Why I Walk

Before my update, please allow me to start out with a huge “Thank You” to my blog friends and followers for your outpouring of love and support following the previous post about the loss of my Mom. I was moved to tears. My Mom lived a very reclusive life, and by the age of 93, all but a few nieces and nephews had preceded her in death. And as I get older, I find my own community shrinking, not so much from death, thankfully but rather from the nomadic lifestyle I have chosen over the past 10 years. So such warm and thoughtful condolences felt so supportive at a time when I needed it most. It was so very soothing to my frazzled soul.

So again, my heartfelt thanks to you all.

The first three months of the year were tough. Here alone on the farm, I made it my mission to deal with as many of my Mom’s personal effects as I could. As her only daughter, I felt like it was my responsibility to see that they were all “re-homed” in the order she expressed over her final days. It was unequivocally the hardest thing I have ever done. In the last years of my Mom’s life as she lost her mobility, I had become her “personal shopper.” From underwear, sleepwear, shoes and socks, clothes to skin care to personal hygiene, each item I disposed of was an item I had personally hand-selected for her according to her needs. This brought on a level of visceral pain, the likes I had never experienced. There was one thing keeping me going, though, my carrot at the end of a stick. One thing that helped me set some goals, stay focused, and have something to which I could look forward.

A walk…..a really LONG walk! I began making plans to walk the Camino de Santiago across northern Spain.

My favorite mural in Belado, Spain. It reminds me of the credo, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”

Each town or village seems to have their own sculpture of a pilgrim, this one in St Jean Pied-du-Port, France.

These two seem to depict the hurried pace seen from the eyes of a snail like me.

This sculture, seen in the Meseta, commemorates “Jacobeo 2004,” A Jacobean Holy Year a Catholic celebration that occurs in the years in which July 25, the Feast of Saint James, falls on a Sunday.

Some of them make me think of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. There were an uncanny number of parallels, from the yellow arrows, fields of poppies, and even Santiago’s resemblance to the Emerald City.

Since adolescence, I have been a lover of walking. There is something about the rhythmic motion of putting one foot in front of the other that gets my thoughts synchronistically moving in formation. It’s as if the movement of my feet acts as propulsion to turn the cogwheels in my brain…the more I walk, the deeper I think. This started when I was a pre-teen, walking the terraces of the farm where we grew up as kids. Behind my Dad’s tractor shed was a dirt road along fields of terraced crops where I could find solace in walking after school while brooding over the agony of adolescence. 😉

My love of walking has only intensified over the years. It’s why Manhattan was such a perfect fit for me during a major life change following my divorce…I walked everywhere! Thirty blocks from my apartment to my office, on all but the worst of weather days, I chose to walk rather than take public transportation. As John Muir said, “I only went out for a walk and … going out, I found, was really going in.”

Seeing as how Santiago is only a couple of days walk from the coast of Spain, pilgrims would often receive a scallop shell to commemorate their completion of the Camino de Santiago.

Pilgrims would adorn themselves with a scallop shell, either by attaching to their clothing or to the front flap of their hat to show they had completed the pilgrimage.

Modern day pilgrims only walk the Camino one way, so this tradition has evolved to pinning the scallop shell on one’s backpack at the start of the Camino rather than the finish.

This is my own scallop shell. The pin is from a quilt my grandmother made me. I found it recently while cleaning out an old cedar chest. She made one for each of her grandkids, pinning our names on them, mine attached with this pin. My scallop shell now hangs in the Winnie as my talisman from “The Way…”

The scallop shell is used throughout the entire Camino, along with the ubiquitous yellow arrows to mark the way.

Once you have walked the Camino, you will start to see scallop shells everywhere. This one serves as one of the many local water sources found along the Camino.

Years ago, I heard about an ancient pilgrim’s path across northern Spain where one could start in the Pyrenees mountains of France following the same path from village to village, staying in a small inns that cater to pilgrims, most offering a communal evening meal. After a nights rest, pilgrims would wake up the next morning and do it all over again until they reached their destination, Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. This path known as the Camino de Santiago is the original “hut to hut” if you will.

The objective of their pilgrimage was to reach this majestic cathedral, built over what are believed to be the remains of Saint James, one of Christ’s apostles. These remains earned it a place among the most famous walks in the world, as well as being inscribed into UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 1993. It is only one of two walks in the world to achieve UNESCO status, the other being the Kumano Kodo in Japan. Once pilgrms reached Santiago de Compostela, they would often continue on to Finesterre, Latin for “the end of the earth,” where the path ends and the ocean begins.

Even before Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez made the movie about the Camino, “The Way,” I have long been intrigued by this concept of walking from village to village for days on end. Couple that with my love of walking, and the Camino de Santiago in Spain sounded like my kind of adventure. But it takes well over a month to travel there and make it on foot from the Pyrenees in France all the way to Santiago. I never had that kind of time off while working. Once retired, I became enchanted with RV life, and spent my time exploring the country on wheels. Then as my Mom’s health began to decline, my range shrank. Trips were limited to a day’s drive as I alternated in the caregiver role with my brother Don. I never wanted to start the Camino only to risk being called back halfway through it. So, it is time…

The Camino de Santiago translates to “The Way of St. James,” and dates back to the 9th century when the remains believed to be St. James the Apostle were found near Finesterre, along Spain’s northern coast.

The Frenchman Bretenaldo who walked the Camino around the year 920 is said to be the first known foreign pilgrim to journey to Santiago.

By 2022, a record 438,182 Compostelas, or certificates of completion, were issued for arrival in Santiago. Of that number, 414,340 pilgrims arrived on foot, 22,863 pilgrims by bicycle, and 545 on horseback. This year is expected to surpass those numbers.

Have to laugh that fellow pilgrims shared their bandaids with this statue of an ancient pilgrim.

This statue near Astorga is actually a water source. The photo doesn’t show it, but water is dripping from the pilgrim’s gourd into his mouth. There is a spigot near the statue for pilgrims to fill their modern day “gourds.”

This pilgrim guards a pile of backpacks waiting to be picked up for transport. If you look closely, you will see they all have transport envelopes hanging from them, each one containing €6, (about $6.75) to transport a pack for each stage, or days walk.

Having eagerly hung on every word from friend and fellow blogger Nina, who walked the Camino last year, (as well as her husband Paul and his dad in 2019,) I knew spring was the ideal window, just as the snows cleared in the Pyrenees, but before schools let out for summer vacation. Besides, the wildflowers!! And “tick-tock!” I wanted to walk it asap, as with each passing year, I seem to find a new knee, hip, or ankle joint that mounts its own protest. So I would work as hard and fast as I could over the next three months on the farm, with April 12th being my target date to be on the plane to Paris. There is an idiom that is prevalent throughout the Camino community, “The Camino will provide!” If I had never stepped foot on that plane, the Camino would have provided just by giving me something to look forward to of…a bright spot on the horizon.

Camino lore says “The Way” is broken up into three phases; “The Body,” where one works out their physical limitations and overcomes ailments, “The Mind” where one turns their thoughts inward for emotional reflection and the tenacity to go the distance, and finally “The Soul” where one begins to feel uplifted by heightened spiritual awareness. While I could easily write a blog post per day about my time on the Camino, I’m going to attempt to summarize by breaking my blog posts into these same three phases; The Body, The Mind, and The Soul.

Though I started my Camino in Spring, the cooler temps and fallen leaves often times felt like winter was lingering…

Mountain vistas serve as backdrop along my favorite Camino sections.

I also really loved the forest walks of Galicia.

Graffiti is a problem along the Camino. Why people feel the need to “tag” the markers is beyond me. But I do have to admit, this one made me laugh, as I shared the same “Oh Sh*t!” sentiment.

These were always puzzling. Thankfully, “There’s an app for that.” Both my two favorite apps, Wise Pilgrim and Buen Camino had color coded route maps comparing the two route options.

Often times, directional markers would be a bit more casual.

Next up, I will try to describe what it felt like walking 12 to 15 miles day after day after day as I sum up “The Body” phase of the Camino de Santiago…

Sí, mi música también, señor.”

34 thoughts on “Why I Walk

  1. I have been checking ever day, sometimes twice a day, in the morning and again in the evening, ever since our email chat back in May so you know the grin that was on my face a bit ago! This introduction has me looking forward even more to your delightful photos and wonderful writing!
    PS….your scallop attached with that oh so special safety pin…..❤️

    • Thanks, Marti. You and Ed have always offered so much support, for which I am grateful. It was that “May chat” that made me start thinking I had better start documenting this before I began to have trouble remembering where I slept the night before! Thanks for the encouragement.

  2. Ditto what Marti said! and Congratulations! Now… There’s a bottle of Double Oak that’s been waiting patiently for a few years now. Get yourself to Maryland and we can open it!

    • I would tell you to get on down to Texas and help me drink mine, but I wouldn’t wish that on anybody! So one of these days, we will meet in the middle. 😉

  3. So good to hear from you. Your ‘walk’ is truly an adventure on the Camino. I also have followed Nina’s journey and enjoyed Martin Sheen’s movie ‘The Way’. I’m sure following others is as close as will get to that journey.
    Looking forward to your future blogs, your words and pictures bring it all to life for us armchair hikers.

    • Jeff, I was just reading your blog earlier this morning. I trust you won’t be an armchair hiker for long! Best wishes for the speediest of recoveries!! My Dad had that done. Wouldn’t do the PT because “it hurt.” Big mistake. Push on through the pain, as there are a couple of hiking poles waiting for you!

  4. So happy to see this! I have been wondering how you are doing. Looking forward to reading the rest of your story! We are headed west to find the Colorado wildflowers at the end of the week.

    • Hi Mindy! I was just thinking about you earlier this week! I was speaking with a friend who just returned from Telluride, and he was talking about all the snow that remains this year. Hope you find some beautiful wildflowers peaking out! Have fun!

    • Hi Jim! Nice to hear from you too! I haven’t had much time to catch up on my blog reading these days, but I do still check in on you and Allison to see how things are going. Hope you are having a good summer!

  5. What a delight to get a notification today of a new Suzanne blog! I feel for all you’ve been through this past year but I’m selfishly excited to hear about your trip. Your way with words is amazing!

    • John, it’s great to hear from you! I miss reading about your and BJ’s adventures. I hope you are still paddling off into beautiful reflective sunsets! Give BJ my best!

  6. Wonderful to read your blog again. We’ve change our email addresses so we missed getting notice of this edition, however, our friend Mary alerted me that you were “back at it”…so glad she did and so glad for you!

    • Hey, John, thanks so much for the comment! I’ll make note of the new email address. Hope you and Mary are enjoying the summer and haven’t had too much of the wildfire smoke drifting your way. How fun to know that your friend Mary is still following along! Thanks for saying hello.

  7. I just knew the pin had a special sentiment. I’m glad your mom kept it for you. Looking forward to your reflections of this journey.

    • Thanks, Debbie. She saved the quilts, but who knows how long the pin had been attached…I think the discovery at the bottom of the cedar chest made it even more special.

    • Thanks, Jim and Barb! Nice to hear from you! I am so far behind on my blog reading…I need to catch up on what all you have been building lately!

  8. Your posts are always so uplifting and insightful and a joy to read, I am glad you chose to continue blogging. Walking the Camino sounds like the perfect way to process what you have been going through.

    • Hi Lisa and Hans, what a nice comment. You guys have been on my mind recently with the sad loss of the loving and adventuresome Rosie. I have been negligent in writing to extend my condolences. She was such a beautiful companion, and I am so very sorry. I know you must miss her so…but what a great life she enjoyed! Hope you two are doing well.

  9. Oh, Suzanne, I did not know. So sorry to hear of your mom’s passing. I pray you have a safe and positively eventful journey on your “Way.” Much love and blessings…


    • Dorrin! So nice to hear from you! Thank you so much for your kind blessings. Hope you and JJ and the “kids” are having a great summer!

  10. Wow, what a delightful surprise to see a post from you this morning!

    I have thought of you from time to time and hoped to hear from you
    at some point when you were ready.

    Walking the Camino was a perfect choice to get back into life.
    Several friends here have walked it and have waxed poetic about
    how it changed their lives. One couple has walked it three times.

    Since I am now using a “walker” it is for certain that my wonderful
    days of walking the hills and valleys of SMA are behind me . And
    all the walking all over the continents that I have traveled as well.
    BUT I have awesome memories and share your feeling that walking
    does something to your psyche.

    Looking forward to reading your future posts. There are people
    encouraging me to write Babsblog again but my head isn’t in the
    right place to do so.

    Hopefully I will see you back in SMA some day. Our temps here now
    are in mid 50’s at night and high 80’s during the day. Perfecto.

  11. One never knows where they will find you when you write. This sounds like the perfect medicine to process all you have going on. Looking forward to sharing your adventure in future posts. So good to hear form you:)

    • Thank you, Pam…great to hear from you too! Hope you are putting that pool to good use this summer! Thanks for following along…

  12. Have not checked in for a few days and look what I found this afternoon! How wonderful to have a blog from you and that has to be an awesome adventure. Body, Mind and Spirit is how I pray for someone when I have no other words. Will look forward to each blog. Thank you for sharing.

    • Sandy, what a wonderful comment. ” Body, Mind and Spirit is how I pray for someone when I have no other words” is such a wonderful sentiment. I love that! Thanks for bringing that perspective.

  13. So Great to see another post from you! Even better to learn that you are Out and About again! Like Michelle Shocked sings in “Anchorage”
    Keep on Rockin Girl!!
    PS and then I went to you tube to listen to the song again ( still love it and the sentiment it expresses) and stumbled onto this really weird interview with her about seemingly homophobic comments she made! Lesson learned??? Stay off internet , except to read a few selected blogs ( this one for instance) and just listen to your albums!
    So anyway I hope you will have more posts in the not too distant future!

    • Hi Jim. Nice to hear from you, and glad we didn’t lose touch. Yes, I lost half my friends because of things I “uncovered” on the internet. Sometimes, ignorance really can be bliss. Hope you and the family are having a good summer. Thanks for the comment.

  14. helllloooooo Suzanne –

    so fabulous to see your blog post and YOU .. out and about again!! I look forward to reading through each phase of your walk and seeing it through your eyes. Walking is my meditation and I’m sure each step for you will bring much healing. I’m sure our paths will cross someday. Be well.

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