Life and Business Lessons Learned From A Hike Across Spain, Step by Step
When we are children, every day is an adventure. We trust our imaginations and we explore hidden worlds (even if it is the woods at the end of the garden). Living a life that is full of adventure and experiencing new things is certainly an aspect of life that slows down once you hit your 40’s. Why is that? Why do we find ourselves saying no more often than we say yes?
There is a famous quote by Neale Donald Walsch, who once said
Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone
Before I headed out on the Camino I had taken very few risks. The biggest risk I had ever taken was the leap into self-employment, but looking back, it wasn’t really a risk. We had enough money in the bank to keep us going for a few months whilst the business was taking off, and in the back of my head, I always knew that I could get another job if things didn’t work out.
On the Camino, I learned how to embrace risk and adventure.
By far, the biggest adventure which pushed me out of my comfort zone was my first solo trip in October 2018. Nellie (my rucksack) was all packed and my husband drove me to the train station in Milton Keynes. We were stuck in traffic on the way so I only had a few minutes to say goodbye before dashing off to catch the train to Stansted. I didn’t have time to think about what lies ahead and I certainly didn’t consider myself brave. I had travelled a lot for work and this didn’t feel that much different… yet! As I boarded the Stansted Express train from Liverpool Street Station in London, I received a text from my hubby. “Love you, I am so proud of what you are about to do. Stay safe”. That simple text meant the world to me, but it also made me realise that what I was about to do was different and it was not a business trip. Little did I know that this was going to be one of those journey’s where each turn would be a new experience and my life would change for the better.
What risks do you take on the Camino?
Unless you are walking the Camino as part of a package holiday (yes, they are available), you can not really call the Camino a holiday. The Camino is an experience that will push you outside your comfort zone as you do not really know how far you will walk each day, nor do you know exactly where you will be sleeping each night. If you like to be in control (and I certainly do), then the “not knowing” can be a real test of your personality. My anxiety levels were tested on multiple occasions on those early trips, and then on the last night of my solo hike, the “unknown” was pushed a bit too far.
Walking around Pamplona at night with no-where to stay!
It was a Saturday and I had spent a wonderful last day in Logrono with my Camino friends, Erik, Laura and Paul. We had hired pushbikes (which are free to hire in Logrono – just visit the information centre) and spent the day exploring the town and the river trails. I had introduced my new Camino family to the joys of geocaching, and we had a wonderful relaxed lunch in a beautiful park whilst watching the world go by. Erik had found a delightful restaurant which was off the beaten track, which is where I ate rabbit for the very first time (one of many “firsts”). I was leaving the next day, so this was a fabulous way of saying goodbye to my friends. We parted around 4.30pm and I headed back to the hotel, arranging to meet them later that evening for a wine tasting experience that Erik had organised. Whilst sitting in my hotel room I decided to check the times for the bus for tomorrow. My flight was from Bilbao at 5.30pm, so I needed to get an early bus from Logrono to Pamplona and make a connection from there to the airport, this should be easy.
Panic set in as there was no bus!
Panic arose within as I looked at the bus timetable and realised that bus times were limited on a Sunday! The first bus was not until 11.30am, which meant I would certainly miss my flight…. eek! I hastily made the decision to head off to Pamplona that evening so that I could catch an early bus to the airport the next day. I packed up my rucksack and sent a text message to Erik apologising that I would not be able to make it to the wine tasting session, but I was on my way to Pamplona instead.
I arrived at Logrono bus station in time for my 7.30pm bus-ride to Pamplona. After what seemed like an eternity, the bus finally pulled into the diesel fumed Pamplona station around 9.30pm. Right, I can do this. All I need to do is look for a hostel and I will be fine.
I launch the booking.com application on my phone but all hostels within a 2-mile radius were fully booked. The only hotel that had vacancies were seriously overpriced. I then launched my Beun Camino app which gave me three hostels nearby that were not on booking.com, so I click the link that activated Google Maps and I was on my way to the first hostel. As I emerged from the station, the hustle of the big city hit me. It was as if someone had picked me up and landed me in the middle of London but everyone was speaking a different language. I was standing next to a Subway (sandwich place), when three drunken lads spilt out and nearly knocked me over. They laughed and apologised. I smiled back and raised my hands as if to say “no worries”, but inside I was feeling incredibly vulnerable. I had no Camino family, I could see no pilgrims around, it was now November and the nights were dark and if I am honest, this is the first time that I had actually felt a bit scared.
It was now nearly 10 pm at night and I had no-where to stay. The hostel was less than a mile away and I hoped they had a bed for me. I reached the hostel and saw the sign on the door that declared “closed for the season”. My heart sank. Be brave Julia, you can do this! What was the next hostel on the list (now it was 10.30pm and the drunks in the town were getting louder). The next hostel was just around the corner, phew! I kept my head down and tried to look inconspicuous, whilst navigating my way to the next hostel. I tentatively knocked on the door, knowing that curfew for many hostels is 10 pm and it was probably lights out time. A lady answered the door but shook her head as if to say “no room at the inn”. She wrote the address of yet another hostel who she thought may be able to help on a post-it note and wished me well. I could cry, in fact, that is exactly what I did. I sat on the step of the hostel and wept like a baby.
If all else fails, phone your husband for support.
At this point, I needed to hear the calming voice of my beloved, supportive husband. If I was talking to someone (in English!), then I felt safer and he would be able to chat with me whilst I made my way to the next hostel. He was great, to start with! He saw where I was via “Find Friends” on the iPhone and he was looking at hotels nearby. He just kept chatting to me whilst I walked another mile or so to the third hostel. I reached the Albergue and a knocked on the big wooden door. This was a “pension” which means it was a private hostel. Matt was still on the phone to me, keeping me sane, when the big door creaked open and an old man, with a granddad cap and slippers, appeared. In my broken Spanish, I said “habitacion por favor?” – si, si he replied and gestured to me to follow him. Bearing in mind that I still had my husband on the phone at the other end, this is how our conversation went:-
Julia: “An old man has answered and he says he has a room”.
Matt: “Excellent, keep me on the phone so I know you are safe”
Julia: “Ok. He is leading me up the stairs. This is all a bit weird. Can you hear the dog barking?”
Matt: “What is a dog doing in a hostel?”
Julia: “This doesn’t look like a hostel. It looks like a block of flats. I am now on the third floor and this all feels a bit uncomfortable”.
Matt: “He is probably leading you to a dark room where he will chop you up into 1000 pieces”
Julia: “Matt, you are not helping!” [another dog barks behind a closed door]
We reached the third level and the old man pointed to a seat in a corridor. I sat down and he shuffled off behind another door. I heard muffled voices and in my head, I was planning my exit. Matt was still on the phone and had been joined by Rachel (my daughter). I knew that they were worried, but I felt better knowing that they were able to hear everything that was going on.
A plump, smiley Spanish lady appeared with a phone in her hand and gave me a huge grin. She clicked on Google translate and the robotic words came out of her phone “you look very tired. Would you like one room? I will take you now, it is €40, is that ok? can I have your Pilgrim passport?”. I smiled and thanked her. With a sigh of relief, I followed her to the room which was amazing. This lady was so kind and she mothered me, asking me if I needed anything. She showed me to the small kitchen and told me to help myself to tea and coffee. The room was immaculate and I had a kingsized bed all to myself. Matt was happy that I finally had a decent bed to sleep in and he told me that he was looking forward to seeing me tomorrow.
After that experience, I knew I could do anything.
We are conditioned to see the bad in everything when I actually now believe that there are many more good people in this world than there are bad. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t be sensible when you find yourself in a vulnerable situation, and you should always go with your gut instinct about characters that you meet when out hiking.
There are so many stories that I could tell you about which tested my character and my courage, but this is the story that stuck in my mind and my heart. I was really scared that day, but when I reflect on the situation, I was never in any real danger. I was probably in more danger when I ate the tripe that I purchased thinking it was a nice beef stew!
That experience in Pamplona changed my outlook on life. I didn’t die, and I experienced fear that I didn’t know I had, but I felt alive and I also felt eternally grateful to the little lady who welcomed me into her house and gave me a huge hug as if she was my own mum. I felt comfort knowing that my family were always there, even if it was virtual support, and above all, I now had a new lease of life knowing that I could do anything that I wanted if I put my mind to it.
Some people may say that I am a bit bonkers, but I now try to live life as adventurously as possible. That feeling of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone makes me feel alive. I believe that the day in Pamplona was the moment that my life of true adventure and micro-adventures really began.
What are you doing with your life to push yourself outside of your comfort zone? What is beyond that line? When was your heart last racing so fast that you felt happy to be alive?
Thank you for reading this blog.