So today is August first (or it was), and the idea is that on September first I’m going to start walking across Spain till I see the bones of an Apostle and the end of the earth.
It’s a journey much has already been said about, and my own words on it came when recently I picked up Peter Jenkins’ A Walk Across America (I don’t get any money if you click that), which I read six summers ago with delight in Jackson Hole. I looked at the photos of him in the book: a young doofus with funny hair and a dog, livin’ that dirtbag life, not settling down, just walkin’ around.
I’ve been living in the same city for two solid years now and whenever I leave it I love it more when I return. But even with bills to pay and a skyline I know and, like, a career or whatever, I cannot muster a smidge of condescension for dirtbags like Jenkins, and the people who ditch the illusion of linear trajectories to do things many reserve for midlife crises.
We can recast the plight of the dirtbags with the words Thomas Merton has for St. Francis: it’s “having the grace and madness to throw away everything in one uncompromising rush, and to walk around barefooted in the simple confidence that if [he gets] into trouble, God will come and get [him] out of it.”
I had been mulling over taking a long walking trip for a long time. I thought about The Camino, but no, it’s a Catholic thing and you have issues with Catholics, and why do something so many other people have done already, and why go to Europe when you could do something more epic and interesting that would really make people think you’re the bomb, and why go on another trip when you already had a big one and you could be doing grown-up things with your money so you can one day afford to take the kinds of trips you actually want to take now while you’re strong and single and aching to—
Then at my grandmother’s memorial service, of all places, my ex, of all people, whispered, “You should do the Camino!” over garlic bread and memory-sharing. That made my eyes spin and my stomach twist and I said WHY, and he said because it was a very human experience and there are lots of hostels. So without effort on my part, that kicked the vague, spinny idea up into a plan. And the plan grew like a magic animal growing capsule (I don’t get money if you click that) and now I’m writing about it and saying no to September parties and jobs and strolling smugly through REI.
El Camino de Santiago de Compostela—the Way of St. James—is a pilgrimage you have probably heard of if you’ve heard of a pilgrimage. Thousands and thousands and thousands for over a thousand years have traveled from all over to Santiago de Compostela, and since I was born it’s only grown more popular. In 1991, 5010 men and 2249 women walked it, and last year, 144,070 men and 133,843 women, so statistically it’s never been less surprising for someone like me to do something like this.
There are a lot of books about the Camino. There are a lot of reasons for doing it and it frustrates me that most of them are already covered and that I haven’t found the thing that makes my trip unique. There are already a zillion Cheryl Strayeds of the Camino. Shirley MacLaine has a book about it (I don’t get money if you click that).
I think when I go and meet people, they’ll ask, “So, why the Camino?” My reasons are many and here are some, and some are original but most aren’t.
Well, of course, it is a pilgrimage, and I’m a woman of faith, and of course, this is a trip steeped in spirit and truth and religion and tradition. I want to engage a deep Catholic tradition (as a non-Catholic) alongside other people, and I want to see remains of the Apostle (even if they’re alleged, because it’s their profundity and not their carbon-dated authenticity I’m interested in), and I want to be steeped in the history of a place and a faith and be united with all the other walkers, and I want to experience the presence of God through the presence of people in the presence of life taken down to necessities: walking, sleeping, and eating.
And those three things are reasons too.
Walking, sleeping, and eating.
I don’t mean anything deep when I say I want to do that. I just want to thoroughly experience the physical sensations of walking, sleeping, and eating.
And it’s the walking that the Camino is of course most famous for. Over ten miles a day, for a month! People talk about the spiritual journey, but let’s remember: most of this trip is just walking. Walking, walking, walking, walking, walking. I’m interested in the monotony of it. I’m interested in the camaraderie that comes to a group that has chosen such monotony.
Well, I was going to keep trying to make money and bob my long hair. But now I’m adding more dreads and the tickets are booked and I have seen the Martin Sheen film The Way. If anyone bobs my hair, it will be a barber in Seville.