Coincidence or clairvoyance? You decide….

If you’ve heard all the stories about academia that you care to hear in a lifetime and they strike you as highfalutin, injected with too much self-aggrandizement, then maybe this isn’t the story for you.  And if your feet are so firmly planted on the ground that any hint of the spiritual or, heaven forbid, the prophetic, makes you uncomfortable, again, maybe this story isn’t for you.  (But then, if either of those things are true, you probably abandoned this blog very early on.)

As for me, I love this tale, and I swear, every single word of it is Gospel truth!  Trust me on this one.


To set the stage, we have to go back in time.  Way back.  The year is 1975.  Let’s picture February.  Could have been March.  Same difference, really.  It’s winter in Indiana.  If you’ve lived here, you know what I mean.  If not, picture a near-endless succession of dull, gray-skied, moisture-filled days.  Dreariness personified.  Add to the scene a beyond-terrified graduate student preparing to “sit” for her doctoral exams.  Three of them, scheduled three or four weeks apart.  You would think that by one’s fifth year in grad school–and, what?  one’s 20th year of absorbing, analyzing, interpreting, comparing, contrasting, and otherwise showing understanding of any number of subject matters and disciplines–that one would have grown accustomed to the rigors of exercising the brain.  Taking an exam, even a 6-hour written exam–or, in this case, three such exams, would just give one a chance to show one’s highly-honed intellectual muscles.  Just another trip to an oft-visited gym, but staying to exercise a bit longer than usual.

You might think that, but you would be wrong.  At least in the case of this particular grad student who, as I already mentioned, was terrified.  C’est moi, of course.  But you already knew that.

So, are you picturing me cowering?  Deep circles under my eyes?  Nervous ticks?  Barricaded in my room and hemmed in by irregular piles of opened books, ragged, dog-eared notebooks, half-consumed cups of coffee?  Enough.  Let’s not dwell on the pathetic sight  I’m making my way through the genres of Spanish Golden Age literature; think: 16th and 17th centuries.  Prose, drama, poetry.  Cervantes, naturally.  Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca, of course.  And the poets, foremost among them Quevedo and Góngora.  The poets.  The sonnets.  All those rhyming patterns.  Those lines with the right number of syllables.  The ABBAs and ABCs and so forth.  (You had to learn that, too, like with Shakespeare, no?  Or Milton?  Do you remember the patterns and rules better than I do?  That was a long time ago!)

And all of a sudden, there I was, writing one.  Me!  A sonnet!  Oh, yeah: in Spanish!  The one and only poem I’ve ever written in Spanish.  Not one of those sing-songy ones like I write for people’s birthdays, but a real, honest-to-goodness poem.  With vocabulary that, if I may say so, sounded like the Golden Age era.  No surprise there as I’d been steeped in it, day and night, for years and with great intensity in recent months as I prepared for the exams.  The poem reflected my near-despair as I readied myself to face the “written exam gauntlet,” and yet, it was, at the same time, a release of tension.  I remember being excited to get the thoughts out in the open and to do so in the requisite sonnet form.  At least something was working for me!  Proof to self that I was retaining bits and pieces, that I hadn’t entirely gone out of my mind due to the process of trying to fill it to overflowing.

Yes, I was actually kind of proud of it.  And so I stuck a copy of it in the mail slot of Professor G., one of the five profs on my exam committee and the one whose class on Golden Age poetry I had taken.  There!  Got that off my chest!

What I didn’t expect was within 24 hours–perhaps in as few as 5 or 6?  I can’t swear to the time here, but it was a speedy turnaround, no question about it–I found in my mail cubby a sonnet of rebuttal, written specifically for me by Professor G!  Rhyme scheme, check.  Correct number of syllables per line, check.  Archaic vocabulary, double check.  The gist of it?  “You idiot.  Enough with the pessimism already.  You’ve got a solid brain and we know you’re going to do well.  Go get some sleep!”  All said very, very poetically and, besides, with great humor.


Follow-up: I did somehow manage to pass those three exams back in ’75, though I never wrote the dissertation that would have promoted me to  “doctor.”  But that’s another story.  In ’76 Professor G. moved on to greener pastures.  I thought of him from time to time, just as I would sometimes recall other professors from those years, but I had no further contact with him.

Ok. I’ve set the stage.  You’ve got the background.



Now, fast forward to mid-January, 2019.  Forty-four years have passed.  I am having lunch with Celia, a gal who did complete her doctorate at IU a bit more than a decade after I gave up the pursuit of same.  She has driven in from Columbus, Indiana, and she very generously has agreed to meet with me to talk about her experiences walking the Camino in 2011 and 2013.  In the course of our conversation, Professor G.’s name comes up.  Turns out he has written a book about the Camino and, even more amazing, he is one of the key people responsible for “finding” many portions of the forgotten and abandoned Camino route back in the late 70s; he clearly deserves considerable credit for its “rebirth”!

Another wow in my books!  (And his book?  Believe me, I’ve ordered it!)

Celia herself, it turns out, has done a lot of research on the Camino, starting back in 2000.  She has published articles and given many talks about it.  Who knew when we set up our lunch date?  Not I.  Upon hearing that she had delved into Camino history, I asked if she might be able to give me Professor G.’s contact information.  Said and done.  It just seemed appropriate to send him a line, thank him for his work on and dedication to the Camino, and let him know that I would be traveling there in a few months.  I formed in my mind what I might say in an email.

And then it occurred to me.  Those poems from back in 1975.  I was pretty sure I could put my hands on them.  Rather easily.  Hmmm.  That would be kind of fun.  Scanning them.  Attaching them to an email.  He’d be surprised.  He might get a kick out of that.  Yes, I’ll do it.

I head down the basement, open a file drawer, cross my fingers (full disclosure, as I promised that every word of this is true: it might have been a “mental” crossing of fingers…), and–I swear!–there they were, the two typed poems, in the front of the first file I opened!  Barely giving them a cursory reading, I rush upstairs, scan them, write the email, attach the scanned poems and also a photo of myself from 1971 to further prod Professor G.’s memory as to who I was, and hit “send.”  If this message ever gets opened, it is likely to be done in Mexico where Professor G. now lives. Wonder if I’ll hear back.

Indeed I did!  And in under 4 hours!  My email, he said, had made his day.  His response, with a bit about his life between 1976 and the present, made mine!

End of story?  Oh, no!  We haven’t even touched on the prophetic yet!



In my excitement to send off the poems, I had barely read them.  A quick skim, nada más.  But shortly afterwards I went back to them, with a particular focus on mine, to get a better view of my 25-year-old self caught between the proverbial rock and hard place.

Wait a minute!  What is this I see?  The first word of my sonnet!?!?  “Peregrina”!  Peregrina?  Pilgrim!  I am calling myself a “pilgrim”?  Uncanny. Here I am, about to embark on a peregrinaje [pilgrimage] for the first time in my life and what’s this?  I come to find that forty-four years ago I was thinking of myself in figurative terms as a “pilgrim”?  What are the chances?

And I read on.  “Peregrina por senda interminable“.  Pilgrim on a path with no end.  Oh, like a 500-mile one?  How often when I’m on the Meseta in north central Spain is “the path/the way/the camino” going to seem endless?

The second line (“sujeta a los caprichos voy del viento“) talks about me being tossed around by the whims of the wind.  I think about pilgrim Bonnie’s description of the 40 mph gales that assaulted her on the first day of her Camino as she crossed the Pyrenees….

That wind, I say in the poem, is so fierce that it even robs me of all ability to think and it tosses me into “negrura inpenetrable” [endless or impenetrable darkness].  And I remember pilgrim Virginia telling me about her first day on the Camino when she and her walking partner for the day didn’t arrive in their overnight town of Roncevalles until 10:30 pm….

My second stanza summons “la fatiga inagotable” [the inexhaustible fatigue] and I recall any number of people who have described their Camino experience as “the hardest–as in ‘most physically challenging’–thing I’ve ever done.”

And then, get this question asked in the third stanza: “Pues, ¿dónde está la venta que al viajero / aguarda con vela encendida y puerta / franqueada?”  Where is the inn that awaits the traveler, [said inn having left] a candle burning and the door ajar?  Holy Schmoly!  I think about the hostels, how people scramble to get there before they fill up, how the refugios close their doors by 10:00 pm and woe to you if you’re not settled in by then.  The Spanish albergues don’t boast, like Motel 6, that they’ll “leave the light on for you.”

I won’t insist that every line of my sonnet coincides with a possible Camino experience.  The pilgrim in the poem–me!–refers to herself as being without friends and especially without a close friend who really understands what she is going through; she talks about being disillusioned, confused, and full of questions that have no answers, in need of some gatherings to cheer her up, distract her.  She is distraught and lonely.  The tone is, indeed, pessimistic.  It is not at all what I expect of my upcoming pilgrimage experience.  Even while admitting to being a bit nervous and apprehensive about my trip, I am also very excited and not in the least terrified! (By late March, it’s anybody’s guess….)

Still, what are the chances?  Really, what are the chances that a good twenty years before I ever had heard of the Camino and forty-three years before I seriously pictured myself walking it, just what are the chances of my coming up with the pilgrim imagery and references that appear in the poem?  What is at play here? Call it “coincidence” if you must.  Call it “prophetic” if you are willing.  Or how about this: yet another example of “synchronicity”?

I call it “delightful” and “fun” and proof that not all adventures have to be physical ones, nor all “plays” the kind that are performed on stage.  After all, as the Bard said, “all the world’s a stage.”  And so this humble “player” will now take a little bow and call out, for now:


…And Ginny makes three!

It is official!  My little cousin Ginny is joining our ranks!  I’ve seen her flight information and count on her arriving at JFK on April 2 in plenty of time to join me and Barb as we cue up to board our Iberia flight for Madrid.  How cool is that?

“Just out of the blue?” you ask?  “Just like that?  You send her your itinerary and all of a sudden she’s thinks “maybe I should do that too“?  No, it wasn’t like that at all.  Well, mostly not like that.

Yes, it is true that within days of learning of our departure date, she hustled to the internet to see what flight plans she could come up with.  (Get this: she did so just enough days later that she managed to secure the same Iberia flight for $135 less than what we paid.  But whose counting pennies?!)  Ginny, though, had had the Camino on her radar for years.  Back in January of 2017 she and I were together with our sisters and cousins (“sister cousins” we call ourselves), luxuriating in a week-long “gathering of the flock” in a quiet community near Naples, Florida.  Ginny and I were roommates.


Not for the first time!  Our childhoods were marked by our trips back and forth between Chicago and “the farm” in Minnesota, we city cousins so jealous of the amazing lives our country cousins lived, and they, in turn, envious of ours.  In the same farmhouse where once my mom and Ginny’s dad had frolickked, there was the “girls’ room” and the “boys’ room.”  In the former, one, two or even three of the city cousins would somehow find sleeping space with two, three, or even all four of our girl cousins. It worked. It always worked. For a while, Ginny was the “tagalong.”  Perhaps annoying at times (were you, Ginny?  Most “little sisters” are, yet I don’t remember you being so) but adorable as well.  Even with her eyes closed.

That’s me on the right.  Bets and Pat behind Ginny.



I couldn’t resist.  These old photos are just the best!

 Left, at “the farm”: Bets, yours truly, our cousin Jane, my sister Marie, and, of course, “little Ginny” in front
Right, in Chicago: Ginny doing tricks


So back to January, 2017, and that shared bedroom in Florida: it was then, exactly two years ago, that I learned of Ginny’s plan to walk the Camino francés in the fall of that year.  We were giddy as we talked about her plans and preparations and mine for more or less the same time period: first European trip my husband and I were taking together, but no where close to Spain.  “If your plans fall through,” Ginny told me, “you’d be more than welcome to join me for any stage of my Camino.”  As it turned out, my trip was a “go”; hers was interrupted by some cranky body parts, perhaps resulting from Ginny’s aggressive hiking in the fall of 2016.

Because a hiker she is!  (And a canoeist, a camper, a runner, and, in general, an “I can do this” kind of person.)  When the fates are on our side–determination, hard work, and following the doctor’s orders help as well–those stubborn body parts heal.  Fortunately that has been the case with Ginny.  (Don’t we all keep our fingers constantly crossed in that regard?  “Knock on wood” and all that….)  The long and the short of it is that by August of 2018 when Ken and I had the privilege of visiting Ginny and Tom in their cozy “cottage” north of Duluth, Ginny was ready to get back into the hiking.  Together we hit a beautiful and not-too-difficult section of the Superior Hiking Trail, one that Ginny had not completed before.  You see, back in 2016 she set the goal of hiking every one of the 310 miles of this challenging, gorgeous footpath.  The trail (mostly) overlooks Lake Superior, extending from somewhere just south of Duluth to the Canadian border.  Our trek on that hot-for-the-North-Shore day added about 6 miles to her log and brought her, if I recall correctly, to a total of 260 miles or so of the trail.

And a seed was planted.  No, I take that back.  It was planted, deep in a secret corner, when I alerted Ginny, back in late spring, that I was sure wanting to imitate my new friend Virginia and head to Spain.  How could I not direct cousin “Virginia” to the other Virginia’s Facebook page where fabulous pictures and some commentary were posted every day?  So yes, the seed had been planted earlier, but I think our August hike served as fertilizer for that seed.  It received further sunshine and encouragement a few months later when nine of us girl cousins (“sister cousins”) gathered for a reunion. It prodded and poked and “nagged” and germinated and, in spite of the North Shore’s cold December, it sprung from the earth in the form of a text from Ginny sent on December 4:

… could I be so bold as to ask if you’d consider a Cuz on the Camino at the same time [as you]?

After receiving my very positive and enthusiastic response, she texted the following:

… I’m overwhelmed with joy and you know how much I want to make this pilgrimage!  I’m not certain why or what this journey may have in store for me, but I am hoping for some insight about….  It is going on 7 yrs. since I first learned of the Camino de Santiago and it has been a burning passion that has been squelched by injuries and finance-but that makes me all the more passionate after wading through setbacks and hardships to reach this goal.  I feel like I have already been on my own pilgrimage to get this far.  That said, it is going to take some true, focused commitment to launch me on this journey.

It was not a “yes, I’m going” but a “wow, you’ll have me?  I gotta see if I can work this out” kind of response.  And hard as it was, I left Ginny alone to do that work.  And work she has!  In more ways than you can imagine.  Between that December 4th exchange and the purchase of our plane tickets, Ginny’s Camino seed grew and grew.  And bloomed.  Ginny will be a key player in our Camino bouquet.

So yes, my little cousin.  The youngest of the 19 first cousins that comprise the family tree descending from James and Agnes.  As the photos above will attest, at one time the five years of age separating us were pretty huge; now, however, they are totally insignificant.  Except for this: Ginny has a big birthday coming up.  Uncle Sam will be responsible for her health care for exactly one full day before he gets a six-week hiatus when she leaves the country.  Lucky guy!  But Ginny gets to celebrate that big birthday during her second week in Spain.  Lucky her!  Barb and I get to celebrate with her.  Luck all around!

Florida, Janaury of 2017



Ginny taking a lunch break on the gorgeous Superior Hiking Trail, August 2018.  I ate, too, but at this moment I was busy snapping this photo of her.
Stay tuned for photos of us together on the Camino!

Coming out of the woodwork

(Caveat: This post was designed as a labor of love and gratitude, in a spirit of “let’s try [this or that],” by yours truly, a very inexperienced designer!  For what it’s worth, the post “views” much better on a computer where, I promise, when there’s a reference to a “photo below” or “to the left” or “to the right,” that is truly where the photo is!  On your phone or tablet?  Maybe not….  Please be forgiving; I think you’ll figure out who is who, and know this: I’m writing about some amazing people!  Any misrepresentation of their advice should be blamed on my sometimes-selective memory and/or my poor hearing, and is deeply regretted.  surprised)

Is there anyone left who hasn’t done the Camino?  Or doesn’t know someone who has just returned from completing it?  Or was planning on setting off for Roncevalles or St. Jean-Pied-de-Port before injuries reared their ugly heads or hiking mates backed out?  Talk about opening a Pandora’s box: just mention that you are going to do the Camino and former pilgrims will be coming out of the woodwork.  So, thinks I, why not collect their wisdom and advice to have at the ready?  There are online forums where every Tom, Dick, and Harry pipes up with an opinion to share with other Toms, Dicks, and Harrys, but I’ve been lucky enough to have people speaking (or writing) directly to me, for my benefit.  (Thus, if they mislead me, I know right where to find them to complain, right?  They won’t dare lead me astray or give me bum tips.  Not if they know what is good for them!)


There she is on the right, folks: the most immediate inspiration for my Camino.  I didn’t know Virginia before her trip, but I knew of her and once she departed for Spain I followed her daily Facebook posts religiously.  Oh, the spirit, the determination, the joy, the openness!  And her photos!  They left me drooling!  Once she returned, I met with her in a couple of restaurants for shop talk, on a trail to walk together, and at her house to see some of her equipment (which she was more than willing to loan me).  I asked her a lot of specific questions, all of which she patiently answered, but perhaps the advice she most wanted to leave me with could be summed up in this one word: “trust!”  In other words: don’t get all uptight with the details; things have a way of working out.  Go with the flow, enjoy the people you meet along the way, be open and curious and relaxed.


She walked the 500-mile Camino francés in spring of 2018

” T R U S T ! “

(And this advice from someone who, within hours of arriving in Spain, had her passport and all her money stolen!)

Mary Beth and her husband Fred did a 10-day pilgrimage on the Camino in June of 2014
Pictured below: Mary Beth & Fred (with sunglasses) and  travel mates Jim and Sue (featured later in this post), taken when they reached Santiago


Mary Beth


Mary Beth advised that I not put too many expectations on my walk, that I not decide ahead of time what I would or “should” get out of the walk.  She said she just asked God to show her what she needed to see and understand on the walk.  In her own words, these are the lessons she learned:

  • When I was walking up a very long hill, I kept thinking I could see the top, but I couldn’t.  It’s almost like a mirage…. The parellel in real life is that when we are going through dificult challenges, we have no idea how long or how difficult it will be, but trusting in God enables us to keep putting one foot in front of the other and not giving up.
  • …it doesn’t matter if you are leading the pack or coming in last or even if you have to stop partway and get on the bus, you did what you could and that’s okay.  The journey is not a competition but an experience.
  • Finally, I learnd a new appreciation for taking time to enjoy my surroundings as I walked, seeing God’s beautiful creation all around me in the countryside, in the towns we passed through, in the people we traveled with and met on the trail.

Oh, and she urged that I bring a second pair of shoes so I wouldn’t have to walk around in wet ones in the evenings.


She spent three weeks on the Camino, arriving triumphantly at the cathedral in Santiago (pictured below) in late October, 2018

Made it!

Bonnie was a student in my sister Pat’s sociology (or was it religion?) class well over 50 years ago.  That a relationship has continued through the years seems nothing short of amazing.  Equally astounding is that on the basis of that relationship Bonnie took the time to send me a detailed (3 pages, typed!) packing list explaining what she carried in her pack and the rationale behind her choices.  Packing lists abound online, but Bonnie’s generous sharing was very welcome.  I expect to be pouring over it as I prepare my pack.  A few items grabbed my attention:

  • bridal veil netting sprayed with permithran (bed-bug prevention)
  • side-S hook to hang [the permithran-treated] backpack from bunk bed
  • vaseline for lubing feet (validating what I have been doing for months)
  • the importance of layers to accommodate the temperatures at all hours of the day

What she didn’t explain: how I’m going to fit everything I’ll want to have in my pack and keep the weight at 15 pounds or under….


“Keep your pack to 10% of your body weight!”

“Always have dry socks!”

“What’s great is the spontaneity of the Camino.  It’s better without a plan.”

“It’s part of the [Camino]culture to just ‘let go.'”

Sheryl and I got in touch by phone at the suggestion of our mutual friend, Sheryl’s neighbor Liz.  She walked the traditional Camino francés in late May and June of 2013.  To say she loved the experience would be an understatement–“one of the best things I ever did,” she assured me–but unlike Virginia who said “trust,” and Antigone who assured me I wouldn’t have any trouble with the walk, that it wasn’t really that hard, Sheryl didn’t mince any words.  She warned me

  • that the grade on some of the inclines was going to blow my mind
  • that “everybody was in pain,” regardless of age or shape or physical condition
  • that there are lots of germs to be caught in the hostels and that it would be wise to have some Emergen-c along
  • that I should walk less at the beginning of the trek and also at the end, doing longest daily walks in the middle of the pilgrimage
  • that I should read up on how to avoid or minimize lactic acid build-up in my legs (drink plenty of water & do extra stretching)

“Take care of your feet!”

Fr. Joseph recommended applying Aquaphor before starting every day, and reapplying as needed during the day.  (“Better than Vaseline which doesn’t let your feet breath.” …  And here I thought my lungs were my prime asset for the breathing business.  Learn something new every day!)

Concerned about my soles and my soul, he also advised:

“Go to find Jesus.”

In the photo below, fellow pilgrims strike a Last Supper pose with Fr. Joseph.  (Yes, he is surrounded by twelve, but count if you like.)


Father Joseph

He did a couple of weeks–and 222 miles–on the Camino in late summer of 2018

Onward!  Ultreia!

“You must meet Maureen,” I was told by my neighbor Nancy.  “She just got back from several weeks on the Camino.”  And so, after a flurry of emails Maureen and I fixed a time and a place to meet for lunch and hear about her experiences.  I sat at the restaurant waiting for a stranger who would appear to be looking for me, a mutual stranger, only to spot a woman who generally sits within a couple of pews from me at 8:30 am Sunday mass!  We looked at each other with an “I know you!” kind of look and formally introduced ourselves for the first time.  Maureen arrived with maps, photos, and a tremendous amount of enthusiasm as she had returned only weeks before our encounter.


“The physical preparation is important,” she said, “but the mental and spiritual preparation is just as important.  Don’t neglect it.”  She recommended the book The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau.

You can tell from the photo to the left that Maureen had quiet moments for prayer and reflection.


She hiked the Camino in the summer of 2013 and 2014.  Get this: her pack weighed under 10 lbs.!  No wonder she has that smug look on her face!  Her first piece of advice to me?

“Go as light as possible.”




I ran across a former colleague from the Spanish department while out hiking.  She was curious about my loaded pack and my hiking poles.  Upon learning of my upcoming trek, she asked if I knew Kelly (I did, though not well) and she told me that Kelly had done the Camino a couple of times.  I promptly sent Kelly an email and she generously shared these tips:

  • go as light as possible
  • get waterproof boots
  • bring a cotton or silk sleeping bag liner
  • consider silk underwear tops and bottoms
  • start hiking at first light for best pick of overnight stays


Of all the folks who passed on both their enthusiasm and their suggestions to me, Pat is the one I have known the longest.  I’m guessing that we first met in 1971 and, both pursuing doctoral degrees in the Spanish department, we hung around together a lot.  We lived in the same grad dorm, then later in the same apartment complex.  We attended each other’s weddings and, at mine, she was put to work pinning corsages on those who needed them.  Unfortunately, we haven’t lived in the same town since… I would guess 1976, though she has returned to Indiana periodically and we’ve enjoyed walking and talking.  Our now 30-something children once upon a time had a tea party together.  When Pat visited Bloomington at some point after her 2012 trip on the Camino–6 days, from Sarria to Santiago–we lunched together and I ate and drank up all the details.  Never, of course, imagining that I would undertake such a journey, but all ears nonetheless.

Pat didn’t give advice as much as she just told me what she did and how she did it.  The advice can be read between the lines: find some great food, some spectacular wine, interesting places to stay, and let the culture just wash over you. 

The Camino, Pat told me, will pass right by the Godelia winery in Cacabelos, not far from El Bierzo.

  To the left, a picture of one of the wines produced at the Godelia bodega, named in honor of the pilgrims.  To the right, a pilgrim passing by the winery, totally oblivious to the Bacchanalian feast that could be hers.  Pat recommends I pay more attention….

“Look to your right, pilgrim! Stop & rest your weary feet and quench your thirst!”

Bits and pieces of a lengthy phone conversation with Antigone have stuck with me.  She advised:

  • when heading out on day #1, choose the Valcarlos route rather than the one that passes through Orisson: less crowded and equally beautiful, plus a way to break up the long, steep journey to Roncevalles
  • have some super light-weight sport shorts & top for wandering from hostel dorm room to bathroom; skimpy is better than indecent.

Interesting: Antigone planned to go it alone but met up with two women at the first albergue and they became an instant threesome (then a pair when one had to drop out).  She had no complaints about the load she carried, though if I recall correctly, it weighed at least 25 lbs.!  My conclusion: she must be incredibly fit and strong.  “You won’t have any trouble,” she assured me, “it’s not that hard.”


Antigone’s photos below, from left: “tough questions” along the trail; “a real bed!!!”; “the finish line”


Pictured above–filling a thermos with (free) wine from a wine fountain outside a bodega along the Camino–is my cousin Kathy’s stepdaughter.  Though we’ve never met in person, we’ve texted, emailed, and spoken on the phone.   Antigone shared her Camino experiences with generosity and enthusiasm.



Sue and Jim


This lovely couple did their 10-day pilgrimage with Mary Beth and Fred in 2014.  I see them most Sundays at church and they are 100% consistent in the advice they share (at right):

Read Joyce Rupp’s book: Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons from the Camino

Check!  1st Camino book I read. smile

Have a second pair of shoes

Agreed!  Won’t leave home without ’em!

but the most important piece of advice they could offer:

Walk!!!     Train!!!

  Walk!!!     Train!!!

     Walk!!!     Train!!!


I had met Celia on numerous occasions, typically at birthday parties for the daughter of a mutual friend.  That’s going back 15 to 20 years or more.  When that friend mentioned that Celia had done the Camino and had traveled to Spain annually for month-long visits for over two decades, with students and independently, and offered to provide me with Celia’s address, I didn’t know what a tremendous favor she was doing me.  My first thought was: why not connect with her?  Exchange an email or two, perhaps even a phone call.  Another “trophy” for this blog post which was already being drafted.  What a surprise to have Celia respond to my first email with the suggestion that she could drive the hour or so to Bloomington so we could lunch and chat.

Among many gems of advice from Celia, both practical and “spiritual,” the following stood out:
  • Don’t rush.  Take your time.  Listen to your body. Try this mantra: “con calma se llega” (the translation “relax and you’ll get there” doesn’t quite do justice to the expression, but still…)
  • Take care of your feet.  Stop every five kilometers or so, take off shoes and socks (see photo of Celia doing just that below), even if you end up putting the same socks back on.  Or change them as necessary.
  • Safety pins can sub for clothespins; use surgical tape immediately when you feel a hot spot; when earplugs don’t cut it at the overnight accommodations, try an app with “white noise” (raindrops, ocean waves, etc.)
  • “Savor every moment, use all 5 senses” and “bask in the simplicity of the daily pilgrim routine,” for as she says: “just follow the arrows!!!  There are very few decisions to make (even at the start of the day you don’t have to debate about what clothes to wear!)”

And so it came to pass.  What a delight to spend a couple of hours visiting with Celia over some yummy Thai food.  The surprises continued and my jaw nearly dropped when I learned that Celia had begun serious research on the Camino as early as 2000, that she has published scholarly articles, presented many talks, and hobnobbed with other Camino experts through the years!  All news to me!  I was totally taken in by her bright-eyed enthusiasm as she talked about finally walking the Camino–the 500-mile francés– in June of 2011 (not quite half of it) and June of 2013 (the rest).  Now her bucket list includes returning as a volunteer along the route.  Celia facilitated my reconnecting with a professor of mine from the early 1970s, who, she told me, was one of the “prime movers” in the reawakening of the Camino that slowly began by the mid-to-late 70s and early 80s.  Wow!  Thanks, Celia! (And thanks, Dave!)


She may be camera shy and not a fan of social media, but there is nothing shy about the way she tackles adventures!  World traveler par excellence, I had the pleasure of hiking and even camping with Tammy when she lived in these parts and participated in Walking Women activities.  Her humor and vitality are sorely missed.  But Tammy?  I don’t think she’s missed a continent on this good earth.  Last year alone, to celebrate her 70th, she went on 7 major trips!  One of those trips took her to northern Spain and a 50-mile section of the Camino.  Based on her experience, she passed on some advice, along with her best wishes for my trip.
 Do you suppose I’ll rue the day I decided to skip some of her suggestions?

Advice I seem to be ignoring:

  • (Tammy announced in June of 2018 that she was organizing a 7-day Camino hike from Porto, Portugal to Santiago.  She wrote:) “I know that the trail from Portugal is easier and prettier [than the Camino francés].”             But, Tammy, it’s Spain that is calling me.  And I’ve heard it’ll be gorgeous…. except for the parts that aren’t….
  • (in an email to me, she wrote:) “Skip hostels if you can…. bed bugs and lots of others in one big room and shared bathrooms….  Inns and paradors are good.”               Winning the lottery would be good, too!  Until then, I plan to do this pilgrimage as a “shared experience” with other “commoners.”

Advice I’m much more inclined to follow:

  • take gloves, hat, and warm coat
I am all about staying warm.  Just tell me how I can pack my fluffy jacket in a carry-on bag….  The hat and gloves?  Believe me, I’ll have them!
  • fun tip: use app on phone called “where to pee”; it gives bathroom locations anywhere in the world
I suppose the trail IS too busy to hope to relieve myself behind a tombstone or a tree…. And, from what I hear, the 135+ miles of “The Meseta” are open and treeless…  I’d better at least look into that app, my bladder behaving as it does…. (or doesn’t!)

And on and on!  My sister has a neighbor who completed the Camino with her husband and has gone back as a volunteer.  “I’d love to talk with your sister,” she told mine.  “Maybe we could meet her half way between here [Chicago] and Bloomington.”  I’ve learned that a former colleague did it with his wife and their 2- and 4-year-olds.  That a former neighbor, from just across the street, first walked and then, like my sister’s neighbor, returned to volunteer as a volunteer.  There’s Susie and Jen, daughters of my friend Sue’s neighbor…. Truly, I’m almost afraid to mention my plans as I then can’t resist the temptation to get in touch with all these people and hear their experiences.  Each pilgrim puts his or her own spin to the journey because, it’s obvious, each one walks his or her own Camino.  Though the words and the advice vary, all seem to love talking about and sharing their story.  The one universal statement I have heard is this:


I’m inclined to believe that!  For now, though, I feel the need to retreat a little bit, to quiet down, to pay more attention to my Camino.  I’ll be a more prepared pilgrim, and, I believe, a more giving one, thanks to the efforts to which others have gone in order to set me at ease and smooth my path.  It’s probably time–beyond time now!–to gently shut the door and seek within, to ask, of myself, the kinds of questions that only I can answer.  And also this: I want to leave room for the mystery and the unexpected gifts.  The surprises.  The messages.  The lessons.  Somehow I suspect that they will be present and plentiful.  Hopefully my interior soil will be sufficiently tilled and receptive to the seeds that fall my way.

The final trimester

I’ve had a bit of fun lately thinking of myself as a pilgrim-to-be and of my preparations for the pilgrimage as a sort of pregnancy.  Up until recently, I had an approximate “due date” (“D-date” or “do it date” or, if you must, “departure date”) of early-to-mid April, but now all evidence (as in the recent purchase of plane tickets) points to the specific date of April 2.  A scheduled “C” (for “Camino”) session.

And consider this: the thought of becoming a pilgrim had flitted through my head for years as I witnessed some of my friends chosing pilgrimhood.  I, however, didn’t think I had what it took.  Then, as my biological clock began ticking away, I was filled with the realization that it was a matter of “now or never,” and the thought did more than flit through my head but rather took up residence not only there but–ah!  essential!–in my heart as well.  By late June I was committed.  So, you do the math: from the start of July through the end of March: no cutting corners; this will be a full-term pregnancy.

FIRST TRIMESTER: July – August – September

This was a time for getting used to the idea of being a pilgrim-to-be.  A time for seeing myself in a bit of a different light.  I began reading about others who had done the Camino and the life lessons learned from the experience.  I had a million questions and pursued answers through reading online forums and talking with Virginia and Antigone who had both just completed the Camino in June.  These one-on-one conversations were very reassuring and personal, allowing for questions, answers, and follow-up questions and clarifications.  Everything pointed to: “Don’t worry!  You will love it!”  The online forums, on the other hand, were a bit unsettling.  There might easily be ten or twenty or even forty answers to each question posed by any number of pilgrims-to-be, many answers being totally contradictory.  Most boiled down to: “It depends”…. I learned not to read the forums near bedtime lest my mind should whirl and work overtime, cutting into precious sleep.

In fact, if there was any particular and disagreeable symptom of this first trimester it was “difficulty sleeping.”  That symptom, however, disappeared when I began serious hiking.  The heat, along with the exercise, and the realization that I was taking concrete steps (literally and figuratively) to ready myself for pilgrimhood allowed me to fall into a much better sleeping pattern.

During this first trimester I made some major decisions regarding purchases I would need as a pilgrim.  Some of those purchases were put to immediate use.  We’re talking shoes, boots, and backpack.  Oh, and a new-to-me refurbished phone, which, while still several “generations” old, is an improvement on the one I had; it should serve me well in Spain.

No morning sickness to speak of.

SECOND TRIMESTER: October – November – December

A time of great contentment.  My body began to feel much more prepared. Little wonder, as it truly was!  During the first trimester I averaged 57 miles/month; during this second trimester, the average was up to 90 miles/month.  The contentment was the result, no doubt, of the many hours spent surrounded by beauty and in the company of a variety of friendly, energetic, nature-loving women who, like me, felt blessed to be able to be out on the trails.  October in Indiana is often “to die for.”  This year did not disappoint, and the month was even more glorious because daughter Maura was home for a week-plus visit and was eager to spend most of her time “playing” in nature.  Fall’s beauty lingered long into November.  First colorful leaves delighted our eyes; then their crunchiness underfoot became natural music for our ears.  Late fall hiking meant: no extreme heat, no spider webs through which to walk, no fear of those dreaded ticks.  A small price to pay in exchange for the need to wear blaze orange hats or vests and wonder what game was legal for hunters in any given week.  So, yes, contentment.  A body getting stronger for the upcoming task of pilgrimhood.

Also, more contact with other pilgrims.  (I first wrote “former pilgrims,” but then decided that “once a pilgrim, always a pilgrim,” at least in most cases.  Pilgrims learn new ways of seeing things, new ways of thinking and interacting, and those ways, with a bit of effort, remain long after the pilgrimage has been completed.)  More reading.  Some videos about the Camino.  See fear and apprehension decrease while enthusiasm builds.

It was in October or early November when Barb, who had been wavering, came on board.  The Camino had been on her bucket list before it ended up on mine, though she envisioned doing it “some fall.”  My decision to tackle pilgrimhood on the cusp of my 70th birthday prompted her to do the same.  (I will, however, remain her elder by almost half a year.)  It’s great to have someone with whom to discuss and share ideas, concerns, books, videos, and logistics.  My Spanish and her travel savvy, common sense, and better memory will complement each other.  Peace of mind.

Possibly the best trimester.

THIRD and FINAL TRIMESTER: January – February – March

And here we are, a few weeks into the third and final trimester.  This is real!  It’s not just “fun and games” anymore, not just “talk.”  It’s going to happen.  That reality hits home even more now that the airfare has been purchased.  There is no stopping this process.  (No, do not remind me that nothing in life is certain or promised, that life can change on a dime, etc., etc.  I can’t go there!)

So maybe it’s understandable that the sense of contentment recedes a bit and gives way to, once again, some anxiety and apprehension.  There are a lot of nitty-gritty things to deal with, decisions that have been set aside in favor of training and which cannot be postponed forever.  Many of these details involve aspects of overseas travel that I don’t understand all that well, like figuring out: what kind of SIM card I’ll get once in Spain and what kind of a data plan I’ll need for my phone; the best way to carry and to obtain money on a trek where cash is going to be king; how I’m going to pare it all down so that my pack is both light and–I hope, I hope!–able to be compressed and thus qualify as a “carry on”… while still bringing all those little things (clothespins, headlamp, chargers, toiletries, and the many, many “nice-to-have” things that fellow pilgrims suggest one bring along).  Yes, a bit anxiety-producing.  Said anxiety can be counterbalanced with some of those long back-to-back hikes that the training guides recommend for this final trimester… but squeezing them in as sub-zero or even single-digit temperatures threaten is a challenging prospect. Snow and ice could make it harder to get to the trail heads and, once there, harder to stay on the trails and safely negotiate them.  Say hello to a bit of indoor walking and stair-stepping I suppose….

And then these haunting, daunting, thought-provoking questions:  Will I measure up?  Will I be a good pilgrim?  Or a “good enough” pilgrim?  Do I understand that there’s no need to be a super-pilgrim?  I’m growing physically, but am I mentally and spiritually as open to possible changes as I might be?  Do I really know what I’m getting into?

At this juncture, some deep breathing is probably called for.  Plus some letting go.  Let it happen, Katy.  Let nature take its course.  And remember: regular, ordinary people have managed to become pilgrims for centuries upon centuries.  Indeed, pilgrimhood is one of the most natural, time-tested conditions of both body and soul. Get ready to join the club.  When it comes right down to it, it’s a very inclusive one, with room for all kinds of folks.

No turning back!  Stay tuned for April 2 and beyond.


The deed is done! Gulp!

Yes!  We did it!  Selected “next” and “continue,” agreed that we had indeed–which of course we hadn’t!–read all the fine print, and provided our credit card numbers and… we’ve booked our flights to and from Madrid.  Yikes!

Ok, so it wasn’t as easy as I just made it sound.  I wish!  Barb–who joins me for the first half of my trek–arrived with her iPod in tow about 2:00 pm yesterday and we both got online, searching for flight bargains with the aid of Google flights.  Three hours later, after numerous false starts, lots of consternation, scribbles, statements like “oops, that won’t work” as we discounted long layovers, sleeping in a terminal at JFK, and flights which would preclude using the Bloomington-to-Indy shuttle, we gave each other high-fives and checked one very pressing thing off our list.

Those three hours were harder, and without a doubt more nerve-wracking, than any hikes I’ve done lately.  More expensive, too!  A typical hike of late has cost me $1.29, the price of a pair of air-activated heat packs to keep my hands warm.  Our airfare?  We’re pleased enough with the prices we got, but not shouting them from the rooftop.  I generally finish a hike waxing poetic about its beauty; we wrapped up our booking session yesterday thinking that our dinner might go down a lot better if accompanied by something alcoholic.

I wrote a post just over a week ago (7 x 7 = another goal met) in which I had some fun playing with the number 7.  Well, what do you know: 77 mornings from now, I’ll be heading for the airport!

April 2

So… why have I been awake since 1:30 am?  Why was I sitting in front of the computer by 3:30, counting sheep, counting blessings, praying for friends having failed to quiet my mind and let me sink back into slumber?  Purchasing my tickets, having a firm departure date, proving once and for all a complete commitment to the Camino….  I expected to sleep like a baby.  Instead, I find myself going over and over in my mind some of the finer details of the flights:

  • what if I can’t compress my backpack enough for it to be considered a carry-on?
  • what if that travel insurance I purchased with the tickets doesn’t really cover what I need it to?
  • what if early April brings one of those big Northeastern snow dumps?
  • what if, horror of horrors I forget my passport or drivers license…?  (Can’t you just hear me talking to myself and falling victim to the following logic?  “Katy, you won’t need that; you’re going to be walking, for crying out loud!!!”  Yeah, I’d be crying all right!…
  • what if…?
  • and so on…

I might have answered those questions with another set:

  • what if you just relaxed?
  • what if you practiced “trust” and realized that yours are truly 1st world problems?
  • what if you remembered that “sufficient unto the day are the troubles therein?” and you focused on NOW instead of on 77 days from now? or if you told yourself not to sweat the “small stuff” (which is everything, right?)?  or repeated either of these mantras to ease into sleep: “it’s all good” or “all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well”
  • what if you had to pay to check your bag?   It wouldn’t be the end of the world.
  • what if you take half a benadryl or even a whole one the next time your mind goes into overdrive?
  • what if you tried listening to some harp music on your iPod?
  • what if…?

So many solutions. Instead of implementing any of those great ideas, however, I got up to write this post.  And now?  Still kind of early for even an early breakfast.  What if I…?