It was whatever they call an Indian summer in northern Spain when the two men came to Pamplona. One hundred and 40 km and a mountain pass from the Pyrenéean town of Larrau and it’s still-green hillsides, Jim and Charles drove their rented Fiesta into the shadow of the famous Plaza de Toros and parked at the edge of the pedestrian zone, arriving at around four in the afternoon.
They unloaded their baggage, two small backpacks, and walked the last three blocks to their hotel. The clerk welcomed them in English and gave them two card keys and they walked past the elevator and up the stairs to the first floor. Not much was said between them, nothing that anyone who had happened to listen would have remembered. They had beef and potatoes at the hotel restaurant and spent two hours there quietly murmuring to each other over a bottle of red wine. At around 7:30 they went upstairs and went to bed.
At seven a.m. the next morning they paid the bill, walked to the rental car, stopping only to by a small bag of warm rosquillas, one cup of coffee and one of tea, and set off west through early morning traffic. When they came to the small bedroom town of Cizur Menor, Charles, who had been driving the whole time they had been together, pulled the car over, and they got out. Jim took his small bag from the back seat, shook hands firmly with Charles, said thanks and goodbye, and walked off in front of the coming day, his hat on his head, eating a tiny donut.
Charles stood and watched him till he shimmered out of sight in the distance, then got in the car and drove back through Pamplona, not stopping until he reached the town of Burguete, where he spent the nighty, and dreamt of trout fishing as he lay sleeping with the window open. This was in October. He didn’t know that Jim would not be seen again by his family or friends in this lifetime. He did know, even then, that if you want to do something, you should set about doing it. Right now.
Two weeks later his Air France flight landed in Anchorage, he got in a taxi, went home and had no idea what to do.
“What do you mean, you haven’t heard anything?” He and Mona looked at each other over their counter.
“I dropped him off, we said goodbye. I thought he’d text. Or call.”
“Do you know? Do you know how worried we are? Nothing. My dad…” She put her head in her hands. “My mom…”
“I thought he’d write,” Charles said. “He’ll be fine.”
Jim had walked into the morning two weeks ago and not sent a word since and his silence was deafening. His wife was frantic, his daughters were frantic. His long-laid plan to walk across Spain by himself and to explore what he called the “ley lines,” began to look more than just like new-age foolishness.
Mona, his oldest daughter, had offered to go with him at first, but he tactfully had turned her aside by bringing up her boyfriend and their hopefully pending marriage. She got the idea, and off he went, accompanied (and maybe abandoned) at the start) by this very same boyfriend.
The idea of ley lines, ancient star-traced pathways that he believed, or hoped, linked significant geographical places together, had appealed to the surveyor in him, and in his early retirement at the age of fifty-two, he spent months researching them and had come across a reference to the old pilgrimage route across northern Spain known as the Camino de Santiago.
He had gathered all the books he could find on the route, which he came to refer to, as others did, as The Way, and he read them like a twelve-year old reading a comic book, over and over again, looking for some hidden meaning, a clue to something that he felt was out there, waiting for him to uncover. Something bigger than this, he said to himself and to his wife. Something bigger than all this.