In early October, my fiancé and I landed back in Toronto, having just completed our very first long-distance hike together.
Neither of us are avid hikers by any means, but I’d learned about the Camino de Santiago, a vast network of pilgrim trails winding across western Europe, from a movie called The Way a few years ago.
And something about that movie just pulled me in.
By the time it ended, I had silently committed to walking a section of this famous trail. I didn’t know when or if I could even do it. All I knew was that for some reason, I desperately wanted to.
It wasn’t hard to convince my partner that this would be an epic adventure, and a few years later (mainly thanks to Covid), we were taking off, finally en route to Portugal. We’d be starting our walk in Porto and would end up in the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela almost two weeks and nearly 285km later.
I was almost positive that we would both enjoy this experience
We both love to travel and frequently go for walks around the town where we live. Anytime we’re camping or off on a day trip somewhere, a hike of some sort isn’t unusual for us. We both enjoy being in nature, and walking a new trail is one of the ways we like to explore a new place.
Neither of us are what you might call experienced hikers. We didn’t have any of the proper gear or clothing prior to this trip, so we spent some time researching different options and wandering through outdoor sports stores gathering recommendations.
As we’d never done a trip like this before, we didn’t know what to expect or what we were really getting ourselves into. But in a way, that was part of the fun! We were preparing for an unknown adventure, praying that we were going to love it as much as we thought we would.
Luckily, that did turn out to be the case!
I’m convinced others would benefit from this hike too
We did experience a few moments of frustration along the way, of course, as well as the tiredness and tender feet you might expect. But overall, it was an experience we both loved, and it left us wanting to venture out on another trail as soon as possible.
Despite the hard parts and the moments where I really just wanted to lie down, curl up in a ball, and cry a bit (don’t worry — these moments were rare!), this experience made me feel alive. It taught me things about myself, and gave me time to reflect on my life.
But these aren’t the only reasons why I think more people could benefit from hiking a section of the Camino.
If you aren’t convinced yet, keep reading!
1. It’s peaceful and freeing
I’ve never spent so many hours per day just walking. But on the trail, there was nothing to do but walk, and nothing to worry about. My only job was to take in all the sights we were passing, and this realization was so freeing.
Thoughts would come in about things I needed to do or take care of back home, but there was nothing I could do about it then. Rather than being stressful, this gave me the opportunity to practice acceptance and letting go. It also brought me back to the present moment, which is all I had from moment to moment along this journey.
Once my mind settled in and I got into a rhythm each day, each step became like a meditation. It was just me, my boots, my backpack, and the sounds of nature all around me.
I loved the fact that each day was a blank slate and wide open. We had a general sense of what town we were heading to and an approximate distance (though this didn’t always turn out to be right), but that was about it!
What we did between point A and point B was entirely up to us, which relieved any pressure and sense of urgency. We could take our time, stop as often as we wanted, and explore as much or as little of the new town we were staying in each night as we wanted. I loved everything about this.
2. It allows you the opportunity to face your fears
I definitely had doubts about whether I was crazy for wanting to do this hike before setting off.
I was determined to finish it, but I wasn’t sure how difficult it would be. I was praying I wouldn’t get blisters or rashes from my backpack. (I had terrible visions of all Reese Witherspoon’s character went through in the movie Wild firmly planted in my mind.) I hoped I wouldn’t have to endure the same aches and loss of toenails.
About partway through the very first day of walking, shooting pains in my right foot had me worried. They were so bad that I was limping towards the nearest bench, fearing the worst. I didn’t know what was wrong or what I’d done. All I knew was that I wasn’t going to be able to walk the next 270km like this.
I threw my backpack down and took off my boots and socks, frozen with fear.
This is what I had been afraid of.
Was it really happening? Was it already over for me before it even began? Thoughts of injury and failure danced through my head.
At that point, though, I didn’t have much of a choice but to try again. We had no car, nowhere to go, and nothing but our packs for company. From what I could see, we were far from a hospital, a doctor, or really much of anything.
So, I adjusted my boots, tied the laces up differently, relieving some of the pressure on the top of my foot — and voila! No more problems!
Sometimes our own imaginations make things much worse than they really are.
3. It’s fulfilling and feels like a huge accomplishment each day
By the time I plunked down on my bed each night, I was usually exhausted.
The combination of carrying more than 20 pounds all day, walking an average of 25km every day, and the constant exposure to new sensory input was enough to knock me out!
Most days, we were walking 6–8 hours in total, and I felt it by the time we reached our next guesthouse or hostel. But along with the aches of my body and the tenderness of the soles of my feet came a sense of accomplishment and pride.
Even though all we’d done that day was eat, drink, and walk, it somehow felt like we’d achieved an unbelievable feat. Every day felt like we’d successfully run another marathon, and each day our confidence grew along with our satisfaction.
Walking the Camino is an incredible full-body workout, but more than that, it creates a deep sense of fulfillment in your soul. I was motivated each day by the accomplishments of yesterday.
Part of me couldn’t believe that I was actually doing this thing, following through on that crazy idea I’d gotten years before. The other part of me didn’t want to stop! It felt so good to spend so much time outside in nature, and in silence. My body was moving, I was breathing in fresh air, and I was present for all of it. I felt truly alive.
If you haven’t already gathered as much, I have absolutely no regrets about my Camino trip, nor about the route we chose (the Camino Portugues).
If you’ve been on the fence about the Camino de Santiago, or you’re not sure whether you can do it or not, I say go. In my experience, your fears hardly ever represent reality. You’re capable of a lot more than you think you are. Don’t sell yourself short and miss out on all you have to gain from an experience like this!
My partner and I are already talking about which route we want to do next.