How You Know It’s Time to Go For A Long Walk in Spain
The Camino de Santiago.
It’s one of my favorite trails in the world. Not necessarily because of its beauty (though it is beautiful), but (and I realize how cheesy this sounds) what I really love is the Spirit of the trail.
Here’s what I mean:
The Way draws people from all over the world and from all walks of life into this uniquely communal journey. From the moment you declare yourself a pilgrim on the road to Santiago, you are joining a tradition that is longer than you can imagine and opening yourself up to a world of encounters and experiences that could change your life.
You walk roads that literally hundreds of thousands of people have walked before you, and somehow the collective prayers ands steps of all the previous pilgrims bring levity to the journey that I simply haven’t experienced on any other trail.
What happens when you join so many seekers on a long road to the same Cathedral and travel only as fast as you can walk is that you begin to tell each other your stories. In my short experience, everyone on the Camino is looking for something, even if that something is simply a warm meal or a hot shower. You’re collectively walking and searching, and no one truly knows what’s ahead. You’re all going to find out together. Throw in a little discomfort (bad weather + boots that aren’t waterproof) and suddenly you are commiserating or sharing food and the next thing you know, you’re planning to name your next child after your new best friend you just met.
When you walk the Camino, even though you are doing a thing that’s been done many times before, every step is new. You’re bringing a new Camino into being by your presence on it.
One day I would like to walk the entire Camino, but it takes about 40 days, and I’m not quite ready to be gone for that long. So I’m doing it in portions for now. In 2015, I walked the last 100 km with three girlfriends. I have longed to go back ever since, and for a number of different reasons, this fall was the right time.
My friend Kandace was living in France, and she was willing to meet me. The airplane tickets from Chicago were exceptionally reasonable. And the weather didn’t seem like it was too terrible just yet.
So off I went.
I’ve struggled all fall to make decisions. We moved (again), and we bought a new couch for the first time in over twenty years. I thought I was going to lose my mind trying to decide which one to buy. I’ve deliberated to the point of madness about whether I’m going to write in the morning and walk in the afternoon or if the reverse would be better. I stand bewildered in unfamiliar grocery aisles, because I can’t decide if I’m going to make pasta or soup for dinner.
But somehow, in the midst of indecision about almost everything, the decision to buy a ticket to Madrid and return to the Camino was effortless. Everything about leaving seemed to fall into place.
I had most of the gear I needed lying around the house, and extras for Kandace since she didn’t have all her backpacking stuff in France. I boarded the plane without any of the anxiety I usually have about leaving town. It was almost uncanny how the journey felt foreordained. Dare I even say Blessed.
It all came together so quickly that now it seems like sort of a dream. A little bit before leaving, I emailed Kandace and asked her what she thought about trying to raise money for some of the causes we both care about while we were walking. We got on the phone and threw together a plan for how to make more good come from something that already seemed so good.
Kandace and I met in Madrid as soon as I walked off the plane. We grabbed coffee and hopped onto a bus that would take us to Logrono, the beginning of our way. Most everyone we would meet on the trail would have already been walking 154km (or more) before reaching Logrono, but we were just beginning.
We dropped off our packs and went for a walk around Logrono. We needed to purchase Pilgrims’ Credentials and get our bearings before heading out the next morning.
As soon as I spotted the first familiar seashell signpost marking out The Way, my heart swelled. Everything came flooding back to me about how much I love this path, not the least of which is how well marked it is (read: easy to follow).
Once it got dark, we pub crawled through the tapa bars that lined the streets of Logrono, trying new foods and drinking Spanish beer and wine.
I think I started laughing that first night in Logrono and didn’t stop for the next eight days.
I fell asleep hard after all the travel and woke up ready to walk.
Even though I had a big pack to strap on, somehow I felt lighter than I had in months.