Thursday, January 27, 2011

Twelve Seattle-Area Pilgrims Leave Sea-Tac to Walk the Way of St. James

After months of preparation it's hard to believe that our group of 12 pilgrims is on American Airlines flight 488 to Dallas/Fort Worth. We'll transfer after a six hour layover there (heaven help us) to American Airlines flight 36 to Madrid. When we arrive there we'll have completed an arduous 13 hours of flying to get to Spain. Ahead of us is a transfer to Madrid's Chamartin train station, three and a half hours of train travel to Pamplona, and a 90-minute van ride over the mountains to the tiny French hamlet of St. Jean Pied-de-Port.

I'm so proud of our collection of pilgrims and so looking forward to getting to know each one even better. Our peregrinas (female pilgrims) are Alison, Cathy, Dawn, Elissa, Greta, Jackie, Lisa, and Susan. Our peregrinos are Dana, Bart, John, and me. At Sea-Tac we must've been quite a sight to behold! To those unfamiliar with the Camino, I'm sure we looked like a nondescript group of backpackers ready for a long trek. To people who know the Camino, our scallop shell ornaments would clearly have identified us as Pilgrims on the Way of St. James. To the Spanish speakers we are Peregrinos del Camino de Santiago de Compostela. To the French: Pelerins du Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle

Whichever language, at the airport we had quite the mountain of backpacks and hiking boots! As we piled onto the plane, nervously wondering which tiny seat we'd fold ourselves into for the first long flight, we packed away our bags in the overhead bins. I caught a couple of disapproving looks from other passengers as we perhaps took up more than our allotted share of bin footage. Alas, it's better to carry on than to check a backpack, after all, considering the importance of what's inside:

Backpack Packing List for the Camino
  • Shoes: Hiking boots and flipflops;
  • Clothes: 1 pair long pants, 2 pair hiking shorts, 3 technical t-shirts
  • Underclothes: three sets, hiking style
  • Socks: 3 pair SmartWool trekking socks, 3 pair sock liners
  • Hats: 1 sun hat, one wind/rain hat
  • Weather gear: 1 light fleece, 1 rain poncho, one pack cover
  • Sleeping gear: lightweight sleeping bag, anti-bed-bug bag liner, lightweight sleeping mat, inflatable pillow (and one small teddy bear accompanying an unnamed peregrina -- who will confess?)
  • Toiletries: sunscreen, bathroom products (some of us are buying these in Spain to avoid the hassle of liquids going through security)
  • Miscellaneous: passport, guidebook, water reservoir
  • Camino specialities: a credentiale (for those who aren't buying theirs in France) and a scallop shell
The challenge is to collect all of this into a pack that weighs no more than 20 lbs. I'm a little worried about the weight of some of our packs, but it's common for pilgrims to jettison items at albergues (more about these later) and other stops along the way. We'll see what our pilgrims consider most important as we carry on our backs everything necessary to live a month in Spain.

I'm also a little worried about our training. Ideally, we'll walk about 25 kilometers a day, which translates to a bracing 15.5 miles each and every day. I'm not quite sure how many of our group understand what that means. Most anyone who can walk can walk 15 miles. The challenge is walking it every single day. How many of these 24 feet will suffer painful blisters? How many of these 24 knees will hurt with each step? Our poor, little flock. Does it know what struggles lie ahead?

As we soar into the sky these thoughts don't keep me from closing my eyes and drifting to sleep. The in-flight showing of "Revenge of the Bridesmaids" brings back too many memories for me to watch for relaxation. Come, blessed sleep. Prepare our merry band of pilgrims with your soothing caress. Make us strong for our travel and the first steps of our journey.


  1. Bye, sweetie! (Sandy leaves just about every year this time to do the Camino once again. Me, I have learned that it is actually more fun for me to wait in Santiago where there are warm showers, and very nice people can bring me umbrella drinks to help me pass the time until my sweetie arrives....)

  2. As another "Serial Caminoist" I know well the call of the Way, but as the years roll by I have found I can mix the pleasures and pain of the life of a temporary Pilgrim and sit in the square at Leon near the Cathedral and have someone bring me ice cold drinks.

    Quite some fella this Rev Sandy is!!