How Best to Train to Walk the Camino – it’s not just about walking

There’s a wonderful book called “To Walk Far, Carry Less.” The author talks about what you should not bring with you if you are setting out on a long hike. He agrees with a man he meets early on in the book, who tells him the exhaustion and aches he was experiencing were because he was simply carrying his fears. That one simple encounter of his has guided the way I pack to walk the Camino ever since.

So, what are you afraid of?

You think it might rain, you are afraid it could rain, so you bring an umbrella. You are afraid you might get a headache, so you pack some acetaminophen. You are afraid you could need something to eat, so you bring your coupons and a snack. You are afraid you might get thirsty, cold, hot, nervous, lost, rained on – and everything in your bag responds to a fear.

When people ask me how best to train to walk. I would recommend you start by emptying your purse to see what fears you are carrying with you every day. It’s lovely to think you can get in shape by walking around the neighborhood, but walking a pilgrimage route is a much more emotional event. It really is about leaving your fears behind. It’s about walking, certainly, but you can always sit, take a break, walk some more. If you are fearful or carrying too many things, you will not be as free to appreciate the walking and no amount of rest will restore you. You carry your worries with you as well and all of it will weigh you down.

Let stuff go.

Imagine the freedom of packing a single change of clothes and letting the day dictate how you proceed. You will always need to prepare for both too much rain and too much sun in Spain, but nearly everything else will be available to you in some form or another. I always pack a half dozen granola bars – I am afraid I could get hungry. But, every time, I bring them home or give them away because that fresh tortilla at the bar I come across is much more interesting than the chewy snack bar in my pocket. I should learn!

So, empty out your purse and think about what you really need. Cash, of course, but what else? I carry wet wipes but water does the same job. I carry lots of credit cards, but really only use one. Keys, yes, but you won’t need to bring them all with you. Keys are heavy. Pare down. Eliminate everything you can and don’t let a fear stop you.

A couple of Caminos ago, I watched a woman take a full-size hair dryer out of her backpack and spend time over the sink in the morning styling her hair. I wanted to let her know that a baseball cap was all she really needed. Nobody cares what your hair looks like. It is nice if your hair is clean, but again, not necessary. There was also a young man on the Camino Primitivo who was off the trail and on his way to a clinic with a foot infection. His backpack was the largest I have ever seen. It is easy to see how what you carry impacts not only your mental health but your feet, your knees, and your back.

As an exercise, walk upstairs carrying two five pound bags of sugar or flour. Then walk up the same stairs with nothing in your hands – you get the point. To embrace walking a pilgrimage route, make every attempt to leave your fears behind you; leave your possessions, your worries, your daily routine – all of it.

Then, you will indeed walk far.

For more tips: Buen Camino! Tips from an American Pilgrim. Click on MY BOOKS on the top menu bar.


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