The Camino… final thoughts…

 

So… the Camino.  Susan and I logged 120 plus miles on it, which no matter how we seemed to slice it and regardless of the daily mileage, consistently added up to 8 hours of walking a day, or more accurately,  hiking. Many have asked me since my return home how it was and once I’ve made my way through the blister talk, the amazing people, the beautiful scenery and charming towns we experienced and oh yea, it was a life changer, I’m kind of at a loss for words.

“Oh, life changing?  Really?  How?”

And that’s where I hesitate because I’m really not sure I’ve got an answer…yet…but I know that pacing through those miles, with Susan nearby, but not necessarily in talking distance, the time spent alone with presence and awareness definitely had an impact on me.  It was like weaving in and out of an 8 hour walking meditation that went on for 9 days.

Although the goal for most is the cathedral in Santiago, this is far more about the journey than the destination, as it is in the journey where the magic happens.  I witnessed this over and over again with the kindness among people who didn’t know one another, yet we all shared something or we wouldn’t have found ourselves on the Camino in the first place. There was the case of the Brazilians who had found Dan from Boston’s itinerary book and were so concerned about finding him to return it.  This was a story we heard not only from the Brazilians, but from the Canadians, the Hawaiians as well as the two brothers from Indiana.  What really made this amazing was that we were not all bunched together, constantly running into one another, but rather there were 14 to 16 miles covered a day, each of us with different start times and with different paces,  so you didn’t see the same people over and over again,  and some people, Dan from Boston for instance, we only saw the first day.  There was an intimacy present that I never expected.   We heard concern about David from Toronto as he hadn’t been seen for a couple of days and then there was Dr. Dan from Hawaii who was tending to a girl in his group who had come down with pneumonia.   We were very concerned for her after seeing her trudging slowly along, while wearing a surgical mask. Susan and I also were worried about Maria from California,  who we met the day before we began walking and who had had a string of bad luck before she even got to St. Jean Pied de Port, where we began.  She shared her woes with us over a glass of wine the night before our Camino start, which among a lot of getting lost stories,  included a flare up of tendinitis in her knee.  She was very discouraged and said her kids were telling her enough.  Come home.  I don’t think a day went by that Maria didn’t come up in our conversations, wondering how she was and if she was even on the Camino at all.  After the difficult journey on day one, on day two we saw the negative effects of that long and tedious climb on more than one pilgrim in the form of a knee brace.  Where were those pilgrims?  Were they still on the Camino?  Then there was the minor fall Susan had on a rocky downhill stretch 3 days in and the British man who came up to her in the café where we were having tapas in Pamplona and asked her if she was the woman who fell earlier in the day and was she OK?  (She was OK, by the way…).

This was what Eduardo from Brazil was talking about when he said that we are all in this together, yet we are all doing the Camino alone.  It was that invisible bond that united us all that really touched me.  No one asked or even seemed to care what you did in your “other life” and where you lived wasn’t always the first question either.  Rather, the focus was more about the here, the now, the next town, the Camino.

 

Our climb through the Pyrenees on day one, pushed me to my edge, which I found out extended a lot farther out than I realized.  It was our longest and most difficult day, challenging both my physical and my mental limits.  I thought I was at my limit, when we got to the hotel, only to find out that there was no elevator and we were on the 3rd floor, which in Spain means 4 flights up.  And we did it, with reserve tank fuel and our gear in tow.  I learned that there was a whole lot more in that reserve tank than I ever give myself credit for. That was a good piece of knowledge to tuck away in my pack for the many miles ahead.

Some views you have to earn… this one was well worth the hike up (in the Pyrenees Mountains, Day 1)

Walking the Camino offered the opportunity to strip away all outside distraction from life  and break things down to the very simplest components of putting one foot in front of another, mile after mile, day after day. I learned to focus on what was in front of me, especially when it came to the big hills as the view towards the end was daunting,  but when you can bring it back to what’s right in front of you, one boot in front of another, with an occasional eye to the prize, it sure is a lot easier.  It didn’t take long to see the parallels to life that the Camino offered up to us daily.

There are many faces and a lot of stories that come to mind when reflecting back on the Camino, one that was especially touching… the person, not the story, as the story is one that Susan and I made up.  When we were leaving Pamplona, we saw a girl who I’m guessing was in her mid to late 20’s.  She was walking at a slow pace with her head held low and I can’t remember if I told her “Buen Camino” when we passed or not, but I do remember anticipating that she likely wouldn’t answer if I did say it to her.  She seemed to be in her own world, far away from any of us who passed.  She was wearing boots and had a pair of boots tied onto her pack.  Seeing boots hanging from packs was common in the first few days as people had switched to sandals due to blisters (sandals on the Camino, I might add, seemed a whole lot harder to me than walking with the blistered feet in boots, but to each his own.  I even saw one guy barefoot, no boots hanging because I’m guessing he started barefoot.  Again, to each his own).  This situation was different from what we were used to seeing,  as she was wearing and toting boots.  The boots hanging from the pack looked to be a bit larger than the boots she was wearing, but still a woman’s boot.  We later passed her again, still with a solemn,  head down gait, and couldn’t help but notice that her pack had pushed down her pants on one side, exposing her underwear.  There was something very vulnerable about her, especially now that the side of her underwear was showing and she either knew and simply didn’t care, or didn’t realize it.  Susan and I were quite take by her and spontaneously started forming her story.   She had planned to do the Camino with someone (Her Mom?  Her Aunt?  Her sister?), but that person died a few months before they were to start the Camino, so she carried the boots in memory.  I have no idea whatsoever if this is true or not.  Maybe she couldn’t decide which pair of boots to bring, so she brought them both,  and was not sad, but tired.  Her downward gaze and posture told the story.  We just filled in some blanks.   Happily, the story, made up or not, had a happy ending as we saw our sad girl in Los Arcos, all smiles and with a guy.  We put that story to rest, only to move on to the very overweight French man who we quietly started calling “Slim” as I swear, he was shrinking in front of our very eyes.  Day by day.  I might add that there is tedium in the long, 14 or 15 miles of walking days… stories, made up names, stories to go with the names and so on… it happens.  Or at least with us it did.

It took me 2 days of looking at my pack and duffle bag at the back door, exactly where I dropped them when I got home, before I could bring myself to open them up and begin the process of unpacking.  Given the well worn clothes, that had only had a couple of well-meaning, but kind of worthless,  sink washings, this wasn’t a great idea, so I entered the process with caution and a bit of trepidation. There was something in me that needed to keep that part of my journey front and center, before emptying them and tucking them away in a closet.  I wanted to hold onto all that I could fearing that it would be gone before I was really ready.  What I didn’t realize was that although I do miss being on the Camino, the Camino has not left me.  It popped up unexpectedly in a yoga class yesterday.  We started the class seated back to back with a partner.  I don’t usually care for “partner” yoga, especially when you don’t know your partner, but found the exercise quite interesting.  We both found our place of comfort between leaning and supporting and before long even our breath became in sync.  At the end of the class, we were seated in the same manner, but without the partner and our teacher told us to envision a person in our life who we knew “had our back” seated back to back with us, exactly as we had done in the beginning of class, but now with only the vision of a person behind us.  That’s when quite by surprise,  the tears started streaming down my face. I thought about  Susan and how she had my back, and me hers, during our incredible journey on the Camino.  These are the moments that I have no doubt that those who I met on the Camino will also have and I hope they will be in a place where they’ll have the luxury that I did in my yoga class to wrap themselves up in those feelings and honor them for what they are… the Camino’s nudge to us to stay on it, even though  our boots are off and physically we are thousands of miles away from those long, winding pathways.

This journey, my journey, as a pilgrim on the Camino,  was inspiring, challenging, moving, heartfelt and for me right now, unfinished.

Next year.  Next September.  375 miles.  Buen Camino.

Mother son duo from Bellingham.  I was so happy to reconnect with them once home.  I really enjoyed these two!

 

I was so touched by the countless memorials we came across on the Camino.

 

 

I was struck by the silver heart that hung from this single boot and had to wonder about the story that accompanied it.

 

This brought us both to tears… we came around a corner and as far as the eye could see, were notes and momentoes to loved ones.  Very powerful.

 

Our beautiful Canadian Camino friends, Laurie and Mathilda

 

The words of encouragement that our Canadian friend, Laurie showed us (or “whispers along the way” as she called them), from her four sons.  This one made me cry.

 

Running into our Canadian friends quite by accident and having dinner with them.  A wonderful surprise.
As said by Susan, “What you need is usually there for you, if not, maybe you didn’t need it after all.”  Case in point, our last day on the Camino we had counted on stopping at a café along the way for lunch.  There was no such café, but when we dug deep into the packs, we realized we had more than enough for an impromptu lunch.  We always had what we needed, one way or another.
Signs of the Camino come in many forms… this one was a sign that was braided right into his beard!

 

 

An incredible mountain top surprise after a long hill climb.

 

This beautiful guy followed us for a bit…
Camino communication.  I’m guessing she/he got her photo.  That’s how it works on the Camino.

 

She’s got my back, and me hers…

 

Rain, thunder, lightening and fog. Don the poncho and keep going…

 

 

No matter how you slice it, it’s not a good look, but today, it was common.

It was easy, and pretty natural, to go into today with a bit of dread.  It was pouring with rain, after all, and we had 14 miles ahead of us.  Thank goodness for ponchos.  It rained and rained and at times the rain was accompanied by thunder and lightening, which had us both wondering about the lightening rod hiking poles we were carrying, but all was not lost, or ruined or even all that miserable.  It was what it was and gave us a whole lot more appreciation for the sun that did eventually come out.

Wanting to escape the rain, we pulled into a small pub/restaurant called “Bar Juan” and enjoyed a nice 20 minute or so omelet “lunch” (it was not even noon, so I’m sure they would still be calling it breakfast).  By the time we had finished, the tiny one-roomed bar had at least 20 people waiting in line for the one waitress behind the counter and there were probably at least that many outside waiting to get in.  Our timing was perfect.  Had it been sunny, I doubt we would have allowed ourselves the luxury of enjoying lunch and a coffee afterwards before getting back on the Camino.

The lunch was so filling that after a couple of beers, neither one of us were all that hungry for dinner so ate “out of our packs.”  Susan loves to cook and was feeling the need so I gave her complete access to my snack stash and we enjoyed a lovely light dinner of beef jerky, Spanish almonds, an orange and some crackers we bought our first day in France… all laid out on a scarf (one that hadn’t touched a sweaty neck, yet…) and placed on the end of one of the beds in our room.  Simple.  I might add that although we’re only into day 2 on the Camino, our standards of hygiene and otherwise have slipped and we’ve gotten pretty casual, which I don’t mind one bit.

Good news… on the package, the poncho said it can double as a tarp…

 

Started our day in heavy fog and rain

 

Gotta love poncho sharing…

 

Dinner.  And it was delightful.

While nearing the end of our journey today, we passed what looked like a food truck on the side walk.  Several plastic tables had been placed in front of it and were filled with pilgrims enjoying an cup of cafe con leche or even a beer before heading out for the final few miles.  Only in Europe, I thought, would a “food truck” serve cafe con leche in a cup with a saucer.  I loved that there was no need for “to go” cups and that the ritual of sitting down for a proper cup of coffee, served in a cup with a saucer was that important.  It was a nice nudge to slow down.

We’re running into a lot of the same people, whether at dinner at night, or over a beer and there’s a real comfort to that. The common expression on the Camino is “Buen Camino,” regardless if Spanish your native language or not.  It is a real uniting factor for a group of people that speak so many different languages and come from so many different places.  It feels a bit like a hug, and doesn’t seem to lose any power even though it is said and received so many times a day.

Buen Camino.

It was the little stuff that made it a big day on the Camino today…

 

 

The beautiful morning light…

 

Step by step with my sister

Blogging has not been easy due to spotty internet so I’ve been a bit remiss on my postings, but while I’ve got decent internet (that will end when the hotel fills up with Pilgrims), I wanted to share a few stories I heard on the Camino today.

Today was day 6 on the Camino and with each mile, about 90 so far, there seems to be a new story.  I was especially touched by the ones I heard from a Canadian woman, ironically named Laurie.  She and four of her friends, now known as “the Chicas” have been planning their Camino trip for the past 2 years.  They’ll be going to the end at Santiago, a 4 to 5 week journey.  I noticed that she had
laminated cards attached to her pack, about the size of a playing card.  I noticed one of them had a photo of 4 young men and had to ask.  They were her 4 sons, none of them who live close to her.
Before she left, she asked each one of them what they would whisper to her if they could while she was on her journey.  She wrote down each one of their responses and in addition to the card that had their photo, she carried their words with her.  She told me to go ahead and read it aloud if I wanted, especially paying attention to the 3rd one as it was her son who had given her the most emotional support.

It read:

“Stop, look around and appreciate where you are.  I love you and I have more confidence in you completing your journey than anyone else on earth.”

I couldn’t complete the words without crying.  There is such an openness and vulnerability that seems
to be present on the Camino and I think that’s why so many of these people, who I’ve really spent
very little time with, I will carry with me long after I’ve left Spain.  We’re on a first name, home state or country basis with so many, and though connections are made, there’s little exchange of information (ie facebook) so it is all in and of the moment.  It is very powerful and very real.  We were asked today by a group if we knew who Dan from Boston as he had left a book behind and one of the other guys had it.  I knew right off who they were talking about and had met him on the first day.  There’s Jerry from Indiana, Dan from Hawaii, the Canadians (5 chicas), the French couple, the Brazilian guy, the Dutch quartet, and so on.   I’m learning to appreciate the moments spent with a variety of people from all over the world, some speaking English, some Spanish and others, communicating simply with a “Buen Camino.”  The mother son duo we met on day 2, saw again on day 3, we’ve not seen since and that makes me sad as I don’t even have a last name for them, but that’s the lesson on the Camino, that of impermanence and treasuring the moment

Laurie, from Canada, also told me a story that she referred to as “heaven on earth.”  She said her aunt who she was very close to had recently died.  She loved red wine and red roses.  We spent a lot of
time today walking through the rioja wine vineyards and she told us that earlier she had seen one lone
red rose amongst the rows and rows of grapes.  I’m not sure that would have been noticed otherwise, but while on such long stretches of walking alone or in and out of a group, you begin to see with all of your senses.  I shared her story with a couple we had met earlier in the week and had shared some beers with, and they said they also saw the rose.  As we’ve gotten deeper into the Camino, we also seem to be getting deeper into ourselves.

I also heard the story today about an American who had started the Camino last year, but during the climb through the Pyrenees (day one), had fallen and broken her ankle.  She was taken to the nearest town, Roncesvalles, where they cast it and when she was able, she flew home where she had extensive surgery followed by months of physical therapy.  She came back this year to start the
Camino all over again, Pyrenees Mountains and all, and had gotten to know the Candians along the way.  You’ve got to admire such dedication.  I’m not sure I’d have the same enthusiasm.
It was a good day today on the heels of probably one of the worst days on the Camino (due to both
the route and the final destination).  Most of our day was spent walking through vineyards.  Even though we were rained on, had bouts of wind and a lot of climbing, I do think it was the best time I’ve had on the Camino yet.

One of the biggest treats today was a little stand set up in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, where a couple was “selling” (by donation only) fruit, cookies, and drinks while another woman sat nearby and provided accordion music.  Eating a nectarine in the middle of a field with accordion music in the background was pure heaven.  It was the simple things today that really counted.

Our beautiful Canadian friends, Laurie and Matilda
surprises come in many packages…accordion music while walking through farm land

 

“Benevenido Peregrinos!!”
Stopping for a café con leche… Yeah.  This is good.

16 miles, through the Pyrenees, from St. Jean Pied du Port to Rancevalle.

The beginning….

First off, the internet is off and on here, mostly off, so photo uploading is impossible.  I uploaded one in about 10 minutes.  New town, new internet connections, hopefully tomorrow.  Hopefully can post more then…

Today was hard.  Really hard.  Plain and simple.  But oh was it beautiful.

We were on the Camino by 7:30, which actually started right outside of our Bed and Breakfast.  The Camino is very well marked, and it’s first marking for where most people start walking, was a brass plaque set into the cobblestones.  It felt very exciting to cross it, even though yesterday, while walking around the small town, we crossed it countless times.  But today… today is official.  We are Pilgrims on the Camino, walking our journey.

The countryside was absolutely breathtaking and I’m afraid neither my photos or my words can do it justice, but I will try.  We walked into a low lying fog for several hours, at the base and well into the Pyrenees Mountains, which added to the mystic of our walk today.  As we climbed higher, we rose above the fog and it truly was mystical to look down into the valleys through a thick layer of cloud-like fog.  Susan and I, not necessarily planned, began to separate from each other, which really was a good thing.  I know for me, the setting and the one foot in front of the other for so many miles, were very fertile grounds for pensive thought.  I found that the trivial conversations in my mind subsided quickly and have to think the setting had a lot to do with that.  Besides, it was hard not to think about all those who went before me on this journey, starting a few thousand years ago.  Those people, clad  in leather sandals and wool robes, were the true pilgrims.  Although I’m retracing their steps, I’m doing it in high tech, quick dry clothing and am pacing out the journey in comfortable boots with good socks.  Not to mention a back pack to hold extra layers, a 3 liter water bladder and all sorts of food for those “just in case” moments.

As we ventured further and further into the mountains, the wind stared picking up and I spent a lot of time thinking about wind.  I don’t like it is what I came up with.  It was so loud that that whole thing about not being able to hear youself think really did come into play.  I had to walk with my head down, as I watched my feet inching forward so terribly slow due to the headwind.  If I raised my head, and believe me, I did that as often as I could as the scenery was so amazing, the wind would sting my face and blow the rim of my sunhat back giving me a bit of a “Little Debbie” look.  One man said he guessed the gusts to be near 70 mph.

When we passed into Spain, which was a no- event as really didn’t know it happened someone mentioned it, the “voilas” turned to “esta biens” quicker than you can say Camino and we couldn’t figure out why.  I felt like we were with the same group of people, more or less and they’d come and go leaving big gaps when you saw no one then there they’d be, all having a bit of a rest together.  It was strange though because at one point we were surrounded by French speakers and I swear, a couple of “around the bends” later, and Spanish was all we heard.  I’m happy.  I can talk again.

Today beat me up and showed me where my edges are and lo and behold, they extended out farther than I ever thought possible.  We hiked a good 9 hours, covering over 16 miles, most of it in the mountains.  We never really had a sense of how far or how much longer, which is just as good as it is bad.  Susan and I separated during the final downhill leg and I was so tired, with feet that were feeling slightly beat up, that when we did finally meet towards the end at a Camino sign, I didn’t recognize her.  Well, actually, I wasn’t really looking at her but heard a woman who I could see out of the corner of my eye, say, “Looks like we’ve only got 1/2 a kilometer to go.”  I responded with a, “Ok, sounds good…stood there for a good 5 or 10 seconds, then looked up and said, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t even know that was you.”  That was what she referred to as delusional tired.  Also a low point.

The other low point of the day, I’m not even counting the wind as it wasn’t a point, but rather, several hours, was when we got to the hotel and were told we were on the 3rd floor.  Of course we naturally asked where the elevator was and the very kind woman at the front desk, who looked so clean and fresh to our sweaty, grungy selves, said, “There isn’t one.  I’m so sorry.”

We both thought we were going to cry.  I’m not much of a swearer, but that’s exactly what I did for 4 flights up… 4 because it’s the European system and the ground floor is 0.

Beat up, sore feet, a bit of a mess but so extremely proud of what we did today.  We can’t think to far ahead to tomorrow as we’re still licking our wounds from today, but it was hard to not lean in an ear tonite at dinner when we heard the 100% chance of rain and muddy, slippery trails, I’ve got to admit, my heart kind of sunk.  I’m hopeful though…

On a side note, while thinking about 911, I had to think that as much pain as I was in from the fatigue and physical exertion, it pales compared to what so many are going through today.

 

What goes on on the Camino, stays on the Camino… (disclaimer, we both are still wearing our undies…)

 

 

Lots of these fellas on the Camino today…

 

 

 

Biarritz, France… beaches (we didn’t see), resorts (we didn’t see) but we do know where the kidney dialysis center is…

Nothing about sitting in the back of a taxi for 45 minutes in the parking lot of a kidney dialysis center was even remotely normal.

 

First off, I’m not in kidney failure. Oddly enough though, it’s part of the story…

I’m not sure my sister, Susan and I have ever been on a trip that something very unusual didn’t happen.  It just doesn’t ever happen on the first day.

After what seemed like days of travel… oh wait, it was days… with multiple airports, countries, time
zones and wait times, we finally arrived at our ALMOST destination, Biarritz, France.  We were tired and it was late, or at least we felt like it was late, after 9:00 pm, and our cab, that had been arranged weeks before, didn’t show up.  We were about the last travelers left in the small airport when after waiting for a good 30 minutes, he finally showed up.  I add this in as its relevant to know the frustration that was starting to build along with the growing fatigue.  The airline, we later learned,
doesn’t post an arrival time (there was nothing on our tickets), but since it was the last flight of the day, with no connections, people just tend to guesstimate on pick up times and last night, our guesstimater was off by about 30 minutes.
Into the ride and more than anxious to be at our destination for the night, St. Jean Pied du Port, about 45 minutes away, our driver turned off the main road and into a parking lot in front of what looked
like a very small medical building or hospital, which was confirmed when what I’m guessing was an ambulance, squeezed by us.  He then said something in French, got out of the car and went into the
building.  Susan initially thought he has said “gas,” but clearly we were not at a gas station.  We sat in the dark, the street lights in the area being very dim, both of us silent.  Both of us curious.  Then Susan says,
“I’m not sure what is stranger… the fact that we’re in a cab sitting in the parking lot of a hospital… or the fact that neither one of us has said anything about it and we’ve been here for 10 minutes.

Very true.  So I got out of the car and went around to the front of the building to see exactly what it was and pieced together that it was a kidney dialysis center.  Like that explained anything!  We sat for another 25 minutes or so, both of us tired, frustrated and now totally puzzled by our situation.

I’ve got to back up a bit here and comment on the city of Biarritz, where we had just flown into.  It’s a popular vacation spot for the French as it’s a coastal city (which we couldn’t see in the dark) and is
known as a “playground” for those not on vacation budgets.  A San Tropez, if you will.  We, while
seated in the back of a dark cab, saw none of that, but do now know where to go for dialysis if the
need arises.  Even stranger, when I driver finally returned after half an hour, there was an elderly woman with him, who promptly got in the front seat and we were off.  No explainations.  No apologies.  Nothing.  And maybe it was strange that we didn’t even ask, but there was that whole
language barrier dilema going on and frankly, I think we both were just too tired to even go there.  The first thing I thought of this morning when I woke up was,

Did we really spend close to an hour in the parking lot of a kidney dialysis center while our cab driver was missing or getting dialysis himself of picking up someone up who had had dialysis (perhaps his mom??) while his customers waited patiently in the cab???  Or did I dream that?

The memory that will come to mind for me years down the road when I hear about the vacation
of Biarritz won’t be the sea or the charm of a French coastal city (neither of which we
saw), but rather will be the kidney dialysis center and the two of us sitting in the back of a dark cab
wondering why we weren’t more concerned or were we just too tired?
Once delivered to the door of our charming inn, the driver uttered his first words since he left us in
the medical center parking lot, then was on his way.
“Buen Camino.”

That alone undid a whole lot of whatever it  was that just happened.

Smiles.  On both of our faces.  Oh and on a side note… something weird happens to my ipad, this blog site, or perhaps  me, when I do blog postings from another country. I have no idea why, but spacing becomes an issue that I’ve not cracked the code on. Thank you for bearing with me… hopefully I’ll figure it…

 

Off of I-70 and onto the “Beyond” part…El Camino de Santiago…

 

Maps, check. Passport, check.  Journal and pen, check.

 

Several years ago, while struggling with some personal issues, I bought Shirley Maclaine’s book, “The Camino.”  I didn’t have a clue what it was about, but while perusing the travel section of the book store, was intrigued by the cover.  This is how I buy a lot of my books and I’ve been surprised at how many times that the judging a book by its cover method has led me to exactly what I needed and in a timely manner. I once had a book fall off the shelf while I was making my way through an aisle I used to frequent and with a nudge like that, I felt compelled to buy it (self-help section books don’t seem to stay on the shelf like the fiction books do…). As I started digging into Maclaine’s story about her solo pilgrimage on El Camino de Santiago in Spain, I found such a connection to the emotional piece that had put her on the Camino in the first place that I knew the right book had landed in my hands, yet again.

The Camino is a 500 mile spiritual pilgrimage across Spain that people have been traveling for thousands of years and for at least that many reasons.  Ever since reading Shirley Maclaine’s memoir,  I’ve wanted to make the journey myself.  On Friday, September 11th,  after 4 days of planes, trains and automobiles, with my sister, Susan, I will be doing just that.  We won’t be walking the Camino in its entirety, but will log over a hundred miles in what I’m optimistically calling “phase 1” of our journey (to be completed in the following year or two).

This will be no doubt not only be a physical challenge, logging 12 to 14 miles of walking a day, but a challenge of mind and spirit as well.  Even though I will be walking with my sister, Susan, and we are rarely without words when we’re together, I know the significance and importance of this journey, as does she (she did a leg of it a few years ago) and will try to practice more awareness and less endless chatter.  After at least a dozen two day breast cancer walks with her, I know our routine.  Conversation is relevant and thoughtful in the beginning but quickly cycles into past travel recollections… still good… with ‘what’s this jiggly stuff on my upper arms?’ for the lightning round… not so good.

Awareness.  In the moment.  Silence.  I’ll google the arm stuff when I’m home.  THIS, is my plan.

I recently became inspired by a woman I was introduced to via Facebook, (rather than real face to face), who recently completed her journey on the Camino, all 500 miles of it, all by herself, and while battling cancer.  I’ve been humbled, moved, inspired and awed by her photos and posts and know she will come to mind often as I pace through the same pathways and trails that she did.  I’m honored to carry her story with me and can only hope to show the strength and stamina that she did throughout her journey.

I’ve learned through my many solo hikes, that sometimes the scariest thing on a hike is that person you are hiking with…and on solo hikes, it is very difficult to escape oneself.  Sometimes the mind is like a 4 year old child vying for attention to matters you thought you had long since tucked away.   Eventually, the endless jumping from one subject to another calms down and just like in meditation, it becomes easier to let the thoughts that don’t really matter go, while lassoing those that hold more relevance.  I’ve spent 7 or 8 hours in my head on a long hike and I’ve got to say it’s as inspirational as it is challenging,  but that’s only one day.  I can’t imagine 9 days, let alone a month, which is the length it takes most to complete the Camino.

So, with few expectations and a whole lot of excitement,  Susan and I will start the walking part of our journey on the 11th of September after 7 legs on 3 different airlines, stopping in 2 different countries before arriving in Spain, where we’ve decided to add in a day to sleep off any jet lag from an exhausting bout of travel.  To this I have to add that day one of our journey will be the most difficult (through the Pyrenees Mountains) so the hang, chill, sleep day was a very good idea.  Thanks, Susan.

From long hikes in Colorado to prepare my body,  to the many books and travel memoirs I’ve read to prepare my mind and spirit, to the intentions I’ve written and will carry with me in my pack,  I’m ready to begin a journey that I’ve thought about for the past 12 years and right now, feel like a kid on Christmas Eve, anxiously waiting to open my presents.