Stage One- Porto to Vila Do Conde, 16 miles


We set out from Porto this morning knowing only that we would keep the ocean on our left and follow yellow arrows. We leave a moment of frustration that we don’t have a “better map” at our guest house. After some giddy photo taking and a farewell to Niels and Dan from Denmark, our first Pilgrim cohorts, we greet a startlingly expansive coast line and turn right. The rumors that the Portuguese Way is one of the least well-marked routes are not lost on me. (The nick name, “Wrong-Way Carstairs” has not been unfairly given.) But I toss them to the wind as we head out into the glorious unknown. This is not hyperbole. I struggle to find words to describe our first few hour’s walk on this first day. I am not a stranger to nature or to stunning coast lines but my breath is taken away by the edge of this sea. I think, “How the hell am I supposed to go inward and grapple with my demons when I’m strolling along in heaven, with everything I need on my back?”  

As a coach, I observe over and over- once humans stop striving to create certainty, we are able to create meaning. Once we let go of having to know and be in control, we discover we are free to be present in our own existence. We trust that we will be OK. No matter what. This is one of the lessons I imagine The Camino bestows on pilgrims. And one that I am here to learn more deeply.

As a person who has spent most of my life striving, I have vowed to explore other ways of being on this trip. I am used to making plans, running races and being disciplined. Last night, Dan from Denmark (a Camino veteran) said, “The good things happening now cannot be squandered by the bad things that might happen in the future.” Whaaaa! Do I never need to hear this over and over. I stop to pick up a pretty little shell. I take random trails toward the beach and wind back around to The Way many times. I rejoice in the rain. I stop and close my eyes to better hear the ocean when I feel like it.

Just as a squall starts, we come across a seaside cafe built up against the surf- a wall of glass keeps us warm but does not keep us from the sea as we eat our first Pilgrim’s meal. Even though we’re indoors and there’s a quiet hush, the sounds of crashing waves and wind ring in my ears- I can hardly hear my own thoughts. This routine is brand new. Should we ask to get our stiff and, as yet, empty pilgrim’s passports stamped? Should we remove our shoes and change our socks like we’ve been told by veteran pilgrims? We do the first but forego the second. Crap. We’re getting everything all wet. Our sopping clothes drip dry while we eat. 

After lunch, Emily and I each take to our own space and listen to music. The first song that comes on for me starts with the lyrics, “I used to walk in a straight line, now I wind. I take my time.” 

It is said that on the Camino, “Pilgrims pack their fears”. We plan for all the “what ifs” and stock up on items “just in case.” As we finish up our day one trek, I can’t help but think that we must unpack some of these fears along the way as well. An ache starts in my right hip during the last couple of miles- a visit with an old friend from marathons past. I contemplate what I will unpack tonight. What fear I’m ready to leave along The Way? Which “what ifs” can I let go of to make room for more meaning? What items will I leave so that I can tread more lightly over deep sand and keep taking all these little trails to the beach?