Archive for Long Hikes

Camino

People ask why on earth would I want to walk 1500 miles.

nicemarker

In 2013 after completing a consulting gig for my friend Elisabeth at The Street, Inc. (the stock price has doubled in the two years she’s been CEO!) I decided to take some time to see the world.

My sister is a long-time resident of Madrid, Spain and over the years I had heard a lot of things about the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) – an ancient pilgrimage path from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, Spain where the remains of St. James the Apostle are buried.  My Uncle Bob and Aunt Margo walked a chunk of it as did my cousin Erika.

The first recorded visitors to Santiago appeared in the 9th century.  Around 1150 the Codex Calixtinus -the worlds first guidebook was written about it.  In the next 1000 years tens of millions of people would walk from all corners of Europe to pay their respects to Saint James.

There are dozens of marked routes from most every European country to Santiago.  Those who began outside of Spain had to pass through France and the many routes became tributaries to the river of pilgrims who walked the final 500 miles across the north of Spain.  This home stretch is called the Camino Frances.

Several years earlier I had read Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s book “The Pilgrimage” about walking the Camino Frances and it seemed intriguing.  A few years later Emilio Estavez wrote and produced the movie “The Way” about a man played by his father, Martin Sheen.  I was struck by how beautiful the scenery was and simple the experience seemed.  At the end of 2012 I lost my job on a Monday.  My dog Mookie died two days later.  The best way I could come up with to deal with that trauma was to do something great that I’d never be able to do if I had either a job or a dog.

I have always been fascinated by ancient history and as an American, see very little evidence of it in my local surroundings.  So last April I set out to hike through some of the routes, culminating in Santiago.

At a leisurely pace the Camino France takes around 40 days.  I wanted an even bigger experience so started looking into some of the tributary routes in France.  An omen convinced me to start walking in Le Puy en Velay, an old city in the Haute-Loire region.  The omen wasn’t very mystical.  I saw a French movie with English subtitles called “Amelie”, starring Audrey Tatou.  It is a fantastic movie and was nominated for five Oscars.  Having formed a major crush on Ms. Tatou I looked up her bio and found that she grew up just outside of Le Puy en Velay.  I was already reading very positive things about the “Le Puy” route so Amelie sealed the deal.

I left the day after the terrorist bombings of the Boston marathon.

Steven Raaen May 2014

Santiago

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I was going to make a post when I arrived last night, but I forgot. Yesterday was a very, very long day; almost 11 hours on my feet. It was the first time I’d walked at night and the misery of the last hour and a half was practically surreal. It was pouring. 

I checked into the first reasonable looking B&B I walked past after entering the heart of the old city at 8 o’clock and ended up in a fantastic place called Casas Reais. 
I lied down for an hour and then went the 200 or so yards to the cathedral. 
I then moved on and had some tapas before heading home, but before I got there I ran into most if the gang that I had met the first day in Spain (last day in France) outside a bar smoking. The Boinga girls (Terri and Kirsten) were there as was Amir from Iran,Nick the young Canadian, Maria from Germany and a few others. 

Six weeks ago, before I even reached Bordeaux, I had met a girl named Sabine who was the only person I knew of that was walking the Tours route all the way to SdC. She actually started from her grandfathers house a couple of days northeast of Tours and had a very cool walking stick. I’d lost track of her after a day or two and was regretting not exchanging contact information with her. About 20km into yesterday’s walk, Sabine passed me. I recognized her from her stick!  I actually knew she wasn’t far behind me because a Polish girl named Anka had told me that she was walking with someone named Sabine from Paris who had come down with food poisoning at an albergue. Sabine & Anka hadn’t exchanged contact info and Sabine thought Anka had probably finished days ago because she’s a very fast walker. But this morning when I went to get my “compostela”, I had the pleasure of seeing them reunited!