I live in the Pacific Northwest, where it rains. And I mean...a lot. Most of the time, that suits me just fine. In fact, I relocated here from drought- and fire-ravaged California precisely because it does rain. But sometimes the rain gets to be a bit much. As in the dead of winter, when the grey wet days are ceaseless, and the idea of pulling on your still-soggy sneakers to go outside for a run is the absolute last thing in the world you want to do. During these dark winter months, it is easy to fall into a motivational sinkhole. To come up with the thousand-and-one, self-pitying reasons it’s just too damn hard to exercise. And the times when you actually do force yourself to go out? Well frankly, it’s just not that fun.
When I hiked The Camino in April of 2016, Spain was enduring a period of flooding so severe that many parts of The Camino were completely underwater. In some cases forcing diversions over busy highways, where single lines of waterlogged Pilgrims could be seen hugging the verge as lorries, weaving and bobbing unsteadily, whizzed by.
These were good days, but not easy ones--certainly much more challenging than a quick 30-minute run in the Seattle "mist." They were long, (often 18+ miles) arduous and self-questioning days. (As in: why the heck am I doing this?) Days of steady driving rain, high winds, freezing sleet and hail. Punishing days spent wading, hours-on-end, through shoe-sucking mud. Days that earned you blisters so painful you couldn’t fathom walking down to breakfast the next morning--never mind logging another 20 miles out on the trail.
But you did walk down to breakfast, and after that, you continued walking, following the scallop shell signposts through the village and back onto The Camino, where you rejoined your fellow Pilgrims. And you did this not only because you had to, but because--in spite of aching feet and throbbing joints--you wanted to.
And you wanted to because from the moment you take your first step onto The Camino, you are initiated into a unique and remarkable community of people who share a simple, but very particular goal: to get to Santiago. People whose names you’ll never know, but who lighten your load with an extended hand, a smile, a few words. People in whose footsteps you follow, just as you do the centuries of Pilgrims who came before you. And as surely as each of you etch your physical footprint into the stone of the ancient Roman byways, you leave a spiritual mark that becomes part of a transcendent collective--the magic of which buoys you as you make your way-- sometimes struggling, sometimes enraptured--to Santiago.