**Jake Treks is proud to host this Guest Post by Regina Beach**
I’m taking a long walk.
It isn’t the walk I’d thought I’d be taking this year. At the end of the week I’ll be flying to Biarrintz, France to start a month-long, 500-mile Catholic pilgrimage across northern Spain on the French Route of the Camino de Santiago. I am not Catholic, but that’s not strictly necessary. Anyone can obtain a pilgrim’s passport granting them cheap accommodations in the Albergues, the dormitories sponsored by towns and churches along The Way.
The Santiago de Compostela Cathedral has held the the relics of St. James (Iago in Spanish) since the 9th century. Catholic pilgrims walked an old route that followed the Milky Way to Fisterra. Before the New World was “discovered” by Europeans, people thought Fisterra was literally the end of the world.
Medieval pilgrims walked for one of three reasons: they, themselves were faithful; they were paid by wealthy Christians to walk on their behalf; or they were criminals who chose to walk off their penance rather than rotting away in a jail cell. Over 300,000 people earned their Compostella (certificate of completion) in 2018 so I’ll be in good company.
My goal is to walk between 15-20 miles per day. I have 31 days and need to maintain a 16-mile per day average to complete the walk on time. This seems like an audacious goal for someone who hasn’t backpacked more than a few days at a time. I’ve kayaked and biked for weeks on end, but this time I won’t be paddling or rolling. My feet will be my wheels and I’ll carry everything I need on my back. I don’t doubt I can do it. If I’ve proven anything to myself, it’s that I can and like to do hard things.
I’ve been living on my own terms, my own way for exactly two years now and I couldn’t be happier. I made my bucket list and have steadily been checking off my dreams. I’m in the midst of a three month Euro trip, of which the Camino is a part. Last fall I cycled for a month from Milan, Italy to Split, Croatia. Prior to that, I was in the woods of northern Maine for 9 weeks, learning to live off the grid at Bushcraft School. Last year I also lived and taught in Laos and got to see so much of the county. Before Laos, I spent a month in Costa Rica at yoga teacher training. This summer I’ll travel to Africa for 6 weeks, visiting Senegal, Morocco and Egypt.
I don’t say all this to gloat. Quite the opposite in fact. Two years ago, I didn’t think a life of adventure was for me. I was a type A, nose to the grindstone workaholic Chicago public school teacher. I worked in some of the roughest neighborhoods with some of the most disadvantaged students served by Chicago Public Schools.
It was a noble profession and one I was very good at. I took my work very seriously. I cared deeply about my students and I watched as my twenties disappeared in a haze of stress, grading papers, advocating for equity in a broken system, and a whole lot of frustration. I vowed that for as hard as I worked in my 20s, I would allow myself to play, travel and dream in my 30s.
I’m 32. I manifested this life. It has not been easy. But it sure has been exciting. And now I’m gong on a long walk. I thought I’d be hiking the Appalachian Trail this spring. I had my sight set on Springer Mountain. I even climbed Mount Katahdin last August, boldly proclaiming I’d be back in a year’s time. But plans change.
I followed my heart to the UK to meet the friends and family of a man I love. We met last year when he rode his motorcycle through the southeast Asian town where I was teaching. He was my cycling companion on the Adriatic Coast last fall. We decided to date. I decided not to rush back from Europe to hike a mid-Atlantic trail that will be waiting for me when it’s my time.
I first heard of the Camino de Santiago about 5 years ago from a roommate in Chicago. She dreamed of walking it. I did some research. It went on the bucket list along with things like: visit all 7 continents, start a yoga ranch for retreats, and teach in a foreign county. I knew I was going to visit England this winter. The UK and Spain aren’t very far apart at all.
I started reading everything I could get my hands on about the Camino. I read guide books, personal accounts, and novels set on The Way. I watched documentaries and thought, you know, I probably could walk 500 miles in just over a month. I bought a plane ticket. I asked for trekking poles for Christmas. I broke in new hiking shoes.
In mid-February I left Cleveland, Ohio bound for London, England. In just about a week, I’ll fly to Biarritz, France. A van will pick another hiker and me up from the airport to take us to the unofficial starting point in St. Jean Pied de Port. And then I’ll begin.
For such a long walk, I’m not bringing much with me:
- sleeping bag and liner
- hydration pack
- trekking poles
- gloves, scarf and a hat
- 2 t-shirts
- 2 pairs of pants
- 1 sweater
- waterproof pants
- hiking shoes
- Flip flops
- first aid kit
- wool socks and liners
- Quick dry towel
- Travel mug
- Sewing kit
- Solar charger
- Mess kit
Since I left Chicago almost exactly two years ago, I’ve been downsizing. I Marie Kondo’d my life. I gave away my furniture, donated most of my clothes, said goodbye to books and music, knick-knacks and folders of papers from high school and college. I own almost nothing. I don’t have a car or an apartment or a dining room set. If Tyler Durden is right and “The things you own end up owning you,” then I am a master of my own destiny, free as a bird.
When I bought my plane tickets for 3 months in Europe the agent asked if I wanted to pay for a checked bag. I declined. She asked me if I was sure. I was sure. I’ve come to realize there’s very little difference in packing for a week or packing for months. As George Carlin so eloquently states, you’ve just gotta bring an even smaller version of your stuff. So my suitcase will stay in Bristol, while I bring a backpack to hike. Stuff weighs you down. Physically, sure, but even more so mentally.
Over Christmas I finished sorting through boxes piled in a closet at my parents’ house since high school. I threw out photos of people whose names I couldn’t remember. I ditched my chemistry notes and math binders. I tossed ticket stubs and playbills. I’ve chosen a nomadic life which means I don’t have a permanent place for my things. It can be a jarring existence, choosing experience over things. It has been difficult to unburden myself of items.
“How can you afford it?” you might ask. Without an apartment, I don’t have any bills or rent to pay. I’m not tempted to buy the latest gadget or a hundred pairs of shoes. I have no place to put them. I’m still a teacher. I teach English online and yoga. And I’m a writer. My life is more simple, though it has more moving parts. I work less and adventure more. I choose more carefully how I spend my money and my time. And I’m choosing to spend mine taking a long walk.
-Regina Beach is a teacher and writer. You can read more of her adventures at reginagbeach.com
Jake recently recorded an interview for Regina’s podcast, click here for more info.