Sunday, January 30, 2011

You say you're gonna do what???

When I tell someone about my plans to walk El Camino, I usually get some variation of these two responses.
The "why" I talked about in an earlier post, though I am still meditating, praying, and pondering this question.  I am sure I will continue to meditate, pray, and ponder about it many time  over the next few months, and probably long after I am home.  

But I also get some "how" questions, and I thought I might talk about some of those.

Are you going alone/Are you going with a group?  I'm walking most of the way by myself.  Rick will join me for the last 60 miles from Sarria to Santiago.  El Camino Frances is the most popular of the many pilgrim routes and has the most peregrinos (pilgrims), which is one of the reasons I'm walking it. From reading El Camino books and internet forums, I gather that peregrinos tend to link up into small groups with others whose interests are similar and who walk about the same pace--in my case, slow!  So while I can walk by myself if I'm feeling a need for some alone-time , I probably won't have to walk by myself most of the time.

How will you find your way?  El Camino is well marked, using yellow arrows like this

(I think the dog is optional.)  You can see another at the beginning of my blog.  I also have a guidebook with maps and directions. 

Will you be walking on a trail?  Some of the time I will be walking on a trail, 

some times on country lanes, 

and  some of the time, especially going into large cities, I'll be walking along the side of a busy road.

Where will you stay?  There are special accommodations just for peregrinos.  These are called refugios or albergues.  They are sort of like a youth hostel, but often even more basic.  There are bunk beds, with shared toilets and shower facilities.  Some are very nice, some not so nice.  Almost all of them are unisex, which means sleeping in the same room with 10 or 20 or 50 or even 100 of my new best friends (think of the night sounds!).  Something tells me I will never complain about Rick's snoring again.

What will you eat?  After walking 12 or 15 miles, whatever the heck I want!  There are towns and villages along the way where you can buy food for a picnic, or with places to eat.  Some restaurants have special pilgrim menus.  One problem is that the Spanish eat late and peregrinos get up early!   Food may require a little planning ahead, but shouldn't be a problem.  And since Spain is part of the EU, clean drinking water is readily available.  At one place along the way there is even a fountain that dispenses free wine!

I'll answer some more "how" questions in other posts, but please let me know if you have any specific questions.  I would like this blog to be a sort of dialogue, if possible, as I look to you, my friends & family, for support in my big adventure.  (I wish these pictures were mine, but all the El Camino pictures I'm using in the blog are off the internet.  I will be bombarding you with my pictures when I get home in July.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

To Pyrenees or Not to Pyrenees

Leaving St Jean Pied de Port to cross the Pyrenees

The traditional starting point for El Camino Frances is St. Jean de Pied de Port (SJPP) which sits on the French side of the Pyrenees mountain range.  The traditional stopping point for the first day is Roncesvalles, at the top of the Pyrenee, and just over the border into Spain.  This means that the first day of the 500 mile walk is the hardest day of the entire trip.

4757 elevation gain.
15.6 miles

By any standards, this is a very tough day.  And it is especially tough as it comes at the very beginning, before you've had a chance to get strong from walking every day.  And while the view is spectacular if the weather is good, it is often cold, rainy, and foggy, which makes the trek up the mountain even more difficult.

So the question is--to Pyrenees or not to Pyrenees.  There is no rule that says I HAVE to start in SJPP.  I can take the bus to Roncesvalles and start at the top of the mountain instead of the bottom. I could start in Pamplona, which would mean walking 450 miles instead of 500 miles, which hardly seems like a big loss.  I'm still a peregrina if I walk 450 miles instead of 500.

But still...SJPP calls to me.  Part of it is that I would love to say that I walked over the Pyrenees the summer I turned 60.  It would feel like...what WOULD it feel like? a vindication?   victory?  proof of something?   Perhaps I feel like if I start somewhere else I'll be wimping out spiritually as well as physically right at the beginning. I don't know why it feels so important to me to start in SJPP, but it does.  Like the call to walk the El Camino, it feels like something I need to pay attention to.  
But even though starting at SJPP seems so important, I don't have to be stupid about it.  There is one small hostel about 1/3 up the mountain.  I can break my journey there, and still be able to say I walked over the Pyrenees into Spain.  I think I'll get my reservation in.

Maintenance Issues

(And a final re-posting)

I am in what I refer to as the high maintenance stage of life.  It's what happens when you approach the seventh decade of life.  (And if you think it doesn't hurt to write the words  "seventh decade", you are either under the age of 40 or infinitely more serene, centered, and spiritually mature than I can ever imagine becoming.)

At any rate, at my age, it takes quite a lot of effort of every day to achieve a semi-respectable appearance.  Below are a list of the products I use every day to keep small children from running screaming when they see me coming.

hair dryer
flat iron
curling iron
styling mousse
welding paste (Really,that's what it's called.  I call it spackle.)

night cleanser
night moisturizer
eye cream
day cleanser
day moisturizer
hand lotion
body lotion
foot creme
hydrating body wash

lip balm

base coat
nail polish
top coat

But when you are walking 500 miles carrying all your belongings in a 40 liter backpack, when the wisdom of experienced walkers says carry no more than 10% of your body weight (the ONE time when I find it an advantage to be overweight!), when some pilgrims actually squeeze out half a tube of toothpaste to save a couple of ounces of weight, it looks like the products in my maintenance toolkit will have to be reduced.  A lot.  A whole lot.  A WHOLE lot.  In fact, this is my list:

lip balm

This is either freeing or terrifying.  Or both.

No Turning Back

(Another re-posting)

Do you know the old joke about a ham and egg breakfast?  The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.

I've been involved in El Camino for 4 1/2 years.  I've read books about it.  I've joined internet forums.  I've bought a backpack and a lightweight sleeping bag and new hiking shoes.  I've wondered and dreamed about it.  All very lovely, but mainly speculative.  Even the equipment purchases felt like, at the most, a toe in the water.

But today I plunked down more $2500 on non-refundable airplane tickets to Europe.  I think I have just stepped over the line from involved to committed.  It feels a little unnerving, and all too uncomfortably real.  Since I'm far too cheap to flush all that money down the drain, this is it.  I'm committed.  

It makes me wonder how often I'm just involved in my faith.  I love to think about God and write about God.  I am energized by reading and study.  I have the equipment (books, commentaries, robes, stoles, certificate of ordination).  It's all very lovely, but it can be very speculative.

Sometimes I feel fully deeply committed and connected, and other times it's as if I have, at best, put just a toe in the water of faith.

Part of what I hope is that this pilgrimage will help me plunge all the way in, to take seriously the words of that old gospel hymn:

I have decided to follow Jesus,
No turning back.
No turning back.

What to do when dreams come true

(This is a re-posting from my other, wrongly addressed blog)
Dreams that are far in the future are safer.  It is when dreams begin to take shape, and shimmer into reality that they can become terrifying. 

My dream of walking El Camino was born four and a half years ago.  I was working as a volunteer with the Iona Community in Scotland, when two other "vollies," a couple from New Zealand, casually mentioned that they had just walked El Camino de Santiago.  I had never heard of it before.  They told me that El Camino  is historically one of Western Christianity’s three primary pilgrimage sites (along with Rome and Jerusalem).  While there are a number of routes to Santiago, traditionally held to be the burial site of St. James the Apostle, they had walked the most popular, El Camino Franc├ęs , which stretches 500 miles through northern Spain. As they told me about their trek down the ancient pilgrimage route, I immediately felt called to walk it. I knew almost immediately that this was something I must do.  
Now as you know if you have spent more than 5 minutes with me, this irrational (a-rational?) decision that I MUST walk El Camino is totally contrary to my usual way of being.  I make decisions rationally and thoughtfully, not instinctively or emotionally.  I am the queen of the "TJ" crowd on Myers-Briggs. I like to BE IN CHARGE! But this has been a God-thing from the beginning.  I am not in charge. I have to go.

Even more weird is that walking El Camino involves the possibility of considerable physical discomfort.  It isn't just walking 500 miles, intimidating as that sounds in and of itself.  It is sleeping at night in pilgrim refugios with 25 or 50 other pilgrims (peregrinos, or if you're females peregrinas), as they talk, snore, fart, or groan through the night.  I've done a lot of reading since I first heard of El Camino--I've read about blisters the size of bagels (!), bad food, torrential rainstorms, stress fractures, and unbelievably dirty showers (Joyce Rupp's book goes into some detail on this point--reading her description made me distinctively queasy,)  Since my idea of roughing it is staying somewhere that doesn't have room service, all of this should have dissuaded me, but it hasn't.  I still feel called to go.  (Though I do wonder why didn't God call me to cruise the Greek Islands.)

Now the dream is on the verge of becoming a reality.  My sabbatical is this year.  Thanks in part to the generosity of my church, I have the money in the bank.  I leave May 2.  No excuses. No reason not to go--except that fearful little voice that wonders if I can really do it.

Friday, January 21, 2011


My husband Rick is always saying that the devil is in the details.  Or maybe it is God who is in the details.  After nearly 40 years of marriage sometimes you don't listen as closely as you should.

But whether it is God or the devil (or both!) who are in the details, I discovered I had messed up on a small but significant detail.  A tiny little vowel.  The letter "i".

When I typed in the address of my original blog, I inadvertently added an "i" so that it was El Caminio Peregrina, instead of El Camino Peregrina.  

This is not easily corrected, as far as I can tell, except by starting a new blog with the correct spelling. But in case someone does a search on El Camino, I think I need to have the right address (even though I have discovered a Google search is more likely to direct you to information about that weird by strangely appealing Chevy car/truck from the '70's than El Camino Santiago).

In the unlikely event you have bookmarked my original blog, please delete and add this address.