It is a wet Wednesday evening and I am sitting wrapped in a blanket beside a log fire, wondering why on earth I decided to walk the Camino at this time of year. If it is cold and wet here then imagine how it will be up on the Atlantic side of the peninsula. There is still snow near Roncesvalles where we hope to start.
Reasons behind it
For years I have wanted to do it. I wanted to have time – a lot of time – to think and to review my life so far. I like walking and I always find that the action of putting one foot in front of the other, shifting weight from right leg to left, letting my hips loosen in their sockets, with my arms swinging by my side, this movement when repeated over and over again in a natural landscape can bring a kind of clarity in mind and spirit that is difficult to find in other ways.
I’ve read Shirley Maclaine’s book about the Camino and heard other people talk about transformations in their lives after walking it. I’ve seen the film, The Way and although this wasn’t a true representation of what it would be like, it made the idea more real.
When Bonnie was alive I looked into walking the Camino with a dog but soon realised that it would be hard – for her and for me. Many hostels don’t accept dogs and after reading Spanish Steps by Tim Moore it seems that a donkey would be more welcome along the way.
One day I will have another dog and as I can’t imagine going for a 5 week walk and leaving him behind, now is the time.
I also want to go somewhere I can practise Spanish.
The period before setting off on the Camino is quite powerful. Remember this is not just a very long walk – it is a pilgrimage and whether you see yourself as religious or spiritual or not, something internal starts shifting, well before you set a foot on the road. There are all the preparations of backpacks and clothes and boots and sleeping bags and for a while my mind was only focused on questions like ‘should I take a raincoat or a cape?’ No room for indecision – you can’t throw everything in ‘just in case’. Everything you take you will carry and so my fuzzy brain has had to be honed to a sharp incisive decision-making tool. This process alone has deeply unsettled me.
I gaily invited other friends to join me along the way but I was also confident that time alone would be good. I like walking alone – or preferably with a dog. Two people have had to drop out and I now have a journey which starts in company – the first week with Pep and another friend, the second week with my sister Caroline. Then, there is a huge expanse of time and space that either I will walk through by myself or I will chicken out and go back home before I finish.
‘Don’t look at the map!’
The scale of it is terrifying. From Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostella is 759 kilometers or 472 miles.
It doesn’t matter how often I repeat
1. It will be fine. It will be more than that – it will be beautiful.
2. There are always other people around to help
3. I can stop if I want to and return another year to finish it with a friend
There is an undeniable knot of fear in my stomach almost all the time now and I have to skirt around it in order to continue preparing my bag. I don’t want other people to reassure me. I know it is normal to feel like this and probably centuries of pilgrims have felt the same way. However most of them with better reason – there were bandits, wild dogs and wolves; they didn’t have extra-light sleeping bags or technical quick-dry trousers and iphones.
All I can think is that these people had faith and I am standing on the very edge of a great abyss. It is right in my centre where my faith should be. My faith in myself.
So I suppose this is why I want to walk the Camino.
I am tired of being too frightened to live fully, tired of how often I avoid something scary rather than face it, tired of a constant niggling fear that what could go wrong, will. So I am throwing myself on the mercies of the Camino and hoping that I will emerge stronger and able to trust myself and Life more.
That is the terrified pilgrim that I am.
There is another pilgrim inside me too.
She is looking forward to getting out there and seeing what happens next. She is not so vocal as terrified pilgrim but she is there and she is the one who has got me to this moment, a few days before setting off. She has packed my bag, researched the route, gone out on training walks. I am so glad that she is coming too and I think I can trust her to take it all in her stride.
The most important steps for me will be those first ones I take when I am alone. If I stop before I reach Santiago de Compostela then that is fine, I only need to face this fear of walking by myself, carrying my own pack, making my own decisions and finding my own way.
Have you ever felt scared to do something but done it anyway? What helped you to face the terror and was it worth it in the end?
I will be away from my computer for the next few weeks but still in contact by phone. I hope to send photos and updates along the way. Meanwhile my interviews with people who made the decision to move to Catalunya will be posting here each week.
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Jumping bird Photo credit: Andysam / Foter / CC BY
Romanic bridge Photo credit: alepheli / Foter / CC BY-SA