and blogs have spread the word once again and sedentary lifestyles send people looking for the journey they know they’re missing but can’t seem to find.
I graduated from college the following Spring in a psychological crisis. I was running out of motivation to call friends on more difficult nights, running out of stamina to fight the exhaustion that greeted me every morning. Since my therapist and insurance got left back with my university, I was alone. And so, instead of using my little savings for a jump start to my early career, I booked a flight to Southern France with a dear friend planning to walk from St. Jean Pied du Port to Santiago, 500 miles away.
I found my home on the Camino, not with Jesus but with a community that didn’t need answers, didn’t need a name for their god, didn’t require straight A’s or a family that fit into a specific mold. I found my peace in the quiet stone churches that housed millions of tired hikers for thousands of years, in the steep, muddy stretches of the Pyrenees Mountains, and at the end of long wooden tables debating the meaning of life with strangers from around the world. Here, I was not alone. I returned to the Camino eight years later with the hope of returning many more times—as many as my body and bank account would allow in this lifetime.
This was The Man from Poland’s 12th pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago—"give or take a few.” After one pilgrimage turns into a lifelong mission, how do you determine the start and end of such a journey? This time, he told us, he walked from his home in Poland. I didn’t question the logistics—the man gave off a rare honesty, almost a mythic presence that was not to be questioned. So how I could tell him? How could I out myself as an agnostic on her second Catholic pilgrimage? I was a walking contradiction to him, literally.
I changed the subject. “How long have you been walking this time?” He shrugged his shoulders, brushing off the importance of the concept of time, gave a warm smile and dug into his dinner. “Doesn’t matter. I go forward. I go until I stop. Would you like to try my chicken?” His face changed as he tossed out the accusatory conversation and found solace in hospitality. I laughed and kindly declined, still full of the bread, cheese and ice cream.
He was right about one thing—the Camino is changing. Even in my eight years between hikes, medieval villages blossomed from the nearly forgotten ashes due to an increase in visitors and private albergues offer amenities like above-ground pools, massages and meditation circles. Stretches of hot, sun-scorched trails now enjoyed shade from young trees planted just after my