Evidently, I’ve signed myself up for walking 800km from St. Jean Pied de Port in France, across Spain to Santiago de Compostela, starting April 21st, 2015, ten weeks from now. I’ve been vaguely aware of this famous pilgrimage for several years, it’s extremely popular in Ireland, every outdoors shop has complete packing lists and the staff are all well versed on the necessary equipment. Millions have made this trek, but I didn’t imagine I’d be one of them. When reading about reasons people make this journey, many (especially those doing the full 800km on the most popular route) are religious, in transitional phases in their lives, are having some sort of crisis, or are looking for answers. I am none of those. I’m compelled to walk mostly, out of a sense of adventure and general love for long-distance trekking, though I’ve never done anything of this length before.
I am not looking for a life-changing experience, though many people say this happens, and I always welcome perspective changing experiences. But I realized I needed to try when I considered backing out of it, fear of failure, of pain and difficulty. The most rewarding travel in my life, like uprooting to Tanzania for three months, or that epic “adventure” in Ghana, stemmed from difficulty. My favorite trip to date was five months in Asia, it perfectly mixed a sense of adventure and reward from difficultly learning to navigate new cities and foreign languages, and challenges we couldn’t afford to throw money at, with enough comfort (and delicious street food) to balance. I can’t imagine my life without those experiences, all of which stemmed from that initial trip to Tanzania. It was the most scared I’d ever been, and getting on that plane was immensely difficult. But it is still to date, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and it went on to shape my life in profound ways that I’m extremely grateful for today. And this feels like another opportunity for growth and challenge. I fear stagnation in life immensely, of become too comfortable. So, when I feel the need to catapult myself out of my comfort zone, I listen.
Though traveling alone doesn’t phase me anymore, nor does potential language challenges. Or getting lost (very unlikely on this trek). Or getting sick. A challenge that relies on pushing myself physically and mentally beyond my normal capabilities does indeed scare me. The Camino is odd in that it is not that difficult, it doesn’t involve scrambling, altitude, or navigation, you don’t even need to camp or cook. But at the same time, convincing your body to walk a minimum of a half-marathon per day is no easy feat, physically or mentally. It helps of course, that living in Ireland, I’m a quick few hour flight from home. In fact, to get there I simply take a $50 two-hour flight, and 90 minute train ride, and I’m at the starting point by 3 pm the same day. If at anytime I need (or want) to go home, I’d most likely be there by dinner. And I can book my relatively inexpensive return flight days (or even hours) before, so I don’t have to keep to a specific timeline. It also doesn’t hurt that day to day living is cheaper than here in Dublin. I don’t know if I’ll do the whole thing or skip the middle, having not yet decided if I want to dedicate a few weeks versus a month to this endeavor. But I’m allowing myself the possibility of coming home early if that’s how it ends up going. I know because of the popularity of this trek it can be overcrowded at times, hopefully by starting in April I’ll avoid some of that. But right now, that’s the only potential aspect of this trek that could perhaps sour me to it. Though I am looking forward to meeting people, the social aspect is one of the highlights for many. There is always the risk of injury, or illness. And if that happens, that’s OK too. It isn’t so much about getting the certificate at the end, as it is about challenging myself, and reaping the benefits from such an experience, regardless of where I physically end up.
I’m trying not to worry too much, or try to anticipate what’s to come. Of course, I’m preparing as much as I can by beginning to train and researching to make sure I optimize my safety and enjoyment on the trip. But of course, worrying is like praying for disaster, and my energy would be better spent elsewhere. I’m excited though, and can’t wait to see what this new adventure holds!