The Camino: 30 days, 775 kilometers

It has been more than a year since I walked the Camino. More than a year since I walked 775k for one whole month through hellish summer weather. Most friends call me insane for walking 775 kilometers in 30 days in full summer. I call it chasing your dreams and checking something, one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, off my bucket list. Last week I realized that I never really wrote a post about my experience and I desperately want to remedy this, because if there’s one thing worth sharing it’s this.

I think my Camino experience had it all, there was an abundance of good moments but, as expected with a hike that long, there were some really bad moments as well. I want to walk you through them and explain why even though there were quite some tears shed along the way I will go back and walk the Camino again in a few years time.

That first day was horrendous. We had to climb most of the way and instead of sunny weather, it was pouring rain. It was foggy, cold, and we were drenched after a few kilometers. Once we reached the top the realization set in that no matter how much you train, training in the Netherlands (where everything is flat) will never prepare you for that first day of climbing and going back down the Pyrenees. We were cold, tired, and our moods were pretty glum. You just gotta keep going, because there is literally nothing for miles. Regardless of the heavy snoring all around me, I slept like a baby that night. The next morning our clothes had barely had the chance to dry, but hey, it was dry!

It seemed we experienced a month’s worth of rain that first day because aside from a few drops of rain there was no more the remaining days of that month. The heat set after that and let me tell you, Spanish summers are HOT. There is a certain point that first week where you feel like you’re just going through the motions: wake up early, eat breakfast, walk, eat lunch, walk, check in at Albergue, shower, sleep, get groceries, eat dinner, sleep. When I had some spare energy I took the time to take in some of the local sights, but what I just summed up is mainly what an average day consisted off. You have to get used to the rhythm.

Some days you have excess energy, others you’re so tired you’re barely able to take in all the beauty surrounding you. A good night of sleep is essential. But the rhythm gets comfortable. You make friends, and although I walked with a friend from the very beginning, you never really walk alone. There’s always other people on the road. And believe me, you’ll make friends for life because you’ll never experience what you have experienced with them. While walking there’s really nothing else to do but talk. You learn new words in different languages, you’ll learn what moved them to walk the Camino. EVERYONE has a story to tell and that’s one of the fascinating things about the entire journey.

The picture on top of this post is taken at the 100-kilometer point. That point is so powerful! Knowing you’ve walked 675 and have 100 left to go. 100 kilometer is NOTHING when you’ve walked that far. The friend I started the Camino with actually twisted her ankle two days before we reached Santiago. The entire thing was awful, her ankle was swollen and hurting really bad (and the closest hospital is in Santiago…). We walked the rest of the day and visited a clinic. They recommended her to take some rest, but she bought a brace and walked those last two days. You might call it irresponsible, and maybe it was, considering her ankle sometimes still troubles her, but at that point not walking is just not an option. We finished and concluded that month by sharing an apartment that last night with the friends we’d made along the way.

I was bone tired and honestly believe that I have ever been that exhausted in my entire life. I said to myself that this was one of those things that I’d do once in my life, but never again. At the time I meant it with every fiber of my being. Time is sneaky though. It has a way of changing your perspective on things, and all the bad things about my entire Camino experience just seemed to fade over time.

The positive memories remain and that rhythm of walking, the simplicity of walking, I remember with fondness. Because that simplicity is what I wish I could go back to when the days get rough. When life gets stressful and you’re running around doing whatever you wish for that simplicity again. And THAT is why, when I finish my master’s degree, I’m going back to St. Jean Pied de Port in France and walking that 775k to Santiago again.

Have you had a similar experience?

 

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