Kate Beck graduated in 2014 with a bachelor of arts degree, majors in English and Spanish.
I froze, staring at the red-dotted line on my phone. My stomach dropped. I had miscalculated the distance when sending our backpacks ahead to the next hostel. Now instead of walking an already-challenging 15 miles for the day, it would be an impossible 20.
It was day 10 of a 35-day trek with my father on the Camino de Santiago—a 500-mile, ancient pilgrimage stretching from the Pyrenees in France to the city of Santiago de Compostela in the northeastern corner of Spain. It had always been my dream to one day walk the Camino. When my mom passed away in September 2018 after a too-short battle with lung cancer, I knew it was time. I had read the books, the blogs, the articles; they all said the Camino will change your life.
The day started promisingly. The sun shone brightly, and the morning breeze blew crisp and refreshing. We had just finished breakfast in a small town in the La Rioja region after a 5-mile walk that began in the dark but progressed through lush, green vineyards sparkling in the early light. We fueled up on fresh-squeezed zumo de naranja and tortilla española outside the cafe, our boots on the ground beside us, our socks draped over the unused chairs at our table, airing out. Now back on the trail, Dad picked up the pace, his walking poles hitting the ground in a steady rhythm slightly ahead of me, unaware of my discovery. He’s going to kill me, I thought. I had asked my father to walk the Camino de Santiago with me a year before. To my surprise, he said yes. To his surprise, he didn’t back out.
The journey had already challenged both of us more than we thought possible. My feet had become almost unbearable to even stand on after about 11 miles each day, so we’d had to cut back on our daily distance and send my pack ahead to each hostel. While this was discouraging and disappointing to me, I could tell it was a relief to Dad. He confided later that for the first week he secretly hoped we’d have to give up, saving him from the hundreds of miles he didn’t believe he could physically—or mentally—conquer. To now attempt 20 miles in one day would be pushing us both far past what we believed we could endure.
I started brainstorming solutions in my head. Could we bus to our hostel? Probably not; the last two towns were both in the middle of nowhere and wouldn’t have a bus line. A taxi wouldn’t work either—we’d only be able to grab one in the nearest city and it would cost a small fortune to get us where we needed to go. Hitchhiking ... best possibility, but also highest possibility of us being murdered—Dad wouldn’t like that—so it was out too.
I would have to confess, without a real solution to offer. I cringed, waiting for his reply. He paused a beat, and then spoke, “We can do it.”
From that moment on, it was solidified in our minds: We were going to walk these 20 miles. And, surprisingly, we did. We would never have signed up to walk that far, thinking there was absolutely no way we could make it. When we were left with no choice, we found we could do more than we first thought, and in the end, we made it to our hostel, exhausted, aching, blistered, but outrageously proud of ourselves.
There would be many more hard days on the Camino—hot days, long days, boring days, not-enough-sleep days. But we knew no matter how difficult it got, we had what it took to push through the challenges that came our way.
My problems weren’t all solved nor my grief all processed by the time we stepped into the plaza in Santiago, the end of the Camino. But maybe the “solutions” aren’t a destination we’re meant to arrive at. Many pilgrims will tell you, there’s nothing special in Santiago; the magic isn’t in the city or the cathedral—the magic is in the way.
Many pilgrims will also tell you, “The real Camino begins once you leave the Camino.” While we walked, we weren’t sure what this journey would mean, but once we arrived in Santiago it became clear that it wasn’t finished; the journey wouldn’t end here. But it had shown us both that we were stronger and more capable than we thought for whatever the journey ahead would bring.
Posted March 11, 2021