A Different Kind of Pilgrimage

How excited was I to see that Janet from Some Frozen Cookies is aiming to walk the Camino de Santiago?

Very excited.

I’ve done that! I walked from León, in central Spain, to Santiago, near the western coast. It took 13 days. I walked, with one friend who walked much faster, carrying my pack, sleeping in the pilgrims’ hostels along the road that people have been walking since about 800 A.D.

I want to do it again someday, perhaps for my 50th. But, perhaps it will happen spur-of-the-moment like it did the first time.

I’m not an adventure traveler, or thrill-seeker. I find comfort in patterns and habits. Some of my patterns and habits have not served me very well—eating too much that isn’t too good for me and not exercising enough. But patterns and habits can be good, too, and there’s nothing like walking several hundred kilometers to get you thinking about how yuo are living your life, and which habits and patterns are meaningful to you.

I never felt lonely on the camino, but I was often alone, and that was fine. I spent a fair amount of time singing to myself, and thinking about the people who mean the most to me. I also spent a fair amount of time wondering when we’d get to our next stopping point, what we’d eat, and whether the pharmacy would be both open and willing to part with a box of band-aids. It was like there was some weird band-aid rationing going on in rural Spain back then … anyway … my point is that if you let your mind wander, you were just as likely to focus on the mundane as on the profound, but you still got where you were going.

What doing a long walk like that boils down to, not surprisingly, is taking each step, then the next one, and the one after that.

If you are lucky, or lost, or receptive, or paying attention, the saint will show up to guide you. The saint may be a farmer in a field who points out the right turn, a bar owner who is willing to open 30 minutes earlier than usual so you can get something to eat, or a fellow pilgrim waiting to stuff newspaper into your soaking wet boots after you’ve finally managed to summon up the energy to pull them off your feet at the end of the day. (The newspaper helps dry them out faster. Thanks, French Guy!)

Today, I woke up afraid again. I didn’t go to the gym yesterday, and I still haven’t been today, and it is almost 4 in the afternoon. I’m still worried about dehydration, and I’m going to have to come to terms with it. Here’s how the saint showed up to help me turn this around:

  1. Janet wrote about the camino on her blog. Trust me, it doesn’t come up that often in casual conversation.
  2. She included a video clip from another pilgrim who talked about the time he wanted to quit. Just then, his waiter walked up to him wearing a t-shirt that said keep on running. That was all the encouragement he needed, and he kept on going and finished.
  3. I saw the post and got excited thinking about the camino and the strength it took to do that.
  4. I meditated to calm down a bit before going to do a presentation for work.
  5. I checked my email post-presentation and saw that I had a comment from the person who motivated me to start this blog, Shauna Reid, author of The Amazing Adventures of Diet Girl. (Shauna doesn’t know that, and she doesn’t know me, but it totally feels like a rock star visited and commented on my blog, and I’m thrilled.)

When you are walking the camino, people along the route ask you to hug the saint for them, dar un abrazo al santo, when you get to the Cathedral in Santiago. I’m going to publish this without proof-reading it, change into my gym clothes, and go hit the track. I’ll hug the saint for you if you’ll hug him for me.

Photo credit Lalo R. Villar / AP

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