camino de santiago, denali, hiking, present, Walking


I’m nowhere near Spain, yet the pilgrimage has already begun.

In June I’m joining my mom and other United Methodist clergy to walk a portion of the Camino de Santiago. Starting in Madrid we will walk 130 miles over 15 days. Although I am in good shape and run and walk often, I still need to train for this walk. I will carry a 14-15 pound backpack and will walk 10-13 miles a day. Even with my half marathon training and daily walks with Denali, this will be a new experience for my body. So, I need to prepare.

This morning Denali and I hiked just shy of 7 miles – some on paved trails, most through trails in the woods. Unlike my usual paths, this one provided various elevations and terrain. Not to mention the different views and vistas. It was also different because I was carrying an 8-pound backpack to start building up my shoulder and back muscles for the daily backpacking that I’m not accustomed to.

We started out by walking a mile from my car to the park entrance. I then found a trail to follow that looped back after about a mile. Knowing that the trail length is 3.7 miles, we started the loop again and took a different route, which got us that full distance.

It was around 30 degrees when we started, but I could tell it was warming up since the frost and ice was melting off the trees. Initially the path was frozen, but over time it began to thaw out. My new shoes handled all scenarios quite well!

At one point Denali’s ears perked up and she locked on something. I figured it was a runner coming through. I looked in the same direction and saw 2 deer. Although she was still, I could tell Denali was ready to chase them! We moved a little and they decided to take off – it was then that I saw the third one. Three female white tailed deer. We saw them a few more times – I couldn’t tell if they were circling us or vice versa. Either way, Denali and I both loved seeing them, perhaps for different reasons though. 😉

For the longest time any run or walk I’d go on was accompanied by headphones – music, podcasts, anything. It dawned on me this morning that I haven’t taken my headphones out with me for quite some time. I enjoy the silence more. My mind isn’t quite as chaotic as it has been – and when it is, I know how to calm it down. There’s not as much I want to escape from – I don’t mind the chatter inside, I don’t mind the quiet outside.

A big part of my walk today, and I suspect my walk in June, was practicing presence. Although I’d think about experiences in the past (I was reminded of my hiking in New Mexico) and I thought about future experiences (the Camino), often I’d come back to this hike, the one I was on right now. I watched Denali – she focused on the path ahead and yet took moments to look around. I did the same – kept my eyes down to make sure I took the best next step and remembered to look up and see the beauty around me. There was nowhere else for me to be except there, on that path, with my dog. And, that was enough.

I had moments of “how much longer” and “I wonder if I’m still on the same trail” but then I would bring myself back to the next step, to the trees around me, to the birds singing, to the woodpecker pecking, to the sun shining, to the ground thawing. Over and over I practiced coming back to the present.

My feet feel fine. My shoulders are a little sore. My mind is calm. This was just 6.84 miles – only the beginning. However, I’m starting to understand that my pilgrimage will be more than 130 miles. It will include all the miles of preparation too. It will also include all the practicing – outwardly in my body and inwardly in my mind. I’ll never be done practicing – even after I reach Santiago, even after I’m back home. There will always be more practicing to do, more miles to walk, more moments of being present.

I love knowing this is just the beginning. And, when this ends, another beginning will be there waiting for me. Really, the pilgrimage will never end.



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