Last week I had breakfast with my former husband, to talk about some family business regarding our three grown children among other things, and when the subject of my upcoming Camino walk rolled around into the conversation, Mike looked at me with a wry smile and asked, “Have you figured out the source of this madness?”
I slowly said, “Nope,” then turned to my Santa Fe Huevos Rancheros and speared another bite of eggs, black beans and pork green chile. Mike has a right to be amused . . . in our 14 year relationship, I never aspired to be a long-distance anything.
It’s been 19 months since I walked into Santiago de Compostela after my first Camino journey on the Camino Frances, and have had this next Camino in my sights since then. I didn’t need to know why I walked the first time, and I guess I’m happy with not knowing why I’m going again. I was never a hiker or backpacker, and to tell the truth, I’ve done very little training since I returned in October 2013.
All the reasons are just excuses, I guess . . . a very sick dog for three months soon after I returned last time, some long-time stressors rising up and down like recurring tsunamis, intermittent travel to Italy, Indonesia, New England, New York, and all the rest of the things that interfere with a dedicated training program. See, I have said over and over that I was never THAT person, the one who was always in training for something . . . a half-marathon, a bicycle race, scoring points at the health club for number of reps recorded on an exercise machine, etc. Not a “let’s backpack in the canyon for a week” type either. Just wasn’t ever me.
I did spend two weeks at Point Reyes National Seashore last October and loved hiking there. I even spent a lovely hiking day with my friend Spencer Price, whom I met a week into my first Camino. The Way allows you to know people from all over the world, and even if you only see them once or twice, your shared experience anchors you forever, I think.
But what drove me toward the Camino the first time, and what calls me back again, is the promise of being in my own space for weeks at a time . . . walking in my own bubble, thoughts wrestling with one another until after about two weeks, I just break wide open and let things be. The physical challenge was first so difficult and then became a habit, culminating in a huge surge of self-back-patting when I reached the top of O’Cebreiro and thought, “This day’s walk was my biggest fear on the trail, and here I am!”
Rolling out of a bunk bed in a room with anywhere from six to one hundred fellow pilgrims, earlier than I typically rise, knowing I have to put that pack on again and walk for another day, becomes very much like a meditation, believe it or not. And I hunger for that again. I just hope it doesn’t become a bi-annual habit, this Camino walking. I’m not sure I want to be doing this when I’m eighty.
So though I’m pretty slack about the training, I’ve packed and re-packed in my mind a hundred times, have everything I need in two drawers, and will do a dry-run with my Gregory backpack in the next two weeks. And of course I will walk, hike, walk, hike before I leave on August 27 for Spain. We’ll be at Neil’s cabin in Ouray for a month, and then on my annual trip to New England I will have plenty of time and space to walk the country roads that surround Stone Walls, my retreat property in southern Vermont.
As I heard on my first walk, “You don’t train for the Camino . . . the Camino trains you.” I have several elements this time that I didn’t have on my first journey.
The biggest one is true confidence that I have done this and can do it again. Another is a familiarity with the walk, though I will begin in Irun, Spain, rather than St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France, and walk the Norte, rather than the Frances. But “the walk” encompasses the paths, the people, the albergues, the architecture, countryside, sunrises and sunsets, and the rhythm of my feet, my breath, my hiking poles, and the hum inside myself.
Psychologically, I’m ready. Physically? Well, I’ll get there. I will be carrying 10 pounds less on my body, and perhaps nearly 10 pounds less weight in my pack than last time. Walking into Santiago in mid-October, a month before my 69th birthday, will be an early birthday present to myself. And the best advice I give myself as I go through the next journey in my mind is: Take your time. Take your time. Take your time.