Burgos or “Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Roads”

Good day (evening for us!) from Burgos!

In 1985, Doctor Emmet L. Brown debuted his flux capacitor at the parking lot of the Twin Pines mall at 1:00am in Hill Valley, California. A few minutes later, his dog Einstein would become the world’s first time traveller, jumping a whole minute into the future. This is of course, the build-up to the great Robert Zemeckis/Bob Gale classic, Back to the Future.

Today, Fr. Ryan and I made a Camino time jump (sans flux capacitor), advancing about four Camino-walk days by train to Burgos, the medieval city and capital of Castile y León, an autonomous community within Spain. As we limped into our last town of Logroño, I remember seeing two sets of hiking boots on one of the cement markers outside town. This morning, Fr. Ryan left behind his shoes in the albergue, as it seems they have been the source of his problem. His toes have been pressed together causing the blisters.

An aside here: now, I’ve been preparing a little bit pre-Camino, but nothing compared to my extremely meticulous friend. He’s hiked nearly every day for 9 months. He’s subjected his feet to changing terrain (because they have that in North Louisiana). He’s researched, he’s done some sort of self-mind-meld to call forth his Eagle Scout training, he’s spun multiple scenarios to account for every possible challenge to a pilgrim. (Think of a scientist pouring over a series of papers, curiously colored liquids, and lights blinking in and out of sequence in the background, and you’ve got the right idea of the laboratory he’s put his feet and this sabbatical through.) I, on the other hand, have ... kinda just showed up.  I still can’t quite explain it.

As it turns out, the one Heisenberg be darned thing he didn’t account for is that we’ve been hiking in the sun everyday and his hikes were done mostly in the shade of the National Military Park in Vicksburg, MS. (A wonderful hike!). As such, his feet never had the opportunity to manifest significant swelling due to direct sunlight. So, while his hiking shoes were fine for nearly a year in the shade, the last 5 or so days have caused his shoes to be a danger to his feet! Go figure.

So, we took the slow train into what would have been our 4 days-in-the-future destination to get his feet sorted out and hope for some shoes that will work. He’s got a shoe size and width that makes Europeans take to their fainting couches, so it’s been a challenge to get him some hiking shoes that fit. Around the corner from our hotel in Burgos is both a pharmacy for the necessary antibiotics to fight blister infection and Calzados y Deportes Sanchez where I can only imagine it was old Mr. Sanchez himself who took a look at Fr. Ryan’s feet, allowed himself a nanosecond of shock, and scuttled to the back to sniff through his inventory like an ancient blacksmith recalling an odd-sized horseshoe. Indeed, he returned with some options and after fitting the good father’s foot with a plastic umbrella bag (yes, you may chuckle) seemed to find an okay, if not-quite-perfect fit which will give him the room his toes need to rise and fall with the sun’s radiative effects. It was really something to behold. The entire staff of three at this shoe shop falling over themselves to help an American foot fit into the right shoe. It’s a concept of service that isn’t often encountered in the “just scan the item and make the sale” mentality in the United States. (Old Mr. Sanchez did indeed try to Sanchez Special Fr. Ryan into an additional pair of sandals. He didn’t realize he was out of his depth with Fr, Ryan, High School Debate Champion and present Possesor of Achy Feet. 

Following this mini-adventure, we popped into a supermarket (which is admittedly more market than super) to buy a selection of cheese, cured meats (the duck sausage is unexpected and excellent), some fruit and salad fixings, and a bottle of wine so that we could eat before midnight and so that Fr. Ryan could spend some time soaking his feet and gooping them up with antibiotic.  He’s doing well, and I’m doing fine also attending to him. It gives me a little opportunity to reflect on our admittedly short journey thus far and to sneak in a little off-the-trail prayer time.

One of the realizations that I came to today was that the Camino hasn’t been suspended, which was a kind of defeat I was feeling earlier yesterday. In fact, the Camino is still happening. It’s just taking a completely different turn than either he or I expected.  The challenge for any pilgrim is to leave his or her preconceptions, his planning, and his expectation at the point of embarkation. There’s no “perfect Camino” nor is there a “right way” for it to happen. As with so many journeys, be they of prayer or the unfolding of a day’s events, there is grace to be received in it all. As St. Ignatius might suggest, our ability to respond to that grace (or to shoo it away) is what denotes whether or not we have met Jesus on the Way. This is really the work of a pilgrim’s penance: to die to self each day and to allow new life to be established in the soul, not in the way I want, but in response to how life occurs before me. It’s a pilgrim journey on which each of us, especially in The Church, must be willing to embark now more than ever, but that’s a blog post for another time; a time in which I’m not knocking at the door of 11pm on this particular continent!

Suffice to say, all is well. Fr. Ryan is on the mend. I’m pleased with how the sabbatical is speaking to my heart. And I know that St. James is gently urging us onward in a way that is still veiled in mystery, but it is a way to God nonetheless. That said, we hope to be back on the trail Sundayish. Keep us in prayer!

(Oh, and we managed to bypass the Spanish Hospital. So, don’t look for me on Univision next week. Sadly, my moment in el spotlight seems to have passed for now!)