El Camino – The Highlights

We started walking from St. Jean Pied de Port, France on 20 April. Thirty six days later, we walked in to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, traveling 497 miles (799 km) westward.

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Other than 5 miles (8 km) on horseback, 12 miles (20 km) in a taxi, and 110 miles (180 km) by bus from Burgos to Leon, we have traveled on these feet.

We walked 370 miles (590 km).

We slowed down. We rarely reserved beds in advance, trusting that we’d find something. We woke at 0600, walked for over an hour before coffee or breakfast. We learned to share space with other people – a LOT of other people. We met people from around the world – sharing laughter, tears, a meal, a few days walking together – glimpses of our lives.

We learned to appreciate every moment of peace. We ate when we were hungry, rested when we were tired. We redefined luxury – to include walking in solitude, wooden bunk bed ladders, and cloth sheets on a decent mattress. We carried in our packs a bare minimum of belongings – nothing unused. We washed our clothing by hand. We learned the power of restoration that comes through sleep. We lost an appreciable amount of weight without being hungry. We are harder to kill.

We accepted that the most environmentally responsible option for clearing our sinuses does not involve tissues. We saw enough spindly-legged old men in their undercrackers shuffling about hostels to last us a lifetime.* While many peregrinos leave their fecal matter a reasonable distance** from the trail, others seemed to have no problem leaving it mid-trail, for the rest of us to admire. We learned a teeny bit of Spanish – and although we didn’t always get it right, it was universally appreciated.

After five weeks, we thought we were done walking – even though the daily routine was deeply ingrained.

Arriving in Santiago last Friday, with a week to kill, we hopped a bus for the coast. We spent four days farting around by the sea at “the end of the world” – Fisterre and Muxia. But we were restless… We didn’t feel right NOT walking.
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When we arrived back in Santiago today, our plan was to take the airport bus to our hotel. It was only 12 km – so we walked it – in a chilly, misty drizzle.

It felt good…

Tomorrow, we’re off to fart around in Barcelona with an old friend, who has planned an intense repatriation experience.

And then home, for what lies ahead…

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* One. Exactly one of these is enough to last a lifetime. We saw dozens more.
** If you see an area adjacent to the trail littered with toilet paper? Probably not the best place to have a picnic. Humans can be really filthy animals…
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i go out walkin’….

It’s been less than a year since retirement. Nine months. We did not want to spend the first year getting oriented to our new lifestyle. Reflecting on past careers. Sifting through travel guides. Let ourselves get mired in “analysis paralysis.”

We decided to put a virtual taser to the gonads and shake shit up.

The key question we’ve set out to answer — “how do you travel when you have more time than money?” We’ve been fortunate to cover a lot of miles – we want to change how we go.

Shortly after retiring, we stumbled our first few miles on the Appalachian Trail last August, thinking that backpacking  would be the obvious means to travel on the cheap. What we quickly determined is that we were in no shape to tackle such adventures. At least not right away. i also was reminded how much i despise sleeping on dirt.

Studley’s daughter, Pixie, was very supportive of our pursuit of an adventurous travel habit. We discussed other options – including El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. “From what I have heard, one of the hardest things about doing the Camino is staying sober – they serve a LOT of Spanish wines during the meals there…”

Studley and i exchanged a glance – and a high five. “Drunk walk Spain? Yeah. We can do that…” We started planning our camino. While still chasing other adventures, staying in Turkey for a month, and living our regular lives, El Camino became a quest.

We started training. And by “training” i mean “walking” – because it’s really just a walk. Doing 30 half-marathons back to back, however, will wear down your body, so we have been walking. A lot. We’ve walked in rain. In snow. On the one warm day this season, we walked 12 miles. Has it been enough? Probably not. But here we are, about to get on an airplane.

i’ve got several friends who have taken on this pilgrimage. They have been our primary resource in thinking through what to pack. My cousin (who has walked El Camino twice) did a gear shakedown – we were pretty proud to show her that we’d gotten out packs down to 15 pounds.

Cousin L [pulling a tiny travel mug from Studley’s pack]: Isn’t that adorable. You know, they DO have cups in Spain.

gear

She was brutal, questioning each item. With her help, we further lightened our loads. Base weight of my pack is 10 pounds (4.5 kg). This is a very good start. With water and consumables, i’ll be at about 13 pounds (7 kg).

One of the most challenging aspects has been preparing to be GONE for so long. Bill paying, mail, home maintenance, appointments. All of this must be squared away so we can disappear. Taking my cat to go stay with a friend was difficult. This is also training…

We’ve walked. We’ve packed, repacked, and packed again.  There’s not much more to do but get to the airport. And start walking…

Rain Gear

For decades my “power word” has been “onward”. When i felt mired in the muck of life, or quicksand of toxic relationships, i have grabbed that word as my shield and plowed ahead. Within Camino culture, there is an ancient equivalent – “Ultreia” (old Spanish spelling – “Ultreya”). Rough translation – ‘Onward! Beyond!’