In less than two weeks from today, I’ll be leaving St. Jean Pied de Port, France and starting my 800 kilometre journey to Santiago de Compostela. People keep asking me if I’m excited, and a small part of me at this point definitely is. But I typically don’t start feeling real excitement or butterflies until I’m on the airplane heading to my destination.
I have most of the logistics for my trip figured out, including a late night shuttle from Biarritz, France to St. Jean, and a nice bed and breakfast in St. Jean Pied de Port, France, for my first night. I’ll probably spend my second night in St. Jean in an actual albergue – it seems like a good opportunity to start mingling with fellow pilgrims, and I’ll take advantage of the people leaving at 6am to act as my alarm clock. My goal that day is to start roughly at 7am by visiting the pilgrims office, and then making my way out of St. Jean Pied de Port.
There are two popular routes from St. Jean to Roncesvalles – the Napoleon Route, which involves a 1250m elevation gain over the French Pyrenees, and the Valcarlos route, which has about 400m less of elevation, but routes mostly through an old forest as opposed to going over a peak. Both of these routes are really difficult, and many people say this is their hardest day on the Camino. The Napoleon route is closed until April 1st due to weather, and still may be closed when I get there. I’ll find out the morning I start by visiting the pilgrim’s office in St. Jean. My preference is to take the Napoleon Route, since it’s supposed to have a really amazing view. But it’s going to be a very difficult day, and I’ll only attempt it if the weather is good. Last week two Brazilian men attempted the route even though it was closed, and they had to be rescued due to hypothermia.
I’ve gone on a few practice hikes here at home, but really there’s nothing that can prepare a person for walking eight hours a day for 30-35 days with a pack on their back. I figure everything I do now will help a bit, but I am fully expecting my first few days of the camino to be a challenge, and am preparing myself mentally for it.
I’m just finishing up getting my cottage ready for rental, and saying my last goodbyes. Next Thursday I’ll head to Vancouver to catch an airplane to London, England for the night. The next day I take a short flight from London to Biarritz, France. Once there I’ll be re-organizing my backpack and shipping my primary suitcase to Santiago to be picked up after I’m done the Camino. From that point on, I’ll only have a 14 lb backpack worth of gear to last me for 30 days – exciting! I’m definitely anxious to get going at this point, but thankfully have lots of activities to keep me busy until I start.