About three years ago, a few months after Doc moved out, I joined a hiking Meetup group for the first time. The first outing I attended was a women’s get together, as it seemed a bit less threatening than just meeting a bunch of hard core hikers on a trail, only to be left behind in the dust. Don’t get me wrong – it was still scary to go to a party with a bunch of strange women I’d never met, because – social anxiety. But in the end, it worked out well, as everyone was really nice and the women were able to assure me that the rest of the Meetup group were pretty great people and they would not leave me behind.
What I really liked about the gathering was the stories the other women told about their hiking adventures. One gal was a striking 60-year-old with beautiful shoulder length gray hair and a sparkle in her eyes. Karen mentioned she had just returned from hiking the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain – alone. If you haven’t heard of the Camino de Santiago, let me give you a brief lesson (bahahaha! As if I could ever be succinct!).
Back in the day – like 44 AD or so, Saint James the Greater, who was one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, was beheaded by Herod Agrippa – because Herod didn’t care for Christians or their preaching. The followers of James brought his body to Spain (of course, it wasn’t called Spain back then – but just go with it for the sake of the story) in a rudderless ship with no sail – which was kind of a miracle. These followers asked the Celtic queen who was ruling the Iberian Peninsula if they could bury his body and she refused, sending troops after them as they ran away (probably rather slowly, as they were carrying a headless body and all). However, as the soldiers crossed a bridge, it collapsed and they were all killed, which was kind of another miracle — or a really poor construction job. The queen had a change of heart, converted to Christianity, and the followers got to bury the body of Saint James in what is now Santiago, Spain.
Thus began pilgrimages by faithful Christians making the trek from their homes to the burial place of Saint James. These journeys were long and dangerous, undertaken as an act of penance and religious devotion – and they continue to this day. The most traveled trail is the Camino de Santiago, which starts in the Pyrenees mountains, just over the French border, and then continues to Santiago, Spain. But there are dozens, if not hundreds, of trails from all over Europe – and all leading, eventually, to Santiago.
The Camino de Santiago is 500 miles long, traveling through villages and towns and long stretches of fields, forests, and plains – and Karen had walked every mile.
It seemed inconceivable to me that a woman of a certain age would just jet to Spain and, carrying all of her clothing and supplies in a pack on her back, walk 500 miles by herself. She explained that there were many alburgues (kind of like hostels) for pilgrims along the way, so she always had a cheap place to sleep. There were markets and restaurants in every village, so she was able to find a place to have a meal when she was hungry. Since the Camino de Santiago is rather heavily traveled, especially in the summer, she met and hiked with people along the way – forging some lasting friendships.
I was fascinated – and it struck a spark somewhere inside of me.
When Doc left, I was fearful – for quite a while. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, where I was going, or how I would live, and I felt weak and battered by emotions. Hearing Karen’s story let me imagine for a moment that perhaps I could be brave, like her, and thrive after the end of my marriage. Perhaps I could be strong, like her, and do things I’d never imagined doing before. I wanted to live – a good life, a happy life, a fulfilled life – complete with love, good friends, and adventures.
I’m not sure when that spark stopped smoldering and turned into a tiny flame, and then into a fire. Before I knew it, I was researching the Camino – reading books, watching movies, pouring over comments on community forums of pilgrims who had gone before.
By the beginning of 2017, I knew I could do it – and do it alone. It wouldn’t be easy, physically or financially. It might be scary at times. It would certainly take me out of my comfort zone – which was something I wanted, because the girl who lived in my comfort zone wasn’t the girl I wanted to be anymore.
I approached my boss and asked about the possibility of getting two months off work to make the trip in the spring of 2018. To my surprise, she agreed, even though I would have to a take a chunk of that time off without pay.
The possibility suddenly became real – I am going to walk the Camino de Santiago.
Now, if you know me at all, you know I’m not religious. I’m not hiking the Camino for religious reasons, although I respect those pilgrims who do. This journey is a way for me to challenge and empower myself, to explore new and long-buried aspects of my personality, to reflect on my life and crystallize my vision for the future while becoming more comfortable with the reality that the future is always fluid and changing. Plus, the prospect of spending an extended period of time in Spain makes me incredibly happy.
I’m going to walk the Camino de Santiago – starting the trail on May 1st of 2018.
I’m probably going to be writing about this quite a bit. There will be much hiking and gym time to get in shape, classes and Meetups to brush up on my very mediocre Spanish, and interesting, creative ways to save money for the trip. I’m bound to encounter shenanigans, have new adventures, and embarrass myself at least a time or two along the way – so there will be stories to tell. I hope you’ll come along for the ride! Or should that be — the walk?