A week in to the journey, I started to figure out which way was up.
Walking the Camino without any physical training was an optimistic endeavour. I look back on it now and think it was beautifully optimistic – what trust, what faith, how sweet! Some people would say it was foolish or irresponsible, but I had done enough cross-country walking in my life to know that I could do it. I can “do” stamina and endurance, I’m not afraid of roughing it, and I am happily myself in the great outdoors. The 8-year old in me was delighted to be outside every day, playing in the sun. Still, I had never attempted to walk so far before and I didn’t take any of it for granted. Every day, I prayed I would be given the resources I needed to keep going. Even though I missed Supportive Husband, I wasn’t ready to wrap up and go home. The fact that he cheered me on from a distance made him even more awesome.
After years sitting at a desk and staring into a computer screen to do virtual work, the daily exertion of walking felt real. It was real effort, with a real sense of progress. I’d replaced full-time working with full-time walking, and my slow progression over land was the stuff of legend.
I was on walkabout
I was on a quest
I was on pilgrimage
I was crossing a country on foot
In our escalating race for speed, there’s something primal about using your body, instead of a machine, to get from place to place. Walking Camino was a great way of getting back to basics.
It also was all-encompassing: my agenda every day was simple: walk as far as I can, find a bed, sleep in it. Eat, drink, and wash, too. There were no politics, no mind games, and no corporate ladders to contend with – all of those things just fell away. The rules for survival had changed and some part of me delighted in recognising them: Ah, I know how to do this. I know how to walk and I know how to keep going. This stuff makes sense.
A week into it, my major concerns had already been addressed and dismissed:
- Worried about getting stuck for a bed? It happened, but everything worked out okay anyway.
- Anxious I had too much weight in my backpack? I’d taken some of it out and mailed it home.
- Concerned about not speaking very much Spanish? No need, I’d already learned a few key phrases in asking for coffee, bathrooms, and beds.
- Apprehensive about the steep ascent and descent of the Pyrenees? No need, it was tough but the views were stellar and I survived without injury.
- Worried about being over-stimulated with people everywhere? Well, that happened but I’d learned to walk alone for at least some of the day, and take a private room one night. Problem solved.
To my delight, I had already covered over 100km and had crossed over the Pyrenees on foot, in hiking sandals. Already, I felt I had succeeded within myself. I had slept in a different bed every night, I’d paced myself, pushed myself, cried like a child, and pulled myself together. I’d already met hundreds of people from all over the world. There was no week in the office that could compare!
Would I recommend some physical training beforehand? Absolutely. I may have survived my first week but I probably could have spared myself some of the pain if I had been in better physical shape. Would I recommend crossing the Pyrenees in hiking sandals? No, not really. There were benefits and drawbacks to wearing the sandals but on such steep ground, they weren’t the best. Would I recommend walking with an open heart full of trust, instead of a guidebook full of plans and schedules? Yes, I would, but there are challenges to that, too.
Going on Camino without a lot of physical preparation was somewhat innocent, and I really didn’t know what lay ahead. Still, I knew two friends who separately walked the Camino Francés in the six months before me and they both told me the same thing: You get stronger as you go on.
Whatever else happened, I had crossed the Pyrenees and I’d survived the first week.
And prayed there was more to follow.