A 13.6 Mile Day

When we woke up this morning, it had been raining all night, so I assumed, as many of us did, that we’d be walking in the rain all day. So, we dressed for it, but then the rain never materialized. The sun came out, but it was never too hot. It was a perfect temperature for walking. At the end of the day, our various digital devices said we’d walked between 11 and 13.6 miles. I choose to take credit for the larger number.

My feet were definitely sore at the end of the day, I was covered with sweat, couldn’t wait to peel my clothes off, and looked forward to a shower, and putting my feet up the wall, but truth be told, I could have just kept walking.

In fact, I think I fell in love with walking today. I’d never considered long-distance walking before this trip. Usually when I go on a hike, it’s to a specific destination, generally in the wilderness or at least in the woods, somewhere beautiful in nature—you go there and then you come back. Either it’s up and back or a loop.

If I’m at home, I go back to the same favorite places over and over. If I’m camping or traveling, then the hike might be to a new destination, but it’s still in the same generic ballpark of “a hike,” an experience I know and recognize. Something I’ve done for years. Some hikes are harder; some are less challenging. Some are shorter, some longer, some involve a lot of climbing and high altitudes and others do not. But they’re all hikes. It’s a thing I love to do.

But this journey is different. There’s something about the day-to-dayness of it, moving through countryside and towns and real places as opposed to wilderness on foot, that makes me feel like I could walk forever, that I want to just keep going. So many people from all over the world walking with purpose is deeply inspiring. To be part of something meaningful to centuries of pilgrims, there’s resonant power in that.

The hour upon hour of walking, usually in silence, sometimes in conversation, is leading me to creative ideas, insights, joy, and inner stillness. I am loving this journey, this pilgrimage. In fact, I think it’s going to be over far too soon.

At one point today I thought if I ever got a serious diagnosis, if my cancer came back or I suffered a terrible loss or shock, if I was capable, I would want to come back here and walk. Or do the same thing somewhere else—a pilgrimage. Walking like this is a way to process, to gather yourself, to integrate, to grieve, to come to terms with. It is powerful medicine. Walking the Camino, I feel part of the greater human family.

The other thing that has been transformative are Brenda’s art classes. As a total beginner, I’m game and eager to try, but there’s always the frustration of not being able to create what I see in front of me. My writing students feel this all the time. They read great literature and appreciate it; they know what good writing is, but their attempts fall so far from what they aspire to write that they often give up. I’m in that position now with drawing and watercolor. I don’t know the tools, I don’t understand the colors, I don’t have the skills, but it is still deeply satisfying to try. It’s relaxing and I don’t expect to be good at it.

This morning, while walking, I was drinking in all the colors around me, all the shades of green in the forest, all the permutations of blue on an old door, wondering what it would be like to paint them, and wanting to try, while simultaneously realizing I couldn’t begin to reproduce what I was seeing. I wouldn’t even know where to start.

But then I had a breakthrough. A realization. That Brenda’s classes weren’t making me an artist, but they were making me SEE like an artist. I was suddenly noticing the play of light and shadow, the nuances of color and shape and texture in a whole new way. I felt high, in an altered state. I felt awe. Pleasure. My cells drinking in beauty. Maybe because I wasn’t doing anything else. I was just walking.

I don’t know if it was the rhythm of slow movement or this new way of seeing, but I felt a simple deep happiness hour after hour. Sometimes it peaked and pulsed through me as joy. All I had to do was walk and see and notice. I had no podcasts in my ears, no stories on tape; I was just walking.

Sometimes I flowed into conversation with a member of our group or a Camino pilgrim passing by, and just as easily, that conversation would ebb, and I’d find myself walking alone. Just doing the one thing. As I walked, I had creative ideas. I reflected on my life. I felt inspired. I thought about the future, not with my usual fear of aging, but sensing life as open possibility. Sometimes my mind grew quiet, and I just took everything in, walking in the present, footstep after footstep.

It was a beautiful day.

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