Finally, my final thoughts on the Camino. It’s funny how things work out sometimes. I set forth out on the Camino seeking closure and to find answers from within. What I found though, was that I already had closure and I knew the answers all along. Even more, I found something I wasn’t searching for, the Spirit of the Camino.
I had it all planned out. I was going to use this trip to ceremoniously bring a close to my past and leave my wedding ring behind at the cathedral as a symbol of this closure. Instead, after 10 days on the road, most of it in the rain, and a grueling hot uphill climb on the last day, I ended up in the almost empty square of the Santiago de Compostela only to find that I had to go around the corner to a regular old office and wait for 2 to 2.5 hours in a line to get my final stamp and certificates of completion. Wha-what? Isn’t there some statue or alter where people leave shit behind (yes…100K down the road)? Where was my moment?? I was supposed to have an all out emotional breakdown fall-down-on-my-knees-crying-my-eyes-out-with-snot-running-down-my-face moment. Instead, I stood there in line with Michele with a blank stare. What the f*ck is this?
As Michele stood right beside me she watched for my queue. She knew I was expecting a moment and she knew that I had gone too long without eating. And when I don’t eat, I turn into the incredible Hulk. She could tell by the look on my face that I was a little distraught by this anticlimactic ending to a journey what was supposed to end with angels singing, people sobbing, and lots of hugging and “there there you’ll be okay – celebrate your new life” moments. I waited in line for a minute or two, she tried not to make direct eye contact with me, and then I decided..meh…I was hungry and needed to eat and food was just way more important.
It has been several weeks since I completed this trek and during that time, I had a lot of time to reflect on my Camino journey. And while I didn’t have my “moment” I realized that didn’t need one. There wasn’t a moment to be had. I closed the chapter of my past and moved on long, long ago and I didn’t need any type of symbolic gesture to prove that I did. I reflected a lot on some past regrets and graciously came to terms with them (sort of) and accepted what I cannot change. But to my surprise, I found something that the Spirit of the Camino was much like the Spirit of Running.
Live in the Moment
Living in the moment is something that I want to do more of. It seems the only time I really do live in the moment are during races and the occasional group run with my tribe. Any other time, I’m thinking about what’s next, what does the future hold, how could I have done something differently in my past. I need to learn to just be. Just be in the moment and not worry about what’s coming next. More importantly, I need to find a work life balance, or at least get better at it. I spent the better part of my 20’s and 30’s working 10-16 hour days non-stop including weekends, and often times more. The best years of my life were spent in an office and while I’ve changed that over the past few years, I’ve decided to even push it further. Perhaps one day I’ll even sell or dissolve my company and just for a regular ol’ 9-5. What’s it like working only 8 hrs in a day? I have no idea. Tell me.
Welcome Each Day – Its Pleasures and Its Challenges
Much like running, each day on the Camino was different. One day there were tears, the next laughter, the day after utter silence. And Michele and I embraced each day and learned how to work together as a team to overcome some of the challenges we faced. As a runner, I have learned to accept and embrace the fact that you have no idea how your run or race is going to go. As with life, you can’t predict the start, middle, or end – you just have to adapt to each moment and keep moving forward. This acceptance has helped me in other aspects of my life. And the best part of it – now matter how shitty the run or how shitty the day, you learn from it and you grow. And when it’s great and wonderful, you are grateful for the gift of living and breathing.
Make Others Feel Welcome
We spent the first few days of the Camino with little interaction with the Pilgrims. However, everyone we met along the way before we started to collide with pilgrims were very welcoming. And when we finally met others like us, just as it was with finding my tribe in running, we found our tribe on the Camino. There were a particular few that we ended up befriending and sharing some meals and drinks together. They truly felt like our Camino family. We met a mother and daughter team from Germany, a few Canadians, a couple from Australia and quite a few more. I have to admit, Michele and I said in the beginning that we were happy we didn’t have the opportunity to socialize with other pilgrims. And perhaps the Camino knew that we needed time to adjust to each other, adjust to our environment, and let go of the fear of having to include others in our conversations. When the time was right, the Camino put us on the path with our tribe. And just as it was with running, you just know when you meet your own. When a new runner joins a group, there are no awkward introductions or getting to know you periods. There’s just the look of “hey…you run trails…we run trails…we’re family!” It was the same on the Camino. “You Camino? I Camino! WE ALL CAMINO!”
Sharing on the Camino was essential. Michele and I borrowed each other’s stuff throughout our trip. And when it was time to eat, we would also share our meals with our fellow pilgrims. In running, we do the same thing. If your running partner needs fuel or water, you share. Need an extra shirt, you share. It’s just how it’s done. Wish the world could learn a thing or two about sharing. It would be a much better place to live in.
Feel the Spirit of Those Who Have Gone Before You
As we walked the Camino and I looked at the markers, I often wondered how many others passed through. I enjoyed seeing the rocks or flowers that those who have gone before me had left on trail markers, and I left a few of my own along the way. I would think, what was their story? Why were they on the Camino? When I compare this to running, I don’t look in the near past. Instead, I think of our ancestors and how running was a necessity. I sometimes feel their spirit as I pass by the trees and wonder if they ever took the time to enjoy their surroundings as much as I do.
Imagine Those Who Will Follow You
As I shared my Camino journey publicly, I wondered how many would follow and what their experiences would be like. Would they arrive at the Compestella disheartened like I did, or will they find a different path and different meaning? When it comes to running, the moment I introduce a new runner to the trails, it excites me. I see their eyes widen and their smile get bigger as they learn the ways of the trail. I see life being reborn inside of them and wonder if they realize that the moment they stepped foot on the trails, they’re lives had forever changed. And when someone tells me that they have just started running, I smile.
Appreciate Those Who Walk With You Today
When you spend 14 solid days and nights with someone, you get to learn a lot about them and about yourself. There were many moments in the beginning of our journey where Michele and I were butting heads. If fact, within the first 8 hours of our hike, we were already annoyed with each other and not in agreement with decisions we needed to make. It took a lot of compromise and patience from the both of us to get us through. Later down the road when she injured her IT band, we discussed how we would continue on. I had it set in my heart that I was walking the entire trail with or without Michele. Then it hit me, what would that accomplish? She needed me and I was going to send her on a train to the next stop just so that I can stick to a goal I had set for myself and needed to do to help keep with my training schedule. I never thought I was a selfish person, but in that moment when I was struggling internally, I realized that the world does not revolve around my goals (I know…I thought it did too). But I learned that in this world, while it’s great to be able to do everything on your own, it is essential to have someone in your life that you can trust and count on. As with running, solo runs are great, but running with your tribe can be just as enriching. Life is better with friends.
If you ever decide to walk the Camino, take this to heart. Just like running the trails, the Camino will reveal the answers you need to know and they may not the be answers you are looking for. You must go into this journey with an open mind and an open heart. You will only see things you were meant to see but you must be open to it. Again, like trail running, the Camino is not for everyone. You will know within the first few days if this journey is for you, but it is something that I recommend doing to anyone who is looking to explore new places, meet some incredible people, and perhaps find answers to questions that you didn’t know you had.