Today was the hardest day of walking so far. Not because of the terrain, it was reasonably flat, but because of the distance. I walked 38.5 kilometres in 10 hours, 6 of those in the rain. I wasn't driven by ego to go further than I am physically capable of or ready for whilst my body is adjusting to long distance walking. There's very little accommodation options between Bruay-la-Buissiere and Arras so I really had no choice but to walk it. And I chose the shorter option. The true to the book route adds another 14 kilometres.
The first 12 kilometres were the easiest. I stopped to talk to the curious cows that trusted me enough to come near me instead of run away as they usually do. But as the day wore on, my two blisters burned, my arches and my heels ached and by the end of the day my hip muscles were in spasm, screaming in pain. The tears were there but they didn't come. I kept telling myself I can do it. I can do it. I can do it. I did.
The last two kilometres into Arras were the worst, slow and painful. I prayed for the feel of pillows beneath my feet. I prayed for the pain to soften just a little. I prayed for grace, for a way that I could be in acceptance of the pain and stop resisting it and making it worse. I estimate it took me an hour to walk the last two kilometres into town. I was so relieved to see the bell tower, to know I had made it, although I still had to find accommodation for the night. And when I did, and I finally took the Devil off my back and I could sit down, the pain instantly started to fade away along with the memory of how painful the day was..
I feel like I'm breaking some unwritten pilgrim law writing this now. No one seems to talk about exactly how physically challenging and painful it is. Maybe because they don't want to put others off trying it for themselves. Maybe because they don't want to be seen to be whinging or moaning. Maybe because they just want to focus on the positive aspects of pilgrimage.
I am not seeking sympathy. I understand the nature of the path I have chosen.
I do not want to put others off choosing their own pilgrim path but I am a truth-teller and I don't want to paint the picture that this is a beautiful and romantic "stroll" through Europe.
The pilgrim path is a tough one. It tests you physically, emotionally and spiritually. I was tested in all three ways today.