Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Day 43: Storm Warnings

Dscn2972bSeptember 23: I left town, minding my own business, but following alongside a busy, unpleasant road. Once again, however, after a couple of kilometers, an alternative path veered off to a much more pleasant walk over mostly dirt roads. If it weren’t for these alternative paths, this Meseta section of the trail really would have been quite miserable. And once again, as I veered off onto the alternative by my lonesome, I could see about 20 pilgrims ahead of me who stuck to the main path. *shaking head* On my map, the alternative path didn’t even look longer this time—and it would run for about 30 kilometers until it merged with the main path again.

I met two pilgrims from Portland, Oregon, just outside of Calzade de Coto, walking with a woman who appeared to be a local. I walked faster than them and quickly caught up, glad to see a couple of sensible people taking the alternative path. Which is when I learned that the local woman was giving them directions back to the main path that didn’t require them having to backtrack to the junction where the two trails split.

“But it’s wonderful out here,” I said, throwing my arms out as if embracing the world. “Why would you want to go back to the road walk?”

“Not enough civilization,” they told me. I was stumped at how to reply. I kind of considered that a perk. “We like to stop for cafĂ© con leche, and there’s not much of that on this path.”

Yeah, well, I suppose that was true enough, so I didn’t argue about it anymore and waved goodbye. The local woman, who only spoke Spanish, asked if I was going with them back to the main trail, and I said no, that I intended to continue on the alternative path, and she seemed concerned about that idea. “People sometimes get lost out there!” she warned me.

Yeah, well, so? I doubt I’d have trouble getting myself unlost if that happened. The few times I’ve lost the trail or followed unmarked alternative paths, I’ve always muddled through just fine. I don’t know why this would be any different.

Dscn2974b“And there’s a storm coming,” she warned me. Which wasn’t news to me—I had checked the weather forecast online before I left the hotel and rain was definitely in the forecast for today. I was pretty certain it would get me before the end of the day, which I wasn’t looking forward to, but a little rain wasn’t going to kill me either. Already, some ‘fat fog’ was making things damp and I had stored my camera in a ziplock bag in order to protect it, taking it out only long enough for the occasional photo before stuffing it back into the ziplock.

“But it’s a big storm,” the woman insisted. “They’ve been showing storm warnings on the TV all morning long.” Well, that was new news to me. My online weather update didn’t show anything about storm warnings! Just a little rain was all that it suggested. “Very strong and damaging winds,” she continued.

I could imagine if I had this conversation in France, and in French, and the local would probably be freaking out that I had no idea what they were saying. While I didn’t understand everything this woman said, I certainly understood enough of her warnings to tell her that I’d be alright, and that I’ve camped in weather worse than this.

She turned to the two other pilgrims from Portland and said, “Well, he’s young.” We all thought this was funny. =)

So the two Portlanders headed off back to the main path, the local turned back to Calzada de Coto, and I continued forward on the alternative path. Within minutes, the first rain started to fall. Lightly at first, then with more gusto as wind gusts seem to drive it through the air. I carried an umbrella for over a thousand kilometers and barely used it once in France, but I left it in my pack on this rainy day. I knew it wouldn’t past for two minutes in this wind. I don’t carry rain gear per se—except for the umbrella itself and ziplock bags to keep my stuff dry—so I quickly got soaked completely through. Not exactly a warm rain either. I had to keep walking in order to stay warm.

Another few kilometers later, I caught up with Andrew from Manchester, England—the only other pilgrim I saw on the alternative path. We walked the rest of the way into Calzadilla de los Hermanillos together, chatting away. And I decided to call it quits for the day. The rain was not at all fun to walk through, and I had nothing to prove. I was not in any rush to reach the end of the trail, so I quit my hike after 13.9 kilometers of walking—my shortest day ever since I left Le Puy-en-Velay. Well, not including the zero day I took in Saint Jean, of course. Officially, it was only the second day of rain for me in 43 days. Not a bad ratio, all things considered. I had expected to walk through a lot more rain than that.

Dscn2977bI checked into an alburgue—I definitely didn’t want to camp in rain, especially not a windy rain. I was the first to the room, so I picked the bed next to the window. A half hour later, Tom and Nancy joined me—pilgrims I had never met before and I asked where they were from.

Nancy said Pennsylvania. Tom told me California.

Having grown up in California, I was pretty familiar with the state and asked him what part of California.

“The Central Coast,” he replied.

Now I was getting very curious since I grew up on the Central Coast, and there really aren’t very many people from California would would say they live on the Central Coast. It’s not a large population center.

“Okay,” I asked, “where on the Central Coast?”

“A small little place called Paso Robles,” he told me.

GET OUT OF HERE!!!! That’s practically right around the corner from where I grew up! I could totally understand why he’d only tell people he was from California, though. Most people aren’t going to know where Paso Robles is. Unless they really like their wines, I suppose. And I even had a postcard in my pack already addressed to my grandmother who lives in Paso Robles. Small world!

Dscn2982bSo we talked about Paso Robles and San Luis for awhile, both of us surprised at how small the world can really be at times.

Eventually, the rain tapered off, and I headed back outdoors to explore the town a bit. There wasn’t much to it, though, and I returned to the alburgue about a half hour later before the still-threatening rain started up again.

On my way indoors, an older couple was coming out and asked if I was Ryan from Seattle.

I didn’t recognize this couple, and was more than a little surprised that these strangers were asking about me by name, but I said yes, that was me. “Why?”

“Ooooh!” They got excited. “We have a message for you!!!!”

“Yeah, okay? What’s the message?” =)

“You’re Ryan, from Seattle. You’re 37 years old. And you’ve hiked the Pacific Crest Trail!”

“Yeah, I already know all that,” I replied, “is there anything to your message that I don’t already know?” =)

“Oh, yes! Yes!” the man replied. “We met Karolina, who was looking for you!”

“That’s great!” I replied. “I was looking for her too! Where is she?”

“We last saw her in Fromista a few days ago.”

Dscn2986bWell, that wasn’t very useful information. Obviously, she wasn’t going to be in Fromista anymore. If she was walking at the same pace as these people, she’d be relatively close by, though. The one thing I was able to figure out, though, was that somehow, she got behind me the day we left Burgos. Which was more than I knew before.

“Would you like us to give her a message if we see her again?” they asked.

“Well, you can tell her I’ve been looking for her too, but by the time you see her, I probably won’t be here anymore.” Trying to coordinate with someone through messages like this just isn’t possible. I really needed a way to contact her directly. I did have Karolina’s email address, but she had told me that she wasn’t going to check it until after she finished her hike, so I never bothered trying to send her an email.

And then an idea popped into my head. “Oh! Yes, I have a message you can give her. Tell her to CHECK HER EMAIL!” I could send her an email, and if I told enough people to spread the word to her to check her email, she was bound to get it eventually and I’ll finally have direct contact with her again.

I talked with the older couple for a few more minutes—they were from Alaska. And the woman told me about when they met Karolina, and she was telling them that she was thinking about camping outside overnight. And that there were a bunch of older women, all moms, listening to her wanting to camp out, alone, and refused to let her camp by herself because it was just too dangerous. They made room for her wherever it was they were.

“Ahh,” I told her, “you should have let her camp out. She’d have been fine, and she’d have really enjoyed herself.” The poor thing.

They headed off to another alburgue, and I said behind. I wrote a note in the register for the alburgue for Karolina to check her email just in case she happened through and read the message. I also wrote that if anyone who read that message saw Karolina, to please pass on the message to have her check her email.

It felt very satisfying to finally be doing something more active to find my camping buddy again. I still didn’t know where Karolina was, but for the first time since Burgos, there had finally been a Karolina sighting. I was getting closer! =)

I ate dinner at the alburgue. The table I sat at was full of English-speaking people… except for a French couple who knew only French. I found this kind of amusing. After so many times of being the only English-speaking people in the room while hiking through France, it felt kind of nice to “turn the tables” and have the French couple as the only non-English-speaking people in the room. But I felt a little bad for them. I know exactly how frustrating it can be when there’s no one around who speaks your language.

After sunset, the wind intensity picked up dramatically, and it sounded like it might blew the building down. It didn’t, but I was quite thankful to be indoors and not camped outside this particular night!

I saw two different pilgrims carting around their gear on
this little device. I imagined it would have been
for someone with a bad back or other health issue,
but since this person is also carrying a backpack, I assume
it’s just because they brought too much crap! Seriously—
I’m camping outdoors and have a laptop and I don’t even have
this much stuff!

The town square in Calzada de Coto, near where the alternative
path splits off from the main path most pilgrims followed.

Tut! Tut! Looks like rain!

The trail crossed over a bridge over these railroad tracks.
The land was completely flat—any hills with views are all man-made!

Entering the town of Calzadilla de los Hermanillos. It was
a very, very wet day….

The rain had stopped in the afternoon, and Tom (in the photo) and I
headed outdoors to get photos of this rainbow. =)

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