The Camino de Santiago, now that was a trip! Through Spain’s incredible landscapes, seasonal snow in the Pyrenees, across the sensual green hills of La Rioja, through the sere desert beauty of the Meseta to reach the iconic personality city of Santiago. Truly impressive. Easy to exalt. But who has a month and a trans-oceanic plane ticket? I had a long weekend and my lady’s car. Doomed to mundanity? Hardly.
Interstate 80 took my lady, her visiting friend, and me from the Bay Area up through the Central Valley’s delta loam to reach the mountains, where snow began to fall and six seconds after I finished putting chains on the tires, before I’d gotten back in the car, they closed the road. But it was merely humans being humans, not weather being weather, so once the accident was cleared we were on our way through pine needle opulence, where drifts didn’t wait to accumulate but blew in wind curtains with ballet grace.
On highway 395 the slower pace of the chains left us rumbling and reverent in white-out wilderness until one of those moments when it all just comes together. The right music, the right place, and the right people, they all rose to a crescendo through the pass that opened up to Mono Lake laking about below us as the hills bowed down to geography. My hands holding the wheel felt clasped in prayer.
The single waitress in the single diner brought us plates with lots of beige, and I managed to keep most of my smile internal when yes, she called us “hon.”
The next day belonged to more 395 pavement, lining its way through the mountain majesty of Mammoth Lakes, and half an hour took us from the white-out snow of winter into the perpetual summer of the desert not far from Death Valley. Rocks like knuckles, burger patties, eyeballs, cave trolls, it was an abundance of stones and earth bones, and we spent the weekend scampering.
But Sunday dawned with a reluctant admission of Monday plane tickets and work schedules, so we trickled the river down through Kern Canyon’s rapids and S curves back to the Central Valley, to roll again through agriculture and Americana. Home to this iconic personality city that people cross oceans to visit.
Back on the Camino in Spain, I envied a Basque man who began his pilgrimage from his front door. He’s not the only blessed one. With my lady and friend beside me, spectacular landscapes all around and underfoot, clean air and open spaces outside, clean smiles and warm spaces within, I wouldn’t trade lives for anything. I am a grateful man.