Giving the Gift of Hiking: Walking with Mom on the Camino Portugues
A month after retiring from a 39-year career with the government, my mom hopped on her first flight overseas to walk 100 miles across Portugal and Spain. She had never been backpacking, walked more than a few miles in one day, nor worn a pack. She had a career that kept her in the office where most of her days were sedentary. She wanted to do the trip as a symbolical and physical marker of transition in her life as she moves on to the next chapter of being retired.
As for me, ever since walking the Camino Frances route in 2017 I wanted to return to walk another route. I just love the simplicity of walking the ancient pilgrimage routes where over time thousands of other pilgrims have walked. As an experienced backpacker I look at the Camino route as a nice break from the physical challenges of the long trails in the states. It renews my love for just strolling through a landscape and allows me to really observe my surroundings since I don’t have to intently focus on where I place my foot every step. Plus, the access to great food and wine doesn’t hurt.
Back when I started thinking about walking the Portugues route I figured I would start in Lisbon. Then when my mother mentioned that she was interested in joining me, that threw a wrench in the plan and I had to start thinking of adapting the plan. But the decision to do the walk together was not an easy decision. Over a couple of months I went back and forth debating whether or not we should do the hike. The starting point kept changing and the mileage kept getting shorter to make the walk more attainable for her. I wasn’t sure if she would physically be able to do it since she had not been training much, although I kept reassuring her that it was easy walking. There are lots of lodging options and we could do low-mileage days to make it easier.
But it was more than my mom’s ability to do the hike; I was having selfish thoughts like I wouldn’t be doing the hike I originally wanted. I would be cutting it short and in that case what’s the point in hiking it if I’m not doing the whole thing—the usual purist thru-hiker babble. Basically, I was living under the notion that I had to stay true to some nonexistent long-distance thru-hiker status I felt I needed to keep up. But once I decided to give myself grace, I realized that I could just go on a walk and it doesn’t have to be hundreds of miles long.
To get some more perspective I reached out to a friend who had hiked with her mother on the camino. She reaffirmed my predictions and said of course it will be different than if you went solo. You might not make as many connections with others, and you might go slower. But she also said how other folks on the trail would constantly approach them and say how special it was to be able to do that trip together, and how they wish they could do it with their kids. And so with that information I realized that I was one of the lucky ones. A benefit that comes with having such a nontraditional and flexible lifestyle is that I am able to spend more time with my family. I don’t have to schedule months ahead of time or get vacation days like my peers. I am privileged with freedom and I should take advantage of it.
In the back-and-forth debate, I noticed my mom’s reasons for doing the hike. She was in a time of intense transition, stressing about the future and questioning her identity after no longer being tied to a profession. It was then that I realized how important this trip was to her, and I decided to remove my ego from the game. I had the realization that the trip didn’t have to be like past trips when I traveled and hiked solo. I had to shift my intentions of this trip from me to her and look at it as something I could do for her. I wanted to give my mom the gift of taking her over and doing this with her. Then it all dawned on me. Who better to take my mom overseas than me? Who better to take my mom on a hike than me? I mean, this is what my life is all about; I’m an adventure-travel writer, and my life revolves around traveling and hiking. There’s no one better than me to do this for her.
I thought of my last living grandparent, my mom’s mother. I thought about my grandmother’s trip to Spain in the ’70s with my grandfather and how she still talks about it to this day. That trip gave my grandmother a memory to hold on to for life and a story to tell. I wanted to give my mother a story of adventure she could share when she’s my grandmother’s age, the story of that time when she walked 100 miles across Portugal and Spain.
Well, back to hopping on that plane a month after retirement. We ended up shortening the trip to 100 miles and started walking in Ponte de Lima, Portugal. Nine days later we made it to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and celebrated in front of the cathedral. It wasn’t the hike I had originally wanted but I know I made the right decision to hike with my mom. I mean, hey, I didn’t have to sleep on a bunk in a dorm because we got private rooms every night, so hiking with mom does have its perks. But more sweetly, it’s a shared experience we can always look back on and it’s time spent together when it’s uncertain how much more we get. I know I am privileged to have so much time with family, and I try to live a life where I don’t take it for granted.
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