The Challenge of El Camino de Santiago
2nd Place Competition Runner Up! What the judges say: Marjorie’s story is a truly inspiring account of her journey on the El Camino de Santiago and demonstrates the rewards of never giving up.
With the death of my life partner, one week before my retirement, I was unable, maybe unwilling, to face the future on my own. Friends and family offered sympathy from all over the world. A beautiful celebration of Vince’s life was held, but I was in a fog. I wanted to disappear. I needed time alone. I needed to get centered and set new goals. I had no purpose.
Like a helping hand from above, my brother, Clark, kindly asked if I would walk El Camino de Santiago with him. I had no idea about walking but accepted and disappeared into Spain three months early to train. I walked 400 easy horizontal miles. On September 20th MT Sobek bused us to Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port to start El Camino. I was not ready, I could barely walk up the village road to the tourist office to get my first stamp in the pilgrim credential booklet.
Day one, our bus dropped us at the “Virgin of Caminantes” nestled in the Pyrenees. By the time my walking poles were on my wrists the others were specks on the horizon. I gave serious thought to walking right back down to the village and taking the first bus out of town. But no, I would not let my brother nor myself down.
Erik and Leo were our guides. Leo was assigned to me. As I huffed and puffed and stopped and tried to make excuses, he calmly said, “Don’t walk faster than you can breathe. Take tiny baby steps. Trust me, Roncesvalles has not moved.” The result of pushing myself so hard, was that my legs basically stopped working in the evenings. Clark helped with stretches and exercises before I fell asleep. Since I was so exhausted, falling asleep and staying asleep was no problem, but the nights seemed way too short.
One morning, being ready before the others, I set off alone, only to have the uneven dirt road betray me. I greeted a man as he passed me and fell flat on my face. Getting up from a prone position is not easy on a good day, there I was, Gulliver needing Lilliputians to hoist me to a vertical position with their tiny ropes. Fortunately, the man gallantly plucked me out of the dirt onto my feet with one swift motion. He made me a Lilliputian rather than Gulliver. A rare feeling for a 250-pound woman. By then the others caught up and I was in the back again. My minutes as lead were totally worth the humiliation of the fall.
The next day something snapped in my right hip. By sunset a gigantic bruise appeared from my hip to my knee. When half the dinner group left to listen to cathedral music, I declined, knowing it would take everything I had just to crawl into bed. I had agreed to do this walk. I would not give up.
In a 13th century chapel at an altar covered with notes “caminantes” had left with names of loved ones, I rubbed Vince’s USMC dog tag in my pocket and burst into tears. The griping sadness was still with me. I collected my wits, took a deep breath and headed up the 2,400 foot incline to our destination in Galicia.
The last morning, Clark accompanied me so we could walk into Santiago together. I’d been to the Cathedral before, but never as exhausted and proud of myself as I was that day. I had walked 150 hard vertical kilometers (93.1 miles) and had accomplished more than I ever imagined. I was proud not to have been a burden to the others and appreciated their patience with a woman twenty years their senior who took a little longer to reach each day’s destination.
Finisterre was as foggy as the Pyrenees. The fog from my brain flowed into the ocean fog. I was centered. I could face this new chapter of my life. Down the steps I walked, past the man playing a lilting tune about the Camino on his guitar, past the bronze statue of one boot, out with the goats foraging on the cliff, and left my Camino boots on the pedestal of an old Celtic cross. I left my offering to the Camino Gods, or perhaps to God himself, for watching over me, helping me face my loneliness, and for Clark, with whom I shared this amazing adventure. I lost 20 pounds and continue to walk today, that’s the magic of El Camino. As the Stephen Hawking plaque in Finisterre reads, “I enjoyed my trip to the end of the world, such a beautiful place.”
Thank you, MT Sobek for giving this 68-year-old retired school principal a reason to stay on the Camino of life.
Marjorie Myers, Ed.D., MT Sobek Guest
MT Sobek Trip: El Camino de Santiago, 2018