The Art of Suffering

I have been accused by those who know me best for being a bit Polyanna when blogging about my experiences. I have been trying my hardest to keep it real, but I think I continue to fall into the same trap of minimizing suffering when writing. So, for this one blog, I’m going to try to focus on pain and discomfort.

Today I walked 35 kilometers — which is 21 miles. Now, this does not seem like a lot, especially when you consider that I had all day, starting at 7.30 am when it was still dark, to complete this mileage. But alas, I was 25 km in when I started wondering how much longer we had left. It was just a passing thought at first, but as we chugged along, walking at an impossibly slow 4 km an hour, the thought soon started taking up larger and larger portions of my brain.


It wasn’t long before I was wondering if my blisters were starting to form again. Then I speculated that it was probably a new blister transforming my healthy foot into a hot bed of misery, judging by the amount of heat my pinkie toe was screaming about. And then I felt my feet growing. Each step seemed to push all of the delicate bones in my city-slicker kickers outwards, streching and pressing them harder and harder into my boots.

My toes, I decided, certainly would become numb again — a strange phenomenon that has been nagging me for the last year, whenever I wear shoes that my toes sense the front of in any way. Finally, after checking my GPS watch for our mileage for the millionth time, I began fantasizing about cutting my feet off. How long would it take me to walk to town on my stubs? Would that even be possible?


Today, despite the mental gymnastics that plagued my obsessively-inclined mind for the last two to three hours of walking, was an easy day. But, when racked with growing hunger, ‘justified’ anger, self-pitying loneliness, endless exhaustion, or a combination of all four, it becomes nearly impossible to ward off the never-ending grumps that come with physical activity.

Some might wonder, if I get cranky, achey, or annoyed at least once a day, why I choose to spend my vacation traipsing through rural Spain, sleeping in dormitories filled with snoring strangers, and practically begging for hardship to befall me. They may ask why I subject myself to tendon pain creeping up my left leg, hot spots that get worse with each step, or even the itching scrapes picked up while peeing in the middle of a pricker bush (I was taken by a stroke of genious when I dropped trou today). I ask myself these question as well.


But, despite all of the groaning and moaning that comes with any kind of stretching of limits, I love this stuff. I love looking at my feet and seeing the milky-white ghosts of blisters covering my skin. I adore reaching to touch my toes and knowing that that guttural grunt means I really worked something out today. And I love getting the rank whiff of my backpack’s straps that tells me exactly how much sweat has poured out of my slightly sunburnt back and arms.

I love it because at the end of the day, the cool glass of agua sin gas I just had may be the best I’ve ever tasted. And I never feel as accomplished as I do when I drag my butt to a café and yack with new friends over ridiculous hills and silly mishaps (and bathroom humor never hurts). And serenity is always found just after or just before the next unavoidable onslaught of ruthless pain.


I think that this has turned out a little too optimistic after all… well, all I can say is: praise the heavens for denial and short term memory loss! It never feels as bad after the fact as it did in the moment. Otherwise, I might not direct my sore feet and legs and body and mind toward the hills before the sun rises tomorrow.

But I will, because who knows what I might find just over that next windmill-covered mound, what friends I might meet, and what new torture I might discover. Here’s to hoping it will be a freezing jump in the sea!

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