In the spring of 2013 I decided that I wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago 800 km route from St Jean de Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela (the Camino Frances route) in celebration of my 60th birthday. Marta agreed to walk with me and we spent a year training, planning and dreaming about the trip and kept our focus on achieving this challenging goal. Below are some of the lessons learned on this journey. Marta and I left for France on May 16, arrived in St Jean Pied de Port on May 19, and started walking the Camino on May 20. For the 39 days that we spent on our Camino trip we walked for 35 and had 4 non-walking days:
1) May 19-Arrived in St Jean de Pied de Port, got our first stamp in our passport
2) June 1 -Rest day in Burgos
3) June 11- Rest day in Leon
4) June 26- Santiago, pilgrim mass and tourist day
We completed our 800 km walk in Santiago on Wed June 25. We were in good health, injury-free, proud to have reached our goal and were ready to spend some tourist time in Santiago and Paris. We returned home on June 29th.
I have been home for a week now and feel restless. I miss the “pilgrim” lifestyle where you walk to a new location every day, meeting new and familiar faces on the trails, and where your main responsibilities are:
1) Walking from Point A to Point B by following the yellow Camino arrow markers
2) Deciding where to stop for lunch
3) Finding your new lodgings
4) Deciding where to have cervezas
5) Choosing which pictures to post to Facebook
6) Deciding where to have dinner
7) Plan your route for the next day
There were physical and mental challenges along the way but we successfully kept to our itinerary and managed to arrive on time at every location we planned (36 in total). There are 10 main success factors that ensured the Camino goals were accomplished injury-free and on time. I will discuss these in details over the next several blog posts. The success factors are:
1. My training plan (one year total) was rigorous enough to ensure a fitness level that enabled me to sustain the 35 day and 800 km distance across all terrains.
2. Allow at least 6 months for breaking in your hiking boots and finding the perfect hiking sock combinations. This helped enable good foot health for the entire trip.
3. My hiking poles kept me injury and accident free across the many terrains that I walked. I was especially grateful for the support on the long descents on mountain passes.
4. I walked with a partner who shared a similar pace and fitness level ensuring we kept each other paced, motivated and on plan. Plus those daily cerveza sessions where we planned our next day and posted our pictures and experiences are more fun shared.
5. I developed a Camino yoga practice that we completed twice each day; before and after we walked. We had limited muscle or joint soreness and kept injury free the entire trip. We included toe and foot articulation exercises.
6. We had 2 rest days; one in Burgos and one in Leon. This allowed our bodies some recovery time and a full day to enjoy the sights. Good for both the body and mind.
7. Pre-booking our lodgings with Mac Adventure ensured we focused on enjoying our walk and were not distracted by worrying about where we would stay that day. Knowing how far you would be walking and where you would be staying each day was reassuring especially in bad weather conditions.
8. Good Rain Gear. We had some very nasty weather early in our trip and having good rain gear (poncho, boots, socks, poles etc.) ensured our packs stayed dry, our core body stayed warm, and our feet blister free.
9. Good route planning each day. We used a “cheat sheet” each day that would list:
a. All key landmarks, stopping points, option/crossroads and their distances
b. Where we would stop for coffee, lunch
c. Map to our new lodgings
10. Ensure you are carrying the backpack weight that you trained with. We decided not to carry all our belongings; I carried around 9-10 kg in my backpack and that is the weight I trained with. We had the rest of our gear transported.
I spent a year training and planning for my Camino adventure. The hard work paid off and resulted in the trip of a lifetime which was enjoyed fully with just enough physical and planning challenges to keep it fun and not overwhelming.
Are you planning to walk the Camino? Or perhaps you have already taken the journey. I welcome your thoughts and feedback. You can reach me by phone or email or leave a comment right here on the site.