So here I sit in Belorado, Spain trying to find the words to describe the last eight days of walking the French Camino. I walk with an extraordinary collection of Veterans. It seems like such a short time – eight days – but taken in the context of walking all day, finding albergues to sleep in, eating together, and taking care of each other, it feels like its been much longer. These Veterans come from the United States, Canada, Poland and Denmark. Such varying backgrounds, yet so much in common.
We talk. We talk a lot. Sharing things that are mundane, and sharing things that are deeply personal. We laugh together, and sometimes we go very serious together. The nature of the Camino is to simplify your very existence until you are merely living in the moment. There is no room for a facade here. No need for one.
This is the first part of the Camino. The body is now finally used to the rigors of walking all day and recovering every night. The Meseta is next. It carries its own unique challenges and, in my experience, is the most difficult portion. It challenges the mind and mental state as much as the physical condition, if not more.
Perhaps the most important part of our journey is our daily tradition of raising our glass prior to eating dinner. Our toast is always different, but about the same person, our invisible companion – Max Soviak. It is a sacred moment for us as we have all served and put our lives on the line. I think each of us carries many names of fellow soldiers who have given the ultimate sacrifice. But here and now, they are all represented by Max.
Max was lost to this life on August 26, during the bombing at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan. But Max is here with us. Each of us feels his loss, but we also feel his presence on this journey. He will forevermore be the 22 year old kid who was larger than life. He will never grow older as we do, but he is waiting for us on the other side with a crooked smile and a warm welcome. Buen Camino Max.