People do pilgrimages for a variety of reasons. Some go for the adventure, some for the tradition. There are those who have religious reasons and some with no religious connection at all. There are as many reasons, more reasons even than there are pilgrims doing the walking. Some walk, some ride bikes. Others use public transportation all the way to the destination itself. I have a whole passel of reasons I want to do it. 1) I like to pick adventures that challenge me and are epic…to me. 2) I love the ceremony and tradition of the Catholic Church and want to further get back to my Catholic roots. 3) I have neglected my spiritual side for some time and want to reconnect with it. 4) I want to walk more days than I would have had I not flown out from Base Camp in 2012.
When I was in Nepal, I had my first experience walking day after day
mostly alone (aside from my wonderful Sherpa, Mane who spoke little to no English). It was a wonderful experience, no noise but the sound of my boots to the trail, the wind coming down off the highest mountain on the planet, and the slow, ambling ring of yak bells. The Camino, as most people refer to the Camino de Santiago, will be a mixture of that isolation of Everest; the tea houses of Everest will be somewhat like the villages and Abrugues at the end of the days, and then the culmination at a place I really, really want to see. In the Trek it was Base Camp and sleeping on the Khumbu Glacier. Here it will be the cathedral, the mass, and the thought that the relics of an Apostle just might be there.
I do not pretend to have all the answers. Some would think it silly to flay from Las Vegas all the way to Madrid just to take a bus to Leon and then walk 200 miles. Others think it is sacrilege not to do that. So to each their own. I am excited by the fact that in my 50’s I can continue to battle through health issues and creeping up in years by planning meaningful life adventures for myself. But I also invite all of my friends, with all of their various positions and opinions to follow
along with me. It is 23 months before I set out. And in the mean time I have big things to do: a little knee replacement in April, a couple trips to the top of Mount Charleston, Half dome, maybe another run through the Narrows, a hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back, lots of 5ks, 10ks and half marathons and just a bunch of training. This thing is more internal than external. I read all the time that the walk is very transformative. I felt that in Everest. Look hard enough at the things you do and you can learn new things about yourself.
After returning from Peru, having not been physically able to do the hike I really wanted to do was demoralizing. I felt I had failed. As much fun as I had, and as wonderful Julio made all of my alternative sites and walks, the simple fact remained that I.Did.Not.Do.The.Inka.Trail. Period. The weight I carried was too much. And I don’t mean the pack.
As 2014 rolled into 2015 nothing much changed. I went through the usual holiday activities and started the new year dedicated to 12 5k walks in 12 months.
They were to be place markers to measure progress between each one. As I headed off to Washington DC for work, I squeezed my May 5k in by doing a selfie stick photo walk through Georgetown and the National Mall. It was great. The business trip I was on was jam packed with walking. I was logging about 17,000 steps a day and I thought “what a way to launch myself forward!”
On June 3 we were taking meetings all over Capitol Hill. We had the Capitol, a meeting with the U.S. Supreme Court Clerk, a meeting at the Senate with Kelli Ayote, and a meeting at the DOJ with Deputy Attorney General Sally Bates. As the day wore on my left knee began to have a feeling as though it were ripping. It worsened. It held me back the remainder of the trip.
June, July, and August there would be no 5ks. As a matter of fact, an MRI revealed a tear in the meniscus. August 27th the knee was scoped and cleaned up. A lot. Left behind was a janky ACL that had been repaired in 1988 and what looked like a shag carpet of arthritis with intermittent bone on bone.
Some friends and I had already started on planning a 2017 walk on el Camino de Santiago de Compostela. I had a Spanish class under way and the walking goal was to go from Leon to Santiago de Compastela. That is 200 miles. And instead of beginning my my goal of over 100lbs. Weight loss with a “good as sorta 54 year old new” knee, I am starting knowing that at sometime between now and September 2017, I will likely need to ink in a total knee replacement. Ugh.
As I lie on my couch with the pups feeling sorry for myself, I decided to watch Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. I learned about it on the American Pilgrims on the Camino Facebook page. I “met” one of the co-producers there named Annie O’Neil. In watching the pilgrims struggle for their own individual reasons, I was particularly drawn to Annie’s walk. Maybe at first because I was at least familiar with her now. But seeing a normal sized person become nearly debilitated by sever knee conditions, yet for her to push through with no complaints was insuring and redemptive. I no longer felt ashamed of myself for Peru. Instead I felt my biggest failure was not in missing the trail……it was in missing the lesson.
I have a plan now. I always do, but I can only have hope and faith that this time, I can do it. That this time I can keep a promise to myself for all the right reasons.