The Camino: A Metaphor for Life

Part 1: A Moving Village

“All I know is that I kept going.”

It’s been a while since my last blog. I fully intended to post weekly while I was on The Camino but as you can see, I didn’t get that accomplished. I actually had my 3rd post written on October 1… then somehow, through a copy and paste error, I deleted it. After writing for 3 hours (on an iPhone), in one small gesture I deleted the entire thing. By that point I was emotionally (and maybe physically) exhausted so I put it aside, thinking that in a day or 2 I would feel like getting back to it. But in retrospect, maybe that “delete” happened for a reason and I wasn’t supposed to post that blog. Maybe whatever I felt I had learned by October 1st wasn’t the end of my lesson. All I know is that I kept going. So, over the course of the next week I will be posting the remainder of my blogs regarding the actual Camino walk — and then get back to my weekly routine. This is the 1st of a series of 4 that I will publish this week.

“I had walked alone the entire day and I asked myself over and over again why I was even doing this trek.”

My last post was after I had completed the first 100 miles of my trek. That seems like ages ago. The day I crossed the 100-mile mark was a hard day. It was an 18 miler and hot. And I walked into Logrono during a wine festival. The entire city seemed to have come out to celebrate and most were intoxicated. I had to walk through hoards of drunk people, loud partying music and yes, even public urination. I was disgusted and angry that I had just walked 18 miles and now had to walk through pee to get to where I was sleeping. I had looked forward to arriving in Logrono for days and now here I was, schlepping through pee. I was tired and feeling hopeless. I had walked alone the entire day and I asked myself over and over again why I was even doing this trek. What was the point of the entire thing — because when I got home, Connor would still be gone. Saying that it was a long, hard, sad day doesn’t even begin to describe it. I felt hopeless — completely hopeless. I felt like life had happened to me and that I was being tossed around the universe like a beach ball, just getting knocked around. This was not an unfamiliar feeling. In fact, since Connor died it’s a recurring theme. The difference is that when I am at home and have a day like this, I can hide myself away until I can handle the depth of the pain. But on the Camino, there is no hiding. There is only moving forward.

It wasn’t a conscious effort on my part, but the following day I woke up with a determination to finish this hike. The determination that I felt wasn’t in a positive sense at all. It was more of an angry determination. I woke up saying to myself — I could not save my son, but I am finishing this hike (with a few swear words thrown in for good measure). Sleep is a wonderful thing. And the angry determination made my feet move.  So I kept going.

“…the initial excitement of being there began to dissipate for some folks and we all began to realize that this is really hard — mentally and physically — and that we have a very long way to go.”

It was also about this time that I noticed changes in the people around me too. It’s said that the first week of The Camino is physical and that the second week is mental. I’m not sure about that; I know the first week was extremely physical and I needed extreme mental focus to keep going. During the second week, the physical part starts to kind of fall in place as your body adapts. But what I noticed between miles 100 and 250 is that the initial excitement of being there began to dissipate for some folks and we all began to realize that this is really hard — mentally and physically — and that we have a very long way to go. I think that some people had the realization that this was not what they expected or signed up for and now have just relegated themselves to the fact that they have to get through the rest of the miles as best they can. Thankfully, the running I had done over the years prepared me mentally for the miles. There were many people who had never walked or run more than a mile or two at a time. So for them, the daily mileage was a little mentally overwhelming. And then most people had no idea how mountainous the terrain would be.

“The only path is the path forward. Keep going.”

I believed that once I was over the Pyrenees the hills were behind me. Wrong! There was rarely a day without some mountain to climb. The truth is, the Camino is hard. It’s hard the entire time — both physically and mentally. Every single day is a challenge to your body and soul. But gosh, the return on what you put into it is well worth it, physically, mentally and spiritually — if you keep going. It has been for me. From that hard day and the day of angry determination that followed, I learned that the Camino is a metaphor of life. At home, even though I don’t have to walk 15 or 20 miles to get to the end of the day, I cannot hide from this loss and pain. Just like on the Camino, I have to get up every day and function, no matter where I am. The only path is the path forward. Keep going.

“The experience of today is not at all like yesterday’s and it will not be like the experience of tomorrow.”

While each day had the same basic routine, every day was also astonishingly different.   The Camino routine is basic: wake up, eat, walk, arrive, find a place to sleep, do laundry, eat, sleep and start over again. It’s refreshingly simple. But while that basic routine is the same — no day is like another. The experience of today is not at all like yesterday’s and it will not be like the experience of tomorrow. The terrain is different each day, the views are different and the people that you meet on the trail are different.

“It’s called a Camino moment.”

And for me, it’s the people I’ve met along the way that make The Camino what it is. While I went to hike alone, you are rarely alone on The Camino. And the longer you’re on the trail, the harder it is to be alone. This is because of what I call a “Moving Village.” There are literally hundreds of people who started within 3 or 4 days of each other. Some of us met our very first day. Some of us met as we walked slower and people caught up; sometimes as we walk faster we catch those who started a day or two before us. So as time goes on, people moved in and out of my Camino. Just when I believed I may never see a person again, I stop at a cafe for a beer and look over my shoulder and there’s a familiar face. It’s called a Camino moment. It’s like seeing a friend that you’ve known your whole life and haven’t seen in ages. After a quick “catch up,” just like that! they are gone again. And the village keeps moving — together but apart — all down the same path, towards Santiago. The moving village helps you through the emotionally and physically hard days. And I believe they are sent in and out of your Camino to teach lessons or provide insight.

I love my Moving Village and what it brought to me. More to come about these folks, the gifts of the village and lessons learned.

Buen Camino.