I’ve gotten lots of advice from the Internet, guide books, and friends and acquaintances who have done The Way. They all say that the most important thing to do is to start walking. Every single day, increasing the length and difficulty of my walks as I go along. There aren’t any steep climbs or high elevations on the route we will take in Spain, but the more strenuously I train now, the better equipped I will be then. And finding strenuous hiking is not a problem out here!
One evening, Ken and I took our third hike of the week, and believe me, hiking up here, at almost 10,000 feet above sea level, is not for the faint of heart. The inclines take your breath away, but so do the views along the walk and at the peak of the hike. We plan on climbing two 14ers in the next ten days, and those always present a challenge! Every step can be difficult, but around every bend is a vista that is a beauty to behold. This is exactly how I imagine The Way will be.
We typically don’t meet any other people on these hikes (unlike climbing the 14ers.), but we often have company. We’re all in our own state of mind, just trying to go our own way, and taking in the world around us.
Encountering The Way
On one of our evening walks, Ken spotted a Western Tanager, a beautiful bird that was once rare because it was thought to be a threat to orchards. Ken, a lifelong birder, was thrilled to see such a beautiful specimen, and the bird showed off for us, flying from tree to tree overhead, displaying his magnificent colors of red and orange and yellow. Not much of a bird person myself, even I could appreciate the beauty of watching such a brilliantly colored creature in flight, his plumage a stark contrast to the blue sky above. Unlike most tanagers, the western species likes cooler climates and spends most of its life high in the northern regions, even into Canada’s Northwest Territories, spending minimal time in the south during migration periods. I supposed their migration is kind of like The Way, a pilgrimage of sorts.
|It seems that on every outing, we are treated to a special encounter or sighting. Just before seeing the tanager, we found a log that was surrounded by amber formations. Since I’m just a tab bit obsessed with dinosaurs (about as much as I’m obsessed with sharks), I couldn’t help but marvel at the sight. Was there a creature locked somewhere inside that shiny resin? How long had it been there? What secrets does it hold? Dinosaur DNA??? Apparently not, but I can hope. See that piece of a flower on the amber? It will still be there, possibly totally encased in the resin, millions of years from now.
Again, I imagine that my time on The Way will be much the same – a meaningful encounter or sighting each day of the walk, something that will become a part of me and have an affect on me for many years to come.
Following The Way
One of the things we most enjoy while out here in the Rockies is climbing 14ers. These are the 53 mountains in Colorado that stand at more than 14,000 feet above sea level. We have five in our region of the San Juans, and only Ken and our oldest daughter, Rebecca, have managed to climb all five. On the last climb they did together, they summited Wetterhorn, a class 3 mountain that is the most challenging and dangerous in this area. On the way down, they lost the trail and ended up scaling the face of the mountain while onlookers encouraged them from below and stood by in case one of them didn’t make it. I was very grateful that they both made it down relatively unharmed and especially grateful that I didn’t know the peril they were in!
On Friday, Ken and I climbed Handies Peak. We first tried to summit Handies 15 years ago. Because I used to suffer from debilitating migraines (before changing my diet), I was never able to go over 13,000 feet without excruciating pain. I never made it to the top. For 15 years, that mountain was my white whale. Friday, I conquered it. I cried when my foot first hit the rocky top of the peak. I was completely overcome with emotion and such a feeling of accomplishment.
The climb was not easy. The elevation made me short of breath every step of the way (I used my inhaler more than once). Early on, I slipped off a rock into an ice-cold stream, so my socks were wet all day (my hiking shoes are made to dry quickly). My calves, used to a lot of walking, were screaming for most of the hike.
But I made it.
I learned several lessons, including to always carry an extra pair of socks! I’m sure my first walk on El Camino will be much the same. Oh, I won’t have to deal with extreme elevation, and I will certainly have extra socks, but I know there will be many insights I will want to impart on the group of pilgrims I will lead the following year. The most important of all will be not to make the mistake Ken and Rebecca did. We will follow The Way–both physically and spiritually.
Tomorrow, Ken, Morgan (our youngest), Josh (her boyfriend), and I plan to tackle Sunshine and Red Cloud, twin peaks that Morgan and I have not summited. The trail is clear and well-marked, but we will have to make sure we don’t wander. Storms may come up, as they often do, and we will need to be prepared for whatever circumstance arises. We know that the way is not always easy, but neither is The Way. To stay on the right path, we must follow what has been laid out for us. “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you” (Psalm 32:8).
Mastering The Way
I believe, over the next 14 months or so, I will experience many things that I will reflect upon while walking The Way, and I’m sure I will learn a lot throughout this training–not just about mastering El Camino but about myself and my life. I am starting not just my physical training but also my spiritual training. I’ll have a lot to do and think about in the coming months and many discoveries to make along my journey.
St. Augustine of Hippo once said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”
I have done a lot of traveling, and I have learned that there is a great difference between going on a trip and going on a pilgrimage. Two different people can go to the same place, one as a traveler and one as a pilgrim, and their experiences will be starkly different. Reading a little more into what St. Augustine said, those who do not travel read only one page, but those who travel as pilgrims read the entire book, including the prologue and the appendix. They become masters of The Way of Life.
One thing I know for certain–no matter how hard, how time-consuming, or how demanding the preparation and the walk itself will be, I will find The Way.
Note: To understand what is involved and to get a sense of why this is so important to so many, I highly recommend watching the movie, The Way, starring Martin Sheen and son, Emilio Estevez.
Article first published on Amy's Blog Site July 6, 2022.