In September I embarked (people say embarked right?) on one of the most intense journeys of my life. I hopped on a plane to Spain and trekked along the Camino de Santiago for 44 days. There are many routes to the city of Santiago, but all roads lead to the Cathedral in the center of town. I walked The French Way (also know as The Way of Saint James, or the Camino Frances) which begins in St. Jean Pied de Port, France. This route is just under 500 miles if you stop at the Cathedral, and surpasses 500 miles if you continue on to Finisterre, “The end of the Earth.” By the time I reached Santiago I had lost all sense of what a “normal day” even looked like, so I just kept on walking towards the ocean and hoping that those 4 extra days might never end.
My only goals on this journey were to be as present as possible, meet great humans, and finish something that seemed amazingly terrifying and new to me, but there are a few FAQ’s that people often throw out.
Most often people ask: 1. if I had some great epiphany or specific life changing moment, 2. if I “met” anyone (they mean a man human), and 3. how I felt when I finally finished the hike.
To answer: 1. you can’t spend that much time on your own, walking into a completely new environment every day, without learning a few things about yourself. Each day you are walking among new surroundings, and sleeping in a different bed. The only thing that does remain unchanging is being in the presence of yourself. So it was easy to learn a few things I loved about myself, and some that I didn’t. 2. I did not take a professional hiatus from my job, fly across the world, and hike across an entire country TO MEET A MOTHER FREAKING MAN. I’m sorry, but are ya’ll kidding me with that one? 3. Honestly, the feeling I got when I finished was a bit indescribable; I was overcome by so many emotions at once. I was so glad that my body was going to get to rest, so sad that I was going to be parting with my new friends, and so confused on what to do next. When your every step is literally mapped out for 44 days and then all of a sudden it’s over, you’re left with this feeling of, “Crap, now what do I do?”
Of course, there were both ups and downs (Get it? It’s a hike!) along the way. As far as mental/physical combos go, this is the toughest thing I’ve powered through in my short 26 years. I’ve challenged myself mentally and physically, but never for this long, and usually not at the same time. My feet felt as bad as they looked, and they looked HORRIBLE. I had blisters in between my toes, under my toes, and on my heals. In the middle of the night I had hip and knee pain that caused me to wake up and physically stretch out my body every few hours. If my body aches didn’t wake me up, the camino lullaby (snores and farts) coming from other hikers bunked in the room with me, was sure to do the job. At the end of day 20 I sat down in the middle of the floor and cried. On day 21 I taped my feet up and I kept walking. Fortunately, I was surrounding by more than a few wonderful humans who would peak over their shoulders and make sure that I was still moving. While I went into this journey alone, I have never been less alone in my life. I hope all of my fellow pilgrims know how much I felt their love and support with every step I took.
Overall, my greatest takeaway from this wonderful journey was the realization that everyone has their own pace. Whether we’re hiking, or just living our day to day journeys, we have to pay attention to our internal pace. At times I would feel like I needed to speed up to spend time with some faster paced friends, or slow down to enjoy conversations with friends that were hiking slower. For short spurts, it’s wonderful to switch it up, but after a couple weeks of walking, I began to notice that I was most uncomfortable when I was trying to mimic the pace of others for extended periods of time. Ultimately, I realized that everyone simply has their own natural pace, and rather than trying to match the pace of others, we simply needed to honor our own internal paces in order to enjoy our journeys.
Initially, I thought that this journey might change me in some tangible way; that I would somehow magically be a better person when I finished. Eventually, I realized that while I will always be learning and growing, it was OK for me to just be proud of the “pace” that I was already walking and the person that I already was. I didn’t and don’t need to change my rhythm for anyone; I simply need to honor my own while being careful to still respect the differing strides of others.