Xina, USA

“I decided to go because I felt called by something greater than me. I answered the call … Adventurers and pilgrims alike have heard it. And so have farmers and peasants and factory workers. Some listen. Some go … I am one of these.”

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“Picture a dumpy middle-aged woman with frizzy hair and a distracted look in her eyes. It’s been a hard few years involving sudden death, shocking confessions, unexpected babies, invisible braces, multiplying dogs, grumpy cats, painful spines, drunk people, depression, doom, gloom, and menopause. What was I do to? Well, just for fun I taught my three dogs to trot alongside my bicycle… so how about something simple, then, like taking a walk?

I’ve been a walker for a long time. The motion, the movement, getting somewhere even though I’m going at a slow pace, is addictive. I live in a valley with hills all around, and I’ve been up and down most of them. There’s something new around the next corner. The quiet is holy, and it makes a sound of its own. Except I wasn’t thinking about any old walk in the valley – I thought about the 500-mile Camino de Santiago, which I learned of while studying history years ago. A Spirit within me encouraged me, ‘Go, now. Carpe diem. Seize the day,’ I resolved to seize it, and walk the path walked by pilgrims since the Middle Ages.

I had barely booked the airline ticket for the Camino de Santiago, filled with excitement, when fear reared its ugly head.  First, I became certain that I would die. Why? Well, the son in Martin Sheen’s movie on the Camino, The Way, died en route. Though, plenty of statistics and articles assured me that it is perfectly safe. Next came the physical weakness fear. Who was I kidding? I am a flabby middle-aged woman. I had just spent 2 years coaxing my bad back to health. Sure, I love to walk and hike, but in 3 or 4 mile increments, not 500 mile ones! I was sure that my spine would crumple after 8 steps, and leave me lying in a helpless blob on the trail until wild Camino dogs ate me alive. And then I started worrying about money – that this jaunt into Spain would bankrupt my husband and me! My imagination works wonders sometimes. I was able to find a great deal on my airfare to Spain, and the albergues set up along the pilgrim’s route are very low cost. Still, that cost adds up.

I posted about my various fears on the American Pilgrims on the Camino Facebook page, and received so many messages of kind support, encouraging me that my fears were normal, but that I would be able to do the pilgrimage. I remember one that was so beautiful that it made me shiver:

‘What if I fall?’
‘Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?’

My friend Janet Loftis heard about my trip and jumped aboard, pledging to be there for me in person, and to experience this great and wonderful journey with me. With her and others’ encouragement, I found my fears slowly alleviating, but replaced by constant questions about why I was making this journey. It’s one of those desires that has lived in my heart in a cocooned state, because it’s at least a little bit outrageous. Taking 6 weeks or more off daily life is rather outrageous, at least in my mind. Walking 500 miles is rather outrageous, too. Yet, I would try to explain – blathering most likely – that I was listening to a Spirit inside me, that I love history, or that given my age, I’d better go now if at all. And others would ask me what I hoped to gain from the journey. On my end, the blathering continued – adventure, inner strength, peace, power, love. I have said all these things and more, and yes, of course I hoped to gain them. But the true answer is that I just didn’t know what would happen. I decided to go because I felt called by something greater than me. I answered the call. It is an age-old siren song, that call. Adventurers and pilgrims alike have heard it. And so have farmers and peasants and factory workers. Some listen. Some go, despite the obstacles of health, finances, and danger. I am one of these. I packed my bags and left for Spain on April 1, 2015.

I’m a writer and an avid blogger, yet I managed to make only one blog post during my journey, on my fourth day. My good intentions for blogging while on the Camino were thwarted by intermittent WiFi, a lack of suitable photographs (on a camera that required a computer to access), and general exhaustion on many days. On the one day that I did blog, I noted that the challenges along the way are probably obvious: kilometer after kilometer of walking, dealing with wayfinding and the weather, and missing loved ones at home. But there was glory, too, in rolling green hills, snow-dotted mountains, and the peace of an ever-extending path past grazing sheep, sun-yellow mustard fields, and rushing streams of clear, cold water. I was also entranced by the ancient Roman roads and structures we passed. Yet, even more wonderful was the joy of the companionship of fellow wanderers, restless spirits who were open to all that this lovely and difficult world has to offer. They understood like few others what drove me on, the curiosity and faith and wonder all at once. Pilgrims come from all over the world to walk the Camino de Santiago. I met people from South Korea, Japan, Germany, Austria, Finland, Britain, Estonia, New Zealand, France, Brazil, Italy, Canada, Mexico, and more. Indeed, it is a small world.

I have so much that I want to say about my journey, but I did hit upon a solution of sorts one day while walking. On my own blog, I plan to share one hundred photos, to provide readers with a taste of the pilgrim adventure that is the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain. A taste of what called out to me so vividly that I could not ignore it. A taste of a truly remarkable journey.”

-Xina, USA

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