Thousands of pilgrims each year follow in the early 9th century footsteps that carved this path to the burial site of an evangelical apostle. So what does a non-Kosher Jew in her mid-20’s from Chicago expect to get out of this experience?
It’s not a very interesting story, I want to prove to myself that I can do it.
I do not have a wayward life story or emotional strife of Cheryl Strayed. I have had a stable professional career since I graduated uni in 2013, I have been fortunate enough to earn opportunities that allowed me to live as a Digital Nomad going on two years. While neither myself or my life are perfect, I am content.
As my mum has often asked me since I told her about this hike, why not join a gym if I want to prove I can be strong or adopt a puppy if I want to demonstrate independence? I have never been an intimidating person, I am lanky & petite girl that people inherently want to coddle because I seem fragile & vulnerable. Sometimes I even question how strong I am, but I do not want to do that anymore.
The Santiago pilgrimage also seemed like a logical precursor to more intensive thru-hikes I want to do eventually, like the Appalachian & Pacific Crest.
I chose to enter the Santiago via Camino de Frances, or the French Way.
I have been a French resident for the past year, living in the Côte d’Azur. My rental lease is finished at the beginning of June so it seemed like this route seemed like the most logical option. I will put my belonging in storage, then travel to Toulouse where I will take the GR653 trail from the city limits & hike the Arles Way to join the Santiago.
I am still in the early planning stages, but below is a peak of my route so far!
My Alternative Plan
I am already defeating the intended purpose of a pilgrimage since I do not seek any great spiritual revelations so why not completely ruin the authenticity!
This will be a working holiday for me. I am a 26-year-old with an American job with the stereotypical lackluster benefits & next to no vacation time. I am required to work afternoon & evening hours so I will have limited daylight hours I can actually hike, plus I will have to marry whatever space has reliable wifi as is customary once you choose the “Digital Nomad” life.
This might not seem like too much of an issue, but it is a hindrance when it comes to planning accommodations. Albergues, or pilgrimage hostels along Spanish trails, will not unlock the front door until breakfast so pilgrims cannot just come & leave as needed. I will have to begin hiking early in the morning to finish the Camino in my desired time frame, which brings us to the next alternative feature in my Camino: Tenting.
My accommodation plan is to do a combination of tenting & private rooms. I actually prefer my plan to the traditional pilgrimage hostels & I really don’t care if I am not getting the authentic pilgrim experience for a number of reasons:
- Quiet space. I can work in peace & I am exceptionally light sleeper so I will be better rested whether I am in a private hotel or personal tent.
- No bedbugs. While the blood thirsty mites are not an uncommon sight in albergues, they are relatively harmless when they are not in your home unless you are one of the few people that has reactions to them… Like me, for example!
- Savings. Tenting is not something new on the Camino, though most pilgrims opt for albergue lodging because pilgrimage hostels are very affordable. Budget conscious students are the most likely to tent or anti-social hermits [Also, me!], albergues can also become overcrowded during the summer so some pilgrims will decide to sleep on benches during the warm summer nights rather than hike to another town.
Injury & Trip Delay
My major setback with this hike has been my first real injury. I am a klutz & I lack all definitions of grace, but I have always managed to avoid serious injury until recently & I still consider myself fortunate it is a relatively minor injury in the grand scheme of everything.
I hurt my back.
I slide my L5 vertebra out of place, which caused an inflammation injury around my sacrum.
I initially began noticing some lower back pain around November 2016, I spent a few weeks maintaining my normal exercise routine & laying on an electric heating pad whenever the pain would creep up. I mostly noticed pain after I would go long distance jogs or hikes, I would be sore the next day & feel better a few days later. This type of pain pattern became a cycle for me. Eventually the pain would radiate in my groin & buttocks area, there were some days I could barely tolerate to walk when the pain was at its worst.
After I was diagnosed with the back injury, I really grappled with how this would affect My Camino. I grew even more frustrated when I was not recovering as quickly as I had desired. Some days I was full of acceptance & understanding I would need to delay the hike, other days I savagely fought against changing any of my original plans.
One of my greatest adulthood struggles has been flexibility. I am a meticulous planner & I strive to do every action with intention, but I am not the most adaptable person when entropy overtakes my plans.
I have finally arrived at the final stage of grief for my failed summer thru-hike: Acceptance. However, I did not want to disregard My Camino & leave the plans abandoned in limbo, I wanted a dedicated timeframe to reschedule it. Luckily, it is happening this spring. And I cannot wait.