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