August 18, 2008 Vega de Valcarce to O Cebreiro

As I thought about it through the night I realized Gail had been a true hero the day before. Without much training she’d conquered a very difficult climb. She wasn’t here out of any desire of her own. She was here to keep me company and help me fulfill my own goal, to complete the Camino de Santiago. She’d taken two weeks of precious vacation from her work as a physician and had dedicated it to my goal. It was a great sacrifice and I was very grateful for this gift she’d given me.

As she awoke it was clear she was having Pilgrim Second Day Syndrome — the annoying realization on the morning of a pilgrim’s second day that they’d face another and another challenge just like the one they’d already surmounted. There’s a certain hopelessness about Second Day Syndrome, and although the day was bright and beautiful Gail’s cheerlessness was completely understandable. Today we would finish our long climb up to O Cebreiro, gaining at least as much elevation as we had the day before.

At about La Faba the camino becomes quite steep and it was about here that Gail’s pack was becoming a real encumbrance. I stopped her, unbuckled her pack, took mine off, then strapped the two together and lifted them both onto my back. The combined weight was only about 40 lbs — we were both light packers — and the lighter weight made a big difference for Gail, allowing her to gamely trudge up the mountain. Several times we stopped and watched as other pilgrims looked at the double packs, mentally counting the weight I was carrying. I’m sure they didn’t realize backpackers in our local Cascades carry 50-60 pounds on a regular basis and the 40 pounds on my back wasn’t a big deal since we had all day to make our goal and my legs had already been strengthened by nearly 400 camino miles earlier in the summer.

As we neared O Cebreiro the clouds rolled in and the air became quite cool. I learned that even in August O Cebreiro can be chilly. We found a room at a tiny inn, found a warm dinner and a credential stamp at the chapel, and covered ourselves with blankets, trying to stay warm in the cold room. Out the windows, though, we saw the amazing views from this beautiful and historic village and were thankful we were able to conquer the biggest hill of our camino together.

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