Away, Away From Men and Towns (An Almost Wordless Wednesday)

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Away, away, from men and towns,
To the wild wood and the downs—
To the silent wilderness
Where the soul need not repress its music 

(from An Invitation, by Percy Bysshe Shelley)

 

April is National Poetry Month. Last Monday was Earth Day. And here in Seattle, there’s spring in the air. So it’s no surprise my heart’s tugging toward the open spaces of the Camino del Norte, with the ocean spread out beside me and no one to hear my soul’s music but a few cows blessed with million-dollar views.

Where do you go to hear the music of your soul?

 

The Importance of Rest Days

When we first set out to walk the Way of St James from Le Puy, France, all the way to Santiago and then on to Finisterre, I knew in theory we would need rest days along the way. I understood that a person can’t—well, shouldn’t—walk a thousand miles without stopping to re-fuel now and then. I’d read all the books and blogs, and knew that it was common to stop and spend a day letting muscles heal and minds rest.

But then, when we started, I discovered (again) that my book knowledge didn’t always translate well into practice.

The Romans built their roads flat and straight

We walked a week to Saint Come d’Olt, then on to Conques and Figeac. Every day, I pushed myself on tender feet and tired legs. Every night, I unpacked my bag, and every morning I re-packed it and started walking again.

We were surrounded by new friends who walked every day, and we felt a pressure to keep up. If they were going 26 more kilometers tomorrow, so should we. I failed to take into account that most of them were doing shorter walks overall. The Eight Walkers left us in Conques on Day 10. The Brothers Grimm left us in Figeac two days later. They went home to rest. We kept walking.

I also failed to take into account how hard the culture shock was for two Americans on their first international expedition. How every day was not just a physical challenge, but a mental one, too. We had to think about every word, translate every sentence. Everything about long-distance walking was new. Everything about France was new.

And yet we kept walking.

After two weeks, I felt the need to stop. But somehow, rest was harder to find than I expected. Gites seemed too remote—far from markets and supplies—to stay for more than a night, or they were already booked, or they didn’t allow people to stay more than a night. At least, that’s what I thought. In hindsight, I didn’t ask.

I’d learned how to walk in France, but not how to stop.

outside Lauzerte

Eric and I walked 18 days and over 380 kilometers (235 miles)—half of the entire Chemin du Puy—before my need for rest overcame my hesitance to summon my courage, break my pattern, and ask for it. Every day, my feet ached a little more. My energy sagged. The beautiful countryside became a blur. More rolling hills, roadside medieval chapels, and picturesque fields of French cows? Sure, whatever.

Finally, we arrived in Lauzerte—or, to be precise, just outside Lauzerte. As luck would have it, we arrived on a weekend, and everything in town was already complet. But there was a private gite, the Villa Venou, on the edge of town. It was a sprawling stone house with a glassed-in porch with a lovely view, rolling lawns, a centuries-old tower, and a private double room.

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Photo: http://www.icompostelle.com/item/villa-venou/

Hesitantly, we asked our hosts–who spoke no English–if we could stay two nights. They readily agreed, and even offered to drive us into town on our rest day so we could look around and do our shopping. It’s amazing what happens when you ask.

And so we stayed. We spent a full day napping, reading, and watching the sunlight shift on the fields of safflowers. We washed all of our clothes and slept in the same bed for two nights in a row.

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When we set out the next day, I saw things with fresh eyes again. I could appreciate the vineyards, the villages, even the rain. And I never went 18 days without a rest day again. (For me, an ideal schedule is to rest every 10 days or so.)

 

When people ask me now what I wish I had done differently on that first trip, my answer always comes back to rest.

It’s possible to keep plugging along, pushing your body and mind. But why? When you walk the Camino, you pass through places you will probably only see once in your lifetime. This isn’t a race, so slow down. Linger. Don’t try to keep up with someone else’s pace. And if you need a day to just rest and watch the sunlight move, take it.

The Chemin du Puy: My Talk at the American Pilgrims on the Camino National Gathering

“A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

– Seth Godin, Tribes

This week, almost 300 members of my own special tribe gathered at the YMCA Camp in Black Mountain, NC. We are the American Pilgrims on the Camino, pilgrims and future pilgrims from across the country. At the National Gathering, there were 3 days of seminars, meals, dance parties (!), bagpipes (!!), and conversation. Speakers shared the history of the Camino, the different opportunities for trails, advice for how to come home, and more.

I had the privilege of sharing one of the talks, specifically about what it’s like to walk the Chemin du Puy, also known as the Via Podiensis or simply the Le Puy Camino. Introducing more Americans to the unique experiences of France has always been one of my goals, so this was a dream opportunity. (In fact, preparing this talk made me start dreaming about a return to Le Puy…maybe a 5-year anniversary trip is a good idea for next year?)

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They say it went well.

If you’re a member of the American Pilgrims on the Camino Facebook page, you can watch the video of the livestream here.

If you attended and are looking for the slideshow I promised, here it is:

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(Click the image above to see the whole thing on Slideshare.)

Once I get home and have a chance to decompress a bit, I’ll have more to say about the whole event, which was put together by an incredibly organized, talented, and patient group of volunteers.

Until then, bon chemin!

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The 2019 American Pilgrims on the Camino Gathering

 

Making Reservations on the Chemin du Puy (the Le Puy Camino)

I started to suspect that I’d been misinformed before we even started walking. At the Pilgrim’s Welcome Gathering in Le Puy-en-Velay, Eric and I struck up a conversation with a friendly French woman who asked how far we would walk the next day. I told her the name of the town where we thought we would stop.

“You do not have a reservation?” she asked, genuinely confused.

Well, no. I didn’t even know that reservations were possible in gites. None of the Camino stories I’d read ever mentioned making reservations for pilgrim hostels. In fact, quite the opposite. Part of the experience of pilgrimage, I thought, was to walk into a town and trust that there would be a place to stay.

The friendly woman was walking for just ten days with a larger group, so I tried to dismiss her words. Maybe things were different when you were on a tight schedule and needed accommodation for eight people. We were only two, and we had more flexibility. Our flight home was still three months away.

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Leaving Le Puy

The next day, Eric and I set out from the Le Puy Cathedral on our first day as pilgrims. By mid-day, we arrived in the town where I thought we would stay, only to discover the only gite was closed for renovations. We reluctantly (well, I was reluctant) walked another ten kilometers to the next town, and the first place we found was already full – complet. Everyone we talked to asked, “Didn’t you make a reservation?”

This was evidently not just something that big groups did.

All was not lost. The second gite we found in Saint-Privat had space for us, but I noticed that most of the other people who checked in that afternoon had made reservations.

The next day we walked to Sauges, which involved some grueling climbs and descents. I was aching and grumpy by the time we got to town, but once again, the first gite we found was complet. A kind French pilgrim made phone calls for us until he found a place that had space for the two hapless Americans who were still too jetlagged and culture shocked to wander around a strange town, looking for signs we couldn’t yet read.

That night at dinner, another pilgrim offered to call ahead for us to Les Sauvages, where we wanted to stay the next day. The gite there was remote, she said, in a former monastery set in the middle of wild, open country, so there wouldn’t be other options for us if it didn’t work out.

Once again, the Camino was providing. Les Sauvage was complet. There was a firemen’s convention taking up half their space, and it was a weekend, when the trails filled with shorter-distance walkers. Our new Camino angels called around and found us beds in another town.

Lesson learned. When walking the Camino (the Chemin) in France, from that point on we called ahead.

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In the open spaces of L’Aubrac, not far past Les Sauvages

(Eventually, we figured out that this was one of the significant differences between the Way of Saint James in France and in Spain. Because few Americans walk the French routes, most of the English-language material I’d read before we left had been very Spain-centered, and on the Camino Frances and the Camino del Norte, reservations are not as common. Most municipal and donativo albergues don’t even accept reservations.)

There are a few reasons why the French prefer reservations, and they all make sense. The first is that the Chemin du Puy is more remote than the popular Spanish routes, and gites are smaller. A private gite might only have room for 8 or 10 people, and a municipal rarely held more than 20. They fill quickly, and especially in the rural areas, there may not be another option for several kilometers.

Also, the French walking schedule tends to be later. In Spain, pilgrims wake before dawn and are on the trail in the dark. Many finish their walking days by mid-day. In France, everyone is more likely to have a leisurely morning, with communal breakfast at eight and walking by nine. Many gites don’t open until 3 or 4:00 in the afternoon, and that’s a bit late to be scrambling around, trying to find a bed.

Finally, French gites often offer demi-pension, which includes a full four-course dinner, a bed, and breakfast all in the same place. It makes sense that a host who is not just making beds but also dinner wants to know before 4 or 5:00 how many people to prepare for. Those meals turned out to be highlights of the trip, by the way, with opportunities to not only sample local cuisine, varied and always delicious, but also to talk to fellow travelers (and sometimes to ask them to call ahead and make the next day’s reservations for you). It’s worth calling ahead to save your space.

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Good food and good company: the beauty of demi-pension

If you’re considering or planning your own Chemin, none of this means that you need to schedule your entire itinerary before you leave home. You can plan just a day or two in advance. In the afternoon or evening, after you’ve arrived at your destination, find your Camino family and pull out your Miam Miam Dodo, or Robert’s spreadsheet of GR65 housing from the Via Podiensis Facebook page, and talk about the next day. What’s the weather? How is your body feeling? Where are your friends going?

If you don’t speak French, ask a fellow pilgrim or even your gite host if they will call ahead for you to reserve your bed. Almost every person I met in France was kind and generous, always willing to help translate when I needed it.

And then sleep well, knowing that you’ll have a bed the next day.

(Now, if only assuring that a market is open was as easy…)

“Don’t Overthink It” and Other Advice Shared With Hike the World

One of the incredible, unexpected things that happened when I took my personal experience on the Camino and shared it with the world, is that other people started sharing their experiences and passions back with me.

I’ve known and depended for years on the strong Camino community of former and future pilgrims, but in the last year I’ve discovered so many other groups, scattered around the country, that exist to encourage people to get outside and stretch their minds and their muscles.

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One of those groups is Hike the World, based in my home state of New Jersey and dedicated to building community, mental health awareness, and volunteer opportunities through hiking. We’ve been fans of each other on Instagram for a while, but in March we took it up a notch in honor of The Outdoor Journal Tour’s Women’s Empowerment and Wellness campaign #wehiketoheal. 

As part of that partnership, I wrote an article for them about my own experiences as an unlikely, and sometimes frustrated long-distance hiker. You can read the whole thing here.

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At the end, I tried to summarize it all into a few lessons or takeaways for other hikers. These are the things that I carry forward, whether it’s on a multi-week Camino adventure or the 5-mile walk I hope to take in a local park this weekend:

1: Don’t overthink it. Don’t talk yourself out of trying something just because it seems too extreme. Don’t label yourself as someone who could never do “something like that.” That includes both long thru-hikes and challenging day hikes. You can walk a lot farther than you think you can. Don’t look at the total distance or elevation if that’s going to intimidate you; just look at the next step. Count them in French, if it helps.

2: Turn off your phone, put down your camera sometimes, and just be present. The wonder of hiking (or walking, or backpacking, or whatever you call it) is that it slows you down to a human pace. You have time to take in what’s around you. Notice the small changes in the trees or the dirt under your feet. Walk along a farm field and make eye contact with the cows. Sit on a bench in the middle of town and enjoy a snack while you watch the people.

3: Get outside whenever and however you can. Since I’ve been back from that long Camino walk, I’ve made it a priority to keep walking. (I still find it weird to call it hiking, but I suppose that I’m doing some of that, too.) It’s not always a stunning European trail, but I’ll walk two miles to my office instead of catching the bus, or walk the ten minutes to the grocery store instead of driving. I try to get out of the city and go for a longer trek in the mountains near Seattle a couple of times a month, just so I can breathe in the smell of trees and focus my eyes on a piece of nature for a bit. Every little walk counts.

4: Don’t compare yourself to anyone. Everyone has their own story. I was the slowest one up almost every hill and mountain, but I made it. My bag was not the lightest (or the heaviest). I walked farther than some, and not as far as others. But my walk is my own, and your walk—however long, however tall, and wherever it happens—is your own. Own your accomplishment. Wave your flag. Keep walking.

So that’s what I came up with. How about you? What advice would you give to a new or aspiring hiker contemplating something bigger or harder than anything they’ve done before?

A Day on the Chemin du Puy: Saint-Côme d’Olt

What is it like to walk the Via Podiensis, the Le Puy Camino? I’m starting to gather my thoughts and my notes for a talk I’ll give at the American Pilgrims on the Camino Gathering of Pilgrims next month in Asheville, and I keep coming back to the story of this day, which happened on our first week of walking, and which covers so many of the things I love about the French Chemin: the people, the rolling hills, the small and medieval villages, the open churches, and the long conversations over dinner.

I excerpt bits of this story when I speak to groups about the whole Walking to the End of the World adventure, but here it is, in its entirety, and with pictures.

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Saint Chely d’Aubrac

We woke up in Saint Chely d’Aubrac, a town deep in a valley, built around a stream.

Wearing sandals had relieved the pressure on Eric’s injured Achilles tendon, but as he got ready the next morning we realized that it had caused another problem: the dreaded ampoule (a blister) finally struck, and in an awkward place between his toes.

We stopped to buy supplies at a miraculously open market, and when Eric sat down outside to adjust a bandage over his blister, he was immediately surrounded by concerned pilgrims. The two women from dinner offered their antibiotic ointment. A Frenchman we’d never seen before waved away our American Band-Aids and whipped out his own, presumably superior supply. Others paused with opinions.

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Everyone stops to talk about foot care on the Camino

When we finally got on the road, we joined our friends, who I called the Eight Walkers for a while along a wooded path, teasing them and being teased in return. I realized our language barrier seemed to be shrinking. Maybe I understood a few more words, but mostly, I realized, I was getting better at paying attention. I couldn’t think about other things while also miming my way through Frenglish. I had to stop worrying about whether my floppy sun hat made me look dumb, or about how my left toes were starting to ache again. The conversation was worth my full attention.

We split with the Walkers when they stopped to wait for their camper car and lunch. The trail continued to run perpendicular to rivers and streams, and we climbed and descended several times through forests full of chestnut trees as the morning wore on.

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Chestnuts

Despite the hills, I loved the woods and the soft, padded ground. I loved the shade and the way the trees framed pastoral valleys and lonely stone cottages.

Eric, it turned out, was not having the same experience.

Wearing sneakers protected his blister but ate into his ankle. Wearing sandals protected his ankle but rubbed the blister on his toe. He soaked his feet in an icy stream when we stopped for a break, but found little relief when we were moving.

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Soaking sore feet in a chilly stream

Two days earlier, my feet had beaten me. Today, his were winning.

“I have one job to do, and I can’t do it,” he said in exasperation.

Fortunately, we were past the most remote portion of wilderness. When we saw the spires of Saint-Côme-d’Olt rising in front of us, we tossed the plan that would send us to a gîte still ten kilometers away.

We weren’t in a hurry, and this wasn’t a race.

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Saint-Côme-d’Olt

The guidebook said that there was a gîte communal here and even indicated that the hosts spoke English. If they had room, we agreed, we would stop.

That spontaneous decision, driven by the only blister either of us had on the whole Camino, led to one of my favorite afternoons in France.

The twelfth-century heart of Saint-Côme-d’Olt is walled and medieval. To enter, we passed through a narrow gate and discovered the kind of twisted, cobblestone streets that could never support modern technology or cars, but even as I thought about the impossibility, a tiny French hatchback zipped by.

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The gîte was as old as the town. A door right in the thick city wall led us up steep stone steps, deeply rutted by the thousands of feet that had passed the same way. In a long, narrow common room, a man introduced himself as Sylvain, from Montreal, and welcomed us in English.

“You’re the Americans! I heard you were coming!”

Wait, what?

“We didn’t know until ten minutes ago that we would be here,” I stammered. “How did you…”

He laughed and waved us to rest at the table.

“It is Radio Camino,” he explained. “There are no secrets along the Way.” Someone who had met us had stayed here the night before. It was natural to tell the Canadian host about two other English speakers on the trail.

Sylvain led us up another flight of stairs to our low-ceilinged room. Four bunk beds stood on a rough wooden floor, but Sylvain said that so early in the season, we’d have the space to ourselves. The walls were stone, and casement windows opened out to a view of tiled roofs and the uniquely twisted steeple of the town’s church.

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The low-ceilinged, sunny gite in Saint-Côme-d’Olt

Every quirky corner and dark beam here made me happy. Eric could have the wild country. This was my kind of fairy tale.

I left Eric sitting in the sun, doctoring his feet, and went out to explore what the guidebook said was one of France’s most beautiful villages. Streets jutted at odd angles and wove in circles, with arches and unexpected staircases turning every alley into a postcard-worthy picture. The sixteenth-century church—practically modern history for France—was unlocked and deserted, and I explored it slowly, taking in the statues of the saints and the way the late afternoon sun glowed in the stained-glass windows.

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I reveled in the chance to linger and study an image of Saint Roch, the popular figure who seemed to grace almost every roadside chapel of the region. In a sometimes overwhelming lineup of saints, Roch stands out. In every image, no matter how simple or ornate, he’s always lifting the hem of his robe and showing off more than a little thigh. And there’s always a dog leaning adoringly against his leg.

After a long, quiet time in the church, I meandered to an outdoor cafe, where I sipped a Leffe beer and half-heartedly caught up on my journal while watching the people go by.

C’est bon?” the Brothers Grim asked, when they paused by my table to say hello.

Oui. C’est bon indeed.

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When dinnertime approached, I went back to the city wall and my home for the night. A small group of pilgrims gathered at a long wooden table to share a simple curry dinner with Sylvain and his wife, Sabine.

The couple had met on the Camino ten years ago, Sylvain explained, and walked to Santiago together. He moved from Canada to France to marry Sabine, and now they ran this gîte for the city while saving money to open a pilgrim house of their own.

As the wine flowed, Sylvain described what he’d learned from his time as a pilgrim.

“It is a monastic life,” he said. “You wake up, you walk. When you arrive, you take care of your feet, you take care of your basic needs, and you eat. Do it day after day, and it becomes a meditation.”

He’d hit on one of the things that had been scratching at my mind all week.

We walk, we eat, we sleep. Is this IT?

According to Sylvain, yes.

And the way he said it, it was enough.

 

New Podcast with Out There: On Being a Secular Pilgrim and a Non-Outdoorsy Hiker

Need something to listen to on these long winter nights (especially for those of you in the Pacific Northwest, facing another week of being snowed in*)?

My interview with Out There Podcast about walking a thousand miles on the Camino de Santiago released this week.

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Last December, a radio producer came to my apartment and held a fuzzy microphone in front of my face for an hour (a great arm workout, by the way) while I chatted with Willow Belden, founder and host of Out There, the award-winning and fantastic podcast about the transformative experiences that people have in the outdoors.

The edited, polished, snazzy-sounding episode jumps in and goes deep. Willow and I talk about a lot in just 35 minutes, including:

  • The beautiful things that can happen when you stop saying, “I could never do that”
  • What the word pilgrimage means for a person who doesn’t have a spiritual or religious motivation for hiking
  • Trying to let go of the need to plan and control everything
  • Taking on a long-distance hike when you’re not at all “outdoorsy”

And so much more.

You can listen to the full episode here:

(And while you’re there, subscribe to Out There and listen to their other episodes, as well. It’s a great show.)

My favorite quote (can I have a favorite quote of myself?)

“I’m glad that we went for 79 days — because it took that long to un-peel my fingers, one by one, from my need to plan and control.”

 

 

* Yes, my midwestern friends, I know Seattle has had less than a foot of snow all year. But we are bad—really, really bad—at knowing what to do when all of our rain freezes. They cancel school here every time there’s snow in the forecast.

Why I Walked the Camino de Santiago

I’ve written about a lot of things on this blog over the past three years, but I’m not sure I’ve ever gone back to the basics and explained how I got here in the first place. (Or if I did, it was so long ago and is so buried in the archives that it’s worth a reminder.)

The story begins six or seven years ago.

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Eric and I were in our mid-thirties, and the mid-stream of our careers and our marriage. We lived in the Pacific Northwest, which I consider to be just about the most perfect place on earth, and we had meaningful jobs, good friends and overall, a good life.

But at the same time, I was struggling with the sense that nothing felt real. I was running my own publishing consulting business, spinning my wheels and a slave to my four separate email accounts, multi-color-coded calendar and all of the blinking, beeping apps on my phone. I couldn’t get from my apartment to my car without checking in with social media. Yet at the end of a day or month or even a year, nothing I was doing felt real.

Eric has his own story, but the short version is that he was in a similar boat.

We needed to get off the digital merry go round. We needed an adventure, something epic and grand that we could look back a year or ten years later and know was real. I wanted to travel, but I wasn’t interested in being a tourist and just consuming more.

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In the cloister of Cahors, France, two weeks into my first Camino

I was drawn to the idea of something physical and outdoors that would force me to turn off all my gadgets and slow life down to a more human pace, but at the same time, I’m not a get-out-in-nature type. I think yoga is an extreme sport. I didn’t own a sleeping bag, which is the nice way of saying I don’t camp if I can help it.

Eric has always talked about the hiking the Appalachian Trail someday. I’ve always told him to have fun.

But when I discovered the long-distance trails of Europe, and specifically the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St James, I knew I had found my kind of real.

The Camino checked all of my boxes:

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Puente la Reina, built in the early 11th century to protect pilgrims on the way to Santiago

 

It was a chance to be part of history. In a digital world that seems easy to delete, the way of Saint James has staying power. For almost a thousand years, this pilgrimage has drawn millions of people, from kings to criminals. The chance to sink into culture as well as mud caught my imagination, and the Camino didn’t disappoint. The richness (and sometime ridiculousness) of the stories and legends never stopped fascinating me.

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When in Spain, follow the yellow arrows

It was a chance to unplug. Walking a thousand-year-old trail doesn’t require technology. While there are plenty of Camino apps and social media tools that pilgrims can use, Eric and I made an intentional decision to turn off even our phones and be entirely present. (I’ve written about this here.) And, spoiler alert, nothing bad happened. The people at home were fine. They answered their own questions and solved their own problems.

There’s a total simplicity to long distance walking that helped us engage in the slow travel lifestyle. There were stripes and arrows along the paths that told us where to go. There were printed guidebooks and friendly locals to fill in the gaps when we had questions. And without all of the distractions of a multi-tasked existence, I was forced to stop and engage with the smallest details around me.

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Surrounded by friends and rewarded with wine in Ostabat, France

And yet (and this is really important for me), the Camino is a trail that does not require me to sleep in a tent or eat terrible food. I wanted to get out of my own broken routines and experience something real, and #optoutside, and “rough it” a little, but that didn’t mean I was willing to give up the basic necessities like beds, bathrooms, or espresso.

 

For me, the Camino was the perfect mix of challenge and comfort. I spent 14 hours a day outdoors, relying only on my feet to carry me and my limited personal belongings. But I also could rely on a simple bed and shower every night. Clean water to drink at regular intervals. Coffee shops and bakeries and bars to sustain me, and even offer a bit of local fun.

There’s a reason that when I got back I gave a talk about the Camino called “thru-hiking without suffering.”

Of course, the Camino lived up to all of my boxes, and still filled me with surprises of things I’d never expect. But those are tales for other days.

That’s my Camino origin story. What’s yours?

Is Walking the Camino Going to be the Status Symbol of 2019?

When people ask me why I took a three-month sabbatical from my life in 2015 to walk the Camino de Santiago, I try to describe the sense of burnout and mental exhaustion I was feeling. Postmodern adulting had burned me to a crisp, destroyed my attention span, and left me far too attached to my screens. I needed to get away and experience something real, something with staying power, and the Way of Saint James checked all of my boxes. You don’t need a smart phone on a trail that’s 900 years old, I discovered, and you can’t spend to much time thinking about what to wear when you only have one change of clothes.

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“Don’t Stop Walking”

Well, it turns out there’s a name for what I was searching for – consumer deceleration – and I’m not alone in my need for it.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across an article on Phys.org called “Christmas is Hectic, but Slowing Things Down Might Be About to Become the New Status Symbol.”

In it, author Royal Holloway summarizes research published in the Journal of Consumer Research that says “Increasing numbers of people are searching for ways to slow down their fast paced consumer lives by turning to slower forms of consumption, such as using limited holiday time to walk ancient pilgrimage routes.”

Well, that explains, the exploding number of people coming from around the world, and especially the United States, to journey to Santiago.

The authors of the study found that when a person commits to something like the Camino, they have a “perception of slowing down time by altering, adopting or avoiding certain forms of consumption.” Specifically, their deceleration includes physical movement (walking instead of taking motorized transportation), technology (limiting electronic communication and focusing on face-to-face interactions), and “episodic” (limiting actions to only a few activities a day, like walking and eating).

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The article concludes by saying that:

“We suggest that deceleration is becoming a new status symbol. People are overworked and time-poor, and only a fortunate few can afford to escape to oases of deceleration, making them the status symbols of tomorrow.”

I’m not sure what the author means by “fortunate few” here, when my budget for the Camino was far lower (even factoring in the airfare) on a day-by-day basis than most vacations I’ve taken here in the United States. But okay, there’s a lot here to consider, and even more in the original report. In the end, it all comes down to what anyone who’s walked part of the Camino de Santiago knows:

Slowing down to a human pace, engaging with people from around the world, and becoming part of a history much bigger than yourself will change your life.

Mulled Wine, Camino-style

“The air was still chilly, and so when they happened into a tiny village store that just happened to have cheap wine, oranges, and cinnamon sticks, Eric’s plan was born.

Back in the communal refugio kitchen, they found more spices and a saucepan, and they set about making hot mulled wine.  

The smell drifted through those twisted hallways and low-ceilinged staircases. Pilgrims, young and old, started to drift toward the kitchen. I imagine them like the cartoon characters, floating along the waves of delicious scents, led by their noses.”

In the last three months, I’ve shared my Camino story almost 20 times at bookstores, libraries, travel stores, and outdoor adventure stores across the country. My favorite part of those events is the opportunity to read directly from Walking to the End of the World, and one of my favorite excerpts to read is the story of our long, rainy walk to Astorga (which I’ve shared before on the blog, here). The end of that story, of course, comes when Eric makes hot mulled wine in the Albergue Gaucelmo kitchen.

This part always makes people smile, especially as the weather outside grows colder and darker. In fact, several of them have asked me for that mulled wine recipe.

Since I was asleep when he made it, I turned the question over to my creative, generous, pathologically helpful husband. Here’s what he says about how to make simple, impromptu mulled wine in a Camino albergue…or in your own home for the holidays:

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Photo by Hannah Pemberton on Unsplash

Eric’s Mulled Wine, Camino Style

There are a ton of ways to make mulled wine, and on Camino, you may have to improvise with what’s available. I tend to freehand my mulled wine, and you can always adjust (as long as you have more wine :)).

At the very least, you need:

  • heat source and cooking vessel
  • wine (red is better than white)
  • spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice…can be whole or powdered, depending on what’s available in the kitchen or market)
  • citrus (oranges, lemons, limes, or juice of them)
  • sweetener (sugar can work, but fruit juice is better because you need some citrus)
  • Bonus: sweet liquor like brandy or citrus liqueur like Grand Marnier

Recipe:

1.Pour one 750 mL bottle of wine into a saucepan on medium-low heat

Optional: add up to 1 cup (about 250mL) of liquor

2. Add spices

whole spices: 1 stick cinnamon, 5 whole cloves, 5-10 allspice berries

ground spices: 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cloves, 1 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

3. Add citrus

1 orange, sliced; 1 lemon, sliced; whatever other fruit sounds good and isn’t mushy

4. Bring mixture to a very gentle simmer (don’t let it boil) for a few minutes

5. Taste the mixture, then add some sweetener (start with 1/2 cup orange juice if you have it, add 1/4 cup of sugar or honey if you don’t).

6. Taste again, and adjust sweetness, spices, and citrus with orange/lemon/lime juice as needed

7. Share with friends (or with strangers who will become friends!)

 

Related note: Mulled wine goes particularly well with tarta de Santiago, the cake of the Camino. Get the recipe here.