The Next Adventure

Our plan was to visit the Walkway Over the Hudson – one of New York State’s newest State Parks.  The old railroad bridge spanning the Hudson River between Poughkeepsie and Highland had been turned into a pedestrian walkway and had become quite the tourist attraction.  Sr. Peggy had driven up from the Bronx to see me – and it.  As with anyone who wanted to get together with me in those months before the Camino, I suggested a walk.  I was trying to garner as many steps as possible in preparation for my 480 mile trek across Spain.  Unfortunately, just as St. Peggy arrived, it started to rain.  And then we heard the thunder. So instead of walking, we found ourselves in a booth at the Palace Diner.

After sharing my comings and goings, talk turned to Sr. Peggy’s upcoming plans.  “Anne Seeley does a Habitat trip every year.  She asked me to drive one of the vans this year.  Actually she’s looking for another driver and I thought you might be interested.”

Never one to dismiss the opportunity for a new adventure, I asked for a few details.  The trip would be from July 1-7.  We would drive from Staten Island, NY to Tennessee to work on a Habitat for Humanity project.  I would be driving a van of high school girls from Notre Dame Academy – a school started and run by the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame (the order to which Sr Peggy and Sr. Anne belonged, and the order with whom I had done Spring Break Service Trips in college).

I did some figuring.  I was due to return from my Camino on June 20th.  Then I’d join my family for the annual vacation to Lake George til the 27th.  I’d then return to Mom and Dad’s house to help them prep for my father’s Heidelberg Army Reunion which was to be hosted at their house July 13.  Yup.  I had some time.

Which brings me to tonight.  I’m in Staten Island at Sr. Anne’s home.  Yesterday, me, Sr. Anne and Sr. Peggy met the other three chaperones at Enterprise and picked up our three vans.  Tomorrow at 6:30 a.m. we’ll meet our passengers: fifteen high school school girls, five of whom will ride in each van.  Sr. Peggy and I will switch between driver and shotgun positions every three hours until we reach the state of Tennessee.  There, my motel room awaits me.  Monday morning, we’ll finish our drive to our destination and start work that afternoon.  (I’ll be honest – I was told our destination once, but that was pre-Camino, so it’s long since been lost from my mind.)

So I’m off again.  Maybe one day I’ll actually get back to some sense of a normal life – whatever that is.  My plan is still to move to Asheville, NC at the end of July.  Now, if I could just stop filling in the time between now and then….

Being on an Ancient Pilgrimage in the Digital Age

After walking 12 miles, Philipp and I were relieved to arrive at the albergue in Tosantos, Spain. We were greeted by Dani, a volunteer serving as the welcoming committee, chef, and housekeeper that week. We left our packs in the hall and followed Dani into the living room.

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The Way: The Movie vs. The Pilgrimage

When a friend e-mailed me last September to tell me a movie was coming out about the Camino I was a little alarmed — would the Camino become overrun with Americans? I liked that most of the people I told about the Camino back in the United States had never heard of it. It felt like I’d discovered something. As a former teacher, I enjoyed telling people about the history of the pilgrimage trail and the details of my upcoming trip. I was looking forward to meeting pilgrims from all over the world — not a bunch of Americans who had come on a whim after seeing a movie.

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Lessons Learned Along the Camino

“Whenever I have a big decision to make, I go for a walk. Then, I go to sleep. When I wake up, the answer is always there.” Mona, a wise woman from South Africa I’ve been walking with the last few days, told me this today. It reminded me of evenings I’ve called my mother stressed over something. “Go to bed,” she’d tell me. “It will all look better in the morning.” And indeed it does. Perhaps now I’ll go for a walk before crawling into bed.

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Camino: By The Numbers

78:   Age of the oldest pilgrim I’ve met (from France, walking with his daughter – they do two weeks of the Camino each year.  Have also met a 73 year-old South Korean woman travelling alone, a 74 year-old Italian man with his son, and an American who will turn 70 on Sunday and is doing with Camino with four friends in honor of the occasion)

15:   Age of the youngest pilgrim I’ve met (from Australia, travelling with her mother.  Trying to figure out where to go next with her studies – she’s unschooled so she gets to choose.  She’s thinking of a perfumerie course.)

480: Total miles of the Camino Frances (the route I’m on)

12:   Number of other routes to Santiago listed in my guidebook (from Portugal, Spain, France, and beyond)

441: Number of miles I’ve walked so far.

34:   Number of days I’ve spent walking.

20:   Highest number of miles I’ve walked in one day.

3:   Lowest number of miles I’ve walked in one day (due to an allergic reaction for which I had to walk to the next town to see a doctor.  By the time my appointment was over, it was too late and too hot to walk on…my body’s way of saying “take a rest day.”)

37:  Highest temperature in which I’ve walked (in Celsius – that’s 98 degrees Fahrenheit)

0:   Number of blisters so far

4:   Number of “hot spots” I’ve had on my feet.  Thankfully, I covered them with moleskin and none have developed into blisters.

3:   Number of other ailments I’ve had.  (A tight Achilles/bone spur on Day 3 – it hurt to touch my left foot to the ground let alone walk; an allergic reaction resulting in itchy bumps all over my upper body; a tight piriformis that found me sitting in the middle of the path to Leonnearly every half hour in an attempt to stretch it into submission.)

22:   Weight (in pounds) of my pack when they weighed it upon my arrival at JFK.  According to the rule I read, I should weigh 220 pounds if I am carrying that much….I weigh almost half that.  Oops.

9:  Number of things I left at hostels along the way to make my pack lighter.(I have not weighed my bag since…will see what it is when I get to the airport!)

6:  Number of continents from which other pilgrims have come.

19: Number of countries from which I’ve met pilgrims.

13: Number of US States from which I’ve met pilgrims.

32: Number of American pilgrims I’ve met.

0:   Number of regrets I have about taking this journey:)

A Camino Q&A

I realize I have yet to write a post about the ins and outs of the Camino, so here’s a little Q& A for you all.

  1. What is the Camino? A pilgrimage route through Northern Spain.
  2. How long is it? The route I chose, the Camino Francés, is 480 miles from St. Jean Pied-de-Port to Santiago.
  3. Why would someone do this?  Well, hundreds of years ago people walked to Santiago  (translation: Saint James) to because the relics of St. James were said to be there.  Some went for penance for their sins.  If you’re interested in why I’m doing it, click here to read that story.
  4. How long will it take to complete? I’m taking about 40 days.  The average is about 33 days. I started on May 11 and will finish by June 19, if not earlier.
  5. How many miles per day is that? I planned to do 12-15 miles per day (about 20-25 km per day).  So far I’ve had two days where I’ve walked 18 miles, but am pretty much sticking to 12-15.   I just get up in the morning and walk however far my body takes me.
  6. Where do you stay? There are albergues (like hostels) specifically for pilgrims all along The Way.  They are usually places with large rooms full of bunk beds.  They cost between 5 and 8 Euros per night (between 6 and 10 US dollars).
  7. Did Martin Sheen just make a movie about this?  Yes.  It’s called The Way.  I would recommend watching it.  It gives a pretty good idea of the walk, but remember it is a movie so does miss some things.  I am thinking of writing a post about that.
  8. How did you hear about this?  Shirley MacLaine walked it and wrote a book about it.  I saw her interviewed on a morning news program back in 2000.

If you have any more questions about it, do feel free to write a comment or send me an e-mail and I’ll be happy to answer them.

The Things I Never Dreamed Of

When I took my first writing class at the John C. Campbell Folk School, I never had the intention of becoming a published writer.  I just wanted to write down some of my family stories.  And take a week doing so at a beautiful place in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

Four years later I find myself accomplishing something I would have never predicted.  I have not only been published, but will actually get paid for things I’ve written.  I’d heard the stories of all the rejection letters one receives prior to first publication.  In February, my first writing teacher Glenda Beall helped me to get up the courage to submit my first piece. A few months letter, I got my first rejection letter.

“While you’re waiting to hear back, submit something else,” Glenda had told me.  “That way you’re always hopeful that maybe the next one will be accepted.” That was great advice.  So I submitted another piece.  That was accepted “space permitting” so I’m not sure yet if it will be published.

In the meantime, I wrote to a web site about an article I read on their site.  In the response I received, I was asked my writing background and if I’d be interested in writing something for the site.  Could this be happening?  Was I actually being solicted to write something? Indeed I was.  And today you can read that article by clicking here.

In the meantime a friend put me in touch with a web site she had written for.  “I think they’d be interested in having you blog from the Camino.”  Indeed they were.  You can find my posts for them here.

I’ve often said I think it silly to ask me where I expect to be in five years.  I always say I have no idea – because there are so many experiences out there, I’ll probably be doing something I never dreamed of.  And so it is with writing.  Five years ago I never would have predicted I’d have a blog and be a published writer.  But here I am.  Isn’t life grand?

A Down Day

Walking the Camino, like walking any other path in life,can sometimes have its “down” days. Today was one of those days. I just didn’t feel like walking anymore. I opened my pedometer to see I’d only walked 200 steps since last I checked it. The route was descending steeply and full of rocks. It took not only physical but mental energy as I had to focus on each individual step. I walked with others, but even their company didn’t help — I was just ready to be finished. For the day. Or with the Camino? I wasn’t sure.

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Learning to Walk

“The book says it’s good to walk with two walking sticks – better for your balance than just one.”  My mother sat in the chair in the corner of my bedroom reading my Camino guidebook.  As she read, I tried to organize my pack.

“I’ve only ever used one, but I guess I’ll bring both and see how it goes.”  Walking sticks are not allowed in carry-on luggage so the next day I bought a mailing tube and prepared to do something I rarely do – check something at the airport.  Twenty-two days into my Camino I can say that borrowing those (two) sticks from my friend Kate and taking them with me was one of the best decisions I’ve made.  But when I pulled them out of their tube at the Biarritz airport, I didn’t yet know that I didn’t really have a clue as to how to walk with them.

I plodded up the Pyrennees the next day appreciative of the help they offered.  But it wasn’t until my second morning on the Camino, shortly after leaving the hostel at Orisson, that Franco, an Italian I’d met the night before, showed me how to use them properly.  He moved his right hand and stick in time with his left foot, and vice versa.  I found it difficult at first – felt like I was learning to walk all over again.  I’d often stop moving all my limbs in order to start over again trying to get them all in sync.

Franco walked on ahead.  An hour later Michel came up behind me.  He walked quickly, but slowed his pace to mine.  After a half-hour of conversation in his native French, he felt he knew me well enough to ask if he could offer some advice: perhaps my sticks were a little too high for me.  He adjusted them to my height and I couldn’t believe the difference it made.

Walking down the steep path into Roncesvalles that afternoon, I met Philipp. He was young German guy who started his Camino in LePuy, France.  As I carefully pushed my sticks into the ground with each step, he cautioned me that my quads would burn tomorrow from our descent. I was surprised by this as I thought my walking sticks would help relieve some of the pressure on my quads.  Philipp didn’t have walking sticks. Thankfully, Philipp’s prediction didn’t come true.  I have yet to feel any tightness in my quads.  My Achilles, well, that’s another story…

By the next day, I realized I’d become a four-legged animal: able to walk with all of my limbs.  Today (Day 23 of my Camino) it’s second nature to pull out my sticks, adjust them to my height, and walk with them in sync with my feet.  But hardly a day passes that I don’t silently thank Kate for lending me her sticks and for Franco and Michel for teaching me how to walk with them.