Day 5 – Markina-Xemein to Guernica

5/15/17 – 30.1km/18.7mi from Markina-Xemein to Guernica with 1250m/4101ft total ascent and descent.

Let me start by saying I’m having a great time, and that this is already a very rewarding trip. But oh my word, these days have me at the breaking point. They’re immensely challenging. After 8 hours of pleasant but punishingly long hiking today, we arrived at a very steep and unforgiving 250m climb at the very end, which physically I could do, but which was really taxing to the mind and spirit. What a brutal way to end an already grueling day. And to boot, due to recent trail changes, this last climb was not in any guidebook, making it fully unexpected. In 2016, I hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc and felt it was the hardest trek I had ever done because of the constant daily elevation changes. Well the first five days of the Camino Del Norte have those same daily elevation changes, but nearly double the distances as the TMB. Ouch. It is tough.

And there’s another wrinkle to consider. On the Camino Francès, there are so many hikers  and pilgrims in high season that some days are sort of a “race for beds,” especially when the day’s route ends in a smaller town.

It takes some of the fun out of the trek. Well, there are fewer people on this trail, but correspondingly fewer albergues, hotels, and other places to stay. Some days are absolutely a race for beds. Case in point: reading the length of today’s trek in your guidebook, you might think to take your time, and take it easy so as not to hurt yourself. But the only hostel in Gernika has 40 beds and every single hotel was booked solid. So what do you do? You worry. You start to rush so you’ll have a place to sleep (that’s not the street). Luckily there were enough places for both David and me, and several people that came after us.

What followed was great. Our trail buddy Joe arrived earlier than us, and was kind enough to reserve two beds for us. Another gentleman heard that two days ago, I left behind my “pilgrim passport” (which you sometimes need in order to stay at these albergues) in Deba and gave me a new, blank one, so that I could resume getting the stamps that are part of the fun of the entire journey.

And, the albergue was phenomenal, had great facilities, and best of all, a huge kitchen. We got a group together and made a great meal. I made a “shakshuka” with a Spanish twist while some new friends from Las Vegas, Courtney, Serena, and Victoria, made a tasty pasta. We played some games and talked about the 24-mile beatdown that we faced tomorrow before collapsing from exhaustion. Camaraderie through hardship!