Day 152: 13 Days. 3 Countries. 8 Cities. From Northface and Hiking Boots to 42 Regular and Dress Shoes

After an Amazing trip to Spain, it is great to end my trip in DC advocating for One Voice Against Cancer (OVAC) http://www.ovaconline.org/ representing National Brain Tumor Society http://www.braintumor.org/
in honor of my wife. OVAC Is represented by 39 cancer organizations, unifying for one message.

NIH is where 95% of the research comes from for cancer drugs and therapies. While I’m a big proponent for small government and, I’m vehemently against increased wasteful spending, NIH was the reason that cancer deaths are down the last 20 years. Their funding though over the last 10 years has not increased. Matter of fact it’s gone down. There are no real new drugs in the pipeline. When I heard “there’s nothing more we can do for your wife”, it’s because researchers have abandoned their research for lack of funds or sustained paychecks. They went in search of either another occupation or another country that will fund the research. NIH was the largest funder of cutting-edge research for cancer drugs. No researchers. No new drugs. There are plethora of other reasons
(insert political controversy here ) that there are no new drugs, but this is the single biggest reason.

Government usually sucks at doing things right. However, the NIH is responsible for $900 billion a year in positive economic impact. For every dollar the NIH invest in research it returns $144. I would venture to say there are no other programs within the government that do this. (source: Forbes magazine, and too many other sources to name).

I am happy that I can be a part of influencing our Texas lawmakers in Federal Government. I know Lindy and our story makes a difference. I know it does. I even had a staffer from Pete Session office, his legislative director Lindsey Pitts, remember my name and story from two months ago when I was here with the NBTS. Pete knew me and my story by the time I left. I know he’ll never forget it.

Good way to end an amazing trip.

Made some good friends from Texas. Will from Austin’s chapter of Livestrong, a 22 year survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was very inspirational with what he has done since becoming a survivor. Kevin from San Antonio is a survivor of bone cancer. It took his left arm. Very involved in advocacy. He was equally as inspirational. Really glad to join these guys in talking to our legislators as their constituents. Thanks to the National Brain Tumor Society for asking me back and making it possible for me to be here.

While I was telling Lindy’s story to all the lawmakers, it hit me. I thought all along this was to honor Lindy. While it is, I also realized that there are many, many of my friends and family who are or have been affected by cancer. My cousin Sheila died in her 20’s of Pancreatic cancer; my dad had prostate cancer that he beat; a good friend of mine’s best friend is fighting for her life with the exact tumor that my wife had. These stories could go on and on and on. We are all 2-3 degrees of separation from this horrifying disease. God knows that I DON’T wish the pain that I feel on anyone. Those words, “There is nothing more we can do. We are out of options” should never be heard by a father, mother, spouse or any other family member. While my story is not unique, It is what I do with the story that makes a difference. I know Lindy is looking down on me and she’s proud that I didn’t stop what she started. I can barely write that without a steady flow of tears from my eyes. I know she is happy and that’s enough for me.

I thank Jesus for my strength, as he gives me peace and growth. It is good to have a foundation. But I don’t think I will ever truly be fine or past this. Some part of me will ALWAYS miss her and want to keep her alive by sharing her story and will to fight. The more i think about it the more impressed with her courage I get. Her strength was my strength all along. I would give anything to dream again with her but because that isn’t possible, I will always tell her story to anyone who will listen.

I’m excited to get home. In the airport right now in DC waiting on a plane. I’m done waiting on trains, planes and taxis. Had all the croissants and bocadillos I can stand. I’m done with calculating time zone changes/differences. Ready to get back to my bed in the good old CST.

Thanks for following. Your thoughts, encouragements, and general comments are/were very encouraging. It kept me going. I’m officially done traveling for awhile. Time to get back to work!

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Day 147:Kissed by a Girl!

Had a really great day yesterday. We walked out of Cizor Menor up the gradual slopes of Alto de Pedrón. My knee throbbed so bad but, I walked through the pain because I enjoy Team Brasil’s conversations and wanted to keep step. Meteorite John is a riot. I don’t know where he gets his energy! He was trying to keep up with Bruna, and he would get to a town ahead and be waiting for us on a perch at the entrance to the city to watch us come hobbling through!

Team Brasil and I caught up with John and Bruna in Zariqueigui, only for a minute as they are fast walkers. This town is where Henrique and I reloaded our wine pouch. Here we also ran into the girls from Faroe Islands again. Little did I know that this would be the last time I would see them. Had I known that I would have chatted them up more. Really like that mother and daughter. It’s so cool they are doing the Camino together.

We walked on steadily uphill towards the windmills that seemed to line the crest of the mountains for as far as the eye can see. Hundreds of windmills humming as the semi-truck-sized turbines turn. Kinda of a soothing sound. Like the sound of the wind blowing through the trees, only constant and about 100 decibels louder. Turned one corner in the trail out of the thicket, and out of nowhere it seemed, iron statues lining the top of Alto de Pedrón. The statues seemed to fit in between the windmills. This is where I should have been on the first trip the first day! We walked all day looking down at the highway I was on last trip. Team Brasil brought to my attention that the passerbys probably thought I was a crazy tolo (fool)! I said, “that’s a mild comment compared to what I was thinking right now!”

It was super windy at the top of Alto de Pedrón, which I guess is why they put the windmills here in the first place. Brilliant observation, huh? One of the iron statues says, “Donde se Cruza El Camino Del Viento Con El d Las Estrella”, which means “Where it crosses the path of the wind with the stars”.

We took tons of pictures together and played photographer to a bunch of people starting to reach the top. We then started the descent down. I dragged way behind because of my knee. It was in excruciating pain now. Alone for the first time that day, I started to reminisce about the first trip. Started thinking about Lindy. Thought about how much I missed her and wished this was all a bad dream and that I could go home to her. This is the first time this trip that I had a breakdown. I cried all the way down the mountain. No one at the bottom asked me “what was wrong”, if they even noticed. It was actually much appreciated that no one asked. They probably thought I was crying because of my knee! That’s one if the reasons I like this group so much. They just did what you do on the Camino: leave people alone at the right times. This trail is mystical like that. They let me talk about her when I felt the need to, and they very rarely asked about it. When they asked, it seemed to be at the right time.

I did met a guy from Philadelphia on the way down who had recognized my accent at the top. He said, “Happy 4th of July comrade!” I had forgotten, ashamed to say, until that moment that it was our Independence Day. Ironic that a guy from Philadelphia would be the one to remind me!

At the bottom of the hill was a cool-outdoor Albergue with a cafe. What was even cooler you ask? Everyone in our pack was sitting down and having a Pepsi, beer or wine. No one was in a hurry. Bruna had gotten a flyer at the top for an Albergue in Punta la Reina that had a pool and was only 10€. She had called and made reservations for us. That’s why they were relaxing. They knew we were stopping in Punta la Reina and that the walk wasn’t that much further. Maybe 6km. So we cut up and laid in the sun and said hi to the familiar pilgrims passing by, or yelled Buen Camino to others. It was like we were watching the parade of pilgrims while sitting on the sidelines.

This cafe was were we met Loic from Paris. He works for the mayor of Paris. He immediately said the Mayor was gay. I said, “Doesn’t shock me!”, as I was shielding my eyes from the glare of his shiny white, bald head. He chuckled and joined the group. We had passed this guy several times since the beginning. He was always ominously smoking battery-sized cigarettes while standing straight up sporting a camouflaged backpack and genuine looking military boots. Looked to be mid thirties.Think Timothy McVeigh meets Billy Corgan. Nice guy though. Fun to hear him speak [really] good english with his French accent.

After recharging our phones; taking advantage of their free Whifee; and having a snack, we got back on the road. Made it to Obanos by 2pm. This is the town that I almost quit in last time. It seemed so much different coming in the right way. While filling up our wine pouches with this incredible 3€ a bottle local wine that Henrique discovered, Pago Isarpe, we ran into Don Draper. While I was trying to cut a deal with Jose Mori to import his delicious wine, John Michael walked up behind me and says, in his deep South African accent, “I thought it would only be a matter of time before you found ‘your something to do’ for work!” I turned around and was shocked that he caught up with us. I was fairly sure I would never see him again. Happy to run into him again and I immediately got his info because he was slower than us and I figured we would lose him again. (By the way, you will be able to buy this wine on this website for $15 a bottle in a few weeks:) ha!

We all walked into Punta la Reina, which was a slow steady 3km down from Obanos. Don Draper and I mused back and forth over the walk. Its what I enjoyed about our walk two days prior. He also said he is done worrying about whether his decision to sell his ownership stake in his advertising business was a good one. Said, “worrying is like praying for something bad to happen”. I said, “where did you hear that?” He lifted his Camino guide book and said, “right here”, as he pointed to the last line on the page! Ummm…seems Valeria, from my last trip, lifted that phrase too. I thought it was here original saying. Who cares. Still profound.

Don Draper was moving faster for some reason now. He said he shed a few backpack pounds and it has improved his performance with better speed. We walked past the hotel I died in last time, Hotel Jakue. Walked through town and up this steep incline just over the bridge leaving town. We hiked to the Alberque Bruna reserved beds at. At the top of the hill the hostel appeared as a mirage in the desert. Big yellow house on a plantation; people splashing in the pool, eating outside like it was a backyard BBQ and drinking beer like it was…well 4th of July! What a way to end this trip. Only it gets a little better.

We all dropped our bags after checking in and jumped in the pool. Pushing people in; splashing people; running around the pool like we were 12 years old. Good times. Good times indeed. I needed this. New friends on a strange road all doing the Camino for very different reasons. It works. I had a moment of clarity about what I need to do when I get home. I love The Way.

We all went to eat in town and had a big dinner. Henrique found me a hot dog for my 4th of July. We drank two pitchers of Spanish wine, aka Sangria and cut up like old friends. Once back at the hostel, I got kissed by Bruna the Brazilian girl. Said she had her eye on me:) She said I hope that this is ok. I hesitated for a spell. We talked about Lindy as we laid out in the field and looked at the stars. She was very curious about her and how I was coping. Very sweet girl. We starred at the stars for an hour before each resigning to our own bunks. The stars were big and extremely bright….deep in the heart of Spain!

Got up this morning and caught the 7am bus back to Pamplona. It was truly sad saying goodbye to everyone. The good thing about this trip is I walked away with good friends that I will stay in touch with this time. It’s funny that life works exactly the way you need it to when you are in time with God.

It’s about 10 am back here in Pamplona. I am writing while sitting here watching them get ready for their biggest day of the year: the Running of the Bulls. I feel much like I assume Heminway felt, except sober. The energy here is unreal. They are putting up additional wooden barricades to help herd the bulls and protect merchants store fronts. The drinking has already commenced for 70% of the city, as the voyeurs file in for the weekend in their fancy clothes. I assume they will change for tomorrow, or maybe they will watch the chaos from their flowered balconies. I would join in the festivities but my train to Barcelona is in 5 hours. I will have a beer and go buy some trinkets before I leave. This place is starting to feel too familiar, by the way. In a good way that is.

I truly love Spain. I love the Camino. I love the spirit of the people. This trip is just what the doctor ordered. Had a ton of alone time with God. Had some breakthroughs on insights into myself. Had some revelations about things in the word that I have been struggling with; and God put a group of great people around me in my short time here. Wish I didn’t have to go home. Washington, D.C. on Sunday night for the National Brain Tumor Society is a commitment I need and want to keep. Barcelona tonight for a great dinner. Home tomorrow on metal wings, after a tour of the Segrada of course. They were closed last trip.

Ciao for now,
Michael

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Day 146: Eazy Peazy

Larrasoaña to Pamplona to Cizur Menor was an easy walk in theory. Sometime yesterday my left knee seem to have a massive throbbing pain in it every time I went down hill. Came outta of no where.

It was a nice walk by the river most of the day. We left Larrasoaña at 7:15 am. We stopped in St Fermion outside of Pamplona so I could buy some “running with the bulls” scarfs. Strolled around the big walls that used to protect Pamplona; crossed the drawbridge, attacked Pamplone like Emir Abd ar-Rahman II in the 1st Century, but was captured by Meteorite John calling our name from the watchtower tower. Meteorite John was waiting for us for about 45 minutes atop the Pamplona wall! He missed us! Ahh…He left us in Larrasoaña with a girl, Bruna, who he “might” have been sweet on!

We found the nearest patio who had Whifee and I booked my tren ticket for Friday to Barcelona while they went shopping. Two hours later we were walking the path outta of town. We were stopped by a gypsy who was trying to read Manuela’s (formally spelled Manwella by my redneck spelling) hands and she finally called buuulshits and we kept marching on.

Headed past the Torro arena and I got a picture for my friend Richmond Logan. He was trying to get me to do it last time I was here, but I let him down. This picture wasn’t the best but it will have to do! Had the red sashes on and climbed the wooden bull fences to have my pic taken by Manuela. We walked past the hotel I stayed at last time and I was able to navigate us from there almost out of Pamplona. Henrique and I bought some wine pouches and we were looking for some cheap wine to fill them with. We succeeded!

I saw the sign I missed last time that caused my first day to be a full-on disaster so I chopped it down! Ha! I wish I had something to chop it down with!

Meteor John, myself and Team Brasil had a great, slow walk out of town to Cizor Munor listening to Thrift Shop! The Albergue there was really nice. It was very communish. We saw EVERBODY we knew from the original bus ride it was another superb evening. I met Bruna from Brazil, who Meteorite John raves about and we all chipped in for dinner. She is a teacher in Brasil for Canadian kids. Very sweet and fun to talk to. I really enjoy this trip in a different frame of mind. It was the next morning that got me.

[-I had major flashbacks from L’s deaths the more the trail got familiar. Still enjoy every moment as if I was revisiting something cherished-]

Manuela cooked amazing Espaguete (spaghetti) last night and we all sat outside and ate and had wine. Espaguete and bread in about 65 degree weather (with a slight wind) was muy bueno. We just talked and laughed so late that the proprietor (old Japanese lady) came out to shush us! “Eweey juan shleeping…ssshhh!”, is all we all heard! Nice lady though and very nice Alberque. Wish I could remember the name so I can give it a plug for future pilgrims.

No big lesson today, just good camaraderie with new friends who seem like old friends. So glad that I am doing the extra day; the day I screwed up last time. Really nice.

Ciao for now,
Michael

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Day 144: Witches, Waterfalls, and The Way

Left Roncesvalles at about 7:30 am by myself. After striking out with a campsite last night, I was forced to sleep in an old time prison camp! At least this is what I imagined them to be like. About 150 bunk beds side by side, literally face to face with a snoring stranger who was joining in with the tabernacle snorers. It was wall to wall people and in an open room the size if a gymnasium. Oh my lands!the snoring drive me insane!! It was like listening to a bunch of tiny street racing cars rev their engines.

I walked immediately out of Roncesvalles through a dark, foggy, enchanting forest called Sorginaritxago forest. It was a creepy, early morning walk. Once out the other side , I was captivated by this big white, stone, medieval looking cross that stood about 9 feet tall. It was erected at the entrance, my exit, in the shadow of the ominous woods. Come to find out that this forest was home to a bunch of witches. The Oakwood Witches. They were burned at the stake in XVI century. The cross was placed there to keep evil spirits from returning.

The next village I walked through, after stopping at this encantador restaurante for breakfast, was simply fairytale like. It was lined with white ginger bread houses. The streets had two 1 foot streams on either side of the road. It’s as of Deutschland had uprooted and moved to Spain. I could really see myself living here. So friendly and inviting. Matter of fact, I stopped into Hotel Burguete, same name as the village, and read that Hemingway used to bring his wife to this hotel and town one month prior to bull fighting season in Pamplona each year.

I met Don Draper, aka John Michael in the “witches’ woods” and we walked about three quarters of the day together, most times in silence lost in our own thoughts. We stopped outside Zubiri at another make shift food truck with tables outside for an orange and a beer before descending into town. In town he snagged a room and I a glass of vino at a tienda down the way.

After twenty minutes of sipping on my beer I ran into Team Brasil. We caught up from their walk that day and I decided to mount up and keep walking with them. We trekked another 7km into Larrasoaña. We stopped at a waterfall outside of a magnesium pit and climbed half way up. It was a good way to cool off and break the monotony of the flat trail. We rolled into town and found that there were no beds at the only Albergue. The next town was 9km uphill and its was 6 pm at this point. We were spent for the day. We were directed to a private hostal on the outskirts of town. The surprising and cool thing about this place, not only did we find 3 beds, the proprieter had loads of pictures on the wall of her, Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez from the movie, The Way. They stayed there when shooting the part of the movie in this town. They even used her son as an actual cast member in the movie. It’s a very homey house that she opens up when the Albergue is full.

After we all showered, we went into town and had a reunion with most of our bus mates from the drive down from Bayonne. Meteor John (www.azmeteorites.com)was there; the mother and daughter from the Faroe Island, Herit and Hevor were there; the Scottish couple that saved me from missing the bus at the Bayonne train station, plus a few lesser known characters were there too. Food, wine beer and religion fueled the conversation. Not too late though. We all had plans to start walking at 6:30 am.

Had a great conversation with a lady last night about my loss. Older lady that asked about my team Lindy Lou shirt I wore the day before. She talked me into tears. She brought up some good points that really made me think. I told her I don’t believe Lindy and I’s narrative ends with her death. And, as long as I keep her memory alive by celebrating her life she will never be truly gone. This is not what made me think. It was some truly personal statements made that have ignited much deeper contemplation. I thought, wow. She is really insightful. Then I found out, as we were leaving the bar, that she is a psychologist. Nice lady.

Only a few more days of the walk and homeward bound I will be. I had some major breakthroughs in my quest and I can’t really articulate them right now as they are still thoughts in progress. I do know that this strange road to Santiago is much like life: some steps hurt; some steps are relaxing, some bring flashes of another life; some hills are steep and a struggle to climb; some hills, the steepness is gradual, only to look back down from the mountain top and think wow. I climb that? Look how far I have come. Some stretches are mystical; some terrain can leave you imbalanced; some legs can cause you to walk in a fog; some people you meet for a reason, other people you meet just help you understand yourself more. The trail has endless meaning. The meaning I am looking for has yet to reveal itself and it may not. I like how my bible study partner, Cory McCord, put it to me before I left. He said that the little things are the big things and Gods grandiose plan for you may be 5 moves away. Don’t look for a big move. Look for “what’s next, no matter how small”. I have thought a lot about that today. I felt that out of such devastation would come grandeur in my life. Just need to trust God more with EVERYTHING and leave my ultimate plans in his hands. My cousin, who baptized me, sent a scripture that summed Cory’s thought up. Philippians 1: 6 Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus return. I don’t need to go searching for answers in a far off place. I need to stay still trying to learn to be strong and listen for my destiny.

As I wind down my night at 11 p.m. in this ladies living room, I am thankful for so many things and people. The one I am thankful for the most right now is my wife. If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t be able to search for these things about myself. What a great and wonderful person she still is. I had a thought tonight. I might have completed something in her that allowed her to go home to be with God with a sense of Thanks and fulfillment. She felt so much love from me, unlike anyone else including family, that she achieved her last goal. I am not sure if this is something that only makes me feel better, but who cares. It’s a beautiful thought and one I can muse on until the day I die and see her again to ask her myself.

Good night from Navarro Country, Spain. Pamplona by morning God willing.

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Day 143: One Direction, Up!

Mountains exist only for a challenge. Humans only exist to accept the challenge.
-Paulo Cohelho, The Pilgrimage

We got into town last night about 11:30 pm by bus. The train got cancelled and we had to take a bus from Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Porte. I climbed onto the bus and sat down next to South Africa’s real life Don Draper, Jack Michael. He was about 60. He asked if I was doing the Camino. I said, “yes, and you?”He said everyone on this bus is doing it. Wow! This is 20x’s the people I saw last time. I asked him what made him want to do it. He said, “I read Paulo Cohelho, The Pilgrimage and I saw The Way.” He proceed to tell me he just sold his stake in his advertising agency; sent his last kid off to college; and wanted to see if this strange road to Santiago could help him with what’s next.” The guy next to me, the meteor dealer, said, “what book are you talking about?” Manwella and Enrique from São Paulo spoke up and said, “the name of de book is de Pilgrimage. Paulo is Brazilian from our country.” We all talked the entire hour and a half up the winding, narrow road to St Jean. We talked about anything and everything. Mostly we were fascinated by the meteorite business. Quite a niche market. 100’s of questions came out of our perplexed mouths!

Once we got to St Jean, the entire bus descended on the town in search of a bed. We looked like a bunch of mice scurrying for their are looking for our mouse hole when the light comes on! After a very bad nights sleep, Jack, Meteor man and myself started to climb! It was a straight hike up for 13 miles into the Pyrenees. Jack couldn’t keep pace so we left him. Once we got to Orrison, meteor man and I ran into Team Brasil. I had a beer and we climbed together into the clouds for the rest of the day. All day literally in the clouds, up. We couldn’t see 10 feet in front of us. This was by far the hardest day of the Camino. The beat writers are definitely right!

We stopped at the top of the mountain at what looked like a food truck in the middle of no where. I bought a block of sheep cheese, two hard boiled eggs and a hot coke. This was the last stop before gladly crossing from France to Spain on the decline down the back of the Pyrenees. Played with the big ear’d dog tied to the truck and then we started walking again.

We are now in Roncesvalles about to have a big dinner before I find my campsite for the night.

Great dinner. Meet two girls from The Faroe Islands and we talked Whale Wars. The last episode of that show was in their hometown and it didn’t shed too good of a light on them. They said it was comical to see American sensationalism and the tape that got cut up on the cutting room floor.

My devotional today from Jesus Calling (gift by way of Amber) was from June 30th. I am a day behind but so fitting.

– I am the Way the Truth and the Life. As you follow me, I lead you along paths of newness: ways you have never imagined. Don’t worry about what is on the road ahead. I want you to find your security in knowing Me, the one who died for you.

I am slowly starting to lose my fear of the future. Lindy and I had so many plans and dreams and now that she is gone, I can’t find inspiration or enthusiasm about anything. It is slowly coming back to me: how to live again.

Ciao for now,
Michael Cox

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