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On April 1, 2013 I began walking the Camino Frances, just one of several routes to Santiago. I woke up early that morning to catch a train to St. Jean Pied de Port after nearly 20 hours of travel time from Nashville, TN to Bayonne, FR. I was way too tired to try and carry on to St. Jean the night before, and I needed to sleep while not sitting up for a change. By about 5:00 in the morning, I was checking out of my hotel and walking the 2 or so miles to the train station I’d walked from just the night before. The crowd waiting for the train was much larger than I expected for such an early train ride. Any hope of sleeping on the train dissipated when I sat down and saw that half the train was populated with a small mob of middle school aged kids. Oh well, I didn’t need to sleep that much anyways.
There were less than a dozen of us that got off the train carrying our packs, and not one of us knew where the trail began. One of the people that got off would later turn out to be a good friend that I would run into several times over the next month, Jo-Anne. Our small group meandered around town trying to find the Pilgrim’s office to get our passports stamped for the first time. After we all got our stamps we decided to all start off on our own. I stopped by a local outdoor store nearby and grabbed a couple of last minute items: a trekking pole, some snack bars, and a few postcards to send home. Then, I took my first step on the Camino.
For the first day of hiking the goal was Roncesvalles, some 25 km away. Even though my last name is Garmon, I have the worst sense of direction. Luckily, the trail is marked very well with yellow arrows and shells which made it hard for me to get lost. Still, I relied on staying within a few hundred yards of other pilgrims just to make sure I was going the right way. It rained off and on again that first day and I quickly learned that you don’t necessarily have to put on all your rain gear every time it starts to rain. That got old real quick.
The closer I got to Roncesvalles, the more pilgrims I kept running into like Dom, Caroline, and Mel. I ran into them as we were climbing a large hill. Dom was taking the rear and breathing heavily, and Mel and Caroline were up ahead a bit encouraging Dom. I hung with them for a bit and decided to finish the day hiking with them. We ended up hiking together for the next 3 weeks, sticking together like a family.
There’s only 1 albergue that I know of in Roncesvalles, but the place is awesome. You could tell by the staff’s attitude that they loved their jobs and were excited to see pilgrims show up every day. Dom, Caroline, Mel, and I grabbed a siesta from the days hike and headed over to the pub after for our pilgrim meal. The food was pretty good (all 3 courses), but you could have served me just about anything at that point as long as it was hot. 1 thing I loved about hiking everyday is you were always ready for a meal, and a big one at that. It’s a good thing pilgrim meals were usually 3 course meals. Day 1, complete.
Distance covered: 25.1 km