The Last Cowboy

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The Last Cowboy

by Sid Gustafson | Bozeman, MT

April 2018. I rise in Basque daybreak to begin my walk across Iberia, the last cowboy afoot. Over breakfast, I am informed by my hospitalera that wild horses graze beyond the Virgin of Biakorri atop the Pyrénées.

Horses, indeed. Today I am a mule. Backpack strapped tight, I inhale Pyrenean air. I sway onto a cobble street, catching my balance on stones worn smooth by centuries of pilgrims. I arrived yesterday, from across the Atlantic to St. Jean Pied de Port, France.

I descend an ancient street. Sideways and downward, I amble. Walking with my scant belongings spins me free of a life of convenience. I tread under the ancient arch, past St. Michael’s pinkstone Catholic church where Efa and I attended a pilgrim Mass last evening. Bolstered by her aura somewhere ahead in this flock, I stride toward Napoléon’s Pass. With fellow pilgrims, I chase along. I have Pyrénées to conquer. Oh, to ascend a mountain range afoot. France to Spain. 

Crepuscular light lingers. We pass under ancient sandstone, breaching the medieval walls that surround the old town. Fortifications unplumbed by time fade into the April mist, a surreal departure, so much for lives we all once knew. A hidden sun lingers, slow rising, reluctant to illuminate our Basque life. 

We step up and out of town, dozens walking along. Napoléon’s route over the top has opened for the first time this year. Four days have passed since Easter. We are the first pilgrims sanctioned to walk the high route, although it was rumored seasoned rogues snuck over yesterday. 

Mist suspends daybreak. Inscrutable energy pushes me. Why I have ventured to Europe to journey I am not sure. Perhaps we shall see and soon know. Once a horse doctor, I am now a pilgrim, seeker of knowledge to thrive amongst others. Knower of animals, but unknowing of folk. A new beginning. A celebration of the happiness my grown son and daughter have given me. I honor the lives they enjoy back home in Montana.

Onward, ever upward, 500 miles ahead, one million steps await. A release, an uplifting, a long walk, an old walk, a pilgrimage. Miracles await, they must. The first milagro, or miracle, is to be alive and here, marching. El Camino de Santiago.

St Jean Neopolitan way Camino hiker in pastoral landscape.
Hiker on the Napoléon way, outside of St Jean. Photo from Adobe Stock.

Gustafson took the French Way to Santiago. For more info, check out our Camino Francés route overview.

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