There I sat, thinking: What now? What’s next? Where do we go from here? Would I disappoint her? More on that later.
Everyone seemed to focus on writing about, talking about, and dreaming about achieving that elusive “work/life balance.” Although their reasoning seemed to consistently recommend the benefits of achieving this balance, we knew it rarely happened, and even more rarely did such balance last. No matter how well-intentioned they were, everyone appeared to fall short.
But not us! After years of “kicking the can down the road,” the time had finally come.
We were going to disconnect from our everyday life so we could reconnect with each other and the world around us.
We were going to do it not just for us, but for friends and family who might be inspired to follow our walk-the-talk lead someday.
So began our journey to discover “more with less”
My wife and I didn’t know that our quest would ultimately result in an actual walk down the infamous Camino de Santiago (known in English as the Way of Saint James.) The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage route that leads to Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of Saint James (Santiago) were discovered in the ninth century. The route has become popular in recent years. Many people find the exertion of walking for weeks—and being disconnected from modern devices for all that time—immensely liberating. Some see it as a spiritual path or a retreat for their spiritual growth.
We decided to walk the last 205 miles of the Camino de Santiago— starting in Leon, Spain and traveling to the city of Santiago de Compostela— in our search for something more.
An allegory for life itself, the Camino is a long and winding road that one must travel one step at a time.
The genesis for this adventure had been dinner with a long-lost friend in Phoenix (a side trip during a cross-country drive) who told us about the movie The Way, which inspired him to plan a trip to Spain to scatter the ashes of his recently deceased son. By carrying the ashes along the infamous Camino de Santiago and spilling them into the North Atlantic Ocean, he would honor his son and give emotional closure to his grief.
Call it karma. Call it a coincidence. The next evening upon arriving in San Francisco, my wife and I happened upon the movie showing nearby our hotel (enjoying it immensely) and were inspired to add the trip to our own “disconnect bucket list.” Four years later, our inspiration became a reality.
On an overcast and windy day, our pilgrimage started in the village of Valverde de la Virgen, just outside of Leon. As we took our first steps on the trail, we experienced a little of the storied camaraderie that exists among travelers. The friendly locals wished us “Buen Camino,” the traditional greeting for pilgrims that translates to “good path” or “good road.”
Our beginning walking pace was brisk as we followed the yellow arrows that guide pilgrims along the route. It surprised us how quickly became accustomed to spotting these arrows, wherever they turned up. Some are up high on posts and some are on the street. They’re painted on walls, and some even appear bending around corners!
The walk kept us engaged. Sometimes we passed by others, and sometimes they passed us. Everyone we met was friendly, and we often heard the customary “Buen Camino.” We quickly realized how important it is to walk at your own pace and make the trip your own.
Although we had prepared for our journey with a small supply of food and water, each little town along the way had a cafe or restaurant offering snacks and drinks. We decided to stop halfway through the day at Villandangos del Paramo, where we could take the advice of many who have gone before us: to rest, eat, and remove our boots for a while. As my boots came off, I was quite surprised to discover a few small blisters on my feet, although I’d felt no real discomfort during our morning walk. We both were proud of how well we had planned this aspect of the trip. Not only did we purchase the ideal walking boots, as recommended by the experts, but we had slowly and steadily broken those boots in over the course of many walks during the year as we trained for our journey. Nevertheless, we also carried a package of adhesive bandages, just in case. Now we simply covered each blister carefully, to ensure comfort for the remainder of the day’s trek.
After the brief respite, off we went again, covering another eight miles of majestic beauty and boundless serenity. As we trekked up and down the hills and valleys, we were astonished by breathtaking views of nature at its very best, a world uncompromised by man or machine. As our trek continued, I was surprised to feel burning sensations on the bottoms of both my feet, as if they were being pinched with each step I took. But we soldiered on, unwilling to be deterred by a blister or two.
Our final stop for the day was Hospital de Orbigo. According to legend, in 1434, a knight challenged other knights to cross the bridge there and break three lances against him, all to impress a lady. Thankfully, we were not required to deal with any lances. We arrived at our lodging around 3:30 p.m., delighted to have an opportunity to rest for the evening. We anticipated a much longer journey—twenty-seven-plus miles—the next day.