“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.