Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Camino: Not just a walk to Santiago. Reflections on the Camino Frances 2011

Gordon and I at Muxia

The prospect of walking all the way to Santiago is the initial hook for many of us, but the Camino de Santiago is not just a walk. In fact, I would argue, that the profound experiences found on the way can be achieved without walking much at all.

Those who have already made the pilgrimage know that the journey is in the head and heart as much as in the feet. I started my Camino with my husband Gord on foot in 2009 from Le-Puy-en-Velay in France. 440 kilometers later we were hooked and planning our return journey the following year. That year however,  I had a terrible time with my back and our walking days became shorter and shorter until I was taking the luggage transport more than walking. Finally I had to make the difficult decision that we had to stop at St. Jean Pied de Port at the French/ Spanish border. I had walked 760 km but was faced with the reality that I would likely never walk to Santiago. Packing it in, however, was not an option.

In the summer of 2011 Gord and I returned to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port but this time I brought my folding bike Friday and a trailer.  If I can convince just one person who would love to experience the Camino but is limited in some way to at least consider other options then I am happy. On the Camino I saw people walking without packs, walking with sticks, riding on horses and donkeys. I saw a woman in a wheel chair and two men on unicycles. I even saw a Duch man pulling a home built cart while his wife walked beside. There are many ways to Santiago.

Before the Camino Gord and I took our bikes with us for most holidays and biking works really well for me. On all of our trips I have always had to push myself to keep up with him. This trip was very different. Gord was walking between 30 to 40 kilometres each day which is a strong day for a walker but a very moderate day for a cyclist even with side trips. It worked brilliantly for both of us. I believe that I may be the record holder as the slowest cyclist to ride the Camino Frances, and I believe that it was the best possible way to do it... at least for me.