Day 9: Nájera to Santo Domingo de la Calzada

I can’t believe I have walked for 9 days already. Early this morning I passed the 200 kilometre mark, which means a quarter of the Camino is behind me!
I woke up early this morning, even without an alarm. I made a quick stop at a pastelería for a pastry, and then was off. Nájera is the first town where I felt like the way was not really clearly marked. I had had trouble already last night, so I had looked in my guide book in advance. I found my way to a 13th century church, and thankfully the arrows picked up from there. Partly up the hill on the way out of town, my Ohio friends caught up with me. We had a lovely conversation all the way to Azofra, where we made a coffee stop (okay, I hate coffee so I was drinking pop). We continued on together and descended into some mud. And what mud it was! Our guidebooks had actually warned that La Rioja’s red mud might be pretty when dry but dangerous and sticky when wet. No joke! The mud stuck to our boots and weighed them down. For a while we walked in the ditch, just for some relief.
By 10:30 we came up a very long hill into Cirueña. It was a little like something out of Twilight Zone or a Stephen King novel. There was no one in the town! As compared to the so charming and quaint Spanish towns we were used to passing, this one was subdivision housing at its worst – identical, ugly houses. Only about 10% of them looked to be inhabited. We passed one house where a boy was standing at the second floor balcony door, leaning against the glass looking down on us. It didn’t help the creepy feeling. But the next occupied house had all the kids on the balcony waving at us. That made up for it! Are pilgrims the only entertainment they get, though?!
We didn’t stop for a break because there was literally no option beyond a picnic table next to some houses that looked like a prison block. We pushed on and went through some more endless fields of grain. Only one field was growing something else, and we puzzled over what it might be until we came across a plant someone else pulled up. (I’m guessing it was another pilgrim wondering what the crop was.) it was some kind of root vegetable, but I don’t even know what. A rutabaga, maybe?
We arrived at Santo Domingo de la Calzada before noon. That’s where we are stopped for the rest of the day. Our walk was a nice 21 kilometres today, and we get a whole afternoon for cleaning and relaxing!

Santo Domingo bears mentioning. He was a great patron to the Camino in the 11th or 12th century and did a lot of work to make sure pilgrims had bridges to use in order to cross rivers and good roads to walk on. The town bears his name in his honour.
This town also plays host to a famous Camino myth. The story goes that a young man and his parents were making pilgrimage to Santiago and passed through here. The young man caught the eye of a local young maiden, but when he did not return her advances, she hid some silver in his pack and accused him of stealing. The young man was sentenced and hung for his sins. (Different versions have his parents either continuing on obliviously to Santiago at this point or discovering things right away but too late.) When his parents discovered, at whatever point that was, they also discovered that by some miracle Santo Domingo had kept their son alive despite the hanging. They went immediately to the local magistrate, who was just sitting down to supper. When he heard their story, he merely laughed and told them, “Your son is no more alive than this chicken on my plate!” At those words, the roast chicken he was about to eat stood up and walked off. Aghast, the magistrate went out to the tree with the parents and saved the son. (No word on what punishment the deceitful young maiden suffered.)
In honour of this myth, the albergue that I am staying in today, one of the original pilgrim hospitals (in an updated building THANK GOODNESS!) still keeps chickens in the garden. I can hear them as I write!
Even better than that, I took a tour around the cathedral and there are a cock and hen kept IN the cathedral! It’s a coop built into the stone wall at the second level. You can see damage on the front of the stone where pilgrims hit it with their sticks to try to get feathers to prove they’d been there and for good luck!
Santo Domingo wanted to be buried here in the town, and his crypt is in the cathedral. In fact, the street the Camino is on actually jogs around the cathedral because the chapel his crypt is in was added after his death!
It was really nice to have time to really appreciate some of the local history. I paid a euro for an audio guide at the cathedral, but it was worth it. We just don’t build churches like they used to!

Day 8: Logroño to Nájera

Ah, today. A 30.1 kilometre walk, with some decent hills of course.
I set out from the albergue around 6 this morning. I just couldn’t sleep any more and figured I might as well get an early start on a long day. Especially since yesterday was so much harder once the sun was really up and shining hard.
The streets were still filled with Spanish teens. Not sure why their parents let them party so long, but I guess it’s a weekend. Following Camino markers in a city is much more stressful than villages or countryside. I’m very grateful to the kind vendor who pointed me in the right direction.
A long path led out to a lake. Then a long hill climbed up out of the city area. I was quite tired, and my hip had started to hurt. Another kind Spanish man, this one out for a walk of his own, told me I was almost over the top. The way down was alongside fences where people have taken sticks and made crosses. There are literally hundreds of crosses along this area.
I caught up with friends from Ohio just before the steps up into Navarette. (They were the ones who shared their food with me the second day in Zubiri.) We were all feeling a little tired and hungry and a lot exhausted. Thankfully, we found a café open and sat down with someone Ed knew. Along came Taeyoung, my often walking partner. Then along came Mariana, a friend from Mexico (I had been in the same auberge as her on my first night in St Jean before starting). Our circle kept getting larger and larger. It is amazing that you can make friends in the way one does on the Camino. It’s also odd that you might not see someone for several days, and then meet up again. When you talk, you might find out you stayed in the same towns, just in different albergues.
After our break, Mariana, Taeyoung and I set off together. My hip was quite sore, and stretch breaks weren’t helping. Finally, Mariana and Taeyoung decided to set off ahead while I took a short detour to the town of Ventosa, where I intended to stay for the night. That would put me at ~21 km for the day, which I felt was enough. I needed a break.
I arrived in Ventosa completely exhausted and sore. I found a bad with some good food and wifi, and checked Facebook and my blog while I ate. The encouragement I found in both places was so needed! Particularly, Kelly told me that your body keeps energy in reserves, so you can literally go farther than your body is telling you it can. (Thanks, Dr Pasma!) I felt so much better after this rest. I didn’t want to just give up, which is what staying was beginning to feel like. It was also 12:30, and I knew the albergue wouldn’t accept people yet. And I didn’t really want to fall behind friends and have to start over again making all new ones. I decided to push on.
Just over two hours later I had made it to Nájera, 10.4 kilometres further. This has been my longest day of walking so far, distance-wise, but definitely not the hardest. It wasn’t so sunny and hot as yesterday, and that helped. Emotions are funny things on the Camino. They change rapidly and without warning. I was having a discussion with someone shortly before leaving that I need to make sure I am not making decisions because of my emotions. Still something to be learned more.
It’s Sunday, and I miss my church. Yes, I have a lot of time to worship as I walk (even singing out loud, Kair), but I miss communal worship. Mass is not the same, as it is a lot of hard work to understand, and unfamiliar. It’s great to be able to go, but it’s just not the same.
Update: in between typing this and finding wifi, I ran into a Canadian woman living in Belgium. She did her second day of walking, and covered in two days what I had in one. She was so absolutely impressed. It was nice to be the person doing what someone else thought was incredible!

Day 7: Los Arcos to Logroño (One week of walking completed!)

Oh, my. What a day. 28.6 kilometres!
I was up this morning before 6:30 and had breakfast at my lovely albergue. Then I said goodbye to Tammy and Lindsey. Lindsey had decided to take a rest day; her knee was really bothering her and she was quite discouraged. Tammy told me to go on ahead, as she was quite sore and would be walking very slowly.
I set out from Los Arcos, and just as I crossed through the arch at the edge of town, I had a woman call out to me. “Hey! You must be Canadian!”
“Is it my MEC gear?”
“You bet!”
Jodene is from Fort McMurray, and she had walked four days so far (to my six), even though we both began in the same place. She walked 40 kilometres yesterday, covering the same distance I had taken two days to cover! She has quite a time limit to work within. I wasn’t sure how long we would stick together if that was her pace, but I did all right in the morning.
We had quite the hills to cover, as always, it seems. Nothing like the mountains, but they are always a challenge. I knew today’s walk would be long, and it was nice to have a walking partner. We stopped for a mid-morning break, and later for lunch. By that time, we’d covered 18 kilometres. After lunch, there was pretty much nothing until Logroño, the city we’re staying in.
I hadn’t filled my camel pack all the way, and I ran out of water shortly out of Viana. It was quite a walk to the next crossroads, where thankfully we found another fountain. Then onwards again. And onwards. And onwards. We passed a man selling things out of his car, and asked how far it was to Logroño. Four kilometres, he said. Okay, I thought. I can make it that far. We went the long way around a Laguna, and hooked back in the direction we had come from. Finally, we came upon a sign that announced our entry into La Rioja. We began the Camino in the province of Navarre, and now we have walked through that whole province! There were some industrial buildings, but we couldn’t see the city proper yet. We began yet another ascent up a long, long hill. Halfway up we took a quick rest in a tunnel under a highway. Finally we crested the top – and could see the city a few kilometres off yet….
We began a descent. A descent this far into a walk is always risky. One misstep, one fall, and you could be done for. So of course our descent was quite slow. Finally we entered the city proper, but had quite a ways to go before we entered the historic city, where the Camino finally encounters albergues. We had decided to spend the night at an albergue on the far side of town. The first albergues always fill up first, as weary travellers want to stop at the first available space. But leaving from the far end of town is an advantage in the morning.
It was a long ways across town as weary pilgrims, but finally we found our resting place. We are staying in an albergue run by the Iglesia de Santiago – the church of St James. It is small and without amenities. But it has a mass, and then blessing for pilgrims, then communal dinner. It does not cost money, but you can give a donation if you’d like. We were very clearly told that this is NOT a requirement, but only if desired.
I lay down for a bit, stretched, and finally took a shower. I was sitting on the floor writing this blog entry when one of the volunteers came to the door. Does anyone speak English, he asked. There were three people in the room at the time, and I was the only one not sleeping. Yes, I said. Are you Catholic? Protestant. Would you say the prayer for intercession for the pilgrims in English for our service? I would love to!
So, that’s what I’m doing tonight! Very exciting!
Tomorrow is a very long walk again. 30.1 – my longest walk so far. My knees have been a bit sore even when walking, as have my hips. Please pray for my joints to be strong and pain free! I do continue to love my solitude and thinking/praying time, and even in hard days, there are many moments that make the hard work worthwhile.
I have been walking for a full week now, and while I question sometimes what made me come, it is always easy to see and experience my Good Shepherd along the way.

Day 6: Estella to Los Arcos

Each day when I open my blogging app on my phone, I check yesterday’s blog title before composing today’s. I am never 100% sure what day of walking it is. The only reason I know the date is that my watch tells me. Each day actually feels like two days: a day of walking and a day of resting.
This is maybe good in some ways, as it feels like we’ve been here for a really good amount of time. But in other ways, maybe it’s not so helpful. It feels like we should be closer to Santiago! As of Los Arcos, today’s town, we have walked 135 kilometres and have 635 to go.
Today I slept in (see? I AM vacationing it up!) until 6:30 and woke up because I was done sleeping, not because people were noisy. We didn’t leave the albergue until 7:15, and then went to a local panadería (bakery with café) for breakfast. We delayed our departure on purpose, though, since our first stop today was the WINE FOUNTAIN for pilgrims at the Bodegas of Irache. There are fountains everywhere for pilgrims, so you can get fresh water. (I shouldn’t say everywhere – sometimes there are loved stretches without.) but this wine company put a fountain in place with both water and wine! It even had a vending machine where you could buy a glass. (I wonder how many people use that, because all I could think was that I wouldn’t want the weight in my bag!) The sign said, Pilgrims, if you want to arrive in Santiago with strength and vitality, drink some of our wine! After a short pause and the joy of a wine break! I did feel strong and happy!
It was rainy this morning again, but not really too bad. We did quite a bit of climbing until lunch in Villamayor de Monjardin. While Tammy and Lindsey went to a bar for lunch, I decided to eat the hard boiled eggs and fruit is brought. It frankly seemed like too much work to climb the twenty steps to the plaza with the bar, so I sat on a bench in the street next to the church.
All of a sudden, a van drove by, honking loudly. Some women gathered at their doors, and I couldn’t catch enough of what they were saying. I thought maybe they were annoyed at the loud honking. But soon the van came back, honking again, and stopped next to the women. It had a bakery logo on it, and the man pulled open the door and gave the women the bread they asked for. He stopped and chatted a bit, and then pulled away again. The women stood and chatted, and then eventually went back to their homes. It was such a neat little experience, and one that I know would not have been seen travelling Spain in another way. My walking companions and I have often reflected that we get to see tiny villages that you wouldn’t see from highways, and we experience the scenery and landscape in such a different way, too.
After the girls came back, we popped into the church because churches will often have a stamp for your credecencial, your pilgrim’s passport. (It’s what allows you to stay at an albergue, and it is stamped at each albergue.) This church was also mentioned in our guidebooks because it had a very old silver cross in it. The church had a sign that it was open during the day, so we went in. You had to pay a Euro if you wanted the lights on, so I was going to pull out my phone to use the flashlight, but then an old man who had followed us gestured for us to wait and went and turned the lights on for us. He brought us over to the cross (which was well protected behind some bars) and told us it as a thousand years old (if I understood his Spanish correctly!). He stamped our credencials and invited us to light a votive candle. I asked him (in Spanish) if the church still had services on Sundays, because I saw what looked like a little electric organ (definitely added to this 12th century church!). He said, no, not services, mass. Oh, of course, I said. I’m Protestant, not Catholic. Oh, he said. That’s not important. Faith is important, but the difference between Catholic and Protestant is not. He was very sweet and helped me put my backpack back on and wished us God’s blessings as we left.
The rest of our walk was “easy” – mostly flat or ever so slightly downhill with just a quick up and down before the town we’re staying in. But, oddly for our typical walks so far, it was 11 kilometres with any villages to break it up. And the guidebook was right: you could not see the town until you were literally upon it, and the last part of the walk seemed interminable. After six days of walking, it seems like it should be easy and my body should have adjusted better. But six hours of walking is still taxing upon the hips and knees and sometimes spirit. A rest break, a shower, a snack all help one to feel ready to face the town and prepare for the next day. Stretching is also a necessity nowadays!
Tomorrow’s walk is a relatively longer one at 28.6 kilometres. So we rest and renew now in anticipation!

Day 5: Puenta la Reina to Estella

We passed the 100 kilometre mark today!!! It’s also really neat to see how many familiar faces and friends there are, too.
Continuing in the theme of Psalm 23, yesterday was definitely he restores my soul. All afternoon and evening, it was wonderful to laze in and by the pool, meet other pilgrims, relax, eat a communal dinner.
The other great thing about a small amount of people in the albergue was that we were all quiet and respectful in the evening hours as people started to go to bed. I think that, in a big albergue, it’s easier to say, others are talking, I will too. But last night I slept so soundly, and no one loudly began packing early this morning, so I got to “sleep in” until 6!
Today, I really noticed a difference in the walk. As I’ve said, we’ve passed the 100 kilometre mark. It’s still tiring to walk for six hours, but I can tell that my leg muscles are getting stronger. I also have not experienced any of the blisters many of my fellow pilgrims are suffering. (Again, please keep praying!) My feet are sore and my body is tired, but it is not the deep fatigue of the first few days.
Today I had two nice walking partners – one I have walked with before, and one a new girl I met. It was a day of good companionship. I didn’t have much alone time, but appreciated the walking partners. We are a good match for each other, because we all walk at about the same medium slow pace, which is important! It’s easy to be discouraged by people speeding by you as is the easiest thing they’ve ever done, and forget about the many, many people behind you.
Today I stopped and got a pop at a vending machine before 8 am. There’s a common pilgrim “joke”: What do you eat when walking the Camino? Whatever you want! Then I also had a most delicious pastry fresh out of the oven at a little tienda. Ah… small things give great pleasure on the Camino!
We’re staying tonight at an albergue that supports people with developmental disabilities. It had been really sweet to meet some of the workers here! We’re showered and rested, our clothes are being washed by washing machine (such luxury), and we’re off to find some food. Ah! Life is good!

Day 3: Zubiri to Pamplona

I have walked 68 kilometres so far! Maybe that does not sound like much to you, but why don’t you come walk the same 68 kilometres through the mountains and then we’ll see how you feel!
Today I woke up when people around me started making noise. I haven’t set an alarm yet, and I don’t want to disturb others by doing so. Plus, people always make noise when they’re leaving.
So, about a 6:15 start. I wasn’t sure whether to take the actual Camino or walk along the road to the next town. My guidebook suggested that if you detoured off the Camino to Zubiri, you should just take the road. I asked others, and they all said they were taking the Camino. I decided to as well.
I began hiking out of town and things were uphill right away. In fact, once we got far enough up to see well, it was obvious that the road stayed level the whole time while the Camino went up a mountainside to go around some sort of quarry. I wrote yesterday about my attitude toward going uphill. Once again, I needed some help from God for a change of attitude. Which he did 🙂
I was hiking alone, and had a morning filled with meadows of wildflowers. Poppies, Queen Anne’s Lace, daisies, those light blue flowers that are everywhere in Ontario too… I wish I knew more flower names. It was beautiful, and my heart was filled with joy at God’s creation.
I was meditating on Psalm 23, reciting it to myself and then considering it line by line. Last year, he makes me lie down in green pastures was the line I really needed . He leads me beside quiet waters was a line that really stood out. Then I realized I was walking beside more or less still waters – there was a babbling brook nearby. I walked past waterfalls, brooks, a stream, all morning I kept basing different waters and God kept reminding me of this line. I wonder who brought it to mind in the first place!

Around 11:30 I made it to the edge of the Pamplona suburbs. (Yesterday I met a girl who was planning to walk all the way to this suburb! That’s 17 kilometres farther than I walked yesterday! Oh my.)
It was strange to be back in the city, and a little stressful. Out in the countryside, there are not a lot of things that can prevent you from noticing Camino signposts. In the city, there are a million things competing for your attention! About 1 kilometre in, though, signs were much more obvious. Maybe people complained! It was also weird to be around so many people at once, too, and all non-pilgrims. But many of them gave a nod and Hola, or a Buen Camino, or even a blessing. That was very nice!
I found my way to old Pamplona and up through the old city walls – and made it here by 12:30. My albergue tonight is a former church – actually I’ll have to check that, interior might still be used as church – but the edges along the … nave (I should know my church architecture better) have been transformed into cubicles with beds. And there’s free wifi! So a nice post from my phone, meaning pictures! Once I’ve laid on my bed for long enough, I’m out with some friends to explore Pamplona.
Tomorrow is not a long walk, but it’s up and over a mountain again. It’s the Alto del Perdón, where there’s a famous pilgrim monument. I’m looking forward to seeing that, even if it’s uphill all the way to it!

Oh – and update for those who are worried (Amanda): I haven’t had any light-headed spells and have hade enough food and water. Oh, and I did slip while going downhill this morning, but my pole stopped me right away without injuries. If you’re praying for me, it’s working! Don’t stop!

Day 2: Roncesvalles to Zubiri

Again, no pictures yet. But here´s today:

Despite sleeping in a humongous albergue (seriously – 72 people on 1 floor, and 3 floors altogether), I slept in this morning. i was sure that I would be awakened early by other people getting up, but my ear plugs and eye mask seriously did the trick.

I was on my way probably around 6:45. The first walk was quite a nice way through wooded areas and two small towns.  We walked literally through the middle of a farm. I was quite interested to see the farm equipment and animals! Gates block animals from wandering off, and there are signs for pilgrims to close these behind them.

Despite the fact that my guidebook made it look like things would be more or less flat until a medium climb (can´t call it big after yesterday!), there are of course lots of hills. Up, down, up, down.  I was complaining mentally about this, but had a change of attitude later. My asthma does not love the incline, but taking tiny steps at a medium to slow pace works so much better than trying to speed up only to have to stop every ten steps.  At my slow pace, I can more or less keep climbing the whole time. We were in the valley for the beginning of the day, but crested another mountain around 10. Then down, down, down quite a ways. My poor arthritic knee does not love the descent!

People walk at many different paces, and I tend to be a little slower. I know my hips will appreciate that more than speed, and I don´t need to risk any blisters (which are a bigger risk on the hills and very uneven terrain). It´s hard not to get up in a competetive spirit when people are passing you all the time, but I figure there´ll always be some place to stay.

Around noon, we were heading down the side of a mountain, and I could see pilgrims making their way up the next mountain across the valley. Not an encouraging sight! But I ended up with a very friendly walking companion, and that made the time and distance pass much more quickly. It was also incredible to be able to turn around at multiple times through the day, look back at the mountains behind, and think I just hiked through all of those! Over all of those! Quite the sense of accomplishment.

Finally, at about 1, we started our final descent for the day. It was incredibly steep, and on loose rocks. Quite the challenge! Again, so glad for my trekking poles! We made our way to an albergue in Zubiri, crossing an ancient Roman bridge. Legend has it that if you made an animal cross the bridge three times, it would be cured of rabies. (Wonder how many people were bitten by rabid animals, trying to “cure” them!) Our albergue is a former school. I sat in the shade for a while, and then came to find internet to post.  While I was waiting for the one computer to be free, I met a lovely couple from Ohio who had just cooked some food.  They offered me some of it, and we had a great time together. It´s so nice to meet people and talk, even it you´re quite certain you´ll never meet again.

Well, I´m off now to explore Zubiri. Some good stretching is in store tonight, too. Walking uphill and downhill really uses different muscles than walking through flat Toronto.  Still glad I did those training walks, though – I have no blisters like many of my fellow pilgrims!

Day 1: St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles

How to even begin to describe what life is like here?

Yesterday I woke up before 6, had breakfast, and was out the door before 6:30. If you know the Camino at all, you know that there are two options for walking on your first day.  One is all the way up and over the peak of a mountain; the other follows a valley before being up and over a mountain.  The first is more climbing, and more popular. I had been praying that God would help me decide what route to take, but when I woke up I was still unsure.  Then at breakfast my hospitalera (the woman who runs the hostal) was talking about how it would be rainy, so you wouldn´t see lovely sights, and really, really windy.  She said people often break their legs falling when it´s that windy. She had once seen a girl fall over and remain unable to get up because of the wind and her backpack.  She had seen a man bracing himself against the wind and running a few metres every five seconds or so, while everyone else turned back.

Since I do not have a death wish, taking the Route Valcarlos was an easy decision. And, hey – if it was good enough for Charlemagne, it´s good enough for me!

Starting out, there was lots of happiness.  The route followed a river, and was off the main road.  All around me were lovely Basque houses and birds singing. Euphoria!

Eventually it started raining. It didn´t stop for most of the day.  Then there were also hills involved. What killed me was that every time the road went down, it felt like a waste of altitude gained – I knew I was just going to be going back up again later.

I found a walking partner in a young man from Korea. This was really a gift from God. Even though we didn´t do much talking, it was great just to have a companion and not be alone.

We crossed over into Spain, and I actually didn´t even know that we had until we crossed back into France. Then along the river for a bit until back into Spain for good.  It´s crazy that you can just walk across a border and not even know it. And people there are probably living in one country and buying their groceries or gas in another on a regular basis.  If you´ve ever crossed the border Canada/USA – it´s just so the opposite of that experience.

Then came the mountain(s).  Up, up, and up.  Sometimes we were walking along a path literally carved out of the mountainside, with a rushing river beside.  I almost fell over the edge once. Walking poles were great for balance and to help drag myself up.

Finally, finally, finally, we crested the peak. And then a swift downhill to the albergue.  Where I showered, and then pretty much sat exhaustedly.  Met some nice people, though!

I am paying for internet on a computer in my albergue right now, so no pictures yet.  People here know how to get money – pilgrims need a place to stay, and it´s more money if you don´t offer free wifi! I´m sure I´ll find one eventually where I can post, though.

The Pilgrim Way

Today, beautiful words from Psalm 119:

 

verses 33-38

God, teach me lessons for living so I can stay the course.

Give me insight so I can do what you tell me—

my whole life one long, obedient response.

Guide me down the road of your commandments;

I love traveling this freeway!

Give me a bent for your words of wisdom, and not for piling up loot.

Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets, invigorate me on the pilgrim way.

Affirm your promises to me— promises made to all who fear you.

 

verses 55-56

I set your instructions to music and sing them as I walk this pilgrim way.

I meditate on your name all night, God, treasuring your revelation, O God.

In Which I Practice Some More

As you know, I’m really not an outdoorsy, let’s-go-hiking-or-camping kind of person.And when I decided to walk the Camino this summer, it never really occurred to me that I would be backpacking across a country while walking this pilgrimage.

So amidst my preparations – getting the right gear, buying plane/train tickets to get to my starting point, getting Euros – I also began the physical preparation for hiking: walking really long distances.

Oh, boy.

The first Saturday that I took the train downtown and walked 30 kilometres back home, I had no idea what to expect. The first kilometres were easy, of course. About 15 kilometres in, I stopped for lunch, and was SO glad for the chance to sit down, as my hips were starting to feel the distance. When I started walking again, the skin of my feet literally hurt with each step. Thankfully that stopped relatively quickly, but possibly only because the pain in my joints was a good distraction. At about 20 kilometres, I was sitting down for a quick break every ten minutes or so. At about 24 kilometres, I was sitting down literally every time that there was something to sit on – bench, ledge, railing, didn’t really matter what.

When I got home, there was a brief period of euphoria. See? I can do this! But underneath it was a more concerned sense of okay, I did it once but I have to do it every day of the summer. Every. Single. Day.

My next walk was a little better – my feet didn’t hurt, and stretching my hips on a very regular basis was helpful. It was my knees that hurt. I made it about 25 kilometres before being exhausted for the last five.

The next week was better again – my feet, hips, knees were all fine, and it was only the last three or so kilometres that were really hard.

Then I started walking the 30 kilometers with everything in my backpack that I’m taking with this summer. That added a new challenge – always monitoring my back to make sure it survived. No matter how much easier it gets each time that I walk the 30 kilometres, there’s no way that I would refer to a day spent walking as “easy”.

 

When I tell people about the Camino, or especially if I tell them how I’ve been spending my Saturdays lately, I get a lot of reactions like I would never do that. That sounds terrible. This is your vacation? I would give up. I appreciate the people who are excited for me, but I do actually understand the negative reactions. Like I said, backpacking across the country wasn’t really something I had considered when I decided to walk the pilgrimage.

 

So why do we do these hard things? Why backpack across a country when there are so many easier ways to travel and sightsee? And couldn’t the spiritual aspect be gotten as easily with any other kind of spiritual retreat? Why is the Camino actually experiencing a resurgence of popularity? Is it just for the physical challenge of seeing if you can do something hard?

 

Andy Crouch spoke at a convention I went to a couple years ago, comparing spiritual disciplines to learning a musical instrument. There is a long, long, LONG period of no noticeable growth as you begin to learn to play. There’s not a lot of payoff in happiness as you put in long hours of practicing, practicing, and even more practicing. (As someone who took piano and violin lessons for years, I can TESTIFY.) But eventually, things change. You start to improve. You start to enjoy what you’re doing. If you keep practicing long enough, you get to the point where you can play almost anything that is put in front of you, or even anything you hear. You can get hours of enjoyment from the skills you have acquired, and others can as well.

Spiritual disciplines require the same slogging in our lives of spiritual development. They take a lot of hard work for years, as we seem to make no progress at all. The payoff comes years later, and then we reap the benefits of our disciplines with much less effort.

 

Pilgrimage is not officially a spiritual discipline, but I feel like there are a lot of parallels between it and the spiritual disciplines. At the least, the comparison is a good explanation for why people still go on pilgrimages nowadays. It will be long, hard work to walk long distances every day. There will be, without a doubt, days when I want to do anything other than walk again. There will be sore, tired feet, legs, back. Even as my body adjusts and gets slowly stronger, I am under no illusion that this is going to be anything other than a tiring trip. And yet, like the other spiritual disciplines, it will be worthwhile. Spending time with my Father in his world, conversations with others, time thinking and praying, seeking God. That is worth all the blisters, sore feet and legs, sunburns, terrible nights’ sleeps, and whatever else that I face along the way.

We walk by faith, not by sight, 2 Corinthians 5:7 says. The benefits we reap from a life of following God are not always benefits that we can see, but we walk on, step by step, trusting that God will continue to lead us and work in us.

Por Fe Andamos