“Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.”
As a kid I was a great fan of early Coleridge. The big plans ambitiously conceived and then abandoned but with the smash and colour of someone who didn’t give a fuck how it was supposed to be done. Wordsworth was plodding and Sam was fizzing and Willy largely won in the end – The Prelude is incontrovertibly brilliant – but I have always loved the above image from Sam’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The whole poem is great but there’s something in that idea that we all prickle with. Something hideous following you. Don’t look back. And the use of the word “knows.” There’s no “think” about it. You “know” it’s there. What did you see first time you turned? Something? Nothing? Sam lets us answer that one. We know when we don’t want to turn round.
I’m being chased by the devil. I’ve told you that already. I know it. He got his credencial 3 after me at Lourdes. Stopping early at Pamplona was great. I got to play in a city. There are 200,000 people there and it’s lively. But he caught up.
There’s a man walking the trail that I haven’t seen before. He’s often been close behind me today. He dresses in old fashioned monk’s robes and his wooden pole makes a hard and distinctly resonant sound as it hits the loose stones of the way. Sometimes he is right behind me, at my left heel. Sometimes he vanishes for a while and then, when I’m distracted or slow, I hear the “tchack” of his pole, closing in on me. One time his stick hit a stone just behind my left foot when I was dawdling googling translations of obscure Basque words. He almost got to me. I tripled my speed immediately, dumped the phone for the rest of the day. When I looked back he had completely vanished. Half an hour later he was back there, but distant.
He is not the devil, of course. He’s just a monk wondering why this guy is avoiding him. He went to the side of the path for a pee. That’s why he vanished. He can move with supernatural speed when I’m distracted, but it’s probably just because I’m distracted. I know he’s not the devil because he shows up in photographs.
Or is that just vampires? Anyway, he’s not going to catch me. I went further than recommended today, but still not as far as I’d like to. I walked until the back of my knees were hurting with each step. My feet, my bum, my hips – they all go early. The back of the knees go and I’m reduced to old man walking. Then it’s rest time.
I was staggering over the bridge after Puente de la Reina. There was a sign for an albergue and I’d just met two American newbies. 5 kilometres to the next sleep, a thunderstorm coming and two people relying on my experience to get a good sleep. Rain in the air already and the wind today has been threshing, merciless and constant – catching my pack and trying to roll me. I booked the albergue. I’ve showered now. I’m relaxing. The devil is behind me somewhere. I’m way beyond the recommended stop. And I know what he sounds like now. Tchack.
Another long day tomorrow to put more ground between me and *tchack” until the time comes to turn and hunt, like Ged and his shadow. Don’t worry, I won’t be punching any monks.