My new hiking shoes arrived in the mail yesterday, another pair of my beloved Keens. This can only mean one thing, and you must know what it is: I’ll be on another long walk this summer!
In some ways, I feel like my adventures of last summer are still so fresh, and maybe it’s because I’ve only just finished writing about my Pennine Way walk. Immersing myself in those recaps kept my heart in England through the fall and winter and even into the spring. And it’s only been very recently that I’ve let myself think about my plans for this summer.
“What are those plans for this summer?” you might be asking.
It may come as no surprise that I’m embarking on another long walk, and more specifically, another Camino!
While technically I did squeeze in a very quick, three-day Camino last summer (I still haven’t written about the three stages of the Chemin Du Puy that I walked in August, but I am posting those photos over on Instagram, so go over and have a look!), it only gave me a small taste of a pilgrimage. And yes, I walked for two weeks on a fabulous trail in England, but a long-distance walk is different than a pilgrimage. And I’ve been craving that pilgrimage experience lately, so I’m going back.
And I’m going back to Spain. The last time I was there was 2016, when I walked the Camino de San Salvador, and then continued from Oviedo onto the Norte to (almost) walk into Santiago. That trip both does and doesn’t feel all that long ago and it’s funny what time can do. It’s only been three years since I’ve been to Spain, but suddenly I am nervous again. I’m nervous about the language, mostly, but also all those other little cultural differences that I may have forgotten. I know it’s going to be okay, and I know that after a few weeks or even just a few days I’ll remember some basic words and gain the confidence I need to communicate (because all that is really required is an honest effort and a smile).
But I don’t really think it’s about the language and communication, not really. I guess these are the same ol’ nerves that tend to hit several weeks before I leave for a big trip. If you’ve been reading for awhile, you’ll probably remember me saying something along these very lines each year!
So yes, I have another big walk coming up. The first ‘leg’ of the walk is going to be the Camino Aragones, a 160km route that begins in the Pyrenees and ends in Puenta La Reina (one of the early stages on the Camino Frances). The Aragones technically begins in Somport, which is on the French/Spanish border, but I’m planning to start a few days back in Oloron Sainte-Marie, so that I can spend several days walking up into the Pyrenees which, in good weather, should be breathtaking.
After the Aragones, I have some options. Since the route ends in Puenta La Reina, it would be so easy to just continue for awhile on the Frances (the first Camino I walked, back in 2014). But for some reason, I’m not ready to repeat the Frances. I’m sure there are lots of reasons for this (that I won’t get into in this post), but unless I change my mind when I finish the Aragones, my plan is to take a bus up to Irun, which is the start of the Camino del Norte.
Ahh, the Camino del Norte. I’ve walked this one before: I did most of it in 2015 (from Irun to Oviedo), and the rest in 2016. I’ve loved all the Camino routes I’ve walked, but it’s hard to compare them, or say which one I liked the best. They’re each special in their own way.
And the particular aspects that make the Norte so special have been tugging at me for the past year or so. Last spring I starting putting together some notes on the route, marking new albergues or alternates that I didn’t walk the first time around. I was tempted to walk it again last summer but settled on the Pennine Way instead.
But this year? I think I’m ready to go back.
But this wasn’t the easiest decision. My summer planning felt very delayed this year, and it took me a long time to decide exactly what I wanted to do. A retreat at La Muse (which I’m doing again, after my Camino) and a long walk somewhere have sort of become what I do in the summer. I haven’t even had to think about it in the past; I knew that this combination of walking and writing were how I wanted to spend my summers.
I still want this particular combination, but I want other things, too. I finally bought a new (to me) car in February, and it’s made that dream of a cross-country road trip a strong possibility (now that I have reliable transportation that won’t break down before I even get to Pittsburgh). I want to go to Africa, I want to try to climb Kilimanjaro. I didn’t quite feel ready for either of these options this summer, but I think the fact that I’m being pulled towards other kinds of travel made me hesitate about another European summer. I have my health, I have my freedom, I have my time, I have the means to travel and I’m so grateful for all of this but, as always, I don’t know how long this will be the case. Is it maybe time to try something new, while I still have the chance to try something new?
Maybe, but maybe I do want one last European summer, for this stage in my life. One more long walk, one more retreat in the mountains of a small French village.
So this is what I’m doing, and I leave in about three weeks. I’m curious about how I’ll feel once I’m there, if I will strap on my pack and head off into the Pyrenees and breathe deep and say, “I’m back”, and if I will feel really good about that. I’m curious if I will feel restless on the Norte, knowing that the route isn’t new and unknown, or if I will feel thrilled about being back on a trail that showed me so much beauty that I still think that some of it must have been a mirage. I wonder if I can dive back into my writing when I’m at La Muse, if I can sink into the editing of this book I’ve been working on for the last four years, if I can move myself forward and feel ready to take the next steps. I wonder if Homer will be around, if he will remember me and want to take walks with me. I’ll be passing through Paris, and I wonder if I will cry when I see Notre Dame. I wonder who I will meet, if I will see any old friends, I wonder at all the new connections I might make. I wonder if I will get a blister, if I will find a suitable walking stick, if I will drink red wine or cold beer (or both?), if I will take beautiful photos, if I will walk steady, if I will walk strong.
I hope to write a few more posts before I leave for my trip, but in case I don’t, here is what I hope you can expect. The Pennine Way took me so long to write about that I don’t anticipate doing long, daily reports from the Norte (and besides, I already wrote ‘live’ posts from that walk, you can read them here). Instead, I’m going to try to do a daily or almost daily post, with just a photo and a long caption. I want to just capture a moment and write about that moment, and in doing that, tell the story of my Camino. I’ll plan to write more in-depth posts about the Aragones after I finish the walk, especially since this is a relatively little-walked Camino route and I think the information could be helpful to future pilgrims. But it is my hope to blog at least a bit while I’m on the Norte, because I’ve loved doing that in the past, and it adds so much to my experience.
I’m also hoping to create a little extra content for my wonderful supporters over on Patreon (if you’ve been meaning to check out my Patreon or curious about what it is, just follow this link!). I’m thinking some additional real time photos from the walk (and if I buy a fancy new camera like I’ve been wanting to do for years, then those photos might be extra special!).
Okay, that’s the update from these parts. My porch door is open and a pleasant breeze is blowing in and through the room. I’ve got my feet propped up and some soft music playing and it feels like summer is just around the corner, waiting for its entrance. Soon it will be here, soon. I hope you’re all well, maybe also enjoying porch breezes and soft music and anticipating upcoming adventures, big or small. More soon.