This was going to be a big walking year. Well, I suppose you could consider every year since 2014 a big walking year for me, since I always planned at least one long-distance hike/walk. But this year? This year was going to be good.
Last summer I returned to Spain after three years away, and spent 30 days walking the Camino Aragonés and part of the Camino del Norte. As I walked (particularly at the three-week mark), I realized that I hadn’t walked a 30-day stretch since 2015. And I have to admit that I was a little surprised to realize that it felt GOOD.
Previously, I’d thought that my body adjusted and my hiking legs kicked in after about 10-days of walking, and while there’s probably some truth to that, something else seemed to happen after another 10-days, at least on this particular trip, something that I hadn’t felt since 2015: I felt like I could walk forever.
I not only start to feel strong, I continue to feel strong. My body adjusts, almost completely.
It’s physical but it’s mental too, because 30-days gives me enough time to really settle in. On my two-week long trips (like Le Chemin du Puy, and the Pennine Way), just as my body starts to adjust, my mind begins the wind-down process, and I never get the chance to just really sink into it. But to have an entire month to walk? The routines feel natural, normal. Walking becomes what I do.
I’ve wondered what it would be like to walk for even longer, and I fantasize about giving myself two months, even three months, to walk continuously. Would my body eventually break down? Would I become restless or bored, wishing I could just stop moving and stay in one place?
While I didn’t plan a two-month walking trip this summer, I did recognize that I wanted to walk for more than a few weeks. I wanted another long stretch. And so I booked a flight to Portugal and had a solid 40-days of walking before I would need to make my way over to France, and my writer’s retreat at La Muse.
I didn’t even have a plan of how I would spend those 40 days! I had a Camino Portuguese guidebook, and the thought that I could spend a few days walking south of Lisbon on the Fisherman’s Trail (Rota Vincentina) before making my way north on the Camino, towards Santiago. I intended to walk to Santiago, but knew that I’d have extra time and thought I could either do another trip out to Finisterre/Muxia (and finally walk the link between the two villages!), or maybe walk part of the Camino Invierno.
All I knew was that I was excited, really excited, to have 40-days to walk.
But this wasn’t it; had all gone according to plan, I would have done some spring-time walking in Japan, as well, on the Kumano Kodo. That would have been 5 days of walking in the mountains of the Kii Peninsula, and it’s hard to describe how much I had been looking forward to that trip.
And maybe ‘hard’ is the best word for all of this. It’s been hard to give up these trips because of COVID. It’s been hard to not go on a long walk this year. It’s been hard to be uncertain about the future, to worry about where my country (the United States) is headed, to stay energized and hopeful in the day-to-day.
At first, I couldn’t look at or read anything that had to do with travel, it stung too much. But a few months ago, I listened to a podcast where Sherry Ott (of Ottsworld, a great travel blog) talked about her long-distance walks and at first I thought I would have to turn it off but as I listened some little spark reappeared. She talked about St Olav’s Way, in Norway, and my brain started turning. What would it be like to walk in Scandinavia?
I started to do a little research and before I knew it, I had a document outlining a 30-day trip on the Gudbrandsdalen Path (the most popular of the pilgrimage paths making up St Olav’s Way). I didn’t know that I would ever actually walk in Norway, and if I did, I had no idea when it would be, but it felt good to plan.
And then, a few weeks later, I bought myself another ticket to Japan. I just pushed my trip back one year and honestly, I have no idea if I’ll be able to get to Japan next spring but I figure I might as well act as though I can (a caveat: I got 100% of my flight/lodging money back for the trip I had to cancel, and my flight for next year has good cancelation options).
In the past couple of months I’ve let myself dream of travel again, especially of all the walks I want to do. A friend living in Spain traveled up to Scotland to walk the Great Glen Way… and instantly I was reading blogs and doing research, planning my own stages. And then I started thinking about Portugal, realizing that I never really looked through the guidebook that I’d bought for my trip and so I started dreaming of walks by the coast and pasteis de nata.
I dug back into Kat’s blog (Following the Arrows). She passed away earlier this year and it was hard to read through her posts but I’ve always gone to her for information and inspiration, and her blog is excellent. I saw that she’d walked the Coast to Coast- had I realized this?
And then I remembered that a few years ago, I’d asked for a Coast to Coast guidebook for Christmas (this must have been right after I walked the Pennine Way), and suddenly I was planning yet another walk, this time a walk across England.
It’s hard to not be able to buy a ticket and hop on a plane and use the last few weeks of my vacation time on a walk through the moors, or along a coast, or deep in the mountains. But I have to say, planning feels good. It reminds me that this virus won’t shut down life forever, that there are so many amazing places yet to discover, so many roads to travel, so many walks left in me.
It feels good to dream, and to have hope for the future.
Here are some links and resources to the walks mentioned in this post, in case you want to do a little dreaming of your own!
Camino Portugués (Portugal):
Overview from American Pilgrims on the Camino, overview from the Confraternity of St. James.
Blogs: Camino Portugues- the Nuts & Bolts, Following the Arrows.
Guidebooks: The Camino Portugués, Cicerone, A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino Portugués.
Kumano Kodo (Japan):
St. Olav’s Way (Norway):
Great Glen Way (Scotland):
Coast to Coast (England):