|Camino: Pedaling to Earth’s End|
Interlude: A New Philosophy
September 21, 2004
I had begun my Camino ride with the vague but still firm hope that it would be an opportunity — a once in a lifetime opportunity — for me to contemplate the larger issues. My trip would not be a mere holiday; it would be a philosophical and meditative journey, one in which I would come to a deeper understanding of myself, and indeed of the universe. I might gain some insight into the inexplicable French fondness for Michael Moore and Woody Allen films; I might even crack the mysteries of the so-called French Diet, which allows them to remain trim and stylish, despite starting each day with an assortment of butter-laden pastries, and lunching on truffled Magret de Canard followed by an entire Camembert, washed down with a vintage bottle of Burgundy or Bordeaux.
While pedaling leisurely along French and Spanish roads I would have ample opportunity to ponder the imponderables: my own mortality, for one (at 50 I was now of the firm conviction that I was well past the midpoint of my life, on a slow slide towards an unavoidable dark end), and the mortality of my parents and beloved grandmother (still lucid, and an important part of my life at 102 years old). These facts alone — my grandmother’s age and health — should have shed some light upon the gloomy picture that I had painted of my quickly-shrinking future. And yet they had not: I had set out on this journey determined to be fatalistic and yet serene as I pedaled towards Finisterre, this somehow being a living metaphor for my all-too swift decline into oblivion.
During this solitary time that I had carved out for myself I would pedal contemplatively along an assortment of quiet European backroads, my eyes would rest upon the far horizons, and the open road would call out to me, just me. I would do all of this in complete freedom of choice and action; I would be answerable to nobody except myself. If I felt like an unscheduled side trip to some fascinating destination, or a longer stay in some idyllic spot encountered by chance along the way — or even a second plate of frites — then there would be nothing and nobody to stop me.
And at first the route I’d chosen — beginning in the Hautes Alpes of France, over a couple of the grandes cols, south through the Alpes de Haute Provence — made this kind of pedaling and pondering possible. I had maps which allowed me to choose scenic secondary roads, and these roads were quiet and uncrowded: I could ride for hours at a stretch, entire days in fact, without encountering another cyclist. I began to get the first glimmerings of New Philosophic Insights Into Life, the foundation, perhaps, of a whole new school of thought, which might one day grow to rival the Deconstructionists and Semioticians in importance to the French (and be the butt of corresponding derision to Americans). I might modestly agree to let this School be named after myself: Haywardism perhaps; or Haywardotics.
But these idyllic moments of incipient megalomania were before the Camino properly began. Everything preceding Arles was free-form and anarchic compared to what was to follow. At Arles (start of the Camino’s Via Tolosana) all the guidebooks begin their insistent directions (“At the point where the track swings left as a tarmac road, keep straight on along a footpath past the sign advertising pilgrims of the Comité d’Accueil et Traditions Saint-Gilloises to the first of three stepped-footbridges over three canals.”). At Arles I would encounter my first true and fervent “pelerins”, and with them the dawning realization that opportunities for solitude would now begin to disappear.
It is funny how goal-oriented one can become: even when that “one” had begun his journey in the firm conviction that the key elements of the journey were a sense of independence, the exercise of his free-will, and the indulging of momentary whims. At some point he — well, I, to drop the awkward third person singular — had to admit to myself that, having begun the trip with the publicly-stated intention of reaching Santiago and Finisterre, then Santiago and Finisterre I must reach at any cost. Without having necessarily attained my hoped-for state of Buddhist contemplative solitude; without having fully laid the foundation of Michaelistics, my New School of Philosophic Thought.
The 3 Ps: Preliminaries, Preparations and Packing
Departure! (and contact info)
Beginning to begin
El Burgo Ranero
Villadangos del Paramo
Rabanal del Camino
Interlude: A New Philosophy
Villafranca del Bierzo
Santiago de Compostella
The end of the earth