“One’s destination is never a place,
but a new way of seeing things.”
― Henry Miller
That’s how far I will have traveled after completing the Camino de Santiago over the next 6 weeks.
I’ll be walking most of September, and a week into October.
While I am hardly the first or the last to walk this popular route (The French Way) down the final span of the French Pyrenees and across the width of northern Spain, I have my personal reasons/motivations for taking 6 weeks away from day-to-day life on a very long walk.
Last September I celebrated my 40th birthday. That number felt big and I wanted to do something significant to honor my 4th decade. Like some hike or run or trip, or some type of big physical accomplishment. I’ve always held fast to the belief that age is merely a number and that attitude is really what matters most in this life. Nonetheless the number FOURTY felt like a crossroads between youth and the inevitability of mortality. Like it or not, things were a bit stiffer right out of bed, first thing in the AM. What was THAT about?
And as a Virgo, and one with the propensity to overthink the simplest of things, I like it when they are neat and tidy, have great alliteration and happen on meaningful milestones. Like that nice round number 40. HA! Those of you who are much better versed in these things know, life mostly doesn’t unfold in the neat and tidy way our expectations demand, and my big 4-0 was no exception.
My birthday came and went, without much fanfare. No big milestone completed. And I was not in the best shape of my life as I had so carefully planned in my head. The stiffness wasn’t a fluke, I definitely needed to prioritize taking care of myself.
So this January, when my sister casually mentioned after the New Year, that was thinking about doing the Camino. I jumped.
“I’ve always wanted to do that!” I shrieked.
“I haven’t,” she laughed. “But for some reason, I want to do it this year. People have asked me before to join them, and I’ve never been interested. But I feel like I need it this year.”
“Let’s do it then!” I encouraged her. “This would actually be a good year for me to do. The kids are finally old enough for me to be away that long. And i’m on a 10-month contract with the college right now. And I feel like I NEED to spend a month walking to reclaim my body.”
If there is one thing my older, yet smaller, sister and I have in common, it’s pulling off stunts others think are a.) ridiculous and b.) not possible or too much work. She runs a small store that’s open 7 days a week and needs constant attention. And I, in addition to work, have two small children that are around 7 days a week and need constant attention. But somewhere along the course of the previous 8 months we managed to solve all of the logistical details and bought non-refundable airfare to Spain. Here we GO!
So while I didn’t get my big milestone on my 40th birthday, this year, I will celebrate my actual 41st birthday (September 17th!) somewhere along the Camino de Santiago. Yea for odd numbers with no rhyme or reason (or alliteration for that matter!).
Photo I took of a cool gate in the little seaside town of Calafell, just south of Barcelona, circa 2014
So why the camino? There are lots of hikes in the states.
Well for starters, the camino has a TON of infrastructure along the way. Unlike a trail like the Appalachian or the Pacific Crest, where you have to carry everything from a stove for preparing semi-edible meals, to water filtrations systems, your sleeping arrangements and first aid, the Camino is a highly traveled route with probably everything one would ever need to thrive. While I love backpacking for short stints, the idea of backpacking for longer than a week is more romantic in my head than the reality of my butt being too wide for those hard-core hiker people mats that make too much noise when I toss and turn. Having the luxury of walking through beautiful countryside during the day, then having a hot meal and glass of Spanish Rioja every evening sounds like my speed of adventure. And because there is so much infrastructure, one can be spontaneous on this route, like more technical hikes do not allow for.
And honestly, Spain has always had a pull on me.
Before I had ever even set foot on Spanish soil, I planned to stay for a year on my first visit. Everything I had seen and heard about the land of flamenco, fiesta and Don Quixote, seemed joyful, celebratory and most alluringly ALIVE. Somehow I knew I would feel that sense of belonging. When I arrived, it made sense. Spain and California have so many connections and similarities. I find the geography from the sea to the high desert terrain to the rolling foothills to be reminiscent of my northern California upbringing.
The Val d’ Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees is where I shed the hangups of who I thought I should be and embraced the truth of the somewhat lost and aimless twenty-something I was. I decided it was time to quit hiding from my future and create it. I would spend 2 years nestled in that valley surrounded by weather as dramatic as the mountain peaks and it is there that the greatest love story of my life began. I didn’t so much know what I wanted to do with my life, so much as that I wanted to share whatever I did with someone who found the world as interesting and full of possibility as I did. Diego and I didn’t waste much time before we promised one another forever, and it felt slightly reckless. But is there really anything in life worth having that comes with a guarantee? Maybe for some, but I’m not one of those.
The camino has been a spiritual pilgrimage for many since around 812 AD. It is said that the remains of St. James are buried in the city of Santiago de Compostela.
While I was raised Protestant, I do not identify with an organized religion. I believe God is in each of us, we are all creative by design and that love is at the root of every belief system. Underneath all the rules and the shoulds and shouldn’ts, is the desire to be a good human. So the allure for me is less around the religious aspect and more about a universal understanding of how we are all connected. Apparently the Milky Way is directly over the French route, and beyond Santiago, at the edge of the sea is a place called Finisterrae, which in latin literally translates to the ‘end of the world,’ or ‘Land’s End.‘ All of that seems like something I’d like to spend time aimlessly exploring and what better way than on foot.
I guess my connection to Spain itself, the fact that I speak enough Spanish, and that I have two partners (Linda and Kelly) willing to go the distance with me, make the Camino my milestone I’ve been searching for. I have done very little reading about the camino, as I want to come in with an open mind and have my own experience without a lot of influence from what others have shared.
And I’m thrilled to experience 6 weeks living life at the pace of nature (and as we talked about, an abundance of beautiful red spanish table wines). Walking for 8 to 10 hours a day, gives the mind that delicious time to wander against the steady rhythm of your feet. Something about having to physically slow down gives the mind a resting beat and in that space I believe is where creative magic takes root.
I am understandably nervous about being away from my children for that long, and yet I’m excited for that piece for both myself and for them. Despite it not being a popular opinion, I believe it’s good for us to have time apart. I know I’ll miss them like crazy, but I think in families its very easy to take one another for granted. And one of the best things, is that their Abuela (Diego’s mom) is coming from Spain to spend 8 weeks at our house. They’ll be able to connect with her on a much deeper level given my absence. My hope is that it will be a special time for everyone. And yes, I’m probably justifying a decision I have already made. No one says two words about Diego (or any other man for that matter) being gone for a month or two, but folks, the mom guilt is real.
A photo of the route we’ll be walking. Photo of Spain in top section for scale.
My intention for the camino
I walk to celebrate my health and to celebrate all the things my body is capable of doing. I am walking with my sister to celebrate our friendship and to reaffirm our bond as not only sisters but as friends. I walk with my children in my heart. To ask the universe to show me how to draw on the wisdom of the millions of mothers who have come before me, and struggle with how to do what is best for their children and support them in becoming the best versions of themselves, all while living my hopes and dreams and having some fun along the way. I walk with Diego in my heart. I want to take this space to publicly thank him for loving me, all of me, both the light and the shadow of my person. I am too much for a lot of people, and that’s okay. I’m thankful that he chooses to walk this lifetime with me as my partner, in love, life and business, and for being the proof that love is really all you need.
May I be open to the messages that divine has to offer me on this long walk across one of my favorite places. And may I be blessed with an abundance of red wine (i know it’s the third time I’ve said it), good food and company. A little art and music along the way wouldn’t hurt either!
Here’s to 41 and the odd way milestones actually unfold.
Thanks for being here to share the journey.
In my next post, I’m going to be sharing a way that you can take a virtual journey with me!
Hope you’ll join me!