Trying to survive a dreary and bitterly cold January in Chicago, I’ve started to have ever more fond thoughts about the Camino. While walking, we heard, with a certain amount of incredulity, about so many people who walked the same Camino (Frances) many times. One pilgrim walked it 17 times! Who has the desire or the time or the energy to walk a 490-mile trail 17 times? Despite the fact that we were enjoying our stroll along northern Spain—and loving the easy camaraderie of those who were walking with us—we could not fathom walking it again. Ever.
We talked about this with others. Would you consider walking this again? Most said no, initially. It’s a lot of fun, great exercise, and an ingenious and relatively cheap way to travel (once you factor out the plane ride that got us to a remote part of Europe). But the objective that drew a good many of us was the task of doing something difficult, the sense of accomplishment at having completed such an arduous task (490 miles of walking!). Yes, being able to say, “We did it!” Once having completed it, it doesn’t seem so much fun to repeat for the dubious pleasure of saying, “We did it again!” (Follows the law of diminishing returns, right?)
In the middle of the Camino, Will and I had a chat with two of our favorite people we met on the trail—Don and Sally, a lovely, recently retired couple from Colorado. We four had discussed a couple of weeks earlier the quite absurd notion that anyone would want to do this a second time. Yet, on further reflection a couple of weeks later, they seemed to have changed their minds. Sally said that she understood why Will and I (and people our age) might not want to return, but she thought that perhaps she and Don would want to do this again.
Interested in the change of heart, I pressed Sally to identify what shifted in her attitude. She wondered—in the middle of the time they allotted for the trip—whether or not they would be able to complete the pilgrimage after all. If they were not able to, they wanted to come back to finish the trip. Yet, more certain that Will and I would be able to reach our destination, and us being younger—the implication also being that we had better things to be doing—she understood that we might not have the same yearning. (As a side note, I should say that they did indeed complete the Camino in excellent time, and we met up with them in Santiago to celebrate.)
Last month, the adult son of one of my colleagues returned from walking a week of the Camino (to Logrono), and Will and I met with him to talk about our experiences. It was nice to be able to talk, back in the states, about this adventure we enjoyed abroad. When you are on the trail, everyone experiences the same exhilaration and dismay, the same hunger for a tortilla Espanola at 10:00 am and the too-frequent need to stop at a “bar” for a café con leche as an excuse to use the “servicios” (yes, that’s the toilet). We all know what brand of hot chocolate we’re likely to find (in a packet, served with steamed milk) and how excellent every single orange is along the route. It’s like we’re speaking the same language.
Towards the end of our adventure, we met three young single women. When asked why they chose to walk, one of them replied that she is essentially looking for someone, a relationship. The other two women seemed to want to disown this communal motive for the trip but didn’t know quite how to contradict their friend. While we were also a bit surprised at her frankness on their behalf, it had to be admitted that there was quite a lot of romance on the trail. Whether these romances end up being temporary or longer term, I could see the attraction of finding someone who speaks that same—Camino—language because it’s difficult to “return to the real world” when you’ve been dream-walking on the Camino for too long.
So, it comes to this. You might remember that Will and I opted to skip the first three days of the path (from St. Jean Pied-de-Port to Pamplona) because we didn’t want to risk re-injuring Will’s knee so soon after his meniscus surgery. Well, Will wants us to return to Europe this summer so that we can walk the portion we missed. We’ll see if the complicated logistics of reaching this remote region for three days of walking will derail us. Or, if the desire to get back on the trail—unthinkable seven months ago!—will somehow manage to get us to the French Pyrenees…