North from Carrapateira

Kelsey Breseman
3 min readJan 26, 2024
Photo by Eileen

Violin music floats out above the mist where the horses graze. When aloe blooms, it sends up eight-foot stalks that flower and then dry. These stalks stand wooden and stumbling, beginning to break at their bases.

The dunes we walk are fresh-sculpted, expansive but still damp. Past the waterline, the swells crest in greeting, giant waves claiming credit for the marks of their crashes.

It's good to walk early, the angle of the sun still low enough to highlight every rippling contour of the beach.

We go our own ways, drifting in and out of company with each other. The way is well marked, mostly, but sometimes there is a mapped path on Gaia that we prefer.

With the tide out, Eileen and I take a long beach route while Rick takes the official path above the cliffs. When we rejoin the trail— a roped shortcut up— I recognize Rick's shoe tread in the sand.

Howard is a fast walker but a slow starter, so none of us has seen him since we left the house. I expect he'll catch us in the next couple of hours.

The day warms stepwise, sudden grades like warm gusts that don't diffuse.

I'm sick today, but mostly good to walk. My heart rate rises quickly on the uphills, but today is a pretty flat 13 miles. I got it from Rick; he's been strange-voiced and sleepy for the last couple of days. Now it's my turn, so I'm singing through the husky voice while I walk.

I'm wearing that shirt that I've been mending forever. It's nearly more art project than shirt at this point, but I refuse to stop wearing it; it would lose its artistic integrity. And it's great for hot days like this one. On the one hand, I find another tear every time I put it on; on the other, the wind blows right through the insubstantial fabric.

I just bought new shoes in December: a mall store in Taiwan with Ryan. But somehow the backs of my Hokas are already wearing through again. It's an occupational hazard of extreme walking. I've made a patch with climbers' tape that is doing an adequate job so far of blocking the exposed plastic from my heel.

No sign of Howard, but we know he has a map. Eileen sends him a check-in message, to which he doesn't respond.

We all have maps on our phones that show all the trails, but we don't know which ones belong to our route until we arrive, read the way marks painted on the poles of signs. So, following the markings, we realize we're heading down to a beach.

It's a massive contour drop, a route we hadn't suspected. But since we're already descending, we commit to the choice, deciding to rest a while at the stunning shore.

I understand why Kerouac tried to write a poem of the sea sounds. The ocean is roar and susurrus, crash and rattling pull on a rock beach. The sun is hot and the beach shadeless, but the rocks are cool and smooth against my back. We have books on our phones, hats to shade our faces.

When a big wave comes and splashes our toes with sudden voracity, we rise from our solitude and return to the trail.

Halfway up the rise, a birdcall whistle floats through the air. We all turn around. Across the valley, there's Howard, waving his arms. The system works. He has taken a divergent route all morning, but still we've found each other.

The day is warm, the trail is good, and we have nuts and cheese and figs.

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