For all my previous Caminos, I’d done zero training; no extra walking and hiking and was overweight for each of them. I’ve had this discussion with others who have completed the walk about training for it and we all agreed; you can’t train for what it is meant to be and you don’t need to train, as long as you can walk (and keep walking). Sure, some of the times I was there it’s been more difficult than it should be but you get better everyday, drop inches off your waistline and start slow enough that you engage with others. But this time is different. Continue reading
“Do you remember your first kiss?”
This has been Tangier for me. In the short two-and-a-half days of being here, I feel like a lost child at the start of a grand adventure, full of bewilderment and awe, distracted by the sounds, the smells, the living. To some it’s a dirty, downtrodden port, a necessary evil on your way to the true Morocco, or while you await escape across the strait to the safety, familiarity and comfort of Europe.
I’ve quickly come to recognize it as the crossing point of cultures and worlds, which never truly fit the ethnocentrism of the West or Middle East but which instead just seek to survive as some conceptual hybrid with a subtle hint of obliquity. The blackened streets are colored with the oil of life and every single layer contains a narrative and some you feel, a parable. Dark alleyways exhaling seductively deep whispers of ‘hey my friend, I have good hashish’ and the oh-so-sweet aroma of mint tea, seek to serve as icing on an already decadent, yet slightly deviant cake.
I commented to someone that the difference between crowds here and in Madrid is that instead of the insanity and aimlessness of tourism, every person here appears to walk with purpose or doing *something*. Selling, buying, drinking, eating, fixing things which look completely beyond repair, dodging the petite taxis careering down cobbled streets or just simply engaged in conversation. Maybe it’s been the overly emotional Camino I just finished but this reminds me of why travel is so important. Not for the Sun or beaches but to experience all walks of life; to appreciate what you have back home but not equate it to happiness and to continually show how absolutely bloody wonderful it is, to be alive.
“Mud, Sweat and Beer” the t-shirt states and it’s not wrong. Thoughts of Viking foolhardiness and drunken debauchery sold me on this event when I first ever read about it last year – what’s not to love.
I dozed off and on for a couple of hours on the 4-hour trip from Seattle to North Plains, Oregon. The previous night had started with the intent of a self-imposed curfew at 1:30am, to retain enough energy for heading south at 8am. Numerous Manhattans and Rum and Coke’s later, the bells chimed for 3am before sleep was to take the reins. I’m never sure what trigger breaks my comatose state at 7:00am but old faithful spared me any no-show embarrassment. Tired and attempting to stand in a slow-rotating room, the muted comment of “hangovers are in-keeping with warrior spirit for such a race,” seemed far from convincing.
Parking organization at the event is pretty abysmal. Arriving at an admittedly last-minute 1:00pm for the 1:30pm race didn’t help but as we abandoned the car and took off running to the sign-in booth, it was clear that it would have taken a miracle to park before the race had ended, let alone started. Our designated car-parker, relayed later how it had taken over an hour to inch through dust and gravel to the base of the valley – something that had taken around fifteen minutes to run.
Ten minutes to go before the start of the heat and everyone is loosening up. There are crazy costumes everywhere from expected warrior garments, to the Care Bears and even Boba Fett (although post-race, I considered how dangerous it must have been, navigating through a lake and over wet logs in that outfit). Runners are getting fired up for a fast race, others here for the fun and I, somewhere in-between, sporting half a smile and a slow-fading hangover.
The countdown ends and we’re away.
Initially held back with start-line stumblers, my stride eventually extends past a thinning crowd. Easing myself up near the front, I feel good, really good. The path turns to the left and drops downhill to a small stream crossing. This is not too bad, comfortable even, until the first hill appears and then, I lose it all. Mentally, I had prepared for some tough obstacles and average trail running, not crazy 45 degree punishers that poorly mediate a conference call with my heart and mind. Slower now, first to a shorter stride, then to a mediocre jog, finally, to a walk. Is this the worst of the inclines? Slight recovery and it’s time to press on. Picking up the pace again as the brow of the hill churns behind, there appears another hill seemingly steeper than the first, then another. I’m barely moving faster than a shuffle now and wondering how I’ll make it to the end.
Warning, Obstacle Ahead comes in to view and my veins pump relief through my bloodstream, content that the longest portion of running is now done. This is what I had been waiting for and braced myself for the chill of the lake, as I focused on the floating logs, blocking the route ahead. Reaching waist high, a pocket of silt suctions my feet, forcing me downward. I find air, stand, and fall again. I’m up again, clutching the first log which I can easily slide over with my lengthy, soaked body. Another log, then two more, followed by a short stumble through the liquid embankment. Dry land. Heels kick back, launching me forward as my lungs are insane for expansion.
The next obstacles and trail are a welcome reprieve. Hay climbing, netting, a bridge, dark tunnel; all simple diversions made a little more engaging with wet clothing and ravenous heart-rate. Time to find the dry path through the car bone-yard and ease past a few more people. Ahead is a woman in wedding dress, constantly checking her shoulder and increasing distance when I’m too close. She now sets my pace to the finish, as we push each other faster despite fatigue. Music increases in volume and smoke fills space between the trees ahead – finally, I’m at the fire walls. Thought of the finish line so near, fuels me to engage the flames as an ascending eagle, wings in mid-beat. Last corner.
So many screams from the sidelines to get dirty and I’m too willing to oblige. Stomach caressing the base of the mud pit, I cross my arms and snap forward under the barbed wire in angular, robotic movements. A quick roll of the legs over the top of the boundary and I’m out, sliding downhill, all the way to the home stretch.
The time isn’t on my mind as I gift seconds, teetering through the last of the mud and across the line to background cheers. I’ve made it, now where do I sign up for the next race?