A Day in the Life: On the Camino de Santiago

On Friday I’ll begin my third Camino. My friend Lois and I will walk ten miles per day for fifty or so days, reaching our goal of Santiago, Spain sometime in early November.

Some people’s eyes grow wide when they hear we’re walking ten miles in a day. “Well, think about it,” I explain. “If you’re only job was to walk every day, you could do ten miles, too.” I then explain the mathematics of it all, which may or may not help depending on one’s childhood experiences with numbers. But in a nutshell, it’s this: normal walking pace is three miles per hour. So it takes 3.5 hours to walk ten miles. And we have all darn day!

In fact, my day on the Camino is a lot like those of you working folks. After waking, I get dressed, pack up for the day and eat some breakfast. And about 8 o’clock I depart to begin my “work” day. I “work” for two hours, stop for coffee break. Then another two hours and I stop for lunch. Then another two hours.

And here’s where my day may differ a little from that of the working folk: I’m done at 2. I shower, change my clothes, do some laundry, and if all goes as planned I’m sitting on a piazza with a glass of wine by 3. I spend the next six or so hours catching up with friends, maybe doing a little grocery shopping, eating some dinner, then I’m off to bed.

There are a few other differences, as well:

  • The place I leave from in the morning is not the same one I return to at night.
  • Breakfast is shared with anywhere from one to twenty people. As are my coffee breaks and lunch breaks. And it could be twenty people from twenty different countries.
  • I see my friends nearly every day—or at most every few days. In person.
  • They only ever see me in one of two outfits, as that is all I have.
  • These friends of mine are people I’ve known only for a few hours or a few days.
  • Our conversations rarely have anything to do with our jobs. Or the headlines.  Why we’re here on the Camino is an often answered question whose answer can lead to a conversation that may go on for hours–a conversation in which I may learn about the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the end of a career, the questions one is seeking answers to.
  • I drink more wine on the Camino than I ever do in my life in the States. Partly because people like to buy me drinks, which is partly because they can buy a round for ten people for about fifteen dollars.
  • I go to bed earlier than I ever do in the States. And don’t need a book to read before my eyes close—my body slips into sleep not long after my head finds my pillow.
  • The bed in which I sleep each night rarely has sheets.
  • I share my room with one or two or fifty other people.
  • I don’t need an alarm. My roommates will begin rousing themselves long before I care to wake myself.

And every morning I’m happy to do it all over again.  This, I hope, is how you feel each day when you wake up as well.

__________

p.s. Though I haven’t written much in the last two months, I’m hoping to return to this blog many times in these next two months. If you don’t want to miss a thing I recommend subscribing to the blog (upper right)–that way you’ll get an e-mail every time I write something.

And for those of you looking to procrastinate whatever it is you’re “supposed” to be doing at this hour, here’s a link to things I wrote my first time on the Camino. -Rebecca

Go. Now.

The Q & A

Q: Why France?

A: Why not?

Q: What will you do there?

A: Not sure.

Q: What do you do that you can afford to take three months off?

A: I basically work to save up money so I can travel.

There you have it. The answers to the three most-asked questions I received before my three month trip to Europe. Of course, those that have known me for a long time don’t bother asking: they already know my answers–or lack there of.

My boyfriend, Michael, however, has different answers to the last two questions. He spent our time in France doing what he’s been doing since the day I met him–he can work from anywhere that has a high-speed internet connection because he has mastered the art of location-independence. I am an aspiring student of that way of life.

Less Stuff. More Travel.

“It must be nice to have so few things that you can just up and go,” a friend said the other day. Well, yes, indeed it is. I lack a mortgage, a car payment, kids.

Oh. Wait. She meant “stuff.”

Well, I used to have a lot more of that. But on 7/7/11 I took off for a year–after giving away or selling as much as I could, and leaving the rest stored in my parent’s barn. (I haven’t seen most of those belongings in three years. Might be time to get rid of them.)

My mother says I have the least amount of “stuff” of anyone she knows. I know people with less. And I envy them.

The Many Ways to Travel

Before you think I’m a little crazy (oh wait . . .you already do), let me say that getting rid of all your stuff is not a pre-requisite to travel. In fact, there are lots of ways to travel.

  • There’s the traditional take-a-week, hop-a-plane, see-the-sites, come-home-to-so-much-work-I-think-maybe-I-never-should-have-left kind of travel. Very popular in the U.S. (Or not–it was predicted that, in 2014, forty-one percent of Americans would not use all of their paid time-off. The Europeans I’ve met think we’re insane.)
  • There’s the job-that-takes-me-around-the-world-but-I-never-have-time-to-see-anything type of travel. Popular among the corporate America set. You can identify these folks by the suits they wear and the speed with which they get through the security check-points at the airport.
  • There’s the  I-just-graduated-college-and-need-to-postpone-taking-a-soul-sucking-job-to-pay-off-my-debt types. These folks are usually Americans, as the Canadians and Australians I’ve met in my travels don’t have college debt to worry about.  Nor health insurance. Identified by their enormous backpacks, these American young’uns have a hint of that do-it-while-you-can philosophy. I particularly like it when they realize they can actually pay off their debt by working some pretty awesome jobs around the world.
  • Then there are the work-to-save-enough-money-to-quit-and-travel types. I believe you all know at least one of those.
  • And then there are those that have mastered location-independence. I’m dating one of those. Next best thing to being one.

Your Life. Your Choice.

Here’s the thing: I don’t care what your preference is for travel.

  • Some friends like the security of their cubicles and their paychecks. I’m fine with that, as long as they realize the two are not inextricably linked, and neither keep them from doing however much (or little) travel they want.
  • Some people don’t care to travel at all. No problem. As long as they have determined that by choice, and don’t think it’s fate.
  • Some folks have seen all they want to see. Ah, now these are some great folks. Took advantage of the see-it-while-you-can philosophy, have reached 80, and said, “You know what. I’m good. Glad I went when I was young(er).”

Honestly, travel or don’t travel. I don’t care. Just don’t think you can’t travel because you have a mortgage/family/job/home. Because there are plenty of people that have all those things and DO travel. Maybe they don’t stay in a Hilton after flying First Class, but I’d rather arrive at a budget accommodation after an economy flight than never arrive at all.

We live in a country where nearly anything is possible. Traveling is no exception. So if that’s your goal, get out there. Go. Now. Before you’re dead. (You do realize we’re all going to die one day, don’t you?)

_____

And if you’re wondering how one affords to do such things, read this but only if you also read this.

A Tale of Two Caminos

Huffing up into the Pyrenees on the first day of my first Camino a compact woman who looked to be in her late sixties caught up to me. “Bonjour,” she said. “Bonjour. Ça va?” I asked. After exchanging details about where we were from she asked me if this was my first Camino. “Yes,” I said, thinking, Why on earth would someone walk 500 miles more than once? She told me it was her seventh. I thought I misunderstood her French. “Septième?” I said. Yep. Seventh time.

Half-way through that first Camino, I began planning my next. And on September 2nd I will embark on my third Camino in four years. I’m walking the Camino Frances–the same route I walked in 2012. With such a big world out there, I’m not surprised when people ask why I would do it all over again.

Actually, returning to the Camino is quite common. Nearly everyone I’ve met who has walked the Camino has walked it more than once–or is planning to.

There are numerous routes to get to Santiago, so a pilgrim could traverse up from Portugal one year (my route in 2014), from southern Spain the next. But why return to the same route?

Well, why do you return to your favorite restaurant week after week? Why do you spend time with the same friends repeatedly? Why do you go to the same church? The same gym? And root for the same sports teams over and over again? Because there’s something you enjoy about those places, those people, those experiences. And that’s why I’m returning to the Camino Francès.

  • Where else in the world can you walk a few miles, sit for a cup of coffee with strangers doing the same, then walk again, into an ancient town that wouldn’t exist anymore were it not for the tens, hundreds of people who walk through it each day?
  • Where else can you meet people from nineteen countries in the space of one month–people who will, within a few minutes of meeting you, tell you their deepest fears and their highest hopes?
  • Where else can you turn off technology for an entire day (or month) and be present nearly every moment, with more than enough time to reflect on your life–alone, or with people who are genuinely interested to hear about it?
  • And where else could you spend forty nights in forty different towns and share meals with people from all over the world for a grand total of $1700?*
Pilgrims from three continents (Africa, Australia, North America) sharing a meal on a fourth:)

Pilgrims from three continents (Africa, Australia, North America) sharing a meal on a fourth:)

I’m sure the Camino de Santiago is not the only place in the world one can experience all of the above. If you know of any others, do let me know, and I’ll add that to next year’s adventures:)

______________

*$1700 does not include airfare. It does, however, include every penny I spent from the moment I touched down in Europe to begin my journey–food, lodging, one doctor’s visit and three medications as a result of that visit! How do I know this? I logged every cent in a small notebook I kept in my pocket.

 

 

Where in the World Is . . .

“Where are you living these days?” a friend asked.

“Well, what’s your definition of ‘live’?”

Most of my stuff is in a 5 x 5 storage unit Michael and I share in Asheville, North Carolina. Though my stuff sleeps there, I don’t. The last few nights I’ve been in Schroon Lake. And the majority of last month I was in Poughkeepsie—where the rest of my ‘stuff’ resides.

“I can’t keep track of you,” friends say. Neither can I, sometimes.

So for those of you wondering about my next steps, here you go:

Michael on the desk of Chalet Edelweiss

Michael on the desk of Chalet Edelweiss

  • Sunday morning: I depart for the Collegeville Institute for a week-long all-expense-paid writing workshop with Asheville native Lauren Winner. For those of you that have been waiting for the book about my first Camino, this is the kick-off to my summer goal of finishing the darn thing. (But don’t get too excited, because the next step requires lots and lots of editing!)
  • July 4: I return to Schroon Lake for two weeks, during which time I will finally try to comprehend Michael’s love of opera by attending two with him, thanks to the Seagle Colony’s summer productions of the Barber of Seville and Falstaff.
  • July 16: We’re finally returning to Asheville! For a little while, at least. We’ll begin by attending the wedding of Mike (one of my first Asheville friends)and Ashley–who have graciously allowed us to come despite the fact that I never received an invitation–because I’m not easy to track down via U.S. mail (or so they say).
  • End of August: I’ll return to NY to meet my friend Lois and depart on September 2 for the Camino de Santiago — Part Deux. Michael has not yet confirmed where he will reside during this time.
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35L pack for a 10 week trip

  • November 11 — Lois and I return from our European adventure.
  • Mid-November — Michael and I head to California to spend Thanksgiving with his family.
  • Mid-December — We return to NY for Christmas, much to my father’s delight if you recall this post.
  • Post-Christmas — Who knows? Hopefully we will by the time the end of the year arrives!

Scenes from a Morning Walk

Every morning, sometime between 6:30 and 7, I depart whichever home is serving as my current residence: hiking shoes on feet, pedometer at my hip. If I’m going to walk 490 miles across Spain in September, it’s time to get practicing.

20150619_070543_HDR

100 steps from the house . . .

This morning, I walked down to a fog-covered Schroon Lake with Michael and my father, up past the boathouse, and then parted ways with them: they headed to Stewart’s for the morning coffee klatsch, I went off with a goal to walk more miles than I did yesterday.

Schroon Lake Boathouse

Schroon Lake Boathouse

Yesterday, I got distracted. Taking pictures. So this morning I did not slip my phone/camera into the pocket of my fleece, and was thus able to reach my goal.

In case you missed it, let me repeat: I had to wear fleece this morning. It’s June 20th. It was 47 degrees.

It certainly looks like summer here.

They grey and white landscapes have been replaced by more colorful ones.

They greys and whites of winter have been replaced by more colorful hues.

 

Unimpeded views of a frozen lake are no more.

Unimpeded views of a frozen lake are no more.

Perhaps the universe is just trying to help me out. Cool mornings are better for walking than warm, muggy ones. Or maybe I’m just asking too much. After all, summer doesn’t officially begin until tomorrow.

These little ones weren't born in time to see snow. Lucky them.

These little ones weren’t born in time to see last winter’s snow. Lucky ducks (or geese, as it were).

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Travelers

“Are you sure you and Michael aren’t really just good friends?” my mother has asked me–more than once. I assure her that is not the case, but I can see why she thinks this. Michael and I, unlike most couples I know, spend a lot of time apart from each other. I don’t just mean a night or a week-end–I mean weeks, months. Michael and I joke that though on paper we’ve been dating for a year-and-a-half, in reality it’s only been six weeks.

Why all the time apart? It’s not because one or both of us travel for work. It’s not because we are in a long-distance relationship (though it often appears that way), and it’s certainly not because we don’t like spending time with each other (well, I don’t think it is–maybe Michael thinks otherwise?!) The fact is that we both love to travel, often “on-a-whim”–which, to me, is taking off on a multiple-week trip with less than three months of planning time, sometimes less than a week. And sometimes the travels one of us wants to take are not of interest to the other, or not good timing for the other. So instead of deciding not to go, we go anyway. With the blessings of the other, of course.

Like the time I decided to go to Nicaragua. In three days.

Like the time I decided to go to Nicaragua. In three days. (Where, upon arrival, I learned my Spanish lessons were to take place in the same building as the chocolate museum!!)

And so it was that less than a week into our three-month visit to France last summer I took off for ten days to walk the Camino–by myself. Again. Michael had work to do but I was antsy–unsure what on earth I’d fill my three months with (silly thought, I know, but that’s a story for another day). What I did know was that I love walking the Camino. So I took off–honestly out of fear of the unknown, yet ironically into another unknown. I walked a route I’d never walked, beginning in a country I’d never before visited whose language I didn’t know. Apparently I thought that would be easier than trying to figure out if Michael and I were stable enough as a couple to live together for the first time. In a foreign country. For three months.

Paris with Michael. Turns out we're good travel partners.

Paris with Michael. Turns out we’re good travel partners.

Two weeks after returning from France–where I discovered that I did indeed love living with Michael, and got the feeling he felt the same way–I left him again.

Confession: My favorite parts of my writing retreats are the good food, good wine, and good friends--namely chocolate cake, Writers Block Petit Syrah,  Lois (L), Lynne (R) and Stacey (sadly, not pictured).

Confession: My favorite parts of my writing retreats are the good food, good wine, and good friends–namely chocolate cake, Writers Block Petit Syrah, Lois (L), Lynne (R) and Stacey (sadly, not pictured).

This time to go on my twice-yearly writing retreat. For two weeks. My writing is a key part of the story of how Michael and I met, so it’s no surprise that Michael didn’t object to my leaving for two weeks. Besides, before he met me, Michael says he was pretty much a hermit. So I figure he gets to reminisce a little when I’m gone. But hopefully I return before he decides he’d prefer that life to one with me!

Oh. And then there was that time I went to live on a goat farm on an island in France for a week. Without him.

Oh. And then there was that time I went to live on a goat farm on an island in France for a week. Without him.

Then there was this past winter, when we lived as if we were long-distance lovers. To my credit, I did tell Michael–numerous times–that I had no intention of wintering in Schroon Lake. Apparently he did. Some would compromise by giving in. I compromised by moving three hours south (as opposed to three states south).

We're together sometimes. Like when I insist we are having a live Christmas tree. Which we'll cut down ourselves. (Well, which Michael will cut down.)

We’re together sometimes. Like when I insisted we were having a live Christmas tree. And we’d cut it down ourselves. (Well, more accurately, which Michael would cut down himself while I watched.)

Up until this point, I had precipitated all of these separations. Michael had noticed this pattern. Thankfully, he had yet to take offense to it. And made me feel better about all of it by taking off himself in April. For California. Without a return ticket. Some would see this as a sign of impending doom. I saw it as typical of the life of a traveler–why limit yourself with a return ticket?

To my credit, at least when Michael takes off for a couple months, I go visit him:)

To my credit, at least when Michael takes off for a couple months, I go visit him:)

I could only visit him for one week due to my teaching schedule. He returns today. But in the meantime, it may appear that I’ve one-upped him.

I called him a few weeks ago to tell him that my dear friend Lois (yes, the same one in the earlier pic) finally took me up on my offer to walk the Camino with her if ever she wanted to go. And she wanted to go this September. “Oh–and she wants to do the entire 490 miles. And to walk only ten miles a day. Which means we’ll be gone for two months.”

Michael, of course, told me to go. I wrote him an e-mail the next day. “Two months is a long time to be away from you.” He wrote back, “. . . I know, but this is something you want to do. I say go for it. Life is way too short. You have my blessings.”

I forwarded that message to Lois. She wrote, “I’m in love.”

So am I.

My Super Man

My Super Man

Winter Wonderland (Second Draft)

On my walk this morning, a blog post started forming in my head. I pulled out my phone, turned on the voice recorder, and recorded my thoughts lest I forget them. (Note to future writers: you will forget them. Every time. Unless you write them down or record them.)

A few hours later, I sat down to write. After I finished, I thought, “Haven’t I written some of this already?” So I went to the blog. And yep. I was right.

But it’s a little different. So with apologies for not having written in so long, voila. It’s a start. Next time, all new material. Promise;)

—–

In August of last year, I ended a streak. Prior to that, I had written on this blog every month for over four years. I never set out to write every month. It just kind of happened. Until last August.

What happened last August? I’m not entirely sure. I returned from Europe that month with continued travel planned through the first week of November. Then Michael and I accepted my parent’s invitation to stay in their second home in Schroon Lake for the holidays.

Yes, I'm as cold as I look.

Yes, I’m as cold as I look.

“We’re not staying here past January 1,” I told Michael. Living through an Adirondack winter had never made my list of “Things I Want To Do Once in My Life.” But Michael? He couldn’t believe Schroon Lake–or any lake for that matter–froze to the point that one could drive a truck across it. Ice fishing? Snowmobiling? Below zero temperatures? His eyes lit up–in excitement or madness, I wasn’t sure.

Michael’s desire to stay delighted my father–whose definition of paradise is “when all of your children live within a few hours drive.” Or, better yet, when they all still live in your house.

“We have to heat it in the winter, anyway,” my father said, trying to give me more reasons why this was such a good idea.

“At some point, I need to start working again,” I told Michael. “And trust me–there’s no work for me in Schroon Lake in the winter.” And so it was that a compromise was made. Michael would live in Schroon Lake full-time, and I would become a part-time resident. I found myself a teaching job at the community college in my hometown–three hours south of Schroon Lake. I would live in the vacant apartment over my parent’s garage Monday through Thursday, then drive up to Schroon and spend the weekends with Michael.

Michael bought me Yaks Trax (which you attach to your shoes so you can walk on ice and snow without falling). And he gave me a down jacket for Christmas. I bought snow boots. And hoped I’d never have to wear them after this winter.

Michael plowing Dad's driveway.

Michael plowing snow for the first time in his life.

I witnessed Michael on snowshoes for the first time in his life. And cross-country skis. I left him on his own for ice fishing and snowmobiling–both of which involve sitting in the cold as opposed to moving through it.

Just as winter began to melt, Michael took off for California to spend time with his family. My family and I sent him videos of Spring erupting the week after he left.

In two weeks, I finish teaching. Michael will return from California, and wants to see what a quiet Adirondack town looks like in the height of the season– which, in Schroon Lake, is July 4th.

After that? Well, I’ll leave that for my next post. I promise there will be one. For me, life is much better when  I take time to write about it.