Tuesday, September 1, 2015


For about nine months I have been planning to walk the Camino Frances, a 500 mile trek across northern Spain. Why? Because I can (maybe). Because, at 63, I feel age creeping slowly into my body and that a withering crone is in my future. A good diet and lots of exercise might stave her off for awhile, but my intentions are always much better than what I actually do, so she is there, waiting for me.

People ask me if I got the idea for this journey from watching Martin Sheen in "The Way." Actually I never saw the movie till about two weeks ago, when I saw that it was free on Amazon Prime. I watched it again last week on Netflix with my daughter-in-law in New York. She fell asleep, so it can't be that exciting.

I first heard of the Camino when I bought Shirley MacLaine 's book of the same name in 2000. It sat on my shelf and went through several moves with me till I finally read it this year, after I had already decided to go. Honestly, I couldn't finish it. I gave it away as soon as I could. I have no intention of being visited by all the wacko spirits she conjured up along the way. Shirley, you're crazy.

There is an active Camino group where I live in Asheville. They meet weekly at a local coffee shop. The three times I went, there were 10-20 people there, and all had gone at least once. The local REI outdoor store has Camino lectures once a month, and I have been attending those since January. The room is always full and there is a mix of those who have been, those who want to go, and those who are trying to figure out what a Camino is. (The word means "walk" in Spanish.)

So I have been preparing for awhile, trying to figure out how little I can carry on my back since I don't want to finish as an invalid after carrying half the contents of my closet for 500 miles. 

The prevailing wisdom is to take two sets of clothes, one to wear and one to wash. I have trouble with that. A young fit person can do this journey in under a month, walking about 25 miles a day. I am planning on two months, staying in some towns to "smell the roses,"more likely wine grapes, along the way.

Another big issue is getting the right shoes. I'm taking a pair of Brooks Cascadia trail runners, walking sandals, and flip flops for the shower. Taking only one pair of sandals is recommended, but I hate to get my walking sandals wet before t wear them out to dinner, and I need sandals for the communal showers in the hostels so my feet don't pick up some weird fungus and rot off. On a 500 mile walk, your feet are your most important asset. Some people wear Crocs, but my feet don't like them.

A wrench in my plans came when I developed painful Achilles tendinitis about two months ago. I had plantar fasciitis about ten years ago that took two years to get rid of, and I hoped this wasn't the end of my plans. An X-Ray showed a bony projection, or heel spur, on my right foot. My podiatrist prescribed ice, exercises, and alternating my daily training walks with pool walking days. I was told to walk in the pool for the same amount of time as I walked on land. I have access to a pool but I found walking in it incredibly boring. It's not like I could take my iPod in. My training walks were never more than five miles, and my pool walking was never more than an hour.

As a result, I am not in the shape I want to be in for this journey. My podiatrist and several friends questioned if I should go. My thought was that I could always find a beach city in Spain somewhere and hole up for the duration.

Another worry is that the first day of the walk has a 3000 foot elevation gain over the Pyrenees then a steep descent. Many people, especially older ones like me, wrecked knees and feet so badly on this part that they had difficulty continuing. There is only one hostel on the way up and it was already booked up. My former teacher from UNC, who has walked the Camino several times, advised starting in Roncesvalles, after the Pyrenees. I felt like he had given me permission to avoid the difficult part. "Make it YOUR Camino," he said, and I have taken those words to heart.

I still have right heel pain, especially when getting up or after walking 2-3 miles. My podiatrist gave me an okay to go, along with prescription strength ibuprofen.

After frantic last minute packing, I decided to put my backpack and trekking poles, which have metal tips and are not TSA friendly, into a wheeled duffel bag I had set aside to donate to Goodwill. It has one rubberless wheel but still rolls noisily. It is an old friend that has been around the world with me and on long trips to Africa and South America. I somehow feel better that my old friend, who like me is slightly broken and has seen better days, is accompanying me on the first part of my journey.

I will take it slow and modify along the way if I need to, even if that means there's a Spanish beach in my not too distant future.


  1. We're rooting for you Mary in Arizona.
    Listen to your body and be well

    Love Kathy and Dan

  2. Good luck Mary! I am really looking forward to following along with you on your adventure!!!

  3. There is always a reason not to do something and you didn't listen to them - you go girl - you beat the biggest hurdle of them all - keep going and have fun!