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Camino(s) past & future
Walked the Camino with wife from May to June 2018
My wife (Rory) and I hiked the Camino last May from SJPDP to SdC--our first time. In Santo Domingo de Calzada, I met a wonderful person, a Basque man named Francisco who insisted I call him "Frank." Turns out we had something in common. I wrote this short story for him. Buen Camino

Ken Strange
Thousand Oaks, California


Rory and I discovered the Hospedería Cisterciense hostel, a renovated 17th century Cistercian abbey in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Nuns dressed in the old-style [1]habits manned the reception. The place was redolent of holiness and grace. Even the dining room was a place of monastic tranquility.Small groups of tourists and pilgrims checked in, with the nuns providing that soothing touch. I have never seen so many smiling guests in my life. Is this what checking in to heaven would be like?


"Yes, my son."

"Sister, for tomorrow’s walk, could you help me find lodging in the next village?"

"By God's grace, we will try."

I mean, who doesn't like to hear these sanctifying words coming from a receptionist?

That's when I met Frank.

He was standing in the lobby in his cycling shorts and uniform, a worn helmet tucked under his elbow. His mountain bike looked sturdy but a part had broken off and was in need of repair. This was a fellow I just had to know. Frank did not disappoint.

The nun gently admonished Frank saying bicycles had their proper place in the back of the abbey.

We exchanged pleasantries, the cyclist asking me where I was from. When I told him, he smiled widely, put a strong hand on my shoulder and let me know he had once been married to an American woman and been a plumber in Brooklyn. His rugged face and craggy features made me think of my father. His head was large, his body taut and muscular. Dirt, grime and sweat suggested a difficult stage.

“My name is Francisco, but you can call me Frank.”

Frank was Basque and informed me that not only had he walked the Camino but he had biked it six times.

However, it appeared we had intersected at a time when cycling mortality was knocking on Frank's door.

He shared with me that this Camino trip was not going so well. He was “under the weather” and his bicycle in need of repair. If he could rest a day or two with the nuns, he might get better. He could possibly continue.

He confided in me, however, that doubts had begun creeping in about his ability to get all the way to Santiago. There were still hundreds of miles to go with some challenging mountain stages awaiting. I realized he was talking to himself, not to me.

"This was going to be my last Camino.”

With a sense of resignation, he added," if I can't finish it, at least I know I tried."

However, I could only muster a hollow cliché in reply," You did everything you could Frank...everything."

Standing before me was an 89-year-old pilgrim who was broken but not beaten. His spirit was heroic. I wanted to hug this man who projected strength and courage and was attempting to finish life on his own terms. I knew someone like Frank would never go gently into that good night. And in Frank, I saw much of my own father who had recently alluded to his own mortality in a golf metaphor, “Son, I’ve come to the point in my life where I can now see the eighteenth hole.”

The nun interrupted us to say Frank's room was ready and they would soon bring his soup.

As I continued the Camino, I found myself, from time to time, looking over my shoulder for this Basque cyclist, this pilgrim who called himself Frank and had lived in Brooklyn a long time ago.

[1]A religious habit is s a distinctive set of religious clothing worn by members of a religious order.


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