Our second and third day of the day commenced after I had thought I had closed the book on this preposterous idea.  There was no getting around the fact that even if we got to Burgos, the only place to lay our heads would have been in the street.  Albergues don’t even open up to allow pilgrims in until about 1 pm.  Then one member of our team volunteered to just go ahead by bus, get situated in Burgos in an AirBNB and then open the door for us when arrived in the wee hours of the morning.  And with that our crazy challenge took form.

Our day started at Santo Domingo de la Calzada (556.3km from Santiago) and now our target would be to end at Burgos (483.8km).  That would put us at a total of 72.5k or just a hair over 45 miles.

Act 1 – Setting Off with Spirits High

As we bid farewell to Grace and Dominic at Tosantos around 5:30 PM, a sense of adventure swelled within us. We crossed paths with a group of Spanish pilgrims, who scoffed at our ambitious plan to reach Burgos on foot. Their plan was just to reach the next town and they had plenty of daylight to do it. Seeing the bit of crazy in our eyes, they started walking at a more brisk pace ahead of us.

Act 2 – Loading Up for the Long Night

Our next stop was Villafranca Montes de Oca, an isolated outpost that lay at the foot of Mount Pedraja. As the last point of comfort for the next 12 kilometers, we replenished our supplies and packed enough energy bars and drinks for the night. Entering the dark forest we clung a little tighter to each other and our pace quickened.  Blaise made a joke about the ghost of St. James emerging from the forest wall to serve us cappuccinos.

Act 3 – Point of No Return

The glow of San Juan de Ortega beckoned us at around 9:30 PM, the perfect end to a typical day on the Camino. Doubts crept in, debates ensued about halting at the small town of Ages. Yet there was Blaise, resolute, letting me know that failure was not an option.

Act 4 – Endless Treadmill

A perfectly straight road led us under the cloak of darkness.  So straight and so dark was the road that progress seemed like it never came.  Like some kind of endless treadmill. At last, advancement came and we quietly stepped through the sleeping town of Ages, as we feared waking the proverbial Spanish Grandma. We refreshed ourselves with energy drinks and granola bars, filled our water bottles in Atapuerca, and braced ourselves for the upcoming challenge.

Act 5 – Screaming Pigs of Sierra de Atapuerca

Ascending the Sierra de Atapuerca was a test of our mettle. Surrounded by absolute darkness and punctuated by the eerie sounds of pigs in the distance, the journey seemed never-ending. A solitary cross, silhouetted against distant city lights, was our beacon. After a steep climb, we were rewarded with the twinkling vista of the city.  At this stage, I could feel a heat rash crawling up my right leg, but there was nothing I could do.  I just let it burn higher and higher.

A reminder of our place here on Earth

Act 6 – The Long Dark Descent

The descent was treacherous. With every step over the rocky path, the idea of yielding to exhaustion grew. With nothing to break it, wind race up the mountain and cut into us as the temperature dropped.  Honestly, I was fighting thoughts of getting comfortable in the ditch next to the road.  I had time to think it through.  How long we would rest there, what in our packs we could use for pillows and cover.  I knew that would be giving in and I wanted to see this through.  At this point, Blaise literally got cut on his leg after running in to a barb wire fence on what we called the murder fence.  Turns out there is a military base that runs alongside the Camino.

Murder Fence reenactment

Act 7 – Around the Airport

With the city lights ahead of us, we trudged along the highway.  At one point we quickly descended into the ditch at the sight of an approaching vehicle.  Questioning from the Guarda Civil is about the last thing we wanted.  Unfortunately for us, getting around the airport required us to backtrack to follow a large bend in the road.

Act 8 – Buen Camino

Our spirits lifted as we entered the city’s outskirts. An unexpected “Buen Camino” from a passing trucker breathed life into our weary bodies. The city of Burgos was within reach. We smiled for a quick picture next to the sign and headed on.

Burgos is a LOOOOONG city

Act 9 – The City’s Labyrinth

Navigating the city was a trial in itself. Miles and miles of concrete stretched before us, and with each step, the realization dawned that despite it being 2 AM, there were still a couple of grueling hours left before we could rest.  When we started this challenge we thought 2 AM would be the end of our trek, but we were not moving as quickly as we had anticipated.  Surely it was better that we didn’t know.

Act 10 – Abandonment of Will

I was nearing my breaking point. The strain of our journey was etched in our every step. We found ourselves contemplating a possible Uber rescue as we pushed deeper into Burgos. Nope, no cars available.  Maybe a taxi could have been an option, but there are a lot of variables there.  At this point, I turned to prayer in a way that I have never done before.  I must have said a half dozen rosaries asking for strength for each next step.  We all live in a very comfortable world where we can find consolation we have had enough struggle.   If available, I would have waived the white flag.  I was done.  But done wasn’t an option.  I prayed from a place that was deep inside of me that I don’t think I could have reached any other way.  I needed God.  I will never forget that feeling.  That is a gift.

Act 11 – The Final Stretch

The last kilometers felt like an eternity. Our pace was slower, each step an arduous battle against the physical and mental toll of the journey. As the navigator, I constantly updated our progress, each hundred meter a small victory.

Act 12 – Triumph in the Twilight

And finally, as the first rays of dawn tinted the city, we made it. Thanks to Grace’s foresight in sending a picture of the entry, we found our building straight away. I was eternally grateful for the elevator, a small mercy that spared us the final ascent to the 6th floor. Dominic lead us into the warmth of our temporary home, and we were greeted by the familiar face of Grace awaiting our return.

Our bodies gave out at last. Collapsing on the apartment floor, the combined exhaustion of our journey finally took over. We sought sustenance in leftover pizza and gulps of water before we flopped into bed.  We had conquered our challenge, we had made it to Burgos.  In a real way, I experienced God’s mercy and power.  In the morning my sausaged feet were miraculously healed and we were ready for an easy couple of days enjoying Burgos.

They aren’t pretty, but they got me there.