Why Hike the Camino a Second Time?
My wife and I hiked the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain two years ago, starting in early September and ending in early-to-mid October. The Camino is arguably THE most popular longish distance hiking trail in the world. And one that continues to get more popular every year. Basic details about the trail are available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camino_de_Santiago
About the Camino
To get a certificate stating that you’ve hiked the Camino, you have to hike at least 100 km (about 60 miles), typically starting in the town of Sarria if you’re doing the minimal distance. Many people do just that, but for those of us traveling relatively far, it’s more common to hike almost 800 km (nearly 500 miles), starting in a little town in NW France called St. Jean Pied de Port. This is called the “French Way” (Camino Frances): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Way
Those who keep records say that in 2014 there were just over 237,000 people who got a certificate of completion. !!! This was about a 10% increase over the previous year, the year that I hiked it. The numbers have been steadily increasing over the years, so there might be even more by the end of this year.
In 2013 my wife and I chose to start in early September, reckoning that the weather should still be decent and that the crowds would have died down by then.
Boy were we wrong. Not about the weather, but the crowds. Fortunately I speak enough Spanish to be comfortable conversing on the telephone, so we ultimately started phoning ahead to make reservations for lodgings — for many people it was at times challenging to find a place to sleep, and that was late season. This is just one of the issues that famous long distance hiker Francis Tapon mentions in a list he compiled of “10 reasons why el Camino Santiago sucks”.
So why would I even consider hiking this very busy trail a second time, and just two years later??
Let me add to that the point that I’ve rarely re-hiked any trail. There are so very many great trails to hike that I like to find new places to go each time. I’ll be hiking the southern half of the Florida Trail in early 2016, and then will hike somewhat more than half of the Pacific Northwest Trail later in the year, to complete both of these trails. And then lots more new places beckon.
So Why Hike it Again?!?
The Camino is somewhat of a special case, however. The specific thing that’s getting me back so soon is that a very good trail friend is hiking it this year, and one other friend and I decided that we would really like to hike it with him. But it’s more than that. Of all trails I’ve ever hiked, I think that the Camino is the one that’s most worth re-hiking.
Because it’s very much about the people you meet and talk with along the way. I just love the international atmosphere of walking along or eating with people from various countries, getting their viewpoints, challenging some of my default assumptions about the world and my place in it. The Camino also offers a lot of cultural and historical ‘stuff’ that you just can’t take in from a single journey. There are so many little towns and things to see, some optional side trips and a few trail alternates, different places to stop for the day and different places to sleep. It’s bound to be new and fresh again even just two years later.
Finally, the Camino is pretty fun & easy to hike. Some long distance trails require some significant prep, skill, and/or mental and physical toughness to have a decent chance of success. The Camino in contrast, is just fun; very little food and water to carry, lots of fairly inexpensive lodging options so I’m not bringing a tent — thus my pack will be pretty light. One of the things that I like about the Camino is that it allows a much wider cross-section of the population to get out and have a long distance walking adventure.
There are challenges and discomforts with any trail, but if you take the Camino for what it is, I find it to be a great experience.
My Companions: Lucky and Milky
My trail friends are Lucky and Milky (trail names), both of whom I met when we were all thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2008. I hiked most of the Appalachian Trail with Lucky in 2010 (we parted when I left the trail in New York for a couple of weeks with Giardia). Then both of us hiked the first month with Milky when he hiked the Appalachian Trail to complete his triple crown in 2014. Lucky is from Michigan, and Milky is from the Lakes District in England (Cumbria).
We’ll start hiking from St. Jean Pied de Port on Sept 25th, and we have to be done in time to catch a flight out of Santiago on Nov 3rd. So about 38 days total, which is an average of just over 13 miles per day.
That’s not high mileage in typical thru-hiker culture, but hopefully we’ll take a day off along the way here and there, and this trail isn’t like long distance hikes in the U.S. You don’t want to push the pace. It’s just very pleasant to finish in the early afternoon, find lodging and do basic chores, then relax, visit the town or village, have a glass of wine and enjoy good conversation.
In 2013 I found part of the delight was encountering some of the same people over and over, and yet still meeting so many new people all of the time. Push for 20+ mile days and you’ll likely be having a lot less interaction with your fellow “pilgrims”. As I wrote in my 2013 blog, the Camino is a race which, if you win, then you really lose.
Blog from Last Trip
My 2013 blog is, by the way, here: https://postholer.com/journal/viewJournal.php?event_id=2015
My wife and I hiked the trail in 36 days, but we finished at Santiago; Lucky and Milky and I are hoping to push on west to the optional coastal end point of Finisterre, what was thought in medieval times to be the western end of the world. So we’ll have to hike a bit more on an average day, or take less days off. We’ll see!
I’ve never blogged with the WordPress app before, so I’ll probably add at least one more entry before I leave just to practice blogging from my phone.
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