Day 291: When My Time Comes

I have had a lot of reflecting today over the importance of what I do with my life. I reflect on the life my wife lived and I stand in awe of her fortitude with her directive.

True. She was an accomplished women in her own right; True. She was a great-great giver; True. She believed in the under dog in almost every fight. I ask myself. What did it all mean?

She would have been 42 today. Her life was extraordinary with the emphasis on extra. I have learned more than I can talk about here from the example her life gifted me. I think mostly about the last month of her life. She was the most open and the most vulnerable person I have met. It was pure beauty. It was a true, genuine gift to me.

I ask God why she was taken? More often than breathing I wanted to know why she was plucked from my life. Recently I quit asking why. I started connecting the proverbial dots. Her life made my life more meaningful. She gave me the perspective that she always wanted me to have, but I was too narrow minded to comprehend.

While she did wonderful, incredible, notable things in her short life, nothing, in my eyes, is more notable than her waking me up to treasuring my every breath. It’s what I do with my every breath that makes this true gift true. Time will tell. I feel it will tell a favorable tale for me and for us.

I love every fabric of her very being. I pray that on the day I am called home, I have the courage, bravery and peace she had. I truly want to reflect on my life on my death bed and say, “I finished the race; I have kept the faith”. I can’t wait to see her and share that smile together of understanding about what this life was truly all about.

Happy Birthday to the love of my life, Lindy Bullock-Cox. Your influence on my life and the memories we share will never fade. You gave me a gift on your birthday. You sharing your incredible life with me is a better gift than I could have ever given you.

Forever in love and forever grateful,
Your husband

Day 8: Granny Good for the Soul & Tempo!

8-18-28-38-48-58-68-7The hostel was a good experience last night. Stayed up talking to the proprietor of the place. Learned he spent some time in Sonoma selling some wine widget. He couldn’t make me understand what it was so I am assuming that’s why he is back in Los Arcos running a hostel.

Got up first this morning at 5:45 and drug my pack and sleeping bag into the common area to do my routine inventory and packing. I was out the door and outta town. Came to a fork in the road and couldn’t find the yellow arrow. Unfortunately the flash light I bought is only a black light. Don’t plan on starting a nightclub anytime soon so I ditched it. Outta no where a flash light came on. It was grandma Valeria. (I learned that this is the correct pronunciation last night). “You having directional issue Texas”?

Wow! I couldn’t believe she not only was out of the hostel but caught up with me

Viana was the destination for most of us today. Seeing her pace, I tried to keep up. We had several great conversations and she is witty women. We talked about God. I asked her what type of church does she go to and she said, “Anglo- Catholic. “What’s the difference?”, I asked. She said, ” less rules”. “And you?”, she asked. I said, ” I just trust God these days. It’s a renewed thing I’m doing”. She said, “well trust God but tether your camel”.

We proceed to talk about her husband’s final days with his struggle with lung cancer. She told me I have no clue how blessed you and you wife had it with the 3-4 weeks of suffering. Her husband suffered 3 months in hospice.

I asked how they met and what he did? She said he was 14 years younger than her and he was a roadie for Deep Purple (pre Smoke on the Water). Post that he took up being a printer.

I failed to mention that we started today with snow flurries that turned into big heavy snow flaked the first 4 hours of the walk. I asked her, “how cold do you think it is?” And she said “6 degrees below, at least that is what the farmacia clock said leaving town. “What! Wow I am really getting numb to this whole thing”. After about 20 minutes of silence she said, “did you think I meant Fahrenheit?”. “Uh yes.” She said, “wow. I forget you Americans haven’t assimilate to the metric system yet!”

We made it to the first ciudad, Sansol. Nothing was open in Los Arcos and we were both hungry and craving coffee. This nice man, Picchu opened his Tienda for us and fixed us both 2 cafe con leches. I refilled my water, had an orange, a red bull and several chewable sugar balls shaped like little water melons. Valeria said, “watch out Texas is a out to launch off!” About that time Teresa, the little Korean girl peeked in the window. Now it’s a party.

After leaving Picchu, we all walked about 100+ yards (91.44 meters) segregated from each other. Granny always in front and me bringing up the tail.

Snow started coming down harder. About a mile out of Viana the sun tried to peak through the clouds. We hit Viana, our intended destination for the day, by 12:15. We sat down for some lunch and contemplated going to Logrono. I said, “Hellz ya! I have been trying to get there since day one! I naively thought I could do it day one put of Pamplona”. (Man. I am such an amateur)! “Lets do it” we all said.

We hit Logrono by 2. Man this city is big. Checked into the Albergue and I proceed to look for a train to Gijon where Cindy’s friend lives. Nothing. No train, plain or automobile. Texted Haylee and said that there was nothing till Monday. I told her I was really looking forward to seeing a semi familiar face. I was kinda sad.

About an hour ago she text me and said she found a bus that left at 4:35 am tonight and arrives in her town at 11 am. I am soo happy. I will spend 1-2 with her and then start the northern route of the Camino. I have clocked just under 100 miles thus far. I will proceed to a spot 2 days from Santiago. I will walk from there to St.James grave and go another 10 miles to the ocean. I have something personal I want to do there.

Thank you Brie for the Note From Heaven today. It made me feel warm inside and made me cry the same. I have realized that I will shed 1,000,000 tears over her. I pray by the end of this journey that I can accept that. Getting over this is not an option I’m afraid.

I miss everyone. My family, friends and our 4 legged kiddos. My heart is still heavy and empty. Praying I can withstand coming home to “our house” when it is time.

Ciao till I start walking again

Day 7: Bueno Camino! Finally

A1A2A3A4A5A6A7A8A9A10A11A12A13A14Good day indeed. Left the Chapitel Hotel late, about 9 am. Late for me. I wanted to be gone by 7 am. Glad I waited. I left the hotel feeling good physically. The suggestions from friends yesterday: the Ibuprofen, and 2 glasses of vino and the Man Up prescription was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Climbed the 74 steps of St. Michael Cathedral directly across the alley from the hotel and had my devotional. It was about knowing that your reality is only the current moment you are in. It is nothing more. It’s knowing that the only time that matters is right now. (I know. Redundant). It gave me my pace for the day.

I left Estella and felt like I was navigating a mini-metropolis. Put it this way. I got my days rations from an Avia gas station. After 30 minutes on a concrete path my feet were dying to get back on the unstable, rocky path on dirt, rocks and gravel! They love to work for me! I don’t pay well but I have drugs: ibuprofen!

What a great first 5-6 miles. Very smooth. Very few inclines. However, I started to see a snowy cap mountain in the far distance. I wondered if that is where I was headed. It’s moments like these that make NOT planning beautiful. It’s nice not to know what’s in store for you for the day.

I had some wonderful moments with God today. He let me know that I need to be a better steward of the time that he has given me. I had some good communion with Lindy. At one point in time the original Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah came on my iTunes. I imagined Lindy in heaven looking down on me while I walked through the vino fields. I saw a choir behind her singing to me. Very moving for me.

As I walked further, I realized that the temp was dropping about 1 degree every km i walked. It finally settled at about 40-45 degrees. That is the reason I took very little pictures today. I walked into what looked like Pine Mills, East Texas except in the moutains. It was incredible! Such beauty.

The best part was entering into what I thought would be my halfway point. It’s now 2 pm and I’m feeling I could go further if I could only get some pasta! Logrono was my destination today. Heck, I have only done 13 miles at this point. I can do 15 more! I have Ibuprofen! Miracle drug!

I walked into ciudad Los Arcos (and no to my EDT friends, it’s nothing like the after hours drinking/mediocre Mexican food joint we used to frequent only on the weekends on Ross!

I ran into a local on the street and asked “how much further to Logrono?” He said, ” too far for you unless you packed a tent!” I thought, with determination I would make it by God! But, I needed food. I had been craving pasta since Pamplona! I walked by this restaurant and the guy I met the day before (Juay) came running out and said, “Eat here! We are all here eating!” And I said, ” we all? Who’s we all?”

So I went in and took my pack off and met “we all”. No one really new each other expect 2 ladies, and they met in Pamplona five days ago. ( Five days ago? Man I did this trek in 3 days!)

There is Teresa from Seoul Korea. She looks about 27 years old. She is quite and speaks a tad better Spanish than me. Speaks a tad better english than a one-day old illegal in Dallas! Her travel mate for the last 5 days really interested me: Valerie.

Valerie is 70 years old, very opinionated lady. Her husband of a year, but boyfriend of 15 years, died a year ago today of lung cancer. She said she did the Jon of Arch pilgrimage via car right after he died. This year, on their anniversary of his death, she is doing the Camino. Her voyage walking the Camino will take her to Santiago by Easter weekend. She is from Channel Island between France and England and she sounds British. Love talking to to her.

The other lady is Piedad from Seville Spain. We haven’t talked much because she speaks zero english.

So. After many glasses of vino, beer and yogurt, they convinced me that the Albergue (hostel) they are staying in is THE place. So here I am. The La Fuente is where I am staying. First venture at a hostel. It is nice. Juay is a chef. We all pitched in and he is cooking tonight.

They are all walking the Camino for different reasons and at different daily paces. They all say its a spiritual walk in a physical body for them. I needed this communion. Better yet. God knew I needed this break from myself. About to rock this hostel! They have a guitar…which…I really can’t…well, play! So what. As I said yesterday, these people will never see me again! I’m switching coast day after tomorrow after all to walk the northern route.

We are now swapping stories, playing guitar, singing, and drinking good wine. Great day.

Lindy approves. I am positive;) She may not approve of the sleeping accommodations but she approves.

Love you sweetheart. Thank you for the ounce of joy today.

Day 6: I got to say it was a good day

Day6-1Day6-2Day6-3Day6-2Day6-6Day6-7Day6-8Day6-9Day6-10Day6-11Woke up at 6 am, took inventory of my pack and prepared to depart. Wanted to hear my friend Cindy’s (Lindy’s Mother for 23 years in my mind) sweet voice so I called her. After shedding a few tears together about the final 4+ weeks of Lindy’s life in hospital/hospice (of which Cindy was there almost every day for), she told me something that modeled my day. She said, “you will see Lindy soon enough. Our time here is but a nano second compared to eternity. Go have a good day on your hike”, or as every passing pilgrim would say, “happy Camino!” I don’t know about you, but I don’t find too much happiness in lugging a 30 pound pack 15+ miles a day “happy times!” Maybe once I get in shape, said me never, I might get more excited about the walking part of this walk. Maybe a Segway would have been a good idea, with all terrain tires?For now “it’s one step at a time sweet Jesus”

Enough complaining as most of today was, as Ice Cube would put it “i gotta say today was a good day”.

I left at 7:20 am with a pep in my step. Stopped at the cafe to get 2 pastries, a cafe americano, 2 chocolate bars and a small cold water. Crossing the bridge out of Puente la Reina Jamey Johnson’s I Remember You came on my iTunes and brought tears to my eyes and I had my mid morning devotional early.

I had also decided in the first 15 minutes of the walk that today was dedicated to Walking with Lindy, not for Lindy. Since 2009, every year we have been walking for Lindy and her brainy names for her tumors @ the DFW Brain Tumor Walk. The name that stands out the most was Walk for Jacque. (For some reason she wasn’t fond of French men so she named all 3 of her tumors after them). Either way, I wanted to walk with her and reminisce on the best times we had. Those were the times we travelled. We travelled so well together and always had really great times on our trips. I thought all day about all the placed we went together. I laughed. I cried. I got sad. I got happy. More importantly, I found a little joy today that has alluded me since the funeral.

Within the first 20 minutes of the walk I encountered a mud slide. I couldn’t go around it because, damned if I didn’t pack a raft! Couldn’t go up and over it because, well, I don’t do vertical inclines like that. I went through it. First foot wasn’t bad. I sunk maybe up to the top of my boot. The second foot went almost knee deep! Then, I fell forward. My hands now planted firmly in the mud. What do I do now? Oh yeah. I forgot. I have been carrying my sisters walking stick and haven’t even been using it other then to occasionally twirl it like a baton. I reached back, withdrew the stick and leverage myself out. Luckily while taking inventory of the pack the night before I saw baby wipes. Thanks Dave. I appreciate you leaving those in there. Don’t worry I will return your pack nice and clean. Unless you want some Spanish mud with it!

The rest of the walk was nice. A few inclines, but more so in the little towns I passed through. One climb outside of Puente la Reina had what looked a large grave of stacked rocks with a cross on it about half way up. Real encouraging let me tell ya!

Made it to Maneru by 9:02 and got some bottarga bread and refilled my camel. It was here I met my first english speaking pilgrim from the south of Spain, Juay (Pronounce like Javier but without the “ier”. I talked his ear off. Was sooo happy to finally have someone that understood english. He never really said what he was doing on the Camino other than a project to snap a photo of everyone he meets on the while walking. Probably for his illegal passport biz! Wait.That doesn’t even make sense. Either way I obliged him as long as he reciprocated. He looked like he wanted to get moving, and as a much younger chap (too much Hemingway recently) I said don’t wait on my old arse. And as the Townes Van Zandt song goes, “tomorrow I will be thru them hills and gone”, and gone he was.

I only had 2 real walking mulligans today. Once I was about a 100 yards off the Camino and was quickly herded back on track by a goat herder. Seriously. Second time I was about 2 km into this guys property when I realized I hadn’t seen a yellow arrow in awhile. This young farmer drove by and offered to quickly take me back to the trail. I climbed in his truck next to his wet smelly dog. At one point in the ride it sounded like he said he wanted to take Texas. I said, “your forefathers tried that once!” I think he really said he wanted to come to Texas! I’m sure that’s what he said but sometimes its fun to mess with people when you can’t understand each other.

Back in the village he dropped me in, I stopped a little store to get a banana and some nuts. Sitting outside I saw this old lady beat her big dog with a stick for barking at the passerby’s. She looked at me and smiled like she thought it was funny. I looked back really frightened. I checked out. Paid my 80 bucks for my 4 things and got the heck out!

The rest of the walk was peaceful. I crawled into Estella. It was not the entrance I had envisioned earlier that morning. I planned on walking into town in a white t-shirt calling Stella!! Stella! (Yep, lame joke). Instead I walked into a nice hotel looking like the swamp thing. Said, I need a private room and my clothes washed. She said, “you have dinero?” Plastic rules in moments like these!

The hotel is across from my cathedral: St. Michael Cathedral. Took a half a Xanax and passed out!

Really enjoyed reminiscing about good times with Lindy today about our past travels. I would like to think she was with me all the way talking back to me. If she wasn’t, I probably appeared crazy to some farmers! Oh well. When will I ever see them again!?

Ciao for now. 1200 mg’s of Ibuprofono, muscle relaxing creme and some wine and I will be good as new mañana…I pray!

Day 5: Ignorance Isn’t Bliss! More like Blister-ish!

Day 4-1Day 4-2Day4-3Day4-4Day4-5Day 4-6Day 4-7Day 4-8Day 4-9Day 4-10Strapped into the backpack and laced up my Teva hiking boots, paid the hotel bill and proceeded to walk in the dark at 6 am. First 3 songs on my ipod were Midnight Rider by Willie, Country Road by James Taylor, and In Numbers We Survive by The O’s. It was a good musical start to this journey! Super excited was I!  Thank God for iPhone maps and curse them just the same! The 56 mile walk to Logrono was underway! Looked like a straight shot. Mostly paved sidewalk out of the city while following the Camino Shell that coincided with my iPhone map, who obviously thought i was a slow moving car. Unfortunately, I was on the auto/bicycle route that took me up out of the Basin of Pamplona!!! Imagine backpacking the highways in Big Bend National Park! After 16 miles of this strenuous, backbreaking #@%? the road finally started to decline shifting the pain from calves to hamstrings. Man. What am I? I tell ya what I’m not! I’m not 18 anymore! I’m a 39 year old stuck in a 65 year old’s body! Drinking beer everyday for a year isn’t good training for this!
At the bottom of the decline (about 3 miles long) I found a vacant bus bench! I was done! Done i tell you! This is no way to mourn your wife. Maybe it’s a ticket to join her! This was around 12:30 pm when I plopped down on the bus bench. There was NO WAY I would survive this. Apparently I climbed Alto del Pedron which means Hill of Forgiveness! Well, today I paid for every sin I committed since I was a teen! God consider my penance paid, please?
No bus came. I put my pack back on and I climb a little more to a little village called Obanos. The first bar/restaurant I see I went in and dismantled. After 45 minutes of RnR and a conversation with a local in my best broken-Spanish (and my free translator app), I realized I wasn’t on the “Walking Path”.
Rejuvenated I got 2 bags of chips, a glass of vino and 2 waters to go. I was back on my way! Supposedly, you have to follow the little yellow arrows along with the “Camino shell” that marks the walking way! Three kilometers later I was in Puenta La Reina. I saw a small hotel the minute the path ended and I got a room. I passed out at about 2 pm. It’s now 6pm and I just woke up. What? No hot tub? Guess an extremely scolding bath will have to due to soak my throbbing legs and back.
I’m now out exploring the city a little without my pack, having a beer and some food and getting ready for a much easier walk tomorrow. I think tomorrow I will reach Logrono.
On a spiritual front, I listen to this Joyce Meyers daily devotional by audio every mid-morning. February 20th just happened to be about mourning a tragedy…hmmm. It was a great 5 minute devotional based around Psalm 30:5. Very inspirational. But after the hike from Hades I realized that distraction from physical pain works to forget too!
I feel you here with me Lindy and I won’t quit looking for Peace and Understanding, and I won’t quit this walk till I find it.
Thank you folks for indulging my rumblings. Gets lonely out here when you only speak-da-english!


Day 3: 03/18/13!

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Yep that is what my tren ticket said as I heard the tren ticket taker say “Billete no válido!” That I understood! I didn’t sleep all night; upgraded my tren ticket online last night; printed my boarding pass at the concierge before leaving; took a cab to the tren station to be early and sat there for 45 minutes before they opened for boarding! My heart dropped when i heard that! When I upgraded my ticket to a premium ticket online the night before, I hit March not February. They fixed it and I made it to Pamplona! Whew! The walk was about 10 miles from tren station to Pamplona city center. Haven’t slept since 3 pm yesterday so I got a room and slept all day. The weight of the backpack is taking some getting used to. (Where is Danny Noonan when you need him!).
I will explore Pamplona tomorrow, get my pasaporte de pelligrino for the Camino and proceed to walk.

The beginning route I am taking is as follows (so that my mother knows where I am:): Pamplona to Logrono to Burgos, and I will update where from there.

Today was harder than most emotionally. I think in part because I was so exhausted from no sleep. After my moving evening devotional, I am now sitting across from the bull fighting ring from the Sun Also Rises drinking a vino and listening to the remainder of the book.

Day 2: False Start!

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Couldn’t sleep last night until about 6 am this morning. I got up, repacked my backpack, put it on and checked out of my hotel. Walked 15 blocks to the tren station and missed the tren to Paloma to start my trek (good dry run with the backpack!). Well God had other plans! Apparently I hadn’t seen enough of Barcelona yet. I checked back into the same room and explored. So glad I did. I was able to see the Sagrada Familia Basilica. When Lindy and I were in Florence we were enamored by Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. She would have loved the Sagrada. I walked most of Barcelona and now I’m at the beautiful Port of Barcelona having my daily devotional (with a glass of vino), looking over the coast, missing Lindy. I am learning to embrace the peace God is trying to give me. I know he holds my right hand and Lindy, my angel, holds my left. That gives me peace. Tomorrow I hope to catch the tren and begin my walk. But tonight I will enjoy Barcelona night air.

Day 262: My Walk for Jacque (In Honor of the DFW Brain Tumor Walk 2013-Team Lindy Lou)

My wife passed away 10 months ago. She was diagnosed with her first Glioblastoma October 2009. Immediately, she started raising dollars to fund research for treatments and a cure. Even though she was way late to the game with less than six weeks to walk day, Team Lindy Lou was top fund raiser with over $20k. She also took top spot as individual fundraiser as well!

That year the theme was “Walk for Jacque.” She named her first tumor Jacque. She also named her other two tumors after French men. (Still not sure the connection to the French). But, Walk for Jacque has always stuck with me and her team. The banner for that year still hangs in our garage. I see it every day – sometimes 10 times a day.

The morning Lindy passed, with no regard for dark storm clouds and looming rain, I snuck out from the room full of friends & family through the back gate and walked toward the lake. I simply didn’t want to be at the house when the funeral home came to take her. I didn’t want to live with the memory of her lifeless body being taken. During that disappearance, I experienced the first moment I have had “alone” for the last 9 years. I truly felt lonely for the first time ever in my life. She was always there, even if not physically present. Now she was gone. Gone where? I really didn’t know. At the time, I was agnostic and wasn’t 100% sure where she went. She was Catholic and very sure of where she was going, thanks to the confirmation she shared with her “Second Mom.”

I walked the uncut path from our house to White Rock Lake in the drizzling rain. I learned something about myself that day. Walking was kind of cathartic for me. I had a vague memory of a movie I had seen a couple years before called “The Way.” It’s about a walk in Spain. That is literally the only thing I remembered. Hours later I was booked for a flight to Barcelona, departing two days after Lindy’s funeral. Pushing through emotions, I bought some gear at the backpacking store and flew my out-of-shape self to Spain. I hopped a train to Pamplona and commenced to walking. I learned the hard way about how long and difficult this trail is. Let’s say this… I sat on a bench ready to quit the first day. I was just waiting for a bus, a car, a horse or anything to come get me. God and Lindy had other plans. I walked and cried all day, every day for almost a month. It was the off-season. Walking in sub-freezing temperatures made it even harder – the consequence of being completely unprepared for the walk.

I have hiked 225 miles of this trail through the French Pyrenees and the mountains and hills of Northern Spain. It ends in Santiago. It is the Camino de Compostela: The Walk to the Apostle St. James’ grave. God worked a miracle in my life on this pilgrimage. The wonder of this story occurred in the Camino de Compostela office in the Catholic Church when I was asked which path I took so they could put it on my completion certificate. Heck one day prior, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a completion certificate. Two German kids told me about it the night before at the hostel. I had a pilgrim passport that got stamped every night, but I thought this special passport was because I was too old for hostels. I thought this passport gave me special permission since I was doing this walk.

I told the lady that I didn’t know, and she would have to figure it out from my pilgrim passport. She replied, “You did Chemin Jacque”! I said, “Huh?” She said the French way is “Chemin Jacque” – “The way of St. Jacque” in English. I broke into tears and fell on a chair. Unbelievably, I had just finished my wife’s Walk for Jacque.

Life has a way of connecting things. That pilgrimage was so sprinkled with Lindy’s connection along the way. That special place and time will always be my Walk for Jacque. I finished what Lindy couldn’t – at least not in this life.