You Never Know What the Camino Will Throw at You

Six years ago, when Brenda Porter and I first listed the Creative Camino trip, it sold out in just a few days. We scheduled the trip for June 2020, and I remember when Covid first made itself known in February of that year, we hoped that it would be a little blip, and that we’d still be able to run our trip. Surely this weird virus would pass soon. Not.

In March 2020, I remember the painful day when I sat down and wrote out $100,000 worth of refund checks. I had no idea where my income would come from that year—all my weekly classes and retreats were in person. I’d never taught online, and I couldn’t imagine doing so. To do what I do best—writing as a form of transformation and healing—I needed to be face-to-face with people, feeling their energy, reading their body language.

But then I got a message on Facebook from Michaela Sieh who said she could teach me how to teach online, and a week later, with her expert coaching, I offered my first Zoom class. I was shocked that I could create the same intimacy, connection, and community in an online setting, but I could. I got hooked on Zoom—the convenience, the geographical reach, the ease, the reduced overhead. I still teach on Zoom and can’t imagine going back to in person classes only.

But I still missed teaching in person. So, a couple of years ago, I began carefully running retreats again. Setting Covid protocols for these retreats has been an ever-moving target. At the first retreat I taught in person, people needed to prove they were vaccinated, needed to test the morning of the retreat, we stayed masked indoors for the first three days and then tested again…only then did our masks come off. It was easier then because the countries we were going to and the CDC had clearcut rules everyone had to follow.

We never had a case of Covid at any of my retreats at a time lots of other retreat leaders, who were not taking any precautions, were having outbreaks.

I’ve run multiple retreats since then, and each time, I’ve modified and lightened these protocols, as conditions have changed. For this pilgrimage, we required travel insurance in case someone had to evacuate or quarantine, we asked people to be careful in the two weeks leading up to the trip with going out in group settings, we asked people to wear a N95 mask in transit and in airports, and we asked everyone to bring a couple of masks and a couple of Covid tests, just in case. And we tested the first day everyone arrived.

Masks were optional, but respected. And I choose to wear them in a lot of indoor settings, though most of our time has been spent eating and walking outdoors.

Two days ago, two women in our group tested positive. One had symptoms; one was asymptomatic. We provided them with food, made arrangements for them to finish out their Camino at a hotel in Santiago, and set up their transit. They’re finishing their Camino there and from the photos and texts they’re posting on our group WhatsApp thread, they seem to be enjoying themselves. We hope to see them outdoors when we get to Santiago tomorrow.

After those two cases, we had everyone test—and everyone was negative. We told people, going forward, to test again if they developed symptoms. But no one did.

But then, yesterday, after our 16.8 mile walk, I felt exhausted. Well, who wouldn’t after walking that far? I was dragging and went to bed right after dinner. During the night, my nose starting dripping and I developed a slight cough. This morning, I took a Covid test—dreading the results. Within minutes, I saw those two parallel lines for the first time.

I am a Covid virgin no longer.

Since I have my own room and am a trip leader, we decided I’d stay with the group and isolate in my room. If I wanted to walk, I’d stay very far in the front or back and wear a mask, so I wasn’t near anyone.

And so, this morning, determined to walk every step to Santiago, I got myself dressed in my gear, thinking I could will myself into walking—mind over matter. And I did walk for the first half of today’s miles—alone, far from our group, which was actually quite lovely. But as the miles ticked by, I kept looking over at the leaves and corn fields on either side of the path, thinking how nice it would be to lay down and go to sleep.

At our lunch stop, I surrendered to what my body was telling me. I took a shuttle to our next hotel and have been in bed ever since. I am achy and exhausted and feel like I’ve been run over.

Lying in bed, I can hear the voices of our group members passing by my door. Now, instead of being on the inside of this group, I’m on the outside. I feel disconnected to our joyous camaraderie—that wonderful sense of walking, kilometer by kilometer toward this beautiful goal together. Tomorrow, they will walk into Santiago.

My only connection to my group now is through today’s photos that they’re posting on our group WhatsApp thread. But to be honest, I don’t even have the energy to feel disappointed. I feel flattened and exhausted and so relieved to be in bed.

I am posting this because I want you to know why my blog may stop suddenly, but I hesitated to do so because I DO NOT WANT your advice about how I should take care of myself and my case of Covid.

Sympathy would be nice, however.

I never thought this is how my Camino would end. I think it just means that I have to come back and do it again and complete it.

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