Tag: Riding the Camino Dragon

My Wedding Story

Beverages, breakfast and merriment were our theme as Dr. Michael Payne married me while the sun rose behind us at Donner Lake, Truckee, California, on Wednesday, September 2, 2015.


Man and wife


Sunrise and the middle of the week?!  Why, Jess, why?!

I got that question.  A.  Lot.

By now you must know, there is nothing conventional about me.  As a result, Mike and I woke up before the angels were awake and exchanged vows in private.  The friendship Mike and I developed over the past several years working near one another came to fruition as we continued our day.  I was escorted to a private dock by my step-father, Kim, where we joined 30 of our immediate family.

The ceremony was beautiful.  It was short, sweet and simple.  The one thing that was evident was the immense love Mike and I have for one another.

No one walked away unmoved by our wedding and shared companionship during a morning meal.  Two remarkable families became one and the brightest future shone down on us.

My new husband and I took off with excitement for a Spainish Honeymoon where we explored Madrid, Barcelona and various portions of the Camino I’d discovered while writing Riding the Camino Dragon.

If you haven’t grabbed your copy and read it, now is a good time to ramp up for the next few posts, which will serve as somewhat of an afterward.  Oh yes, the adventure continues with my dragon.

Married life is interesting.  I excel at independence as a rock star at the single life.  Marriage has presented new challenges and pushed me outside my comfort zone in many ways.

Has it been worth it?  Absolutely.

The truth is: We are not here to be comfortable.  We are here to grow and to reach our full potential.  How awesome to have a co-conspirator, an accomplice through it all.

In my personalized vows, I promised to devote my love to Mike.  To do my best each day to express that love for him.  To care for him, stand beside him, encourage and strengthen him, protect him and cherish him with everything I am.

It is an unpopular idea, I understand – but I have found the greatest gift I can give is to put him first.  So that’s what I’ve been doing.



“Where do you want to go on our honeymoon?”  My future husband asked, pushing a grocery cart around our local supermarket a few months before we tied the knot.

Vacation hot spots flooded my vision.  Ireland. Scotland. Germany. Iceland. New Zealand. Australia. Africa. South America. Caribbean. Alaska. Pacific Crest Trail.  Appalachian Trail.  There were so man options – all I saw were stars.

“Would you like to go back to Paris?”  He asked, trying to help me decide.

“Hmm…”  I said, I’d forgotten about Paris.  “I would go back to Paris.”

“What about Portugal?”  He asked.

I shook my head.  “Might not need to go back to Portugal just yet.”


I stopped in my tracks and peered up at him.  Tears came.  They gathered and spilled out of the corners of my eyes.

“Spain it is,” he nodded.

The emotional response indicated Spain was the right place to go.  It was – for so many reasons. Over the next few weeks I would sharemy experiences in Spain, revisit a few I mentioned in Riding the Camino Dragon and create new ones.


Weeks before our honeymoon in Spain, all I had heard was how unique and genuine the Spanish culture was represented in Madrid.  I had a number of reasons for wanting to visit Madrid.  Culture was among them.  My initial experience with Madrid had been exciting to say the least.

During a connecting flight to Pamplona, Spain, before beginning the Camino de Santiago last year, there was a lay-over in Madrid.  Within ten minutes of boarding, a thundering noise echoed throughout the terminal.  Sheets of water poured from the sky.  The water was so think, it blocked the windows.  Curving architecture within the airport had difficulty in such conditions.  Water began pouring from the ceiling and gathered in large pools throughout the center of the airport.

With that – all screens with flight information went blank.  All flights had been cancelled until further notice.

Coming in to Madrid this time was not as tricky.  The duration was another story.  We had driven from our Wedding Spot at Donner Lake, Truckee, California, to the Reno, Nevada Airport.  We flew from Reno, Nevada, to Las Vegas, Nevada.  We flew from Las Vegas, Nevada, to London.  From London to Madrid.

From Madrid Airport – we caught a cab and taxied to our initial honeymoon stop – Hotel Orfila.  Upon arrival, we were welcomed with wide smiles.  Our bags were taken to our room and they invited us to the outdoor patio with a mural, fountain and garden for a beverage, cava –  a sweet, bubbly wine resembling champagne.

When we arrived in our room, there was a bottle of cava waiting on ice along with two champagne flutes.

Along with the helpful staff, if anyone knows how to welcome guests after a long day of traveling – it is Hotel Orfila of Madrid, Spain.

What was the most grand welcome you ever received at a hotel?

You hope to find a friend who will accept you exactly as you are.  A friend who will encourage you when the going gets tough and stand by your side, no matter what happens.  I did not find one of these friends, I encountered a group of them while on pilgrimage last year.

In addition to the remarkable culture, Madrid is also the home of friends such as these.

I adore these men, their passionate hearts and their friendship.  Vast sense of humor, jubilant laughter. Sweet faces, genuine smiles and open hearts.

These are the Wild Cards, immortalized and made famous in, Riding the Camino Dragon.

What better way to spend my 35th birthday than with my friends?  Furthermore, how awesome to have an opportunity to introduce my new husband to these friends who touched my heart and taught me the true meaning of friendship.  I gained so much from their teaching, when I realized that life is not a solo journey – it is meant to be shared.  Everything is more sweet when it is shared.



It’s the times we’re so crazy,
that people think we’re high.
It’s the times we laugh so hard,
we can’t help but cry.
It’s all the inside jokes
and “remember whens”.
those are all the reasons
that we’re best friends.

– Unknown


Wild Cards



Walking through Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, one evening, we came upon an impressive building.  This park is known for being a pleasant retreat, filled with prestigious historical monuments complete with small boats to row in a large pond.  The majority of the landscaping, however – is park.  We would not have imagined we might stumble upon a Palacio del Cristal (Translation: The Crystal Palace).

We were stunned.

Why would anyone create a building of iron-framed windows?  It reminded me of the book, The Glass Castle.  We sought the answer to this mystery as we danced along the empty end of what would have made a beautiful wedding reception location.

Soon, we learned the answer.  The Palacio del Cristal was created to house exotic plants from the Phillipines in 1887. At some point, the necessity of the plants were no longer needed.  There have not been plants within this greenhouse in many years.  Today, it is used for the purpose of show-casing art.

As you can see, at the time of our visit, the art we observed appeared to be thin air.

What is your favorite art piece or art exhibit?




A true highlight for my husband and me was experiencing the Sagrada Familia, an amazing Roman Catholic Cathedral created by Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926).

Gaudi suffered from rheumatism as a child.  Due to his condition, Antoni Gaudi was unable to attend school with other children his age.  Determined fresh air and being in nature would be helpful, Gaudi’s mother took him for daily walks in the woods.

From this young age, Gaudi was intrigued by the strength of nature.  He was fascinated by the many patterns and how tree trunks could sustain many branches; Flower stems could hold many petals.  As a result, he pursued a passion for architecture and pushed existing boundaries by using the inspiration of nature.

Among many prized projects, Sagrada Familia was his flagship work in life.  The outside of the Cathedral is a marvel like no other with sculpture and symbolism etched in stone.  When you enter the doors of the Cathedral, large pillars raise like trees, opening up to various colored glass and archesinto leaf-like canopies.

True to the creation of many impressive cathedrals, the building of Sagrada Familia will continue through the year 2025.  Several pillars will arise over the next ten years.  We imagine the likes of this Catheral to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

Perhaps we will return on our tenth wedding anniversary.

Where would you go or have you gone for your tenth wedding anniversary?



On our honeymoon, it was important to both Mike and myself that we experience new places I hadn’t seen before.  I’d seen the Camino.  Madrid and Barcelona had been new and they had been great.

Zaragoza would prove to be new as well. As the fifth largest city in Spain, Mike and I rented a car and drove what looked like Eastern Washington State – from Barcelona to Zaragoza.

The churches, basilicas and city walls lining the river were stunning. The courtyards were filled with accordion players and puppies on leashes.  We were happy to explore historic streets and indulge on a variety of pastas.  Incredibly, Spain has wonderful pasta.  As a gluten-free captive of many years, it is one place I can gorge myself guilt-free without the repercussions I experience back home.
Santo Domingo


Once upon a time in Spain, there was a man names Domingo.  He wanted to be a priest but the church refused him.  Domingo went off on his own to live as a hermit, off the beaten path.

It happened to be along the Camino de Santiago, where pilgrims had walked for years.  He watched pilgrims come and pilgrims go.  A large river was dangerous to cross and Domingo watched as pilgrim after pilgrim struggled to cross it.

Domingo felt sorrow for these pilgrims and went to work.  He built a bridge for the pilgrims.  He did not stop there.  In order to treat injured pilgrims, Domingo then opened a hospital.  This became known as the town of Santo Domingo.

Domingo dedicated his life to pilgrims. Among the many locations of the Camino de Santiago, the small town of Santo Domingo will continue to be among my favorites.

The church is the single place where live fowl are kept within the Cathedral.  They have kept this tradition since a miracle took place in the city.  Chickens on the Mayor’s dinner plate came to life after a wrongfully hung thief returned to life at the end of his noose.

If that isn’t a Miracle of Saint James – those miracles that take place along the Camino – I don’t know what is.

Although the story reminded me about the best part of life.

The best part of life is spending it with those you love.





Book Launch – Riding the Camino Dragon – The Prologue, 11 People I Thank in My Acknowledgements and 4 Places to Score Your Copy

Sacramento Author

The Prologue

My loved ones have various expectations for my life. It is out of their love, they wish me to find greater stability, success and happiness. In turn, it is out of my love for them that I have striven to meet these expectations. I’ve tried to fit the molds they created for their own lives. Slipping and sliding, stumbling on impossible turf. Turf meant for a thousand others and just not me.

Grandchildren. No one deserves them nor would appreciate them more than my mother. If I could make this dream of hers a reality – I would. When I’ve tried to control this fate, it’s resulted in the graveyard of failed relationships that decorate my past.

Accomplishment. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to be the big sister my brother can look up to. Revolving around the realm of success, my brother has out-shown me in every aspect of a traditional successful life. When I’ve tried to become more disciplined, buckled-down, nose to the grindstone, focused on savings, stocks and real estate, a gray fog closes in. It covers my life and I sink into a depression I’ll scarcely come out of. Also, during these times I find myself drinking too much in order to tolerate a life of monotony.

When I listen to my heart, she is most outspoken when everything is quiet. I’m walking in nature or watching the stars. Doing a sun salutation to begin my morning or dancing under shady trees. I pretend my life is supposed to be the same as everyone else’s. That it is going to be the same as everyone else’s.

But I find that just isn’t my journey.

Continue reading here…


Acknowledgments from Riding the Camino Dragonwhich was released on Saturday, August 8, 2015:


When it comes to thanking the people who helped me ride the dragon, it is in these moments I am humbled. This entire experience would not have been possible were it not for the strength and support of many family, friends and loved ones. People believed in me, even when I could not believe in myself.

Mom and Daddy Kim. The moment I mentioned this crazy idea, you both jumped up with support. You wanted to know every detail and celebrated every triumph. Anytime I had a doubt, you encouraged me and nudged me forward. As always, you saw greatness in me I could not yet recognize.

Mom and DK

Steve Moulds. You are among the most respected of all men on earth in my eyes. Sharing your adventure of completing the Camino opened my mind. I witnessed the sincerity in your eyes and it was in that moment I received confirmation I was on the right track and I was meant to have this experience. Thank you for your guidance.

Ryan and Shannon. Thank you for always being the greatest source of excitement when I return home from anywhere. It wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t get to come home to your warm hugs and enthusiasm for my new tales. You listen with the patience of saints and my life is the most rich with you such a significant part of it.

Dad and Debby. “I hope you find whatever is looking for you.” And, “No one does things like this. You know why? Because everyone else is chicken shits.” These words kept a smile on my lips and filled me with purpose as I walked into the unknown. Thank you for believing in me and understanding my life is often one off the beaten path.

Dad and Debby

Kimberly Fisher. Such a gem. Thank you for going over my work again and again. Helping me craft my art with an eye like no one else I know. I enjoy having you in my life and with each written work, I feel we grow closer. This is a closeness I find priceless and look forward to creating art together for years to come.


Chazelle Owens. Thank you for being so brave to undergo this adventure with me. We had the Camino we were meant to have. It opened doors for us that did not exist before and helped us grow as people. You’ll always have a monument of adoration in my heart, dedicated to you.


Pilgrims. Thank you for bringing such richness to my experience. There are far too many of you to thank. Some of us spent a great deal of time together and some very little. Either way, please know the memories of you still visit me every single day. Love amongst pilgrims is true love.

Julie Wojdac. I’ll miss you always. Always supportive of unusual experiences and being surrounded by nature, I hope I brought honor to your memory by completing this incredibly hard trek. Thank you for coming to visit me while I was struggling. Without your memory fresh in my mind, I may not have been strong enough to complete what I had set out to do. Thank you for blessing my life with your friendship. It will continue to enhance my experience on earth until the end of time.


Kari Peterson. Thank you for showing me the importance of laughter in the midst of tricky situations. When things were most difficult, I heard your laugh from beyond the grave and felt you were nearby, cheering me on. Without the memory of your courage, I’d never have seized the moment and gone on the greatest adventure of my life. Your spontaneity and commitment to living each day to the fullest kept me focused on the prize, even when it came at a high price. I’ll carry that courage with me and will bring your spirit with me on all adventures life brings my way.

2007 178


4 Places to Score

The wait is now over. I’m pleased to announce the release of Riding the Camino Dragon on eBook on all major distributors. Here are a few quick-links to make it a piece of cake:

Click here if you read  on Amazon Kindle

Click here if you read on Barnes & Noble Nook

Click here if you read on  Kobo

Click here if you read on Copia






5 Ways to Avoid Having Your Lights Punched Out as a Pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago

Adventure Coach

Embracing life as a pilgrim encourages the minimalist in all of us to live within our means and even with less if that is possible.  Overall, the culture of being a Pilgrim is respected by all. The purpose is peace. Peace among all who make this difficult walk. This is why it is important to honor a couple rules.

Be polite. Not only to pilgrims but especially to the Albergue hosts and hostesses. Most of the time, they are volunteering their time. This is how the cost for beds can be so low. If you want to sprinkle in some enthusiasm, optimism, patience, flexibility and generosity…all the more rich your Pilgrim experience will be.

By the time we were on the road for over 20 days, walking from location to location, we became good judges of decent and indecent pilgrim behavior. Chazelle, my traveling companion, is one of the most patient people I know. For her to hit a level of frustration she might lose it… That’s the gage I’m using since I’m more of a fireball.

If you go on Pilgrimage…here are 5 things that you can do to ensure you won’t piss off your fellow Pilgrims.



Headlamps are designed for outside use. The typical hours of Albergue’s are: Lights out at 10 p.m.- Must be gone by 8:00 a.m. If you’ve stayed out after 10:00 p.m., and you blast around the dorm with a headlamp- everyone will want to poison your water tomorrow. It’s rude, bright, and blinds people, even if you think it’s not a big deal…it is.

Sure, there have been times when we have been permitted to visit beyond 10:00 p.m. by the Albergue hosts, we dismiss quiet and with respect. We sneak in, open our backpacks and retrieve our toothbrush in 30 seconds or less. Some try to get up as early as 4:00 a.m. So you don’t want to be super disruptive when you were given the privilege of the rule extension.

This leads into #2…



Snoring is a touchy subject. In many cases, it can’t be helped. In fact, people have no idea they snore until they become Pilgrims…because if they snore and it’s loud…everyone knows and because Pilgrims tend to be an outgoing bunch, they are always happy to tell you. It is embarrassing to be a Pilgrim who snore’s loud…so much so, many of our friends have elected to sleep outdoors at every opportunity, even in the rain… so they would not disturb their fellow Pilgrims. Bless their hearts. This violation isn’t really about them. It’s about another type of violator…

Everyone uses plastic bags for toiletries and laundry and lots of things. So handy because they are durable, reusable and recyclable. However, if you rustle around in your backpack for longer than 30 seconds…your level of consideration is nonexistent.

Anything you will need next, should be in the very top of your pack. Before you abandon your pack…make sure you’ve got it on top. If it’s morning…your clothes for the day and your toothbrush (we even go to the extreme of sleeping in the clothes we will wear the next day in an effort to be thoughtful); If it’s nighttime… Your toiletry bag; If it’s the middle of the day… You plan best having your hat, sunglasses, sun screen and first aid kit handy. If you’re ready to check into your Albergue for the night, have your sleep sack to keep bed thieves at arms length, and Pilgrim Passport ready.

Even though it is a simple life to be a Pilgrim, it helps to manage your time in a wise fashion. When others are waiting on you, or trying to recover with sleep after a long day on the trail, it pays to be considerate. Otherwise, instead of a “Buen Camino,” you run the risk of landing a middle finger.



You have all day to play around on your phone. Sometimes you have wifi, sometimes you don’t. That being said…the next time someone is on their cell phone after lights out and is so loud you can hear everything the person on other end of the line is saying…they will get dragged out by the hair and locked outside.



Masturbating in the dorm….especially loudly…is just not cool. Even if that is the one thing you will leave at the foot of Saint James. It’s creepy, weird and gross. The priests, grandmothers, mothers with their young children, widowers and grieving Pilgrims trying to find peace and solace don’t deserve to encounter that type of behavior.



We did a few night walks. We got up early. Did we wake up the whole dorm? Of course not.

The problem isn’t leaving early. In fact, good for you! There is something magical about watching the sun rise among the Spanish hills. It’s fantastic, I want you to see and experience it. The problem is taking 30 loud minutes to reconstruct your pack when you’re the only one up.

Our advice? Take your pack and all your things outside the dorm. There’s a kitchen, a sitting area, a hallway, sometimes a lounge area and if all else fails…a bathroom. It took us one time of getting our pack ready early and waking up our friends to learn its a big offense. Don’t be a jerk, it won’t make your Camino more Buen.