Finally, after two years of anticipation, I’m in the final hours of preparation for my pilgrim walk on the Camino de Santiago. I’m finding this process of preparation quite different from other long trips in three ways.
First, the gear is different. On other trips, I have certain travel clothes and equipment. I only have to worry that my luggage is compact and not so heavy that I can’t manage to walk up a flight (or several) of stairs.
Generally, the less I pack the more mobile I am, so I usually travel with a daypack and a sturdy mid-size roller bag. This gives me fair mobility with a little room to spare.
Not this trip. Everything I need for 10-plus weeks of mostly walking is on my back, including food and water for the day. Footwear matters. Raingear matters. Weight matters most of all. I’m trying to keep my packweight down to 15 pounds (6.8 kg). I think I’m close, but I still may have to jettison some stuff.
Second, the physical preparation is different. On other trips, I could just pack up and leave, expecting to acclimate to walking/climbing/altitude on the road. Most of us can manage a nice stroll in a new city right off the plane.
For the camino, I have to make 14 miles (23 km) the day I walk out the door of the cathedral in Seville. I’ve been working out for months with that in mind—mostly with weights and a mat in my little cabin. (This is where I plug my favorite workout program. Fitnessblender.com is a website with hundreds of free, no-nonsense workout videos for all levels and body parts. They’re done by a husband-and-wife team who are passionate and knowledgeable about fitness.)
Lately, I’ve been trying to clock actual foot-miles with my loaded pack. The weather hasn’t been cooperative nor has my knee, which for the first time ever has decided to act up. So my top day was a measly 7.5 miles (12 km).
Third, the spiritual preparation. This has taken on greater urgency as the trip approaches, what with Lent upon us, the political maelstrom, plus several intentions that I want to bring to Santiago, and also to Fatima, a famous Catholic shrine in Portugal that I’ll also visit. Somehow, this carrying of intentions is beginning to feel like a sacred honor, not to over-dramatize.
Over the centuries that pilgrims have walked this route, it has accrued symbols and rituals. Pilgrims carry scallop shells. There are pilgrim blessings and masses. Even special pilgrim meals (cheap and hearty). I hope to see the swinging of the Botafumeiro, the biggest censor in the world, at a pilgrim mass at the cathedral in Santiago.
The whole notion of pilgrimage feels meaningful: the walking every day toward a holy place. The discomfort and uncertainty. The challenge to accept what the journey brings. The testing, physically and spiritually. The admonition to trust that “the Camino provides.”
I’m not sure how this will all play out, but I’m eager to begin, and I’ll try to be an attentive student.
So, tomorrow I leave my house. Tuesday, I arrive in Spain. I’ll be a tourist for a few days in Barcelona, Madrid, and Granada before traveling to Seville where I get my first cello (stamp) in my credencial, and I will become a peregrino on March 30.