Bitter Mornings

The morning was bitterly cold. I sat beside the river, eating a simple breakfast cheese and bread purchased yesterday somewhere along the trail. My life, like my breakfast, is simple. There are no additives or superfluous ingredients. I had my backpack, my shoes, and the trail. I took a deep breath and exhaled. My breath hung in the air, turning to fog, slowly vanishing before my eyes.

 A farmer tends his flock in the early morning

A farmer tends his flock in the early morning

I was on the Camino de Santiago, completing the 800km pilgrimage for the third time in as many years. Unlike my first journey, my feet and legs were pain-free. Unlike my second journey, however, which I had the single-minded goal to cross from Beijing to Santiago by land, this journey I found my mental fortitude failing me, dimming a little each day like the setting sun I walked towards on the Camino.

Mornings are especially hard, but not in the way you might think. I have never set a scheduled alarm to wake me in the morning. I thrive on the crisp new sensation of each day, waking vibrant and alive, regardless of the hour, I went to bed. Naturally, of course, due to my proclivity to early mornings, I retire early most nights. I am not a night owl. Midnight hours and New Years Eve celebrations are rarely embraced. Waking for the new day is not hard. The mental struggle of following my dreams is.

The trail began to climb steeply. The river with its ethereal mist and sparkling water of the cold morning was a mile behind me. My simple breakfast, nourishing as it was, finished alone and without a word. I was lost in the walk. My body knew what to do.

 Resting atop the first of many climbs for the day.

Resting atop the first of many climbs for the day.

Verdant pines lined the trail, their sweet scent drawing me along. Red clay clung to my shoes, the trail muddy from the evening's showers. Thick, tall grass grew in tufts, fighting for their share of the sun amidst the regal pines, towering above them. Ahead, the trail continued to the horizon. If there is something I have learned about hiking, is that the trails never end. It's up to you to decide when you want to stop.

I reached the top of the climb, pine trees giving way to grape vines and giant skies of velvet blue so close I felt as if I could reach out and wrap myself in them. It's in these moments, alone in nature, that I feel most alive, and most lost. Is it right to long for the trail? To long for the journey? To write it down. To take a photo in a vain attempt to capture the intangible emotion of a moment, fleeting and invisible.

Mornings are hard for me. My confidence wains and I fold in on myself. Again, and again, I fold tighter and tighter, second-guessing the reason for everything. Too often I have given in to the demons and stopped only to regret it later. This morning, however, on the Camino I am victorious. I will walk for another day. Perhaps tonight I will find myself. Perhaps I am missing the whole point of my wandering soul. Perhaps the point is to lose myself.