Just the Next Step 

I can’t go on.” I called to Nannette, a new friend from North Carolina with whom I had been hiking 12 hours that day. We’d started that morning at 440 am. “I need to stop,” I said.
We were only 200 meters from the albergue. Clearly, the real answer, was to walk just a few steps! But my body was finished. 90F temperatures, 80% humidity, I was out of water, ebbing energy. I stopped, sat on a rock wall across from an open pasture with a brown horse wearing a cow bell! 
Nannette called back– “I’ll send the boys to help.”  
The boys would be Lorenzo and Claudio from Italy – delightful guys in their early 20s, with whom we and others would cook dinner that evening. 

I shed the pack and pulled out the bags of food I was hauling for our part of the dinner six of us planned to share. I located one of my peaches and ate it. It was juicy, delectable, and I enjoyed that sense of strength and energy returning. With the fuzz on my hands, juice running down my chin, I wondered “had a peach ever tasted like that before?”
Sometimes just a step can be a major endeavor. But now, after that peach and the moment of rest, it seemed possible. 

This first week hiking the Northern Camino had pushed me to my brink time and again. The first climb out of Irun went straight up this mountain. Who needs switchbacks? 

One guy was intent on telling me we had climbed 900 meters. Not certain of his accuracy– but it felt like it for certain. 

Perhaps the guidebook ought to not only have listed meters, but listed how many ascents we would experience, and better yet, as with windchill, had recorded what those ascents would feel like: 450 meters ascent. Feels like 4500′. That might help. 

Each step has brought new people into my life. There’s Steve- from UK who lives now in San Sebastián- in his late 40s, he’s a wild, bold mixture of crass and sweetness; Carol, a petite, tan, generous-hearted French woman who now lives in Barcelona– always greets with the traditional three kisses; Benny, choir director from Berlin, with Beethoven hair, and an ability to fill any conversation with laughter and story; or Danny, a small in stature guy from Basque Country with a deep-hearted love for others that comes through consistently. 
Then there’s Markus, an IT guy from Switzerland. He’s a delightful guy with whom I hiked for a day on the Alpinist Trail, scaling and descending these goat trails along the coast with stunning vistas. 
That was the day the calf muscle in my left leg, which had been stuck in a cramp for four days, popped and seized and then felt somewhat numb. 

Oh man, at first I thought the muscle had broken! I had taken one more step up the steep incline when it occurred. Picturing a helicopter rescue, I tried it and found it still worked. But the entire muscle was tight, pulling. I favored it on the steep descent that eventually led us into the beach town of Deba.  

There we connected with two other friends from Germany – Gunda and Hermutt. They were planning to go up out of Deba another 450 meters in 7 km to cut off some of the elevation gains expected in the next day’s hike.  

Markus said to me, “You know, we ought to do that too.”  

The level of depletion in me was immense having hiked over about 5 – 600′ inclines and descents on that leg of mine. I looked at him and couldn’t believe he was serious. “Markus,” I stressed, “I need to find the pharmacy for my leg and need a big lunch, and then, then, maybe.” 

“Yes, exactly.” He responded in his great, accented English, “I’ll ask Gunda to reserve space at the albergue for us when they get there, and we can take our time getting what we need at the pharmacy, and get a good lunch, then leave in the afternoon for a nice slow walk…” 

“A nice slow walk in the 80F heat up, up, up,” I thought. 

While waiting for Markus, I just needed a beer. I knew, based on what I knew of my body, and the level of depletion I was experiencing, a beer would provide the sugar, the calories, the cold to give me the energy for the walk into town to find the pharmacy and then lunch. I waited at the counter if a beachside cabana. 

The girl came to the counter, looking expectant. And I could not think of any words. This was a strange feeling. I knew how to make all kinds of basic sentences in Spanish. But suddenly I knew no Spanish words.  

She said, “Senor?” 

Desperately I searched for a word, instead exhausted tears came to my eyes. I reached for English. No English. All I could think of German. German?? Yes, many complete sentences came to mind in German!! Oh that’s helpful! 

Again I must have looked pitiful.  

She asked in Spanish, “Did you want a beer?” 

“Si!” I said. ”

“Senor,” she said, taking pity on me, “Aqui.”  

With that she led down the counter to where there was a brand I recognized. I pointed to it. She smiled. I paid. And took it off to a side table. Unhitched my pack. Sat on the rock wall in the brilliant sun and drank it in a couple swallows. Never has a beer been more appreciated. Exactly as I had hoped, I could take another step. 

I think if anything these stories have been indicative to me of the kind of journey this first week has been. 

Many I have spoken with agree that there is no way to anticipate what hiking through the Pyrenees and the other mountain ranges here in northern Spain would be like. And for me somehow with all the guidebooks I had scoured and all the accounts I had read, I never imagined that this journey would be as strenuous as this. 

What this has boiled down to for me was the next step. Choosing to walk forward. Even when I didn’t want to, or didn’t have the strength to, or couldn’t imagine how to, it was to do so. 

Lorenzo and Claudio did come to my rescue. Indeed they even heard from upstairs, Nannette speaking to our host about my situation and how she was not checking in before she sent the boys to help, and catapulted down the down the stairs to get to me.  

Markus and I did manage the mountain ascent that day and the only casualty was my hat which like Frodo’s ring, decided to remain behind. Waiting someplace along that trail in order to attach itself to a new owner, no doubt. 

And because we pushed on, and because I decided to take a day of rest, silence, prayer at a mountain monastery, I got connected to Nicole, an Osteopath from Mallorca who examined my leg, determined no internal injury, and gave me an acupuncture treatment that released the pressure and got me walking again without pain. 

A trio of three grandmas from Massachusetts, all in their early 70s, are walking this route. Jill, Claudia and Jane are an inspiration and a real joy. Jane sat me down and shared a devotional thought her daughter had sent with her. It is taken from “Streams in the Desert” she thought, dated 1893. But it sounded like this journey to me. 

“A woman had a dream where she, one of a crowd, she looked and there before her was a way, narrow, always uphill, narrow, steep, rugged, hemmed in like a canyon. It led always uphill, and was carpeted thick with scotch thistles and briars and needles of the thorn tree. A voice told her this was her path.”

“She complained, ‘no human feet could tread those thistles and not bleed. No human strength can always climb a rugged, thorny path– I should faint, and bleed and die.'”

“But heard– ‘It is your path, go in it.'”

“So she went, and in a few paces were the stones and briars. But, behold, when she put forth her foot, a little boy, like an angel, appeared, stepping in before her and began to clear away space for one foot, then for another foot, and so on. Never more than one step at a time. At last she turned to see how far she had come and there, standing at the beginning of the path, the Savior. She saw that He was pointing to the boy just where to brush away for her foot.”

I would only have one addition to this description, the Savior had not stood at the base of the hill for me, but in the voice, face, and presence of all these around me, walks beside me. He whispers, time and again, “Just one more step, Son. Just one more step.”  
This was in the wall of an underpass on an especially hot afternoon as I was leaving Markina for another hike up a mountain. So be it. 

18 Comments Add yours

  1. Beautiful. Thank you for this, Brian. Blessings to you and your lovely people as you walk on!


  2. Wild Willy says:

    Amazing how your description fits with my Walk to Emmaus. Just when I’m unsure of myself and whether I can take that next step God sends someone to help me move one more step on my journey. So grateful for you and all those the Lord has sent to move me along.


  3. David Luce says:

    Your email, today, Brian, is truly amazing.
    Strenuous walking, and your calf muscle, but the meeting of new people, and divine help coming in a timely way through human hearts and hands – as happens so often.
    And thanks for those stunning vistas, really spectacular.
    You know that I am with you in mind and prayer every day, asking that you will have all needed strength.
    I was reminded of Sydney Carter’s hymn: “One more step along the world I go” I expect you know it. One stanza reads: “Give me courage when the world is rough, keep me loving though the world is tough; leap and sing in all I do, keep me travelling along with You.”

    May the Lord’s blessings for you and in you be multiplied.
    Much, much love


  4. David Luce says:

    Your Camino walk email today was really spectacular. Stunning vistas, as you said, but your calf muscle and other challenges. But it was so encouraging to know that you had received divine help through human hearts and hands – as happens so often. I’m sure you will be enjoying meeting new people along the way, and your life will continually be enriched as a result. May the Lord give you all needed strength. I was reminded of Sydney Carter’s hymn: one stanza reads: Give me courage when the world is rough, keep me loving though the world is tough; leap & sing in all I do, keep me travelling along with You.

    The Lord multiply His blessings in, for, and through you. Much love, David


  5. Skip Heiney says:

    Oh ‘yes’ my dear friend, ‘yes.’ You are there. You are in it. You are experiencing the life of a Pilgrim, with all the variety, joys, and sufferings of a spiritual journey, a pilgrimage. Yes! You are a week in and still alive, growing in strength, becoming more familiar with how to survive, and I’m sure loving the albergues at the end of each day. Maybe only 400 miles to go! ??? I love you, and am with you in Spirit, so keep up the great blogs. I’ll drink a beer in your name. skip


    1. Camino Way 2016 Shimer says:

      Yes skip I’m on it. And yes drink that beer!! Sitting in a bar now. What a journey all this is. As far as mileage to go, well the Spanish measure things differently. Last sign said 717km… So I’m focusing on just the next step. You’re the best. Love you!!


  6. Dave Sullivan says:

    Bravo, Brian. Sally and I are clinging (not as you are doing on these challenging goat-trail climbs) to your every word and experience. Indeed, it’s the journey that counts, but your being challenged to remember this with every step. We sit back in the comfort of our home thankful to live vicariously through you and the wonderful, dynamic people you’re encountering. Trust that every thought you share is being absorbed back home and that we are cheering, praying and relishing in your journey. Go, man, GO! On the Wings of Eagles. Love and blessings, Dave Sully


    1. Camino Way 2016 Shimer says:

      How precious of you guys to take a moment to write. Love you both. Love what you write in my journal too. You’re beautiful.


  7. John Unger says:

    Brother Brian,

    Thanks for sharing. Words of life, faith, witness, and truth. With you on the Way in spirit. Praying strength for the journey and nothing missed along the Way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Camino Way 2016 Shimer says:

      Just saw your comment again Today John! That “nothing missed” – man. That’s where my heart is. There’s all the fears as I start the first week of my last month away. I just want to sink into the experience and “not miss” what all this immense gift is for. Part of me knows I’ll not miss a thing for God is in it, but part of me fears that I will! Crazy wild heart!! “Who can comprehend it?” Jeremiah asked for me. Thanks for journeying with me John. I so appreciate you and Ellen. ❤️Just was thinking / praying for you all this morning as you are in the journey of rebuilding. I don’t know if we are finished with ours yet since I’ve been gone, but do know it took more work than I ever imagined. So praying for God’s sustaining grace and love to lead you every step of the way. Love from Ireland! Brian


  8. Michele Wells says:

    Reading this brought tears to my eyes! Please remember we are all by your side on this journey. In all my daydreams of your adventure it never occurred to me that you would struggle. I pray for you and am so glad to hear you are connecting with “the hands and feet” of Jesus!! I can’t wait to read more Blessing and love from the Wells Family!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Camino Way 2016 Shimer says:

      Thanks Michele– struggle is part of every journey I suppose although never quite anticipated the level of exertion!! Thanks for love and prayers. This week has been more in line with what I had anticipated. The hikes have been challenging but much less intense. And some have been spectacular. Today we tipped this massive mountain to see the sea and the town of our destination. That hike was out on sun in 70F weather. Total mileage about 17 miles today. Such rewards! Love to all at the wells house!!


  9. Chris Wells says:

    I hope you are doing better my brother. I was reading some scripture this morning( which I have been doing more regularly on my own) and come across this.
    “Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands give me delight.”
    ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭119:143‬ ‭
    Love you brother! Take it one step at a time.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. chris wells says:

    “Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands give me delight.”
    ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭119:143‬ ‭

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Camino Way 2016 Shimer says:



  11. Ken Mosesian says:

    Alleluia, alleluia.
    V. Direct my steps according to Thy word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me. Alleluia.
    R. I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: I shall go into the house of the Lord. Alleluia.

    My dear Brian,

    These words came to me as I was reading of your extraordinary journey, and I wanted to share them with you. I’ve re-read the entry a few times, because the writing is so real, true, and clean. I was immediately transported with you to the trail. Thank you. A few observations: the peach and the beer. I could taste each one as you described them, and as another commenter said, I’ll be raising a bottle to you and your fellow pilgrims today! The brown horse with the cow bell. You’ve got to wonder what he was thinking! But most importantly, how all of your needs are being met in the most perfect way, every time. The “boys” coming to your aid, or the waitress at the counter, or the osteopath – so many examples of how you, and all of us, are always cared for. Again, I thank you.

    May you continue to experience the love of God and the intercession of Our Blessed Lady during your journey.

    Keep the posts and the photos coming. I have a feeling your are transforming many lives through this blog.

    With love and admiration,



    1. Camino Way 2016 Shimer says:

      Oh brother!!! My soul rejoices with your words. What encouragement. What grace. Thank you and love to you around the world!!!
      ❤️ Brian


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