Have you ever had a big dream that gives you nightmares? Ironic a dream that gives you nightmares don’t you think? A dream that terrifies you as much as it excites you.
It’s a contradiction that’s hard to resolve. Go through with it, and you spend a lot of time being scared and doubtful, but also knowing that at the end the rewards are not even something you could probably begin to imagine.
Life has thrown a few of those dreams at me. And at the end of each one, the pot of gold has been glistening at the end of the rainbow. So I guess with that life experience I know that by pushing through the nightmares, the anxiety and self-doubt, I will reap the unknowing rewards at the end.
Or I could fail! That’s an option too.
I don’t even know where this dream came from. Or why it has. I just know that it has arrived, settled into my gut, and doesn’t seem to be leaving anytime soon.
Let me set this story up for you.
I don’t like exercise. I like the benefits and how it makes me feel, but I don’t like the doing. Never have, thought I never would. There is a café at the end of my street; I don’t even walk down there. I used to drag my partner on early morning walks, but as much as I loved it when I was out of bed and watching the sunrise, I always took the shorter route, never pushed myself and was talked out of it all too easily. I have even trained with a personal trainer. A lot at one stage. Until I injured myself and that was the end of that story. I do like yoga, but lack the willpower or passion for getting back into it. No willpower, no commitment and no inclination. Or so it seemed.
So what’s the big dream?
I want to walk the Camino de Santiago. All 800 km from St Jean Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. An 800 km walk across Northern Spain!!
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It’s my birthday at the end of the month. Just another birthday when I turn 48. But it has got me thinking that my 50th is not that far away. And what better way to celebrate the big 5 0 than with an 800 km walk? Hahahahahahaha (hear the hysterical laughter?)
Like I said I don’t know where the dream came from or why it has decided to stay, but it has. But I think I will honour it. The biggest lesson I have learnt in this lifetime has been to listen to my gut feeling and to go with the flow.
Bloody big flow 800 km though! Am I freaking nuts?!!!
For those of you that don’t know what the Camino is can I suggest you watch “The Way” with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. A good movie and one that a lot of “pilgrims” have watched before their trek across Spain.
The Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of St James (amongst other names), is a series of pilgrim ways (routes) to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain to the shrine of St James, where is it believed that the remains of the saint are buried. For over a thousand years, people have been walking the Camino making a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and nowadays more than 200,000 people a year from all over the world make that same trek.
People make the “pilgrimage” for religious and non-religious reasons. The Camino finds people from all walks of life and ages walking its paths and the reasons for walking are just as varied.
One of the most common routes begins in France starting at St Jean Pied-de-Port. Which is where I plan on beginning. Only 790 km to Santiago de Compostela.
It should only take me around 35 days! Consisting of paths skirting cities and villages, wide open, mind-numbing plains, through forests and of course, starting with a hike through the Pyrenees. It should be an adventure!!!!
There are a lot of options for walking the Camino. I could choose the sections I want to walk and catch a train or a bus between other sections. I could ride a bike, or hire one for sections of the trail. I could carry a day pack and have my luggage transported from village to village. I could stay in hotels, or B&B's or any other number of different styles of accommodation.
I could use a tour company and go on a guided walk, or I could just do the walk from Sarria, a walk just over 100 km to Santiago, the necessary amount of kilometres to walk to be officially deemed a pilgrim.
But no, I want to walk the whole way. I don’t want to catch a train between sections (not that there is anything wrong with that, but it’s not how I want to make the journey). And as much as I wanted to at the start of this thought process, I probably won’t stay in hotels the majority of the way but in albergues, pilgrim hostels. Maybe a night in a hotel here and there as an occasional treat on a rest day.
The choice of albergues range, from municipal hostels to privately owned ones and generally costing between €10 - €15 per night. I am told industrial strength ear plugs will be required to gain a decent night sleep. They are after all large dorm style accommodation, and it is frequently mentioned that the snoring of fellow pilgrims can keep whole dorms awake. The amount of people the albergues can cater to also range from 10 to hundreds! A lot of new people to meet.
At the end I will stride my way (or limp in as the case may be) into the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago and present my pilgrim passport (Credencial) where all the stamps I have collected along the way will be reviewed and for my effort I will be presented with a Compostela (certificate of completion).
And along the way I need to be open to the possibility of wanting, or needing, to give up altogether.
But what’s not to love about a good challenge?
How often do I get to take a month or two out of life and disconnect? Well mostly disconnect. Wifi is available along the route and at stops, so maybe not fully disconnected. But it seems like a good opportunity to try.
To have time on my own, alone with my thoughts and challenges and dreams and goals. To learn what I am capable of. But with so many walking the same route, I am told company can be had whenever I like. And what a great way to meet other people from all over the world.
In the beginning
At the start of this thought process, I told myself that I would stay only stay in hotels and definitely not in hostels. I thought I could jump on a train or bus if everything got too hard. Or I could start in Sarria instead.
But apparently, my big dream has other ideas. I am stubborn by nature, and even though I was trying to find the easy way around, my true nature won’t allow it. There is this annoying voice that keeps telling me to stop finding excuses. To commit to the full experience. Bloody voice in my head!!
I wanted to do it with a friend. And I still might. But what keeps coming through with crystal clarity is that if I want to do something like this, an intensely physical and personal feat for me, then I need to make it happen on my own.
Time to get training
I think I need to establish a training program. Yes I know I have two years, but let’s face it I am not a walker. I have already established the fact that I am not particularly fond of exercise at all! The thought of walking an average of 20 – 30 km a day is totally freaking me out.
So I’m guessing I should start training now. Can anyone suggest a walking group I can join?
And I am told I may want to start stockpiling Compeed now. I didn’t even know what Compeed was until I started reading Camino articles.
Apparently, my conversations will revolve around –
- The state of my feet
- My poor feet
- And the state of my feet
And I’ve read I may need something for bed bugs (ugh). Best work out how to deal with those!
Can’t ignore those gut feelings
I didn’t set out to find myself a huge challenge. I didn’t even realise I needed one.
To some, I may seem brave, or crazy, and to others, this may just be a walk in the park. It was not so many years ago that I wouldn’t have even gone to a restaurant by myself, or even with my kids, let alone travel in a foreign country without another person with me. Things have changed a lot over the last six years. Thank goodness.
I am a traveller but not a solo traveller. And that is another thing I want to conquer. Solo Travel. I have a wonderful partner who I can travel with. And I have friends who love to travel. But I want to be in that place where if push comes to shove I do not have to rely on someone else to get on a plane and visit the places I am always dreaming about.
There are many of you out there who do this without blinking an eye. I admire you. I want to be like you.
Battling fear and doing it anyway
Life for me, like for so many, has been a struggle with my insecurities, anxieties and perceived inadequacies. I want to be done with them.
For me, the Camino represents a journey both physical and personal. It is a journey that cannot be fully planned and nor do I want it to be. It has already led me down a path of personal growth without even having stepped one foot on the road to Santiago. If I have already grown so much, simply by thinking about it, imagine the path it will take me on when I am walking it?
The last few years I have been streamlining things in my life. Changing life to be more meaningful in everything I do. Slowly but surely we have been getting rid of excess “stuff”. Cutting down on waste. Making more of our food. Growing our vegetables. Using healthier, natural products. It has been a fantastic transition and an ongoing work in progress.
The Camino seems to play into that journey. The ultimate lesson in simplicity. With a backpack weighing only 7 kg, there will be no room for excess. No “just in case” items to be shoved in at the last minute. Just the basics in clothing (only two changes), toiletries and very little of anything else except a sleeping bag, quick dry towel and a little bit of technology (phone).
I am usually well prepared, and I can’t tell you how much information I have already read and stored - articles, packing lists, guides, pros and cons. My Pocket account is full of Camino articles.
Starting from Scratch
When I was a child, I loved to bake. I still do. My mother would sometimes buy packet mixes which produced nice cakes or desserts, but for me, “real” baking was about making it from “scratch”. I am still like that. I don’t like to take the easy way out as I see it. If I am going to do something I want to do it ALL.
I understand the need for flexibility when walking the Camino. The possibility of exhaustion, injury, badly blistered feet, or simply not liking it and allowing myself to change my plans on the fly.
I can be stubborn. Very stubborn and to my detriment at times (you can see how stubborn I can be in my post I never thought it could happen to me). But I believe the Camino will teach me the lessons I need when I need them. And I am open to that journey.
For me, the Camino is a chance to “let go” and let the journey unfold. A journey that I have no way of controlling. And for a self-confessed control freak, that is terrifying me.
Sometimes your biggest fears become your most rewarding lessons if you can quash all the anxiety and doubt. It’s hard to be brave, but I have learnt when I cannot stop thinking about something, even if it is the most terrifying thing imaginable then I need to do it. At all costs.
I anticipate a lot of tears and tantrums, episodes of anxiety and self-doubt over the next two years. And I am hoping the nightmares will stop.
Starting with one small step
I won’t be walking the way for religious purposes but personal ones. I want to push myself, challenge myself in ways that I believe only the Camino can do. But I would like to share the journey with you. From now until I leave, through my preparation and the journey on the Camino.
Because if for nothing else I want to encourage anyone who has hopes and dreams but is held back by crippling fear, I want you to know that you can be fearful, you can be scared (because I am) and you can still do it.
If I think about the whole walk (or even travelling to the starting point), I won’t go. So instead I choose to focus on the next small step. And the next one. And the next one.
Saying "one day" when one day may never come is pointless. Choose to do something and take action. I don’t want to be someone who says "Maybe" or "hoping to", or "I wish I could" or anything similar. Only I can take action and make life happen. Let’s face it; we don’t get a do-over, there’s only one life.
A poignant quote from the movie, The Way, from Daniel to his father,
“You don’t choose a life Dad. You live one”.
And for now…
Maybe the next small step will be to start walking regularly. The next one to continue with my reading. The next to join a walking group. Whatever it is, it will be one small step of this big adventure and eventually small step after small step I will achieve something greater than I ever imagined I was capable of.
If I think of the Camino in its entirety I freeze. It is such a terrifying thing for me to consider that I cannot even think about all of it. I can only think of small pieces at a time. And as the time approaches, I will tackle each piece individually and hopefully, they will all fit together in the end.
If I think about leaving a warm and cosy hotel early one morning before the sun has even risen with nothing but a pack on my back and a walking stick in my hand and heading out of town on nothing but my own two feet, by myself, to head out on an 800 km trek… Well let’s just say throwing up comes to mind, so best to shove that thought back in the box, for now, to be dealt with another time, if at all.
Maybe it will just get dealt with as I am leaving that hotel and walking up the road. Hopefully, I won’t cry in public, maybe leave that for when I am on the trail on my own and getting acquainted with my own company.
I would love to hear your Camino story if you have one. And any advice you may have that will ease some of my terror.
Come along with me on this adventure; I will be grateful for your company.
Cindy Reid is the founder of Travel Charm. Cindy has travelled extensively both personally and with her groups. She has now combined her love of art, food and travel and hosts Painting Trips to Europe and continues to explore and roam in Australia.