It’s been over two months since I finished my winter pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago. I left Spain feeling as if I didn’t have any major revelations on this hike. After all, I’ve done a couple thru-hikes previously in addition to lots of multi-week hikes. What more did any trail have left to teach me?
I’ve had time to think about it and although it may not have been what I expected, I do think every hike I’ve done has provided me with new things to ponder.
Additionally, I want to give a big thank you to Granite Gear for giving me a backpack to use on my Camino. I carried my Crown2 60 Liter Pack for 500 miles while I pondered these things we’re about to get into.
Reflections from a Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage
My Reasons for Hiking Have Evolved
I wrote in a previous blog post about feeling anti-climactic as I finished my walk in Santiago de Compostela. My friends who were experiencing long-distance hiking for the first time talked about what a life changing experience it was for them. Upon arrival in Santiago, they were filled with so much emotion and joy at completing their journey. I could see the spark in their eyes and tell that they were thirsty for more adventure.
And then there was me. I didn’t have much emotion to spare and could only think to shrug my shoulders and appreciate that one more trail was checked off my list.
I could recognize the glowing pride of my Camino friends because I too have experienced such feelings… years ago on the Appalachian Trail.
If I’m not getting the same empowerment from hiking anymore, then why am I out here? Perhaps I’m trying to find something else.
Having Daily Purpose
Not going to lie, I’m not handling my late-twenties with anything that might resemble grace. Maybe some of you can relate to this, as I’m sure every decade of life comes with it’s own puzzle pieces of uncertainties. In this phase of life, I’m just sort of bouncing around and trying to figure out what it might look like to have any sort of permanent structure.
Like, I haven’t signed an apartment lease since 2015. I usually am either traveling, living in my car, or moving into houses that are in need of someone filling a room without any paperwork involved. I’m not really sure what my future career might look like. Minus a few cool jobs, my resume is really just a list of things I don’t want to do again. And I usually set metaphorical fire to my romantic relationships before they’ve found much footing.
But then I go to the Camino (or any other trail I’ve hiked), and suddenly there is a purpose to what I’m doing. I have an unwavering goal that I’m walking toward. The end of the Camino is the end of the Camino; there’s no debate. Either I make it and succeed or I quit and fail. It’s not up to interpretation.
This overarching purpose of reaching Santiago de Compostela is broken up into little daily purposes of reaching my next destination. I know when I wake up in the morning that I will be packing up all of my possessions, finding the nearest cafe con leche, and making my way across the Spanish countryside. At nighttime I’ll have a hot shower and a big meal, feeling that I fully deserve to relax because I did my best that day.
During such an ever-changing, never settling phase of life it’s nice to have a definitive, unwavering purpose even if it’s only for a brief period of time.
It’s Not About Finishing
I know I just had a lot to say about how finishing the Camino equals success and quitting equals failure. I do tend to contradict myself quite a bit, as I’m about to now. My Camino pilgrimage was never about reaching Santiago de Compostela. The trail could end in a corn field for all I care and I would still hike it.
My Camino was about the act of walking the Camino. It was important to me to continually put one foot in front of the other and walk the entire 500 miles.
For those religious pilgrims out there, it’s said that doing a Camino absolves you of all your previous sins. I’m not necessary too concerned with where I’m going to spend eternity, but I often took the view that I was paying my respects to the universe with the hopes of cleaning my slate. However, I don’t think the universe is in the business of absolving individual slates. I think I have to grant myself permission to be free of past burdens.
I could have saved myself a lot of time and taken a bus to Santiago, but then the journey wouldn’t have meant anything.
Reserve Judgements of Others
This seems to be a lesson that I will have to learn over and over again for the rest of my life. Why is it every time someone is annoying me endlessly I all of a sudden begin to see the good in them and we wind up being friends? Perhaps I’m a judgmental asshole and don’t give people the benefit of the doubt at first.
The Camino de Santiago, or any long-distance hike really, provides ample opportunity to compare yourself to others. Hiking breaks you down and brings out insecurities you didn’t know you had. Does so-and-so hike faster than me? Holy crap, they hiked 10 km more than me today. Am I the only one in so much pain? Why am I struggling more than everyone else?
This also leads to the urge to pass judgement upon those who are doing things differently. It’s only natural that this insecure internal dialogue makes you crave validation in the form of feeling superior to others. That person took a bus and skipped 20 km, I would never do that. Well, I started in St. Jean and that other group only started in Pamplona, I’m doing more than them. And so on, and so on, until you start saying these things out loud to other pilgrims in search of someone who will talk trash with you.
When I did my Camino, there were a few girls who often took buses or taxis to skip chunks of trail. Other pilgrims would scoff at the perceived laziness of this tactic. But who cares, really? If it doesn’t affect you individually than why think negatively of someone who is doing what they want.
Your Camino is yours and yours alone. Make your own rules for yourself, but don’t think other people need to follow them too.
Embrace the Struggles
I’m at that point in my thru-hiking career that I’m not so cocky I think every hike is going to be easy, but I also tend to underestimate the struggles I may face.
Every long-distance hike is difficult in its own way. Period. It doesn’t matter that I have about 5,000 miles under my trail runners. There are still hard times to be faced.
I thought the Camino would be flat, easy to navigate, and I would have a cushy life of pilgrim dinners and albergue accommodations. Those things are all true to some degree, but it’s not the entire picture. I didn’t account for what could go wrong.
Like, I almost never get blisters from hiking, but the Camino is generally flat so my feet would rub in the same places constantly. I got so many blisters. Much of the path is pavement, and as a result my feet would get terribly sore from walking on hard surfaces all day. At the worst, it would sometimes feel like little needles were stabbing my feet with every step.
Or that I really don’t understand Spanish very well or any language beyond English. Sometimes I felt stupid when I couldn’t easily join in the conversations or switch between multiple languages like everyone else seemed to be able to do.
It’s not possible for any hike to be easy. Some of my most pinnacle hiking moments of the past involved me sitting on the side of a mountain somewhere crying my eyes out.
The struggles and discomforts are going to be there regardless of if you fight against them or not. You may as well embrace the struggles of the Camino de Santiago.
Granite Gear Crown2
With every struggle I’ve had on my Camino pilgrimage, my Granite Gear backpack was there with me. It’s gotten carelessly thrown on the ground, kicked out of frustration, endured every rainstorm, and been my reliable pack to store my gear and keep it dry.
Thank you Granite Gear for giving me the Crown2 to bring along on the Camino. I’ve been using their backpacks for years, hence why I reached out to them to see if we could collaborate on my travels. All opinions are my own.
Click here to read my review of the original Granite Gear Crown. While some features have been improved, I still think that review gives an accurate depiction of what you can expect from the newer model.
Have you guys experienced any major revelations from the Camino or any other trail? Is any of this relatable or have I lost my mind?
Be sure to read my Ultimate Guide to a Winter Camino if this sounds like a struggle you might want to put yourself through.