How did I end up on the Camino? I guess I should give a little background.
I’m at a point in my life where I don’t know what I’m doing, or where I’m going. I have been thinking about various options, but nothing really feels right. I have a bachelors, but I want to go back to school for something more. Since I’m turning 37 this year, I’d like to be able to pick something and say, “yes, THIS is what I want to do,” because going back to school now is going to be hard if I’m not totally committed and excited about it. The problem is, I have no idea what I want to do. So for the last year and a half, I’ve been thinking, and praying, and trying to figure out what to do. Nothing has felt right so far.
Sometime near the end of March, I was probably lamenting on Facebook that I didn’t know what to do with my life, and my friend Rebecca said, “have you ever thought about doing the Camino de Santiago?” I had no idea what that was, so I looked it up. A 500 mile trek across northern Spain? That sounds interesting… Then she recommended that I watch the movie “The Way” with Martin Sheen, and I watched it, and couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had that moment where I realized that this was something I wanted to do, and I also felt called to do it.
The past few years have been a very difficult time for me. I went through a time where I was seeking direction and answers in my life, and I wasn’t getting any. Things spiraled from there into feeling like God didn’t really care about what happened in my life, and I wasn’t able to feel His love and comfort that things would be ok, as I had in the past. I’ve heard time and time again in church that Heavenly Father will always be there for you during your trials. But what do you do when your trial is that the heavens really are silent? For the first time in a long time I felt like this was something I was supposed to do. So even though I’m not Catholic, I still feel like it will be a religious pilgrimage for me. I’m really looking forward to getting away from things here and trying to get more in touch with myself and what God wants for me.
I hope that this will be life changing, because I need a change. I’m hoping I’ll be able to figure out what to do next before I get back. I know that this is what I’m supposed to be doing at this time, but I hope it’s more than just that. You never know where life will take you, or how things can suddenly change. I’d never even heard of the Camino 6 months ago. There is no way I could have pictured anything like this happening, and there’s no way of knowing where it will lead.
My life changed 10 years ago. I’d been dealing with fatigue through my college years and I got more tired as time went on. When I started Grad school in Fall of 2004, my body just gave out on me. I was exhausted all of the time, and crying all of the time, because I was so tired. Blood tests came back saying that everything was “normal”, but I knew I couldn’t continue in school. My near photographic memory was completely gone. I was having trouble focusing on regular conversations, let alone class. I would have to ask people to repeat themselves, and I still wouldn’t be able to focus on what they were saying. Long story short, I tried going back to work for a while, but that didn’t work either, because whatever was wrong, it wasn’t just stress. I moved back in with my parents in June of 2005, and I slept. So while all of my friends were starting their lives, I was stuck in bed, and didn’t know what was wrong with me.
I would wake up and feel awful. I was like a battery that couldn’t keep a charge. If I wasn’t doing anything, eventually I’d feel almost ok, but if I got up to walk down the hall, any energy I thought I had was completely gone. I was sleeping 12 hours a night, and napped 3-4 hours every day after lunch. We kept thinking that eventually I would wake up one day and feel better. That never happened. I was basically in bed for 4 years. Then, some conversations with some people made me start to think that maybe there was something wrong with my diet.
I didn’t think it could really be true, though, because I felt so awful, and the doctors had run every blood test they could think of, and it couldn’t possibly be something so simple as what I was eating. So I decided to stop eating gluten and see if I felt better. I also decided to do the Master Cleanse, which is a drink of maple syrup, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper, and all the water you want. What happened next was amazing. It literally felt like a miracle. The first day I had a bit of a headache, but my brain fog started to clear. The next day I felt pretty good, and I actually went outside and walked a mile. On day 3, I walked 3 miles, and I couldn’t stop smiling the whole time. I walked 3-4 miles every day after that for the next 6 weeks (until I injured myself). By the second day, it was obvious that I was feeling better. I wasn’t eating (almost) at all, and I felt better than I had in years, so that should tell you something. I started eating regular food again, but just not gluten, and I was fine. It took a few years to gain all of my stamina back, but I was fine, and better than fine. I also had the intestinal issues that are similar to Celiac, but I’d had them my whole life and thought it was normal. After getting off the gluten, that all went away, and I discovered what normal really was! I went back to the doctor and he did the Celiac blood test. It came back negative, but it didn’t really matter. It was obvious that gluten, or something else about wheat, was causing me serious problems, and I was ok if I just didn’t eat it.
So, in the Spring of 2009, I got my life back. I was so incredibly grateful to have another chance at life, because at 27, I’d thought my life was over; I was never going to get better and there was no way I could ever work or support myself. Life was filled with joy for just being able to get out of bed. And I walked. I walked because I enjoyed being able to walk, and it felt so good. I trained for my first marathon in 2012, and it was an amazing experience. I was going to do another marathon this year, and I had already signed up for it, when Rebecca said, “have you ever thought about doing the Camino de Santiago?”
So I started researching. The first question was obvious. Would I be able to even do it, having to be gluten free? Europe is better about the US when it comes to gluten, but I came across something truly intriguing. Someone on the Camino forum mentioned that she is from Canada and is gluten intolerant. She can’t eat any wheat products in Canada or the US, but in Spain she could eat all the bread she wanted. What?!? Well, that would be interesting. Her supposition is that it’s not actually the gluten, it has something do with what they spray on the wheat. Since my Celiac test came back negative, I’ve wondered if it had to do with something else about the wheat, or possibly a GMO problem. So I hate to say it, and it’s probably seriously irresponsible of me, but I’m counting on being able to eat the bread in France and Spain. If I can’t, I will survive, but I will be severely disappointed. I will find out soon enough.
As I searched more about the Camino, I discovered that it’s more than just the French Way, which is the one they do in the movie, but there are many different caminos and different paths you can take. So in looking at the different routes, I became enamored with the images from the Le Puy Route through France, and it adds another 500 miles. “Well,” I thought, “I already have to quit my job to do this, and I’m already walking 500 miles, what’s another month or so and another 500 miles? Might as well!” It makes me think of one of the sayings of my college roommate. “Why park close when you can park far away?” And the idea of walking 1000 miles, especially after all that I’ve been through, just feels like a fitting personal journey.
I’ve always wanted to do something like this. Picking up a pack and just walking, to see how far you could go, and the next day, do it again. Walking around in circles in your neighborhood just isn’t the same. The Camino is awesome because it’s a really long day hike. You don’t have to carry a tent or sleep in one, unless you really want to. You can sleep in a bed every night, and take showers, and you don’t even have to cook if you don’t want to. You can just walk, and walking is so theraputic.