Context

Just like before the beginning of any journey, I have ambiguous feelings. It doesn't seem real. How am I going to get out of that sofa and voluntarily live in all weathers, crawling 30 to 50 kilometers every day with 15 kilos on my back? How could I do that, and why would I want to? Again, it seems unfeasible and even absurd.

Then I remember the mountains of Spain. The freedom of trekking. The beauty of the world. The raw physicality of exhaustion, pain, and the sun on my face. The thrill of being able. And then I'm sure again, I don't give a fuck that it's absurd. It's a whole lot more absurd not to do it.

I am writing this on February 23. If all goes well I want to leave on March 18, but it all still depends a bit on appointments and examinations....

"Hey, Joris, what about... you know ..." I hear you ask hesitantly, because people would rather hesitate than call it by its name.

In the middle of the coming hiking spring of 2024, I will have lived for two years with a terminal cancer. The first few months of those two years with one foot in my grave. But then with both feet firmly on trails of many miles.

In those first months, after radiation, I also received chemo and immunotherapy. After a few months, the chemotherapy dropped out. I still get the immunotherapy to this day. That immunotherapy is completely non-aggressive. And the aggressive therapies have not been given much time to do damage. That was a deliberate strategy, to make as much profit as possible with as little side effect as possible.

I'm not a doctor, but what I hear is that this immunotherapy is pretty new. At least the theory behind it sounds nice. The therapy aims to increase the action of your own immune system on the cancer. So in very vague terms, it rather works with your body. Its effect is not destructive as people have come to expect from cancer therapy in general because of chemotherapy. And when immunotherapy works, sometimes it does work very well. On the other hand, I do hear that it just doesn't work for everyone.

In my case right now, it looks like I'm going to get a couple more hiking trips, mainly because of that immunotherapy. I mean, I already have what I had, and for the time being I have every reason to think that I can go on. And I will also continue to take the train home every six weeks to refuel therapy. In the meantime, it seems a given that I can leave for my 2024 trip, and a real possibility that I will arrive quite a bit later this year. Which feels like more than I had in 2023. There is also a possibility that one day I may even have to think about a 2025 trip, but that day is not today.

In the meantime, I have also quit smoking again for a few months now. May or may not be for long, as I only predict the past.

I quit not only for obvious reasons. Also because smoking I just couldn't go on. My 2023 trek was quite exhausting, and had I continued to smoke, I may not have recovered I think. As a result, my breathing feels a lot better today than it did at the end of my last trek, and in that respect, I can get back to it.

"So, optimistic, Joris...?" I hear you ask hesitantly. Hey, why are you always so hesitant?

Well, it is to say, cautiously optimistic... I learned in 2023 that my body is just not as strong as I would like it to be. And that's not because of unreasonable wishes, it's because of my body. People I met along the way who did similar things, or even more, were not exhausted coughing people with pain all over like me. On the contrary actually, those people looked like athletes in top shape. The hike didn't have that effect on me. And moreover, those people could or did do more than me, while I was at my ceiling.

Part of that difference must be due to a different past history, because it's almost impossible to do worse than mine. I was always primarily a programmer. In my case, that was also rather exclusive. If I wasn't in my desk chair, I was most likely in my bed. Coffee was quite primary next to cheese and chocolate and tobacco. I mean, food and drink and sleep, apart from a computer and bag of tobacco a person doesn't really need much else, so put your bed and desk next to each other. That sort of seemed to be the foundation of my lifestyle for most of my life, so, yah....

But that's really not the only reason for the big difference between me and others doing a similar trip. A significant piece of my left lung was cancerous. Another piece was cut off from circulation and died. The cancer is now greatly reduced, but I don't have my lungs back. Part of my chest is empty, the rest is damaged.

A similar story will roughly apply to my brain, only fortunately in different proportions.

All those things also require a certain amount of effort from the body every day, I suspect. Much of the period when the therapy made all this progress for me, I very much wanted to do fifty kilometers a day, but only managed an average of a little over thirty. Sometimes very painstakingly.

But, oy, that all sounds dark. I don't actually see it that dark. I have recovered from 2023! Yes, I mostly sat for a very long time in order to recover. Now it feels like a great effort again to do thirty kilometers, even with no weight on my back and in my own flat environment. So it will take some getting used to. But I have recovered and I am quite sure I can get used to it.

There have also been some epileptic fits during this rest period. To the extent that I now recognize different forms of it more clearly. I am now sure that in several periods of my life one or more forms of it occurred. Whereas back then I often just suspected epilepsy or even simply ignored it. But fortunately those were mostly the micro seizures, and to a much lesser extent than was sometimes the case this winter.

So it turns out there are a lot of different forms in these epileptic fits. The big whoopie is the grand mal. That one was fortunately very exceptional, before the cancer. It is still exceptional today, but less exceptional, unfortunately. That one is really suffering for a long time. The biggest one this winter felt like many minutes of fighting for my life during, and then a very long time after.

But, hundreds of thousands of people live with epilepsy. Maybe millions, whatever. I don't feel like it bothered me frequently enough to really bother me. And I only predict the past, so if my wishes for the coming hiking spring are compatible with the condition of the recent past, I predict no reason to worry today.

And next, that hiking spring. New wind. Figuratively in my head, and literally in my lungs. It will be a big hurdle to get over, those first few days back 'in the wild'. The minimum nighttime temperatures are just above freezing at my departure point, a good three weeks before departure. Fortunately, the maximum daytime temperature is already well above ten degrees Celsius. It will warm up a bit along the way for the first few weeks, as spring is in full swing. But somewhere around kilometer 500 I start my trek through the Pyrenees. The first hundred kilometers of the trek through that chain still remain acceptably low, then for a few hundred kilometers it becomes bangishly barren and hopelessly high.

I mean, I'm looking forward to it immensely.

I don't know whether or not I'll have started that last stretch when I first have to get on the train somewhere to return briefly for immunotherapy. So my hiking year begins with a big hurdle to a long cold spell. I start with a body that can no longer handle 30 kilometers on a flat road with no weight, and actually I start with a sore hind leg since the last time I did it anyway. I'll build myself up, 500 kilometers long, to a body that can cross the Pyrenees, to end up at the mighty Mediterranean Sea, hopefully at least thirty kilometers a day. Then it will get a little easier, flatter, and gradually warmer... And, Mediterranean! Over the Alps too, and, Mediterranean!

Oh, and there's more to look forward to. I suspect that it may stay mostly reasonably dry, during that first long cold stretch of say, those first six weeks plus a bit. I won't be on the wet north coast in Spain as I was at the end of my trek last year, but will continue first up the Camino Frances in reverse. That one is much deeper inland before it turns off to the foothills of the Pyrenees. And I read thanks to friends - thank you! - that in certain regions I'm visiting it's mostly very dry, and also doesn't snow much now and is warm. A bit of a disaster for the people who live there because that's been going on for a few years now, but it's obviously a windfall for my trip. And the Spanish side of the Pyrenees is kind of the warmest anyway.

So yeah, I absolutely look forward to it. I'm mentally prepared for the trek, physically recovered from the previous one. And with any luck I'll never have to sleep below freezing, because I'm a wimp, in a cathedral of a new tent. What more could a person want, really? It's glamour camping.

Apart from that, my organization, as always, all the time, everywhere, consistently has been the case with me, flawlessly perfectly chaotic and forgotten along the way. But fortunately probably mostly postponed rather than done twice.

So yes, cautiously optimistic, but a little ambiguous, as is the case before the beginning of any great trip. As departure approaches, I do get more and more scared, especially of myself, for reasons that may be obvious in this writing.

Of course, it does remain pretty absurd, all of it, sort of.

The GR5A blog at the time of this writing is... sort of stuck in in the beginning, and there is no Santiago blog. It will probably stop there, I suspect, predicting the past, since the memory of those treks isn't even that fresh anymore either. But the whole site infrastructure for those blog things, from bits and bytes to bits and bytes machines and bits and bytes machine machines, and all those things and such, is now set up and ready to eat data. So that might go smoothly in the future. One option is that every six weeks when I come home for immunotherapy I also update the pictures and blog for those six weeks, but that's not a prediction, because it's in the future.

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