Camino Day Twelve: Meeting the Mountain Man

Santoña to Güemes, 25.5 km, 9:30-16:00.

Today began with tostada con tomate with…the Mountain Man. I’ll let Drew take it from here….

Just needed to put down in words a bit about meeting a new friend, the Mountain Man. He introduced himself as such. The government knows him as James, but that part of his life appears to be gone now. Married at one time, father of two, grandfather of four, he appears to be in his … seventies?

The southern accent was the first draw. When I asked him where he was from, he said Greensboro, North Carolina, to which I responded, “Atlanta. Originally.” Big smiles. We got to talking.

He came up from Portugal through Santiago, and is now walking up to Paris.

Wait: a note about his appearance. Long, looong hair and grey beard. Soft green eyes. Wiry very strong physique. Tanned skin, and a very casual way. Likes to talk, tell stories. Writes things down, then takes a picture of them with his phone because, well, “my memory and all.”

After a lovely conversation with him, and swapping of a few details about upcoming sights for all of us, we bade farewell and packed and departed. Well, on our way into the bakery for a baguette, who should we see, sitting at a far table of this fairly swanky bakery, clad in shorts and well worn North Face shirt? Yep, the one waving us over to join him for breakfast. So we did, and he treated. And it was a lovely 45 minutes or so of swapping stories and thoughts on the Camino. An experience you really couldn’t find if you sought it out.

Fun facts about Mountain Man:

  • he recently walked the Appalachian Trail (2015-16)
  • he’s been walking the Camino for over 60 days
  • he’s worn that same shirt every day for … a long while
  • he has an IT consulting business back home that he basically sold to a partner so he can do this
  • he’s slept under an apple tree, in a field (or a few), and in the penalty box of a hockey rink while on this Camino
  • he speaks no Spanish, as far as we can tell
  • he walked the train tracks we’ve been told to avoid (‘just take the train for one stop and it will take you over that bridge’). He crossed that bridge against the advice of locals, in the dark, without a headlamp. Said it was no big deal at all, that there were two tracks, and when the train came while he was crossing, he just stepped over to the other tracks. Really, no big deal.
  • when his granddaughter worried and said ‘Grandpa, I don’t want you to get eaten by a bear when you are hiking all the time’, his response was, “But wouldn’t that be such a great story? I mean, getting eaten by a bear would be so much more interesting than dying in a car crash or of some sickness in a hospital, right?”

And yes, I spent the next hour of walking thinking about and talking to Lisa about MM’s life. MM, if you’re reading this, I hope none of it offends, and that you realize you were the highlight of our day. Safe travels, friend!

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