Day Nine: Vigil
Los Arcos to Logroño would have been our longest walk to date: 27km (17 miles) over hilly land that is more difficult than it appears on a map. There are long stretches of exposed road on this leg of the journey, which other pilgrims reported could be tortuous in heat and rain.
In the blog posts I’ve read about this stage of the journey, people are tired. Injuries compound, small things like a blister take walkers down for days of R&R. Carrying all your belongings on your back becomes difficult; for a fee, pilgrims can pay to have their belongings delivered by taxi to the next stop on the route, and many take advantage of this service. It’s easy to say I wouldn’t be one of them, from the comfort of my own bed, propped up by pillows, a dog breathing at my side. But I’m trying to be honest here, and that includes owning up to my own weaknesses.
This is the shit-is-getting-real stage.
Will and I spent more than a year in pre-pandemic life planning this trip. Originally, he was going to go by himself—it was a whim I thought he would stop talking about in a week or two, and I didn’t get very excited. Then he got a friend on board, and I overheard the two of them talking, and reader, I actually heard these words come out of my husband’s mouth: Paula would never be able to walk for a whole month. She just wouldn’t make it.
Putting aside for the moment that this is probably an accurate statement…
Okay, moment over. If you know me, you know I seethed. You might remember that I once painted the entire exterior of my house because someone suggested I couldn’t do it myself. (It was damn hard, but not, as it turns out, undoable.)
And just like that, I was on board.
I was going to walk across Spain.
We had to get our ducks in a row—plane tickets, renewed passports, gear, training walks. I would have to submit my excellence review application for my job at UC Merced by the end of May, which would mean a mad rush of work in a few short weeks. We would have to figure out what to do with our house—have someone stay there, or pop in every now and then?
And then there were our dogs.
LG, our rat terrier/ball of fury, could easily stay with friends or maybe even my parents (although the sound of their dishwasher clicking between cycles apparently sends her into barking spasms). Baxter was another story. He was nearly fifteen and in slowly declining health, and we figured there was no way, no way, he would still be around when we got onto a plane on June 1.
And then the pandemic happened, life shifted, and home became my default location. While Baxter kept steadily going downhill, he was still getting around. When the weather was cool, I left the French doors open and he wandered in and out of the house. We celebrated his fifteenth birthday on May 2 with a plain cheeseburger from McDonalds, got him on some new medications that would make him less restless at night, and the days passed slowly.
We came up on the scheduled week of our departure for the Camino—the trip jettisoned due to the pandemic, of course—and Baxter was still here, still going for his daily walks, still as “food-motivated” as ever. We chatted with our fellow Camino travelers about this, and we came to believe that in that other, non-pandemic existence, Baxter would have been gone by then, drifting off quietly in his sleep, the best of outcomes.
And then a few days ago, he had trouble getting to his feet. He had a back injury three years ago, and since then, he’s had limited control over his hind legs, but now they don’t cooperate when he wants to stand, either hinging in front of him when he’s seated or sprawling behind him when he’s laying down (… spread beagle, we call this). To stand, he needs a little boost on the rear end. His walk is more sideways than straight.
We may be crazy dog lovers, but we’re realistic, too. A year ago we thought this would be behind us, the tears mostly shed, the trip a distraction from Baxter’s empty bed at the end of the hall. Now here we are, on borrowed time.
For the last few days, I’ve stayed close to him, doing my writing on my bed while he sleeps next to it, staying within petting reach.
It is a horrible thing, this pandemic. It’s claimed more than 405,000 lives worldwide in just a few months. People have lost jobs and incomes, and we haven’t come close to the end of it.
But for this one, brief moment where my dog is still here, and we can be with him, I’m grateful.
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Paula Treick DeBoard