My Camino: Day 23 – Camino Interruptus

Today was all about letting go…. and holding on.

Ever since I started researching walking 500 miles on the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela, there was one stop I really wanted to visit, and hopefully make a lasting memory.

I left Rabanal just before dawn this morning knowing that today was going to be a tough climb up to the Camino’s highest point. I wanted to give myself enough time, and I wanted to avoid the blazing Spanish sun.

As the sun began to rise, I was treated to a vast variety of vegetation-evergreen trees, shrubs, and heather and oh so much more.

It was glorious. The sky was that perfect combination of pinks and blues… it truly was breathtaking.

The climb winded up over several mountains and at one point I forced myself to look back and wave goodbye to all the miles I’ve traveled.

As I neared the highlight of today’s walk – Cruz Ferro – I tried to really focus on what I was going to “leave behind.”

Cruz Ferro is a tall pole topped with an iron cross. The site is said to have been an ancient monument first erected by the Celts, then the Romans seized it to honor Mercury (protector of travelers) and then the Christians took it over around the 9th century. For more than a thousand years, pilgrims have brought a stone and placed it at the site to represent their “burden.”

During my training back in Colorado, I found the rock I would carry with me to leave in Spain. As I was nearing the site I was trying to figure out what burden it would represent and for the life of me ….

Wait! Is that my cellphone ringing! Yep, it’s my husband who has joined me on my Spanish Schlep. He’s driving – I’m walking – and we are to meet up for lunches.

“I’m lost,” he says.

“Umm, I’m on top of a mountain, turn on your GPS or iPhone.”

“I did, they don’t agree on the route.”

“Umm, I’m on top of a mountain.”

“Ok, ok, ok, I’ll figure it out.”

Ok then, back to my momentous decision-what burden do I want this stone to represent on this holy trail.

And then I had it, I decided when all is said and done, I would use my stone to represent my….

Shit, there’s the phone again!

“Ok, I’m really lost. The GPS says to take the highway and it’ll take me 53kilometers out of the way.”

“Umm, still on the mountain.”

“Ok, ok, lemme see what I can do.”

“That’s a great idea.”

Back to my burden…..

I have none I decided, instead I was going to give thanks for the wonderful life I have, my family, and my friends.

So after dropping my rock I had to make my way down from the Camino’s highest point. And guess what – I found out what happen to all the rocks from pilgrims past.

OSHA would have a field day! The trail (I use that term loosely) is full of river rocks and it was scary as ass! It was a harrowing walk made more difficult because I still can’t wear my hiking boots cuz my feet still have giant blisters, so I’m walking down the mountains wearing sandals and socks.

Soon the river rocks were replaced with slick and fragile slate. As you stepped down on it, pieces would break away.

It was terrifying and brutal on me and my fellow pilgrims. Bum knees were causing people to sit by the side and literally cry. New blisters forced strangers to help each other with make shift ERs.

And then there were the …. Fuckkkkkk there’s the phone again.

“Hey, sorry to bother you, but you think you’ll be able to meet for lunch?”

“Kind of busy here trying not to die on the mountain.”

“Ok, ok, ok, I’ll find us a place and just wait for you.”

Oy!

And then there were the cows…a herd was being moved from one field to the other and they were making our journey even more perilous with their giant patties. (Here’s where I want you to remember — I’m wearing sandals!!!!)

I made it down, and realized I had managed to let go of any perceived burdens, but my husband and I are still holding on to what works for us.

I navigate, I plan, and he (mostly) takes directions. It works for us…. on and off the Camino, with or without GPS, or even Find Friends.

When we get back from our Camino- I’m going to work with him on this whole directions thingy.

My stats

22 Miles marched today – YES, I am that insane

(Rabanal – Ponferrada)

358.63 Miles traveled so far

147.17 Miles to go

505.8 Miles between St Jean Pied de Port, France and Santiago de Compostela, Spain

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My Camino: Day 22 – Oh What a Knight!

Today begins the long, long climb up to the highest point on the Camino Frances.

That’s the bad news – the good news, my ass is looking great and is as hard as a rock.

I walked out of Astorga this morning just as the sun was starting to rise, and stopped to take some pictures of the town’s jewels – its cathedral, and the Gaudi Bishop’s Palace.

Astorga is a stunning village, once a Roman fortress (you can still see remains of the Roman baths) and, according to legend, the site where two big guns preached – St James and St Paul.

That’s one of the most humbling experiences I’m having here on my 500 mile walk across Spain. The history – from the Romans, the Moors, the Jews, and that asswipe Franco – is everywhere. There’s such a sense of permanence. Even this Spanish Schlep I’m doing – millions have come before me, they’ve walked the same paths, stayed in the same villages, and probably bellyached about their blisters and bum knees. It’s very motivating, you know, cuz if they can do it wearing their hairshirt robes, I think I can do it in my Under Armour.

My Camino comrades and I should reach our destination, Santiago de Compostela, in about 10 days.

We’re climbing higher and higher, and it’s so great to see green again after the monotonous march through the Meseta.

This is the most crowded section of The Way. Our merry little band of pilgrims is growing bigger by the day as more and more people join us. I’m told the crowds are really going to pick up in a couple of days as we get closer to Santiago.

This area was once known for being super dangerous because in addition to the bandits and thieves who once roamed these roads, wild wolf packs used to attack the pious.

Wouldn’t that just be the shits – you make it over the Pyrenees, through the Meseta and you end up puppy chow?!

Luckily there are no more wolves – but there are still enormous dogs.

I saw a pack working with or causing great agita for a local shepherd. At first I freaked when I saw them thinking for sure they were either dire wolves or polar bears – hey, if they can have polar bears on a tropical island on “Lost,” I can have magical scary ass polar bears here in the Spanish foothills.

Besides, they say the Camino is a magical place and I had just seen and talked with a Templar Knight!

And held his falcon!

And witnessed his Little Stevie impression.

It truly was a magical mystery tour here on the Camino today; a Templar Knight, polar bears, and an Italian making espresso by the campfire.

Tomorrow heading up into the mountains, hopefully the roads will be better than these.

Here are my stats

13 Miles traveled today

(Astorga – Rabanal)

336.63 Miles traveled so far

169.17 Miles left to go

505.8 Miles from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain

My Camino: Day 21 – Father Knows Best

There comes a time in every woman’s life she realizes she’s turning into her father…. or her husband.

For me, it was the socks with the sandals.

By now you all know the grisly details of the four ginormous blisters on my feet which have made my efforts to walk some 500 miles across Spain unbearably painful.

Before leaving for Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago, I had spent months trying on and trying out socks and hiking shoes. I had been in and out of REI so many times that they knew my name, shoe size, where I had gone to college, and when I had lost my virginity. (If my twin daughters are reading this – it was the night you were conceived.)

But no shoe salesperson can ever prepare you for walking 15-miles a day every fucking day for about 15 days. In the end, your body and your feet are going to do whatever they’re gonna do.

And you just deal with it and continue to walk (and whine).

My pre Spanish Schlep prep also included buying something to prevent the dreaded C-word (OMG people calm down) – chafing.

Now I know there are some women out there who were blessed with the much-envied thigh gap, but the rest of us meatier mortals must have rubbed the gods the wrong way, cuz we’ve been rubbin’ and chafing our way through eternity – and take it from me – it hurts and burns like hell on earth.

But here’s the rub – men suffer from the chafe as well.

My husband had just arrived in Leon to support me and my Camino adventures, and he was complaining about the raw rub.

I told him, go into the bathroom, look for the pink deodorant thingy and apply some of the “body glide” to your boo boos.

I mean he’s a grown man, I didn’t think he needed any more information or a tutorial- right????!!!! Wrong.

Later that evening, I went in the bathroom and noticed the stick of Body Glide wasn’t there.

“Umm, whadya use for your chafing, cuz the pink stick’s not here?”

“Yeah it is – it’s next to that green tube”

“You mean you used this peach colored tube?”

“Yeah, and it really worked well, all the chafing is gone.”

“Umm, that’s my hair gel”

“Well that dippity do, did the trick!”

Who knew a salon treatment for limp, fine, and chemically treated hair would provide such soothing comfort. (I know, I know, “limp and fine” in the same sentence-but it’s too easy.)

That’s when I realized how much we need each other and how alike we truly are.

Where else but on him and other fathers have I seen socks and sandals TOGETHER?

We have fathers from around the world to thank for giving us the ugly, but oh so comfy and practical hats.

And let’s not forget the fannypacks or as they’re called in Ireland, the bum bags. There’s not a dad out there who’s been on vacation and left his behind bag, behind.

And I’ve embraced them all without shame.

The socks and sandals have saved my feet, the hat hides my bed head AND protects my neck and face from the fierce sun, and as for the bumbag – it’s now like a new appendage – I feel naked without it. Kate Spade and Coach your bags are dead to me.

They say you’ll find your true self on The Way to Santiago de Compostela, and if that’s so, then I guess my true self is all dad…..

Hmmmm that’s not such a bad idea, I mean what’s next, me total embracing my dad bod!

Here are my stats

33 Miles traveled today – car with Lou

(Leon to Astorga)

320.63 Miles traveled so far

185.17 Miles left to go

505.8 Miles from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain

My Camino:Day 20 – Lazy Days in Leon

There is nothing like a rest day when you’re walking 500 miles across Spain.

I’m in the town of Leon – a city that’s been around since about 30BC, and a spectator stop – full of energy – something I was lacking as I dragged my ass past the ancient city walls.

The architecture is wonderful- a combination of religious obsession and Roman oppression.

The town’s queen diva is its cathedral, built in the 13century. It’s a true gothic goddess known for its embrace of and exploitation of light.

The light show is stunning, and changes by the moment as the clouds move past the sun, and as the sun moves east to west. You can just imagine all the pilgrims of pilgrims past, marveling at the miracle of light.

The cathedral is the city’s spiritual heart – but my heart stopped a beat when I arrived at my rest stop – the famed Parador de Leon – and who is there standing at the reception but my husband!!!

Don’t worry, don’t worry I’m not going all X-rated on you.

My sweetheart is here to cheer me on through to the end of my Camino. He won’t walk, instead he’ll drive and push me beyond my limits so that I don’t quit my Spanish Schlep.

Not that I would quit – no way am I going to let this bitch beat me.

We strolled through Leon this afternoon and bumped into my fellow pilgrims and he was able to witness the strength, energy, and humor of those I’m sharing this slice of my life with.

As we sipped on wine and ate our tapas and fried under the blazing Spanish sun, I pointed out my Camino comrades… “oh that’s the Australian, she’s 73 and traveling on her own, see that guy he’s the German who’s done this six times already, oh look… there’s Peggy, she’s got a bum knee, oh god don’t look, that’s the creepy guy who drinks out of his boots….”

It was the who’s who of the pilgrim parade.

He also got to see how obsessed we are about each other’s feet, legs, and overall health. We are a community of strangers hell-bent on completing a common goal.

Tomorrow we start another climb towards the end of our journey. Since we’re done with the Meseta section, we’re moving on to the wild and rocky Cantabrian Mountain section which includes the high point of the Camino Frances (oh fucking joy), and the third phase of this pilgrimage, the stage known as the spiritual stage.

OMG! OMG!!!! O!M!G!

I’m in high spirits. My blisters are healing, my muscles feel strong and healthy – and I need safety pins to hold up my undies!!!

Yes, the great 500-mile walk diet really works – your panties will fall off after about 250 miles! Jenny Craig – you know nothing!

I’m wrapping up today’s reflections, more tapas – and red wine – await me….. someone get some more safety pins before these panties completely fall off—- and that has nothing to do with my hubby’s arrival (wink wink)!

My Camino: Day 19 – Love and Dirty Laundry

For the most part, I like walking by myself. It’s not that I don’t want to meet people – I love meeting people and sharing our stories, it’s that when I walk with others I feel compelled to walk at their speed, and I’m not in that big of a hurry – or that slow.

Also if you want to walk with someone you have to absorb their needs and wants, their schedule becomes yours; you have to stop and eat, have a coffee, take your shoes off, take your socks off, rub your feet, go to the bathroom, wait for them to go to the bathroom, wait for them to buy souvenirs, wait for them to chat with fellow travelers – sometimes I just wanna be like Forrest Gump and go for a walk.

And so I walked…..”For no particular reason I just kept on going.”

So I’ve found myself alone – a lot. But, and here’s the surprising thing – I’m never alone walking the Camino de Santiago.

It’s been almost three weeks since I started my Spanish Schlep and I have not been lonely at all. We pilgrims -for the most part- act as one.

We all seem to hit the road around the same time (7:30AM), drink our first coffees at the same time (10:30AM), lunch (12:00), and roll into our designated village together (2:30PM).

Then we all fall into the same pattern, check in to our hotels or alburgues, do our laundry, take a nap, shop for fruits or supplies fur the next day, go to a bar or cafe for a drink or snack and then rest until dinner.

That’s the toughest part of my day – waiting for dinner!

Spaniards eat really, really late and they’ll be damned if they’re going to change their lifestyles for us pilgrims- even if we are the lifeblood of their economy.

I think it’s Spain’s biggest fuck yous to its visitors.

But walking alone affords me the opportunity to come in and out of people’s lives while we march some 500 miles across Spain.

Like today.

Two young Italian girls were chattering and all I could hear was “Vodka” and “Cointreau” – obviously they were talking about the drink that fueled “Sex in the City” or is now fueling “Sex on the Camino.”

Ten minutes later a Spanish couple was screaming at each other – I couldn’t decipher a single word so I’m guessing they were either arguing over how long they’ve marched or how “Lost” ended.

I love watching the evolution of budding romances on the road and far I’ve zeroed in on three:

One-Boy from Sicily who sweet on girl from Romania. They’re quite amorous and take their PDA (public displays of affection) to a whole new level.

Two-Boy from Mexico who has a girlfriend back home but has fallen hard for girl from Argentina. You can see these two are mad for each other – they’re inseparable, but I think he’s holding back. My money’s on The Way, though, I think he’s going give in which is great, cuz I can’t bare thinking of him saying to her at the end, “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.” (Oh c’mon, it was right there – you knew I had to go there!!)

Three-Boomer Love. I’ve been watching these two retired pilgrims getting more and more serious. She’s American (New England) he’s from Vancouver. At first they were part of a gang, but now, they’re spending more and more time alone – resting, walking just the two of them, and then the trail telltale – how he helps her in and out of her chairs when it’s mealtime. Guys (even those nice Canadians) only act all gallant when they’re hoping to get some. These two are more shy, more awkward, more tentative than the younger lovebirds – but their feelings are just as real and evident.

There are no secrets when you walk the Camino with your “tribe” day after day – we all hear and see everything – be it your laundry hanging out to dry ON your backpack or your heart out on your sleeve.

Here are my stats

11.1 Miles Marched Today – Hey its Sunday, Day of Rest!

(Mansilla de las Mulas – Leon)

292.08 Miles Traveled So Far

213.8 Miles Left To Go

505.8 Total Miles to walk from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain

Tomorrow – Rest Day in Leon

My Camino: Day 18 – Where’s My Ovation

I’ll be honest with you – not all the Spaniards love us pilgrims – and with good reason.

We stink – like, all of us stink – even those of us who have heard of and use deodorant.

We’re irritable – we storm into these remote villages, head straight to the bars to use the toilets, do our business, and then demand from the bartenders food and drink like “give it to me the fuck now – I’m starving.”

And then we’re off to the next village. It’s probably safe to say that’s the way it’s been in ” The Way” to Santiago de Compostella fir centuries.

But every once in a while you meet a hotel, bar or B’nB owner who actually loves their jobs and likes us pilgrims.

I pulled into Calzadilla de los Hermanillos completely dejected. I had tried to walk the 11 miles from the previous town, but could only manage seven. My blisters were causing me too much pain – and – I was carrying my 14lb backpack- it was too much, so I took a taxi to my hotel.

There, an angel named Hema, took pity on me and treated me like royalty. She washed my clothes, brought me lunch and TWO wines, she booked my next hotel for me, and she took all my baggage to my room.

After a hot bath and nap I joined my fellow pilgrims for dinner. Hema’s husband cooked us a fabulous feast – soups, homemade bread, local cheeses, fresh salads, pork cooked two different ways, roast chicken, vegetables, potatoes, red and white wine, and for dessert- four different types of homemade desserts.

It was a feast to end all feasts. When he came out of the kitchen we pilgrims gave him a standing ovation.

But where was Hema’s ovation? This woman runs the roost, cleaning the rooms, the toilets, running the hotel’s administration, doing her family’s and we pilgrims laundry, getting us sandwiches for the next day and so on and so on.

Hema doesn’t want an ovation- but we pilgrims do!

The mood on the Camino de Santiago has definitely changed now that we’re almost done with this soul-crushing walk through the Meseta.

It’s been six days of endless fields, with very little to look at, little shade, a few spartan villages, and treading on fucking Roman Roads. Yeah, yeah sounds romantic but these “roads” are torturous on your feet – they’re literally miles after miles of fucking rocks. Maybe the ancient Farragamos and Pradas handled these rocks well, but today’s Merrells and Tevas are getting the shit kicked out of them – along with my feet!

This morning it took me four kilometers to remember how to walk – I shit you not! I’m trying so hard to walk gingerly, to protect my feet, that I’ve lost my stride. I sounded and felt like a horse clomping and not the Lipizzaners – more like the Clydesdales.

And I’m not alone.

You can see it in how we pilgrims are struggling to walk. Nearly everyone is doing some sort of limp.

And the bragging rights are up for grabs! I thought I would be Blister Queen of the Camino with my four sores, but nope. Roland from Lebanon has six. Mary from Alaska has seven, and Jorge from Mexico has nine – that’s almost one for every toe!

The only person who isn’t complaining is the “fast guy from Hungary.” This guy is walking in what I call Jesus Sandals and he’s kicking our high-tech, moisture-wicking, Compeed-clad feet and boots. He’s sprinting past us wearing tie-up sandals with barely no soles.

Today’s complaints and march were endless. Even a beautiful sunrise couldn’t lift our spirits. At the end of today’s 11 miles on the Meseta, we ended up in a hellhole town who’s only claim to fame is that it was struck by a meteor in 1947. No hole to be seen!

Few pilgrims seem to be quick with their smiles, most of us are nursing our wounds – and all of us would love a standing ovation for our efforts – but no one has the energy or will to stand – and besides, who said the Camino was going to be easy??!!!

Here are my stats

14.7 Miles Marched Today

(Calzadilla de los Hermanillos – Mansilla de las Mulas)

280.98 Miles Traveled So Far

224.82 Miles Left To Go

505.8 Total Miles to walk from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain

Tomorrow – Leon!

My Camino: Day 17 – I Suck at this Camino Thing

I crossed a major threshold yesterday – literally.

After crossing a medieval bridge over a small brook, I came to the city gates of Sahagun where two huge statues, one of Alphonse VI the Brave (1065-1109)- Promoter and Protector of the Way of St. James and on the other side Bernardo de Seriedad an Abad considered one of the founders of Sahagun stood ready to greet me with the official news – I’ve reached the geographical center of the Camino de Santiago!

In other words- I’ve made it half way …. I was overcome with emotions; exhaustion and exhilaration – and I suddenly realized I’m doing this Camino, this Spanish Schlep, all wrong.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m loving this 500 mile trek from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain, I’ve seen things and experienced things no guide book could ever suggest, no movie could ever capture – but I’m still doing it all wrong.

I realized I’m still an American and not a true pilgrim when I saw the veteran pilgrim, “Thor,” from Norway showing us newbies how to truly enjoy the Camino Frances.

Yesterday I set myself up for a horrendous and Herculean walk – 25 miles from Carrion de los Condes to Sahagun. People thought I was nuts, perhaps I was, but the closest hotel I could find was 25 miles away, so whatchagonnado!? And if truth be told, I really didn’t realize it was that far-everything’s in kilometers and I’m not that great with math.

I knew it would be a challenge, I have not two, but four blisters on my feet – two below my ankles and just for kicks, two new ones the size of peanuts STILL in their flippin’ shells, on my heels. These new one are beauts – they start just above the heel then wrap all the way underneath- every fucking step sends an excruciating searing shot of pain through my legs – so 25 miles will be a piece of cake, right!??

The first part of this stage is a mind numbing 12 mile hike thru the endless fields of the “Meseta” – Spain’s breadbox. The path is a former Roman Road with no and I mean no services! The fields have been harvested so there is nothing to look at – like nada- only the long line of pilgrims in front of me and those behind. No towns, no quaint farm houses, no churches, no Roman ruins – zilch!

At the 8-mile mark -paradise- some guy set up a barbecue stand – but no toilets. I ordered a hard boiled egg, sausage sandwich and a banana. It was better than anything you could order at the 21Club.

Fueled, I marched on to the first town, 12 miles from my starting point. I told my fellow pilgrims I couldn’t stay long, I still had 13 miles to go. They expressed shock and best wishes- the German girl gave me stretching lessons and a magnesium pill, the lady from Paris gave me a chunk of dark chocolate, and Cindy from Dayton shared her dried dates with me.

So off I went. I told myself it was a case of mind over matter.

Until …. until… until….UNTIL….

What the fucking fuck!

I stepped down and the blister on my left heel burst…on impact with the fucking Roman Road. I hate those Romans – haven’t they ever heard of tar??!

ARGH!!!! I yelled out in such pain, I’m sure they heard me as far away as Barcelona- but the two lovebirds walking hand in hand 10 feet in front of me only turned, smiled, and continued walking. Fuckers! I’m dying here, but hey, hope you get laid tonight – don’t let me stop you from your foreign foreplay… Man friggin’ down here – but you kiddos just keep doing what you’re doing… assholes! Who are your mothers, gimme their numbers, I gotta talk to them like now.

Ugh!

Anywhooo, I still had like 10 miles to go and I’m out in the middle of bumsfuckville-ola, so I had no choice, I had to keep moving. So hobble and bobble I walked on… like a drunken toddler just learning to walk, all clumsy-like, with arms and legs going this way and that, and making noises that kind of sound human, but don’t make a lick of sense.

And then I saw him- Thor (not his real name, obs). Thor has done the Camino ten times so he knows a thing or two about blisters and surviving the Camino.

He had set up a picnic for himself; ham, cheese, AND wine in a fucking goblet, and he was actually enjoying the Camino. He asked me where I was off to and when I told him Saragun, he told me I wasn’t pronouncing it correctly! Fuck you Thor I’ve got four fucking blisters!

So there I was on the side of a road getting Spanish lessons from a Norwegian. Like how do I know he knows what he’s talking about – he has an accent and it ain’t Catalonian! After a few attempts and his many corrections, he was finally satisfied with my pronunciation, and bid me farewell – uhhh, without offering to share a glass of his red.

Three hours later, I all but stumbled into my hotel; completely spent, checked in, and took a 45 minute bath. At dinner I met two Californians. She’s doing the Camino her way. He drives her to the pretty spots she wants to do, she walks for an hour or so, then calls it a day, and then they celebrate and have a drink (or six).

I realized the Cali couple and the Norwegian were on to something – they were living “in the moment.” I was too tired to even text my family to let them know I was safe and sound.

Something had to change.

Today I marched up to yet another monastery on the other side of Sahagun, not to look around, but to get my certificate – a beautiful sheet that proclaims to me and the entire world, I’ve completed half of the Camino! I’ve dragged my ass halfway across the holiest of holy trails and I’ve got a fucking piece of paper to prove it!

I got to thinking- I’m working too hard, doing this too fast. So I’m gonna slow the fuck down. I’m not Hercules after all.

So I saw a cab, waved my poles like a lunatic and grabbed it 4 miles to the next town.

It’s noon here and I’m done for the day. A few more miles under my belt, and it’s enough. I’m sitting here in a small town, drinking a Kalimotxo which is, get this coke and red wine TOGETHER, and having tapas. In an hour, I’m going to go have lunch, then a siesta, then more wine, then a snack, then dinner and more wine.

Tomorrow’s walk is a 16 miler through more endless fields with only one town between start and finish, it’ll be tough, but today’s break has me hopeful that, as God is my witness, I’m gonna learn how to do this Camino thing the right way.

Here are my stats

24.48 Miles Marched Today

(Carrion de los Condes –

Sahagun)

257.78 Miles Traveled So Far

248.1 Miles Left To Go

505.8 Total Miles to walk from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain

Tomorrow: Another Day on the “Meseta” – Destination: Calzadilla de los Hermanillos

PS: There was no Day 16 blog, because if you had read this blog, I was zapped, spent, tired, exhausted, too tired to think or type.