Santiago is only the destination

I’ve been busy, mostly doing lots of actual learning of Spanish (instead of my original goal of just translating menus in Spain) but I’ve kept up my exercise, both bicycle and treadmill. I translate my distance on the treadmill to distance along the Camino de Santiago. Since I only do a short mileage per day I can follow, in detail, on Google Maps the route. I have a list of distances along the Camino (presumably correct, but after all I found it on the Net which makes it a bit suspect for accuracy) and so now I can announce that I’ve created the trip from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela, 494.86 miles, just under 800km (the road sign at the start of the movie The Way showed 800km).

Now a “virtual” trek along the Camino may sound silly, but here’s my point: 1) I’m not in Spain so I can’t actually do the Camino, 2) I need a reason to pound out exercise miles in my basement (with the “hope” that being in shape means I could do a real walk) and converting miles to locations along the Camino provides an incentive, and, 3) if nothing else I can at least see what I might encounter along the way, as poor a substitute that satellite photos, human geotagged photos and Google StreetView might provide. But as Joost says, “a man can dream!”.

So now I’ve “seen” everything along the Camino, or did I? Like most people I thought the Camino was just that 800km from French border to NW Spain. Yes, I learned there are numerous Camino routes. When Spain was under Moorish conquest the route became the Camino del Norte, a more rugged (and frankly more interesting,to me) route. But why is the route just Spain? Sure in theory it’s to reach St. James but there are lots of routes pilgrims can take.

Now just a bit more on my stats. As the movie says “I started my pilgrimage” on 22Nov2017 (rather that’s when I started with my current file of records, I’d actually done 42.2 miles before then). And you might say, awfully slow there old chap. Yep, my average daily distance is a tiny fraction of what a real trek requires. All I can say in defense is that I’ve also done 10435.9 miles on my stationary bike at the same time, a bit more impressive 25.3 miles a day since starting my virtual Camino. IOW, I could have done the Camino about 20 times (or 10 there and back) on my back in the same time it took me to “walk” it.

But why did I label my post as I did?

It turns out I’ve been reading a fun little Kindle book “The Journey in Between” by Keith Foskett. Of the various stories (movies, documentaries) I’ve seen about the Camino this one was interesting. It’s the personal story of a young Brit who since a young age just loves walking. The Camino had none of the usual interest to him, just a good walking route. And as I’ve now learned he started another 740 km (various measures of the distance exist) Before St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in Le Puy France. He has an interesting story of his personal journey so I’ll let you read that for yourself, but I just want to include two tidbits:

relative to the idea that “Santiago is only the destination”

There is no defining event, no sudden enlightenment. I needed to live in the moment, enjoy the journey.

and

The text summarized my journey. My mindset at the beginning was simple: El Camino had a start and an end. Begin at Le Puy en Velay, finish in Santiago, and complete the challenge. But I realized that the answers lay between those points; neither end mattered.

I’ve wondered why I’ve become so fascinated with the Camino and probably until I try to do it I won’t know. But like Keith (Fozzie) I too have liked to walk my entire life. I grew up in Montana where at least at a kid level I could take long walks. In high school I read of Hemingway talking about hiking near Red Lodge Montana and wanted to go (my parents were not so accommodating on my impulses). I climbed Mt. Washington in bad weather once I started college in Boston. I did my first backpacking trip in the middle of a hurricane. I gradually got better equipment and more skill and have tested myself against the Sierra, the Cascades and the Rockies.

Backpacking or even just wilderness hiking is way different than the Camino. But both emphasize self-sufficiency and rising to cope with whatever comes your way. The Camino (or other long walks in Europe) are oriented to frequent stops in towns and lots of encounters with people whereas the long walks in the USA (Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail – I’ve done segments of each) are more remote, with fewer creature comforts. Albergues in Spain (or Gîtes in France as I’ve just learned from Fozzie’s book) may be a bit rough but it’s not quite the same as really sleeping on the ground.

But what is it about walking? Sure, lots of people do the Camino for religious or spiritual reasons, the original reason. But today most do it for some other purpose. It’s not as crazy as the mobs on Everest now with a few dying due to overcrowding, but somehow we humans like to get out and move around, and push ourselves into more difficult efforts than we thought we could do. But again, why?

I think the real think about walking, even the short hikes I do on a couple of local trails is just our sense of time and space and, most important, of ourselves changes from the life we normally lead. A good walk may take 6 hours in a distance a car moves in 15 minutes, but how different is the experience. Humans evolved to react to our environment at the pace of walking, not cars or planes, or even bicycles. Somehow the rhythmic thing of one foot in front of another changes us.

And time changes. The constant hurry of our normal world is now replaced by a loss of sense of time. Time is measured by when scenery changes, when someone else is on the path, approaching in the distance, getting larger and larger, then saying hello, and then gone, all in more time than the typical business meeting. Time is when I reach the bend I can see ahead. And time is a lot, hours of walking, more of a single thing than we normally do. And mostly solitary. Even if walking with companions talking is only some of the time. We spend more time with just ourselves than we do in any other event, except perhaps sleeping.

And then somehow physical exertion, being very aware of our bodies (especially aches and pains), the slow passing of time, the building of fatigue (or hunger or thirst or needing to pee) just become our focus. The other stuff falls away.

So the most meaningless part of my “virtual” Camino is not disconnecting with normal life and connecting with life on the road. I’ve known this well enough, in my multi-day backpacks and bikepacks, to understand what it means. And somehow it is compelling.

The Camino, for me, is not as enticing as it was before I did my “virtual” version of it. I’ve looked at enough of the path (often a gravel path right next to a highway with lots of traffic and no shade,  I have a place nearby, called the Cowboy Trail, that can provide that) to reduce the glamour. I’ve read enough accounts, books and online diaries, to see some of the bad, or just the mundane, along with the good. My illusions are less, my enthusiasm is less.

But the wanderlust is still there. One point of the Camino, for someone who does just want to take a long walk, is all the accommodations for pilgrims. Being able to stop at night, find food along the way, etc. fits my age better than my backpacking days. When I did my first bike camping trip, along the California coast, I quickly saw some advantages over backpacking. I had to stay at campgrounds (not just on any piece of ground) and those are near towns. So forget lugging food. Unpack the gear from the bike, set up the tent, and head to town, not just for heavy (none of the freeze dried nearly inedible stuff) food but also a nice bottle of wine, unthinkable to carry on a multiday backpack. So the idea of carrying even less, as in trekking on the Camino, sounds pretty good. Sleeping in a bad bunk bed in a dormitory, not so much.

So I still haven’t found my dream (and also, at this point in my life, “bucket list”) walk, but I’ll keep looking. The people who do the Camino have a letdown when they’re done, often finding an excuse to go further (or perhaps reverse course and go back where they started). Because the destination is not a place, it’s a state of mind, and it’s not a time, it’s forever. The geodashing I do has a slogan “getting there is all the fun”. Anyone on the Camino would understand this.

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