Maybe we should have named this blog “Here I Weather.” I wish I had more interesting historical items to report from our walk, but the rain is dominating our experience. I think I’ve run out of all the standard adjectives to describe precipitation at this point, so forgive me if I become repetitive. But when you’re walking in it all day it’s hard to think of anything else.
Yesterday distinguished itself by starting with hail (sorry, no rosaries today—only a bad pun). We were in the bus from the outskirts of Bamberg back to the center to pick up our trail again when it happened, so we didn’t actually get hit by it: nevertheless, it hailed. It also sleeted. You know, like normally happens in winter, not your usual August 30th kind of weather. In fact, to my knowledge, this is the first time I have ever worn mittens in August—I broke them out when my hands got too cold from holding the umbrella. And my fuzzy hat too. And four layers of shirts. And an extra skirt under my hiking skirt made out of a garbage bag as cheapo waterproof protection.
All told, we didn’t spend that much time in actual falling rain. We had about half an hour starting out, then a three-and-a-half-hour reprieve, then three or four 20-minute wet spells. I’ve learned to thank God for every minute I’m not rained on, so all in all the statistics for the day were good. But the sky was uniquely glowering and threatening all day. There were walls of dark gray clouds in many shades (hence the other half of the pun) on all sides of us, sometimes making the hills in the distance vanish altogether under the curtain of rain, blowing along at a fierce clip. And yet—I’m attributing this to your prayers—for a lot of it, especially that 3½ hour morning reprieve, we were walking in a pool of sunlight, right under the one spot in the sky that was blue and bright. We were marching in the light of God. And as fast as we could, to stay ahead of the stormy weather—it’s amazing how the sight of those gray clouds can drive you on without a thought for your aching feet.
The scenery was pretty uninspiring, as we had decided to abandon the Santiago again—it being much too isolated and forested for our comfort and even safety in such weather—and stuck to a bike path along a relentlessly straight canal. But other kinds of insight can come when visual stimulation is lacking. One thing we noticed is that, despite our bright idea to do this pilgrimage earlier in the season than Luther did for the sake of better weather and thus less equipment and clothing, we are in fact getting something that strongly resembles November weather. So our authenticity quotient is higher than originally expected.
The other thing we noticed is, I’m sure, a common insight to all pilgrims—that pain and discomfort are as much states of mind as anything. There is definitely the objective side of pain and discomfort; no denying that my feet and shoulders were sore, and that I was cold and tired. I would never tolerate that under normal circumstances, or on vacation somewhere. But here on pilgrimage it’s a whole different reality going on: you have a task to do and a place to go and faltering along the way is not an option. So the pain and discomfort get dealt with in a different way, and somehow you manage go on.
The last hour yesterday was the hardest because we’d stocked up at the grocery store and my bag crossed the threshhold from tolerably to intolerably heavy for me. As my shoulders really started to hurt, my mood started to plummet too, and by the time we got to our evening refuge I was pretty surly. Afterward (including after some apologies to my beloved companion) I realized that one of the points of ascetic discipline is to help make you immune to that abrupt loss of emotional resources when you experience physical pain. My immunity is pretty low, I found out. I hope by the time this is all over it will have increased some.