I’d known about the Camino for years; in the summer of 2002, several of my college friends headed off to Spain after graduation. All I understood at the time was that they were attempting to walk across the country, and it sounded slightly insane.
Maybe it is. It’s 780 km from St Jean Pied-de-Port, France, across northern Spain to Santiago. This, the Camino Francés, is the most popular, modern-day pilgrim route, and the one that I decided to take.
That’s about 500 miles.
I love the idea of walking a great distance. Of packing a bag with only a few possessions, strapping it to your back and moving yourself across a vast space. I have two other college friends who each hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail (what is suddenly becoming clear is that the people I met in college can WALK). I loved the idea of this, too: hiking and wilderness and isolation and great physical strength.
I’ve never considered myself much of an athlete, or even an outdoors-y person. Growing up, my family didn’t camp or hike or kayak. I wasn’t on a sports team, I hated running. It took me a long time to realize how much I loved being outdoors, and even longer to accept that I could define myself, in part, by that love. Putting on sneakers and heading into the woods for a walk- I love it, but I still feel like an amateur. Maybe I am, and that’s okay. Just because I feel at home in cafés and museums doesn’t mean that I don’t belong in the woods. But I always felt that walking the Camino or hiking the Appalachian Trail was for other people, not me.
Two years ago I don’t think I would have considered walking the Camino. This decision was a combination of factors: a conversation with one of the college friends who did the walk in 2002. Browsing through Netflix one late winter evening last year, and deciding to watch ‘The Way’, Emilio Estevez’s film depicting a pilgrim on the Camino. Spending several weeks in the mountains of southern France in the summer of 2013, and hiking every day.
I came back from France in August 2013 and knew that I wanted to walk the Camino, one day. But at the time I had a lot of potential, upcoming change in my life: a relationship and a relocation and the expectation that I would be building my life with another person. The Camino could wait.
But life threw me a curve ball, and the relationship- that had once seemed so unbreakable and solid- crumbled. And a lot of the visions I’d had for my future crumbled with it.
As 2013 ended I had a hard time looking ahead to the next year. I felt lost, and unsure of what to do next, unsure of where to go. And then I thought of the Camino. Of those bright yellow arrows that appear hundreds and hundreds of times to guide pilgrims as they walk. Of having a direction to move in. Of walking, day after day, on a path that is called ‘The Way’.
I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago.
Hearing myself say that I was going to walk 500 miles? To my ears, it sounded insane. But it also made perfect sense.
I blogged about my preparations for the Camino from January 2014-June 2014, and those posts begin here: ‘A Single Step’.
And then I blogged while I was on the Camino, from June 2014-August 2014, beginning with the post ‘Out of Iceland and Down to St Jean Pied de Port’.
The Camino was a life-changing experience, and I hope to do more writing about it in next few years, as well as find another Camino route to walk. If you are thinking about or preparing for your own Camino and have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask (either below in the comments or by using the contact form, which you can find below the header of this blog); talking about the Camino is one of my favorite things to do!
I hope you enjoy these posts and stories.