How time flies…
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 7 years since I picked up my Gregory 36L pack (fully loaded for the first time) and walked those first wobbly steps out of the cathedral in Le Puy. Down the steep cobblestone street, turn left, and put one foot in front of the other…for a thousand miles.
Six months after that, and 3 months after I came home from that first pilgrimage, I left my crowded and busy Seattle apartment and drove to the coast of Washington, where I holed up in an oceanfront hotel, taking advantage of very off-season rates, to work on two related projects:
- The first was this website. Camino Times Two launched in November 2015 as a place to share the lessons, stories, and deep love I’d found for the Way of Saint James, the Camino de Santiago. It was here that I shared stories of all three of my trips to the pilgrim paths walked by millions of people before me, some of the most commonly asked questions future pilgrims ask, and other Camino odds and ends.
- The second project I started in that beachfront hotel was a book that dug deeper into my personal Camino experience. It took a year before I had enough written to start reaching out to publishers. It took almost two more years to bring it to the world. But with the support and brilliance of Mountaineers Books, Walking to the End of the World hit bookstore shelves all over the world in October 2018.
Where does the time go?
It’s been more than three years since that release, yet I can still remember every bookstore, every conference, every podcast interview I did in that wild, blurry year.
By the end of 2019, I was exhausted. I’d been “on tour” for a year while holding down a day job. I’d traveled as far as England, and in the space of a single week spoke at bookstores in both Portlands (Maine and Oregon). I loved every minute of it, but I started to feel that the book-launching season was drawing to its natural end. I started to look for something new.
I thought I knew what it would be. As the calendar rolled over to 2020, I was talking with a group in the UK called The British Pilgrimage Trust, who were soft launching a new trail called The Old Way, steeped in history and yet mostly unknown, far different from the Camino’s well-trod paths. I was going to be one of the first people to walk it, and of course write about it.
Little did I know. Little did any of us know.
On February 6, 2020, I found out that I’d been exposed to the “novel” virus Covid-19. I never got sick, though many of my friends did, but just like that, my world that had been rapidly expanding for 5 years suddenly compressed.
I don’t have a dramatic Covid-19 story to share here. To date I haven’t had the virus, but I definitely got the lockdown. I traded writers conferences and coffeeshop meetings for Zoom, and learned how to measure and schedule my life around something more than the physical destinations. The TSA Pre-Check I’d just (finally) invested in went unused, as did my frequent flier miles.
Needless to say, the Camino – the long flights, the close dormitory quarters, the daily communal dinner tables surrounded by strangers – felt like a dream.
Not that the Camino ever fully disappeared…in fact, stepping into that unknown adventure back in 2015 prepared me for a pandemic in ways I couldn’t have predicted.
It’s the Camino that showed me the importance of hospitality, which during Covid I carried into new, local volunteer opportunities in my own neighborhood.
The Camino taught me how to be outside, and the healing properties of walking every day. The pandemic took that foundation and turned me into a hiker, exploring the mountains and waterways of my own beautiful Pacific Northwest almost every weekend. When nothing inside is open, as the hashtag says, #optoutside. (Check out my Instagram post about the top 10 hikes of 2021)
Last winter, our hiking friends Chris and Cara convinced me to try backpacking…as in, sleeping-in-a-tent and carrying-everything-you-need-up-a-mountain camping. We spent four days in the Enchantment Lakes of Washington, a pristine, alpine, stunningly beautiful (and steep and scary) area. To my surprise, I loved it. Okay, it lacked the mid-day café con leches and evening carafes of vin rouge… but waking up in the shadow of a mountain, beside a lake, was worth the instant oatmeal and ramen noodles.
Perhaps most of all, the Camino prepared me to adapt to my surroundings. Closed restaurants, theaters, and even libraries? Well, an unexpected cerrado or fermé is nothing new for a Camino pilgrim. What’s Plan B? A picnic in an outdoor space? A walk in the woods with a beer garden at the end? Let’s go.
Eric and I thought that we would be in the UK last fall, visiting friends and exploring trails, but the Delta variant put an end to that. So we rented a car and drove across the United States instead, stopping in parks large and small to hike and explore the outdoors, seeing places we never knew we wanted to see. Every day, I planned a new route based on weather and how we were feeling. Every night for two weeks, we arrived in a new town. It wasn’t the Camino, but it was a grand adventure. We adapted.
And the book that was part of the beginning? Throughout all of it, I’ve been delighted to see that Walking to the End of the World is still connecting. Last fall, it was added to BookClub.com, with a series of original interviews and opportunities to connect with new communities.
And just this week I got an email from South Africa:
I had planned on walking the Camino from St. Jean. My homework was all done and I was ready to go when Covid struck.
I have just read your book and I just had to get in contact with you. I literally read the Epilogue a few minutes ago and I felt a sudden emptiness…. Thank you for taking me on your pilgrimage. And thank you for bringing your pilgrimage to my living room.
But what about Camino Times Two? You may have noticed that things here have been a little…dusty. I started this site to help guide and inspire people looking for their own pilgrimage trips. Now here I am, with a much-neglected blog and two years of living in a very different kind of normal. I haven’t left the United States since 2019, and have no immediate plans to do so. The Camino, despite its influences on my everyday, feels very far away. My knowledge and insights feel like they come from a different time… what is it like to be in Spain or France today? How do Covid variants and vaccine passports affect albergues and communal dinners? I can’t answer those questions.
Still, I’m not ready to let this space go. Y’all are still reading this. You’re finding something. This is a big piece of my life.
What would you like to see here? Are you interested in other hiking adventures? Travel stories from the US? Or are you content to let this blog become an archive, until such a time that I can go back, if I ever go back?
Share thoughts in the comments, or email me directly. I’d love to hear from you.