Everyone who starts the Camino has an idea of what they are willing to do and not do in order for them to view the Camino as a success. Some people plan to walk every single step of the Camino with a pack on their back. Some people have a strict deadline, so they plan on 2 days of rest as the guide book suggests. I, too, had my plan. I gave myself 4 days to rest and had no thoughts of doing anything other than carrying my pack every step of the way.
Day one my plan changed and I wasn’t happy about it. First off, let me tell you about day one of the Camino starting in St. Jean Pied de Port. It is an absolutely beautiful hike, but it also is absolutely difficult. The guide books say it is 25ish km (15 miles), but 20 km are straight up a mountain and the other 5 are straight down said mountain. In other words, the day is rough! This is day one too! No one is ready for that day, I don’t care how good of shape they are in, it is a tough day for almost everyone.
After about 8 hours of hiking up and down a mountain I sat down because I was feeling a bit odd. Almost as soon as I sat down I realized I had not managed my food and water intake very well and was about to pass out. I was walking with a British guy named James that day and he sat with me as I attempted to get back to normal. After the break and then another hour of walking we arrived at our destination…or so I thought. Sadly, once we got to Roncesvalles, we were told that there were no more beds there or in any town for another 12 km. Needless to say, we were frustrated. At that point we had two options: Walk 12 more km (3+ hours) or take a taxi. I did not have another 12 km in me, so a group of 6 of us got in a taxi and were driven to a place to stay.
One the way to our new destination we all talked about what the next day might look like. Would we take a taxi back to Roncesvalles so we could walk every step of the Camino, or would we just start our day from where the taxi dropped us off. It was a tougher decision than it sounds. The Camino is 786 km long. You plan for 786 km and not 774 km. The certificate you get at the end says 786 km, not 774 km. Taking a taxi is cheating. If you don’t walk it, you didn’t do it. That is what was running through my head, but in the end I decided to take the taxi and recognize that 12 km was 1.5% of the whole hike and missing out on that little wasn’t a big deal.
Fast forward about 3 weeks and I was having a major issue with my Achilles. Every step caused me pain. It wasn’t unexpected seeing as I had walked over 450 km (279 mi), but the pain was getting to be too much. There was no way that I would have been able to continue on for another 2 weeks at the pace I needed to have in order to catch my flight. I had to keep moving, but I also had to stop. Again, I was faced with the decision to continue walking and potentially end my journey in a hospital, or to take a train for 37 km to León where I had a hotel reservation and could properly rest for two days. I chose the latter and because of that rest I was able to continue on.
Towards the end of the Camino my friends and I all had a common saying. Whenever we discussed doing something that others might judge as not being Camino-like we would say, “This is our Camino.” Essentially it meant that we all needed to do things that allowed us to continue on. We could have made the decision to stop, but if we wanted to continue we needed to do certain things like sending our pack ahead to the next town when we were about to climb a mountain, or take a taxi because we physically couldn’t do more, or stay in a hotel because we wanted a good night’s sleep.
My Camino involved all of the above and yet I will always say that I completed the Camino, all 786 km. I just needed a little help at times (isn’t that always the truth) to finish strong. And what happened when I got to Santiago? I felt so good, I literally danced, but that story is for another day.