Is it a feeling? I guess you could say so. But I am not exactly sure that captures it.
So Close, Just A Few Steps More
I could barely breathe as I hauled up the final 8 steps to the front gate. My shoulders and hips were aching from the straps of my pack and I could feel pools of sweat forming everywhere. The final “ascent” was brutal. Is this what it feels like to climb Mt Everest?! My calves were burning, and I contemplated throwing my things down in front of my feet and settling in right there on the broken-down pavement.
I stared (because at this point, I don’t even think blinking was something I had enough energy for) at the cracked street. “I know how you feel”, I thought or maybe I muttered out loud. It was a shameful street and not only was it cracked it was beaten down with garbage. To be honest this was probably a more appropriate place for my dirty self to reside than the four-star hotel I was eyeing just a few steps away.
I made it.
Barely able to make eye contact with the extremely well kempt concierge, I hurried through the check-in process and stumbled into my room.
It was humid and my shoes smelled foul. I stretched across the bed while I waited for the bath to fill with water. The air thickened with steam and I had zero energy to mind it at all.
It is unreal how revitalizing a bath can be to both the body and the mind. I emptied the tub, wrapped myself up in an overly starched towel, and passed out on the bed.
No dinner, no bedding turndown. I was craving sleep and that was sure to come the moment my head hit the pillow.
Some Contextual Background
Now that I’ve gotten a full day’s worth of sleep and a handful of meals…I am feeling a bit less dramatic.
No, I didn’t summit a generous mountain. And no, I was not wondering lost for some indefinite period. I was walking the El Camino De Santiago – a voyage that many take in search of solitude, faith, religion, or perhaps just a much needed mental reset.
When I signed onto this pilgrimage, I didn’t put much thought into it in advance, and well that was evident in the many blisters bubbling on my feet. I hadn’t done much research at all. I knew that there were many different routes and that the less weight I carried the better.
I knew we would be walking hundreds of miles and with an “athletic” background, my two best friends and myself were fairly confident in our ability to just go for it……
Starting on The Right Foot, Then the Left
It was mid-November when we finally got going. Some unexpected disturbances postponed the start date and so it was much colder than we initially anticipated. For this, we made a slight adjustment to our route and opted for a slightly warmer option which started us out in Portugal.
So, something we hadn’t planned for was it being the off-season many albergues (Camino Pilgrim Hostels) were closed. This loosely translated into us walking x number of miles further than intended.
What would start as a 9-miler would soon turn into a 17-miler. Or what we thought would be 11 miles became 26 miles. This coupled with rolling hills paved with uneven cobblestone plus the pressure of our backpacks aided in the forming of our many, many blisters.
It was day 5 and mile 92 (or mile 26 of the day) and our sweaty, aching, smelly, exhausted bodies dragged on. We promised ourselves miles ago that the first place that presented itself with a bed is where we were going to sleep. While there were three of us taking this trip together, our paces left us to walk along the trail alone. Each of us filling our earbuds with music, a worthy distraction from the pain of our swollen, blistering feet.
I was the first one to spot the hotel and while it taunted us from a hilltop, it held promise and hope. It marked a finish to the longest day of my life.
Or perhaps it was this moment that was the start of the next chapter of my life.
The After-Math Aka A Hindsight “A-Ha!”
Is it a feeling? I guess you could say so. But I am not exactly sure that captures it. The El Camino de Santiago was the first step I took into the spirit of the outdoors. Growing up my parents took us camping and into the wilderness, but it wasn’t something I embraced on my own.
I liked to travel. I studied abroad, backpacked all over Europe, lived overseas, and explored city life plenty in my early adult years, but I wasn’t much of a hiker or backpacker so to speak.
It wasn’t until I laid raw, sore, and depleted on that hotel bed that I found a deep, compelling love for unplugging from my life and stepping into an unknown wild.
The El Camino ignited a passion for exploring the world via foot. What began as a walk has since turned into a love for running, hiking, backpacking – and of course walking.
The routine might always look the same (put on shoes, pop in music, and walk out the door) but where my mind and body go is always different. Each time I step out, I return home feeling a little bit more whole.
For me, it is more than a feeling. It is a connection to my surroundings. It is a mental reset. An experience. There’s just no way for me to fairly articulate here what the outdoors has come to mean to me, but I know without it – I surely wouldn’t be the same.
Photography and post shared by Joanna Flug-Entin