After getting as much sleep as my jet lag would allow, I woke up energized, excited and a little nervous. The time had come to experience this transformative pilgrimage that I had worked so hard to get to. I was ready to take it all in and had confidence in my preparation. I packed my backpack with too much stuff and headed for the bus. (The group stayed in a hotel in Santiago and bussed out to the trail daily.) We arrived in downtown Sarria a few hours later and all got together for some group motivation. Then the wheels started rolling and we were off to our adventure! I had anticipated pushing most of the trail myself, even bragged about it to the local media, smh. Well, within the first mile I realized I seriously underestimated the trail. It was steep. If I tried pushing up without help, my front wheels would just come up off the ground and I would start falling backwards. There was no way I was going to be as independent as I thought I could. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try, I still pushed as much as I could, I heard it helped the pushers. I figured out my main job was going to be picking the best lines of least resistance and steering my chair to them. Amie did a great job in picking up my slack on the uphill. She dug in and kept me moving forward. When she started gassing out there was usually someone from the group close that was willing to jump in and help.
Another thing I underestimated was the downhill. I was so concerned with the uphill that was all I had been training for. I hadn’t really considered how much strength I would need in my hands and fingers to brake on all the steep downhills. I started showing off my twenty years of wheelchair skills by popping high speed wheelies on the downhills and the group got nervous. People were not quite sure if they thought it was a good idea. All the other chairs were being tethered on the downhills. But to me, downhills are the payoff for the work. That’s where the fun lies. Maybe it’s all the time I spent in the mountains, maybe I’m an adrenaline fiend but I didn’t want to be held back. At first I think the group was a bit jumpy but after a few passes people became familiar and started cheering me on as I sped by them. It was fun, I felt free.
The day was mostly about figuring out gear and what we had gotten ourselves into. What worked well, what didn’t. How to push and how to be pushed. Who needed what and who had what was needed. We started getting to know each other and tried our best to remember everyone’s names. The scenery was beautiful, lots of rolling hills and lush green pastures. The air was fresh and clean and the birds were making music. The little towns were something out of a story book; lots of old stone, iron work, gardens and musty smells. Around lunch time we came around a corner to find a band playing and half the group resting and enjoying a meal. As I rolled up Carley handed me a glass of fresh sangria and I thought life doesn’t get much better than this. We took in the music with lunch and then kept moving.
Later in the day I noticed that my left leg started swelling up and I was having some strange back pain on my left side. I wasn’t really sure what was happening. My right leg had the MRSA, I thought if I was going to have trouble it would have been with the right, not the left. I kept pushing through it but I was watching it get worse. Then I went over a bumpy patch of trail and my feet fell off my footplate and I noticed my back felt better. The only thing I could attribute that to was my shoes. I had trained in my sneakers but I had only packed my hiking boots to bring to Spain figuring they would protect my feet better. With the Freewheel taking up the center of my footplate there was just enough room for the boots to fit on either side without an wiggle room. I eventually figured out having my feet locked in combined with the inflexibility from my pelvic fusion was torquing my leg in a strange way and causing it to swell up.
It was a long day, it took longer than expected for the group to get to Portomarin and we had the longest bus ride of the week. By the time we got back to Santiago it was after 9 and we still had dinner at the restaurant to get through. We stayed for the first few courses but were too tired to make it through dessert. By the time we got back to the hotel room my knee and calf had doubled in size and I couldn’t make out my ankle. There was a lot of swelling and I wasn’t really sure what I had done to it and if it needed medial attention. It was the middle of the night. I was in a foreign country. I had no cell phone. My computer was dead with no charger. I had no water in the room. The hotel didn’t have ice. I had just spent all this time and money to get here and things felt like they were taking a bad turn. I started to panic a bit. Then I decided I was way to tired to deal with any of it and just needed some sleep first. I piled up everything soft onto the bed to elevate my leg and went to sleep in tears. I was scared that I wasn’t going to be able to finish what I had started.
DAILY TAKEAWAY: Express your needs and boundaries best you can. People can help when they know how.