Posts Tagged With: Returning from Camino

Post Camino thoughts: I Live in a Body


Rush Hour Traffic

Six months ago, I flew home from Madrid to San Francisco after finishing the second half of my Camino.  It feels like time to share some of my thoughts about what I learned from walking the Camino.

Lesson #1: “I live in a Body.”

On the Camino you walk places.  And keep walking to the next place, and the next. I covered about 10-15 miles a day at about 3 miles per hour.

During my years as a commuter, I covered 70 miles a day, often in bumper to bumper traffic, or at 70 mph.,  but my body was sitting in a padded driver’s seat.  Walking the Camino made me see how much I drove and how bad it was for my body.

Walking to Najera

Walking to Najera

During my first Camino in June my body struggled to move from being a commuter into being a pilgrim.  I was not used to that level of movement,  and I expected too much out of my body, hence the ankle injury.  When I returned in October, my body was more prepared, I took my time, and I began to experience being in my body in a new way.

There was unique physical pleasure in walking the Camino.  It went beyond the usual pleasures of day hiking, even in the Sierra, the Rockies, or other scenic places where I’d recently hiked. It was pleasurable to realize I was moving myself across the landscape under my own power. It’s a primal thing that we in the 21st Century never experience.  I felt a bond with people of earlier centuries for whom walking was the only way to travel.

It was pleasurable to feel my body grow stronger day by day.  It was pleasurable to start walking slowly in the morning, and then move into a comfortable pace.  The walking became meditative. My body was working, and my mind was relaxed. It was pleasurable to feel my physical self, my emotional self, and my intellectual self move into alignment.

I learned that my intellectual self is usually in charge, often wrestles with my emotional self, and my physical self usually comes along for the ride. It was a surprise to see what it felt like to do it differently.

At the end of the day it was pleasurable to feel the sensations of being truly hungry and thirsty. My body was happily challenged, and used.  I felt alive in a  physical way I’d never experienced before. Walking 3-5 hours a day felt like what my body was built to do.

On the Camino,  I made friends with my body, instead of using it primarily as my “vehicle” for propelling my “head” around.   I lived more in the moment. God never felt closer than in those days on the Camino.

Becoming a Pilgrim

Becoming a Pilgrim

When I returned home, I was in the best shape I’d ever been in, and I wanted to stay that fit.  But it’s not my natural inclination to work-out for the sake of working-out.  On the Camino, working-out was integrated into the whole journey of discovery. Most of all, I wanted to preserve the feeling of well-being and spirituality that came with it.

Now I see that walking the Camino was good practice for the rest of my life. When I take a hike, or do yoga, or swim, I feel that now familiar sense of alignment between my physical self, my emotional self, and my intellectual self.  It’s more than working out, or building muscle, it’s become a spiritual discipline. In those moments of joy, I feel God is close.

I live in a body, and it is good.







Categories: Camino de Santiago, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Reflections on a Guidebook

A Pilgrim's Guide to the Camino de Santiago by John Brierley

A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago, A Practical & Mystical Manual for the Modern Pilgrim by John Brierley

If you learned to drive before the Internet, like I did, you probably spent a lot of time with the DMV Handbook learning the rules of the road. I’m sure I spent just as much time with John Brierley’s Guidebook, “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago” as I prepared to walk the Camino. And then I studied it everyday I was on the Camino. My copy is dog-eared and water-stained. But I love it. Unlike a lot of guidebooks, this one has a definite voice, of John Brierley, who’s very male, Anglo, fit, and for some reason, doesn’t much like pilgrims to spend time in cities along the Camino. After all the time I’ve spent with his book, I feel like I know the guy.

What I like most about Brierley is his interest in the “Inner Path” of the Way of St. James. The subtitle of the guidebook is, “A Practical & Mystical Manual for the Modern Day Pilgrim.” He includes a self-assessment with questions like, “How do you differentiate pilgrimage from a long distance walk? “What do you see as the primary purpose of your life? Are you working consciously towards fulfilling that purpose?”

Those are very big questions for a travel guidebook. But the Camino is a very big walk. Brierley keeps reminding you that you’re on a Pilgrimage. Even on the days when you wonder why the heck you are walking for in the rain for five hours.

Brierley balances these big, philosophical questions with a ton of practical details. He breaks the Camino into thirty-three stages. Each stage is meticulously researched and has its own map and contour guide so you can see what kind of elevation to expect from day to day. The listings of amenities, down to individual villages, are very accurate. Access to this kind of information in English was priceless to a tired Pilgrim.

Each stage in the guidebook begins with a quote. Some are familiar, like: “Be the change you want to see in the world,” Mahatma Ghandi, and “Practice random acts of loving kindness and acts of senseless beauty.” Some of them sang to me as I walked: “Worrying is praying for what you don’t want,” and “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today a gift—that is why it is called the present.”

He also includes “Personal reflections” from Anonymous Pilgrims. When I read them before walking the Camino they seemed sentimental or even surreal. But once I was a Pilgrim myself, they made much more sense, and now they remind me of what it’s like to be in the Pilgrim state of mind. You’re often bone-tired, sore, and nursing an injury. You’re also full of joy, endorphins, and having the time of your life, all at the same time. Being a Pilgrim means entering an altered state of wonder.

In that altered state it’s easy to forget your physical limitations. Even though Brierley recommends taking it easy in the first few stages, and listening to your body, the fact that he’s chopped the Camino into 33 stages makes it seem like everyone should be able to walk 20-30 kilometers every day. His stages have become normative for American Pilgrims.

Beware! In your “regular life” you would never walk a half-marathon a day thirty days in a row. Even after training for the Camino, most people need more than the 2 rest days he recommends. It’s easy to overdo it, injure yourself, and have to stop, or even go home. That’s what happened to me in June, 2013.

When I returned in October of the same year, I cut Brierley’s stages in half—to 12-15 kilometers a day.

It opened up the Camino for me because I was no longer focusing on getting to a certain town at the end of each Brierley stage. I stopped whenever I wanted to. The journey became more about the journey than the destination. And that is what the Camino is all about.

As time went on, I found myself leaving my Brierley guide in its ziplock bag, and just enjoying where I was on the Camino. That’s what the Camino is about, too. The maps began to seem unnecessary. The yellow arrows marking the Camino were enough.

Yellow Arrow along the Camino

Yellow Arrow along the Camino

Perhaps the best thing about the Brierley guide was that it helped me to have more faith in myself as a solo traveler, and to claim my own Camino.

I’ve sometimes wished that Life had a guidebook that gave Brierley-like advice: “at this point the trail splits into three and you have to choose your level of difficulty”, or “here’s the contour guide for young adulthood, and middle age.”

But life is more unpredictable than that. We sometimes find ourselves on the most difficult path that we would have never chosen. Or have long phases of sameness, like the section on the Camino called the Meseta.

Who’s with you on the journey makes all the difference. Even at his most mystical, John Brierley never mentioned this: Jesus kept showing up to walk with me, through my fellow Pilgrims.

Dear Pilgrim, I hope you enjoy Brierley’s guidebook as much as I have. It points you toward the good stuff. But remember to take your eyes off the guidebook and live in the moment. It’s even better than what Brierley describes.

Categories: Book Reviews, Camino Guidebooks, Camino Logistics, Reflections | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

What I brought on the Camino

I’ve been home from Spain for a week, and my pack has been sitting at the end of the bed, half-unpacked.  Today I began to put it away in the garage.

Contents of October Camino 2.0

Contents of my pack for the October Camino 2.0

But wait! I know you’ve been dying to know what was in it. So I’ll give you a tour.

Osprey Kyte 36

Osprey Kyte 36

The pack is an Osprey Kyte Woman’s S/M, 36 liters. You can see my Pilgrim’s Shell and my patches for American Pilgrims on the Camino and the Pilgrim Network.

One of the most valuable features of the pack was its waterproof rain cover.  It’s integrated into the pack, and completely covers it, then stuffs back into its own compartment when not needed.  It’s something that I’d probably never use in California, but I used it a lot on the Camino.  Best of all, it kept the body of the pack very dry.

The straps did get wet.  But it was only on my last day when the rain was pouring for hours that the pack itself eventually got soaked.

REI Travel Sack Sleeping Bag

REI Travel Sack Sleeping Bag

My sleeping bag lived at the bottom of the pack.  It was one of the best items on board. I was really glad I had it towards the end of October, when the heat was not turned on in many places I stayed in Galicia.   It was also very comfortable when I was on the beginning of the Camino in June.  It weighs less than l lb.  BTW, it has arm holes so you can wear it around the house!

Keen Targhee Boots

Keen Targhee Boots

On one of my many trips to REI in September, I bought a new pair of boots.  Beware, you’re supposed to break in your boots over a course of months—but these Keen Targhee boots were the best—terrific toe room, and they were comfortable from day one.  I only got one itty bitty blister the first day out, and that was it.  To top it off, they’re waterproof!

Above the boots you can see my three pairs of Darn Tough wool socks from Vermont.  I decided to take three pairs so that I wouldn’t have to do as much laundry, and I was glad I did.  It felt luxurious.

Next to the boots are my Keen sandals.  I brought these in June, and they were fine in October, too.   Many people brought Crocs or flip-flops, which are a lot lighter, but I like my Keens, they protect my toes.

Patagonia Torrent Rain Shell and Decathelon Rain Pants

Patagonia Torrent Rain Shell and Decathalon Rain Pants

It rains a lot in Galicia, and I’m so glad I invested in some real rain gear.  The Patagonia Torrent rain shell kept me fairly dry even in the most wet conditions.  It was amazing!  The rain pants kept me dry, but didn’t breath as much.  Together with the rain cover on the pack, I felt confident walking in the rain.  And it turned out to be fun!

When I walked in June I expected to carry my pack every day.  Then I discovered Jacotrans, and other services that, for a small fee, will transport your pack to a destination you designate, farther along the Camino.

REI Flash 22 Daypack

REI Flash 22 Daypack

In October, I brought a small, lightweight daypack with me  so that I could use the transport service more easily. Even with the transport service, you want to carry your guidebook, water, and whatever else.  I liked how this pack had big cargo pockets on the side for my guidebook and water bottle.

With the wet weather, I ended up off-loading heavier items to the daypack, and carrying my Osprey pack because it had the rain cover.

In an case, I would recommend using the pack transport services.  There are days when the terrain is rough, or you just feel like having a lighter load.  For between 3 and 7 Euros a day, it’s a great deal!

Black Diamond Trekking Poles

Black Diamond Trekking Poles

Here are my “Jesus poles.” I used these Black Diamond trekking poles everyday.  They were great for stability in muddy conditions, going uphill, and especially going downhill on rocks, and slippery terrain.  It took me awhile to realize that there is a left and a right pole, and there’s a correct way to use them.  The straps are there so you can put weight on the poles.

Jesus tape

Jesus tape

I’ll show you a close-up of the Jesus tape on them.  My colleague at Trinity, Menlo Park applied the Jesus tape, and I often thought of how Jesus really was walking with me every step of the way.

Trekking poles cannot go on board an airplane, and mine don’t collapse down to fit into the pack.  So I had to come up with a creative solution.

Lightweight Duffel Bag

Lightweight Duffel Bag

The night before I left, I went to Big 5 and bought this lightweight duffel bag. I checked the pack and the poles together in it.  I thought about mailing it to myself in Santiago, but ended up just carrying it the whole way. No big deal.

In June, I swore by my Camelbak type 2-liter water system.  Hydration is critical when you’re walking a half-marathon a day.

Platapus water bottle

Platapus water bottle

Goldhara McKay, a fellow pilgrim, recommended this kind of collapsible water bottle on the American Pilgrims on the Camino Facebook page, and I decided to try it instead of the Camelbak type system.  I started out with two of them, but left one at the Molinaseca albergue—I hope someone is using it right now.  They’re terrific!  When empty, you can curl it up into a pocket, and it weighs nothing.

REI high fashion

REI high fashion

What to wear everywhere.  Who knew that REI was such a fashion house?

I wore these convertible grey pants from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France, to Santiago de Compostela, and on to Madrid.  (In the evening I changed into the yoga pants.)

Add a black or vino tinto colored  T-shirt, a Merino wool half-zip, and a Buff or the Camino scarf, and you’ve got an outfit.

Was there anything I wish I’d left behind?  Yes, my zip lock bag of toiletries, which seemed to weigh a ton.  Somehow I collected full size containers of shampoo, toothpaste, and moisturizer, plus foot care supplies like foot cream and blister care items.

But I was glad I had my BB Cream, blush and lipstick to dress it up a bit each morning.

Buen Camino!

Categories: Camino, Camino de Santiago, Camino Logistics, Reflections, Return to Camino, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments


Yesterday at the Madrid airport I had to encase my pack in plastic wrap so that I could check my trekking poles. I couldn’t carry them on board, and they didn’t fit inside.

The end result looks a lot like a Spanish ham, or Jamon!

Right now I’m savoring how, for once in my adult life, I travelled light.

I don’t want to “break the seal” quite yet, and unpack my Camino pack. I’m still coming in for landing back to my Bay Area life.

The process of unpacking the Camino experience will be ongoing, as life moves forward.



Categories: Camino | Tags: , | 4 Comments

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