The first time I ever heard about El Camino was from a German couch surfer I hosted in Sete, France in the early spring of 2012. From the way she explained it to me, El Camino was a “really long walk” across Spain.
Why would anyone ever want to do that?
Slowly but surely, however, without even knowing it, the Camino started to work its magic on me. I started meeting walkers left and right, all with different tales of how the trail enriched and changed their lives forever. The Camino snowballed into my life, getting bigger and bigger. The more people I met, the more experiences they shared, I began to feel excitement in the pit of my stomach at the idea of one day walking it too.
As I set off for Morocco in September of 2012, I was already mentally walking El Camino. I had spent the summer obsessively perusing the REI Web catalog and finally bought my boots and pack just before leaving the States. I also carried with me my rock–the one meant for the Cruz de Hierro. It was a beautiful slate-green rock I selected with care from the top of Mount Mansfield in Stowe– my home, and a symbol of my roots. This rock travelled with me, absorbing all of the energy I put into it for months on end.
As time ticked away, a year and a half flew by and I traversed continents, cultures and languages. In this time, I also told everyone and the mother that I planned to walk the Camino Frances.
Fast forward to the last week of August 2013. I’m sitting in my friends apartment in Paris, wondering if I’m really cut out for this. I was filled with doubt. My mental conversations went a little something like this,
“500 miles…that’s like, really far.”
“Will my knees hold out?”
“What if I get lost?”
“I’ll be fine…I might die…No no, I’ll be fine…Right?”
“I have to walk, I told EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER I WAS GOING TO. Fuck.”
But the fact that I had told everyone I was doing it propelled me forward. I bought a guidebook. That made me feel in control. I bought knee braces and blister kits, a quick dry towel, and a camel pack. I felt sporty. I had train tickets and plane tickets and then one day, after a verrrry long day of train transport, I arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port, a green on green town cradled in the bosom of the French Pyrenées.
Still not sure if I was ready, but I was there nonetheless. I had talked the talk, and now it was time to walk the walk.
Camino lesson number 1: Just show up.
Honestly, nobody is ever truly prepared. You are not alone. No matter much (or little) physical training you’ve done, you’re feet will still hurt at the end of the day. No matter how light you think you’ve packed, there is still something lurking in the depths of your bag that is utterly useless. You will meet hundreds of people with suggestions on how to ameliorate your experience. Take some of them seriously, take others with a grain of salt.
So if you’re like me and you’ve over packed and under trained, fear not! You have approximately 33 days ahead of you to fine tune the details, to be blindsided by even more challenges you never could have anticipated, and to work through (walk out) the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual kinks you showed up with.
So just show up. A journey of 500 hundred miles begins with a single step.