Each time we trek out the door onto another pathway or decide to undertake a Camino the same questions arise. Why? Why hike the Camino? Why hike another Camino?
In 2016, for our first Camino – the Camino Frances – we undertook the pilgrimage for a number of reasons. We both needed a change from the routine of our lives, whether from having spent too much time at our desks, or having submitted too many school reports, or because things just didn’t seem to be going as planned. Call it a midlife crisis (though I’m not sure it was that extreme), but we both – for different reasons – where at a point in our lives where we felt that things were not what we had hoped, that life was rushing past faster and faster, that we were still young enough to enjoy the world and see new cultures and experience new things, and that there was no time like the present to change the direction of our lives. So, having discovered the Camino Frances, we saved up, we researched, we booked our tickets and we went on the adventure of a life time.
Six months later, in early 2017, having loved our first experience on the Camino we were pulled back (there is no other way to explain it). We missed the essence and social atmosphere of the trail, we missed the simplicity of the daily routine, and we missed being out in nature. Add to this the possibility of seeing the French countryside in the spring – with its flowers in full bloom, the celebrations underway in Aubrac, and the possibility of enjoying French food and we were sold. By May 2017, we cashed out what was left of our savings and retirement funds and we went back to Europe. This time trekking from Le Puy in France along the GR65 / Via Podiensis to our starting point in 2016, St. Jean-Pied-de-Port.
In 2018, we had hoped to return to Europe and perhaps undertake the Camino Norte across Northern Spain, but work obligations and a new hike plan for 2019-2022 sent us on a long distance trek across Newfoundland’s beautiful East Coast Trail instead. As such, by early 2019, having worked 20+ hours a day for almost 12 months, and with the help of family, we realized that before the next phase of our life was underway we needed a break and recapture that spirit for life that our time on the Camino Frances instilled in us. The only option in our minds then was the Camino, the only question being which route to take? Given that our window for revisiting Europe was the spring, the weather on the Camino Norte and across many of the French routes seemed unwelcoming for two out of shape desk jockeys. As such, the Camino Portuguese increasingly seemed to be the evident choice.
I suppose the reason we both wanted to return to the Camino was the growing sense of discontent we felt about things in the world.
We each now seem to be living dual lives – not in the way you would assume. We are pushed to work more, but then are critiqued for not spending time with our families. We are pushed to buy more, but then are critiqued for not saving enough money for retirement. We are told to do more quicker, but then are critiqued for not taking the time to enjoy the moment, or explore the world. We are told to produce more, but then told that it is unhealthy to spend so much time at a desk. Most of us spend so much of our time online – whether with email, facebook, twitter, watching TV shows and movies, or playing video games – and then seemingly have so little time for anything or anyone else. Online and in life, so many of us feel as though everything is critical, judgmental, and forced, but then never have the time – or make the time – to see the world for what it is. Instead we are content – even when we are not – to believe what we are told. An odd choice given that many of us increasingly spend our lives online, and then are surprised when we have troubles in telling the difference between what is false and what is real.
I recently read a wonderful book, “Walking to the End of the World: A Thousand Miles on the Camino De Santiago” by Beth Jusino. I originally picked this text up as it was about both the GR65/Via Podiensis through France and the Camino Frances across Spain – both routes we have travelled. However, what I loved most about her opening chapters was the admission by the author, that there was really no life changing event, no affair, no mental break down, no driving force that propelled her onto the Camino. She loved her family, loved her job, and loved her life. Instead, in a world of online connections, contradictions and uncertainty she simply wanted to experience something Real. This resonated deeply with me and I suspect it does – whether we know it or not – with so many other people in this day and age. Even to this day, I find myself in book stores or trolling Amazon.ca looking up books on the Camino and ordering far too many guide books for future hikes (Norte, Arles, Via Francenginia, Canterbury to Rome, are just a few that constantly catch my attention).
When I first mention long distance hiking, or going on Caminos many people I know initially the common responses: “I could never do that”, “no one can walk that far”, “I don’t have the time for that sort of thing”, “I actually have real things I have to do”, “I am too important to disconnect for so long”. Interestingly however, within a few weeks many of these same people begin to reminisce on summer vacations from long ago, or time off with family, camping trips with family, or their post college years backpacking across America or Europe. They think back to times when they feel they were completely happy - when they had the chance to talk to family and friends, when the call of the online world did not exist, and when they spent more time outside.
So what is it about our world now? What is it about getting caught up in the system and racing through life – all undertaken to make us all happier – that in fact makes us less and less happy, yet more and more willing to defend our choices and lifestyles? I have so much, I am so privileged – yet I am not unhappy – there is a sense that something is missing despite all of my blessings.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have the answers to any of these issues or questions, except to say that after a few days on the Camino in 2016 and 2017 and on the trail the world no longer felt so judgmental, so critical, or so complex. On the Camino things seem clearer, life regains its simplicity and perspective, and I feel better all around. The physical demands drain away the ephemeral in my life. I see clearer when I hike. I have greater faith in who I am and what I can do on in nature. Hopefully I am also a better person during and afterwards as well. I want to be awake to the world again; I want to be mindful of life and the world around me again. I want to live in the moment and not worry about whether I have enough life insurance or be ready for retirement in 30 or 40 years.
So this time around on the Camino, while there has been no recent life changing event, no affair, no mental break down, no driving force that propelled us back onto the Way, even though I love my family, I love my life, and I love my job I nonetheless just want to lighten the load, and get back out there to have the world reaffirmed for me. I want to find and again experience something that is real.
....that and the Camino calls....there is no reason, no justification, merely that since my final day in Santiago in 2016, it has called me back...and so I go....