it being a short day. I had already hiked more than 20km and Astorga was no where in sight. To distract myself/make myself feel better I resorted to kicking dandelions and whacking them with my stick as I walked.
I was starting to go to the crazy place.
By this point I had arrived to the crazy place. I was pulling out all the tricks I could think of--I put on my headphones and listened to upbeat/oldschool jams. I danced my way down the street (there was no one in sight anyway. Although, not like I cared at that point!). I was so hungry and thirsty and each step was shooting flaming arrows of pain through my ankle.
I got to this point of the trail--shuffling across multiple lanes of traffic is scary!--and sat down at a shaded bus stop. I literally could not go another step. I stepped into problem solving mode and started digging through my pack. There must be something in here that I can do something with.
I found the athletic tape I had bought to bandage my blisters and channeled my inner athletic trainer. Playing basketball in high school I had my ankle taped all the time, so I tried to channel some of that and just started taping where it hurt.
Surprise of surprises, it worked! It looked like a bad paper mâché project, but I could walk again!
And then, a few kilometers beyond that, I saw a mirage in the distance. I tried not to get my hopes up, but with a shout of joy I realized my eyes were indeed not fooling me--it was a GAS STATION. Have I ever been so happy to see a gas station? No.
I must have been looking ROUGH because the guy there offered to find me a chair to sit in. I drank down a gatorade, had a stale ham sandwich and felt 72 times better. I still had a long way to go, but I finally felt like making it to Astorga was a possibility.
Astorga! So close...yet still so far.
We climbed over the bridge, circled in to town and then faced a ridiculous obstacle. We had to cross train tracks. We couldn't just walk over the tracks though. We had to climb up a giant set of stairs to a platform over the tracks and then climb directly back down on the other side of the track. Up two flights of stairs. Down two flights of stairs. So much energy need to go a whopping total of about 5 feet.
Then, there was of course another large hill to climb to get into the city. There were a couple of grandpas sitting at the top of the hill kind of taunting us, telling us the hill wasn't that big. They had no idea what they were talking about!
Finally, finally to the lovely city of Astorga.
The Albergue was beautiful though. I have a caretaker of severly handicapped men to thank for directing me here. I was planning on going to another hostel in town, but he was sitting outside with his patients and told me this was by far the best hostel in town. He was correct.
I decided to take some more advice. I was finally ready to "thread"one of my blisters (you use a needle and thread to run a string through your blister and then you leave it in there so that it can drain and heal). It sounds barbaric and I resisted...up until a point. I told some of my pilgrim friends I was going to give it a go over dinner, and their response? Can we watch? Only on the Camino...
The view over Astorga. (I've never done laundry with a view like this!) And let me tell you, after such a long-hot-crazy-painful day it looked pretty sublime.
Oh, and the total kilometer count for the day? 31.