The Short Story:
On Sunday 09.20.15 I leave to walk the 500 mile Camino de Santiago from southern France to the NW coast of Spain. I go alone and will be gone 6 weeks. Nicole and Kris will run the Museware Pottery show.
The Back Story:
My life changed on 08.20.12 when my 19 year old son, Neal, was killed in a motorcycle street racing accident. The last three years have been a complex journey through pain, forgiveness and healing.
The first year was all about loss, his death, my regrets. Much of the second year was spent trying to figure out who am I now that I'm no longer a mom. This last year has been...easier. I still cry daily, it's always there, just under the surface. I also laugh a lot, especially when I talk about the tall, handsome, noisy man/boy I call my son.
A homebody by nature, I joke that with enough food and the internet, I'd be happy to never leave the house again. When they put that electronic bracelet on Martha Stewart and told her to stay home I thought - that's a punishment? I'm an indoor cat. I don't walk or hike or travel to foreign lands. Speak French or Spanish. Go without makeup. Sleep with strangers. Eat food with tentacles or eyes. There is not a single thing about this trip that I've ever been curious to experience. Nothing. Yet this Sunday, one month after Neal's 3rd anniversary, I fly to France to begin what some would call an epic journey.
What is the Camino de Santiago?
The Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of St. James, is an ancient Christian pilgrimage from southern France to the NW coast of Spain. For over a thousand years, millions of seekers have walked this 500 mile trail, which begins in the French Pyrenees and ends in Santiago at the tomb of apostle St. James. Some seek forgiveness, others healing. Others walk for reasons less easily defined.
Unlike the wilderness of Appalachian Trail, The Camino de Santiago is a cultural trail. Over the last 1200 years, an entire infrastructure has developed along its route - cities, towns and villages. Many of the buildings were constructed in the 12th century and house cafes, hostels, hotels and hospitals. Early pilgrims were cared for and treated with great reverence as they walked this sacred path. This tradition continues to this day.
Like many, I learned about the Camino through the 2010 movie "The Way." In the film, Martin Sheen plays an American doctor who who travels to France to collect the remains of his son, killed crossing the Pyrenees, his first day on the Camino. The movie, scenery and journey haunted me for weeks.
I was reminded of it again when a pin about the Camino turned up in my Pinterest feed on July 13th. I read the content and was inexplicably overcome by emotion. After days of intense introspection and for reasons I cannot explain - I knew I was going. The idea was so heavy and overwhelming that I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach for days.
As for why - I don't have a simple answer. Homesickness? A kind of longing? A woman I have not met described it like this "the Camino is a rare and beautiful gift. If it is calling you it has something special to give you. Just say Yes, and watch it unfold... it has already begun." Her words are true. I am changed by the very idea of this trip. Losing my only child has left me fearless.
How Does it Work?
I fly from Boston to Paris on Sunday. In Paris, I'll grab a cab to a nearby airport called Orly. Catch a flight south to Biarritz where I'll be met by a hired transport company who will drive me to my hotel. They'll identify themselves by holding a sign bearing my name. Like on TV. Are you fricken kidding me? The beginning of this trip alone is enough to scare the shit out of me. Once in St. Jean Pied de Port, I head to my reserved room to recover from my travels. I'll spend the next day touring historic St. Jean and mentally preparing myself to walk the next morning. I'll sleep in a hostel that night but don't know which one.
My guidebook includes 33 maps, each representing a day's walk - an average of 15 miles. Some of the path is asphalt, some gravel paths, others green pathways through forests, farmland and orchards. At night, I'll stay in hostels with other travelers, or in hotels when I can't stand people any more or need complete solitude.
On Wednesday morning, I'll eat breakfast then grab something for lunch, some water and snacks. If weather permits, I'll cross the 4500' Pyrenees via the mountainous Napoleon Route. If it's raining or foggy, I'll take the lower elevation Valcarlos path. Either way, by the end of the day I'll have endured the most difficult section of the trail and expect to be both whiny and exhausted.
After taking care of everyone and everything for most of my life, I will spend the next 42 days walking, finding food, water and a place to sleep. Then I'll do it again the next day. I'll carry everything I own on my back. I have to tell you that I am shaking my head as I type this. There is enough old Sheree left to know that I have got to out of my fucking mind to be doing this.
Follow My Pilgrimage
Because WiFi is available at cafes all along the Camino, I plan to post daily images and commentary to my Instagram account instagram.com/shereeburlington and to Facebook. If you're interested seeing what happens when a 60 year old woman gets off of the couch and heads of into the great unknown, follow along with me. I can't promise it will be pretty, but I'll bet it will be interesting. Buen Camino!
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