Life and Business Lessons Learned From A Hike Across Spain, Step by Step
My adventurous soul was about to be ignited again!
For those of you who are unaware, The Camino De Santiago is a 500-mile hike across Northern Spain. There are many routes to take, however the most popular route, with the best infrastructure, is the Frances route. The Frances (or French route) starts at a small French town, St Jean Pied De Port and you follow the trail until you reach Santiago De Compostela. I learned of the Camino a few years previously and I thought to myself at the time “I'd like to do that one day”.
At the age of 45, my adventurous soul had been buried in a life of work and family. Having left home at a young age, I had not really taken any time to explore the world, although deep down I knew that the mountains were calling me and my time would come. I was a workaholic, although I never saw it like that. If you love what you do how can you call that work? But the long hours of being behind a computer, travelling the country delivering training and talks, the energy it takes to continuously develop new products and new ideas for the business, as well as constant need to keep ahead of the game within the industry was taking its toll and I was tired. I knew that I was heading for burn out, and somehow I needed to get off this treadmill, even if it was for a short period of time. I needed to call time out, and the Camino presented itself just at the right time.
Having now interviewed many pilgrims, I know that you are called to the Camino. Here is how it works. You will hear about this trail at least three times from different directions before you finally make your decision to fly to Spain. In my case, I had originally heard of the Camino from a business colleague who had walked the trail after the death of her husband. My second calling was from a client of mine who had taken five weeks to walk the French route with her boyfriend, and the final calling was the film The Way, which I just happen to stumble upon whilst browsing through Amazon Prime videos. This was something that I wanted to do. This was something I needed to do. This was something that was now in my head and I just had to convince my husband that it was a good idea!
Fast forward 12 months.
My husband was not happy with me taking our 13-year-old daughter with me to a random place in Spain where I had no accommodation booked and not really any idea what village or town we would be staying at each night. Once I told him that my best friend of over 40 years, was also coming with us he was much happier and my wish was granted. I was going to walk the Camino!
So, here I was, laden with a brand new rucksack, my 13-year-old daughter to my right and my best friend, Julie, on my left as we were about to take our first steps on the Pyrenees mountains.
Doubt set in as I contemplated what was ahead of me.
Physical Challenge – Could I really walk 10-15 miles a day?
We live in Northamptonshire, UK, which is right in the middle of the country. It is known as the Heart of England and although the countryside is stunning, there are certainly no mountains nearby. Don't get me wrong, all three of us had been training for this trip, which included walking 10k steps a day, weekend walks of up to 12 miles and would include a few hills but I don't think that anything can prepare you for that first day on the Pyrenees. Completing a 10-mile walk around a local lake was nothing compared to what we were about to do!
My friend Jane had recommended that the first day we only walk five miles and stop at a hostel called The Orisson, which is in the heart of the Pyrenees. In my arrogance, I knew that five miles were no issue for any of us. It's only five miles! Our training walks were much more than that, so the first day would be easy… how wrong was I?
As you leave the pretty French town of St Jean Pied De Port the mountain hits you straight away. Up. There is no need for any other word but “up”. The steep climb out of St Jean was gruesome and my calve muscles were screaming at me to stop before I had even taken the first bend in the road. OMG! What on earth am I doing? The heat was another contender for discomfort levels. Us Brits are not accustomed to walking in the heat, and boy was it hot! As we reached the first little cafe layers were coming off and our new rucksacks were starting to feel like lead weights around our neck. We were only two miles in and panic set in… could we actually do this?
Could I cope with only two sets of clothes?
As we sat at that first cafe sipping a cold coke, I could see the sweat patches on my clothes. I knew that I probably didn't smell great either and I was wondering if I would be able to cope with the fact of being rather gross for the duration of this trip. The cycle of washing your clothes each evening, so that you have fresh clothes every day is part of the Camino life and becomes a habit after a few days. Little did I know that it was actually quite nice to not have to worry about what I was going to wear each day – one less thing to think about!
Would I get lost?
I was in a foreign country where I could not understand the signage (French or Spanish). I had a guide book and a map, but I had never navigated my way over a mountain range before. I was also responsible for a 13-year-old so it was important to keep on track. What was the signage going to be like? How would I find my way? I had seen films and YouTube videos that showed the yellow arrows, but were they easy to find and what happens if I miss one?
If you are reading this then I need to tell you that the Camino Frances route has an amazing infrastructure. I have walked other Camino's and the routes are not as well waymarked as the Camino Frances. The milestones, the yellow arrows and the other pilgrims that are walking the trail are so easy to follow that it is highly unlikely that you will get lost. On the odd occasion where we had missed a sign (probably due to chatting and not really concentrating), a local would get your attention with a smile and point you in the right direction.
What would it be like walking each day with a teenager?
Rachel is a young woman who knows her own mind. She is a confident individual and she does not hold back if she was any concerns or doubts. My husband was a “house hubby” during her first ten years in this world, whilst I worked all the hour's godsends. When I look back at those lost years it saddens my soul. When she reached ten years old we had sold our recruitment agency business and our lives changed. I was now able to spend more time with Rachel. I was still working hard on a new business venture, but Matt had gone back to work and it was now my job to do the school run and I loved it. Eating breakfast together, chatting about our day ahead and often picking her up from school. Our relationship blossomed. They say that the way children spell LOVE is T-I-M-E and that is so true. We were both very excited about our first Camino trip and the planning and training certainly brought us even closer together. We were now buddies with something in common and it was great. Training is one thing, but could I really cope if she had a “teenage strop” on the mountain in the middle of no-where? Time would tell.
I didn't speak Spanish!
I love my tech, so the minute I knew I would be travelling to Spain, I downloaded duo-lingo and started learning some very basic Spanish. I completely forgot that the first few days of the trip I would be in France and not Spain! Anyway, I have always struggled with learning languages and if I am completely honest with you, I was freaking out! I knew that I would need to book-in at hostels and hotels and ask for things at the pharmacy etc. It was going to be a nightmare and the story played over and over in my head. I don't know why I didn't consider using Google translate on that first trip? It was my friend Julie who figured out that this was the easiest way to communicate with people. We had many hilarious Google Translate conversations with both Spanish and French people.
Can I really sleep in a bunkhouse with strangers?
I am a light sleeper. For years I have been on call and therefore the slightest noise in the room would wake me up. I am envious of those that snore so deeply that nothing would wake them. So how was I going to cope with both men and women in the same room? Different personalities with different cultures that have very different habits to us Brits! I do remember chuckling to myself as a Korean guy in Astorga hostel was sleep talking. I didn't understand anything that he was saying, but it kept me amused for a good half an hour.
On that very first night in the Orrison Refuge in the Pyrenees, I remember being woken by an older German guy who was trying to navigate his way down from the top bunk. I watched with amusement as he made one hell of a racket climbing down the ladder and then tip-toed across the room as he headed for the toilet. My bunk bed was next to the toilet and what happened next will stay with me forever. I expected to hear a little tinkle sound, but oh no – this guy had full on diarrhoea! I grabbed my pillow and placed it over my head to try and block out the noise but it was awful! I think the worse part was seeing the same guy during breakfast the next day.
Anyway, if you struggle with sleeping in the hostels then the answer is to simply spend a bit of money and upgrade. Have a room to yourself, or ask for a smaller room that only has 4-6 people. Sleep is so essential on this trail that you just need to figure out what is best for you. My solution was to spend more time in hotels and upgraded Albergues!
I was concerned that people would think I was being selfish
There were a few elements to this internal story of feeling selfish. The first element was financial. When you look at walking boots, rucksacks, waterproofs, flights, hostels, hotels, and food for the trip it can certainly add up. I was spending all this money and my husband who worked just as hard as I did was not benefitting (unless you think that getting rid of the wife and daughter for a substantial period of time is a benefit?). There was certainly an element of guilt each time I pressed the “buy now” button on Amazon, or ventured to Go Outdoors to see what was on special offer!
The other element was that I knew I was doing this for me. I knew that I needed some time out and that also made me feel guilty. Five Camino's later and I still have those feelings. It is part of my DNA and I find myself justifying it in my head as to the reasons why.
I think some people may look at my social media presence and think that walking the Camino on your own, or with a small group is easy, but there will always be internal battles that you will face. We run stories over and over in our head and play out different scenarios that have all sorts of endings. All I know is that I have now completed five individual Camino trips and there is something very healing and magical about this place. In the next few weeks, I will be rolling out the life and business lessons that I have learned from my Camino experiences which will hopefully show how much I have changed as an individual on this wonderful journey. I hope that you will join me as I try to get my thoughts and feelings into written format.
Thank you for reading this blog.