Today Jane Blanchard is back for another visit, and we’re going to hear more about her travels. We’re still blog hopping, so stop in over at her blog http://janevblanchard.com/ for an unedited excerpt from the third installment of my time travel series. Enjoy!
Jane V. Blanchard is the author of the Woman on Her Way series. Since her retirement in 2011, she has visited sixteen countries by foot and by bicycle, and written two books about her wanderings. Now 65 years old, she plans more backpacking trips and books.
I have always found stories about long-distance female hikers intriguing. Grandma Gatewood, the first female to hike the 2,200-mile-long Appalachian trail, did it when she was 67 years old, and then did it two more times, the last when she was 75. Shirley MacClaine’s description of her 500-mile pilgrimage across northern Spain had me wondering why someone would want to backpack that distance at age 60. Prior to reading her book in 2001, The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit, my longest outdoor adventure had been a seven-day hiking trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Ten years later and at the age of 61, I walked the same 500 miles on the Camino Francés, the most famous of the pilgrimage routes that comprise the Camino de Santiago. It took me 43 days to complete my first long walk. For me, this was a great accomplishment, something that tested my mettle and produced great joy.
I was not the sole female pilgrim, but one among more than 100,000 women in 2011 to satisfy the requirements (walking the last 100 km or 62.5 miles) for receiving the Compostela or Certificate of Completion offered by the cathedral authorities. Each year, women of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities set forth for the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela to pay homage to St. James. Some do it for religious reasons, others to fulfill a life-long promise, for sport, or adventure.
Perhaps the single most common characteristic among these female pilgrims is the determination to complete the pilgrimage. In the process, the timid find self-confidence, the shy make friends, and the lonely develop a camaraderie with other hikers.
Whenever I speak about the Camino de Santiago, women tell me that they would like to go on such an adventure but… “they are too old”…“they have too many commitments”…they—insert your favorite excuse. My response is a quote from Walt Disney: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
7 Reasons women should walk the Camino
- Affirmation of self
- Walking the Camino is a powerful way to affirm how strong you are as a women. It takes perseverance, an ability to ignore pain and boredom, and a willingness to face the various fears with which you start the Camino. At the end, there is such a feeling of accomplishment and pride. Walking the Camino is no small feat and you can rejoice in the achievement.
- For the physical challengeThe women walking the Camino are not necessarily strong physically. The rule of thumb is to carry a pack that is no more than ten per cent of body weight. Often, learning to do with less teaches us about the abundance of our lives—it’s all a matter of perspective. For those who want to lighten the load on the Camino Francés, there are taxi services that for a fee shuttle a bag from one hostel to the next. (Sharing the cost of sending a bag forward each day, makes the shuttle an affordable luxury.)
- Regardless of age, the first weeks are the hardest; many suffer blisters, shin splints, or sore shoulders. Training can help prepare the body, but it does not guarantee freedom from pain. Within a few weeks, however, the kinks work out and the body becomes accustomed to the demands of daily hiking. This transition happens slowly—one day you realize how pleasurable the walk is and how the backpack seems to be part of you.
As the body transcends, so does the mind. Once the pain subsides and hiking is no longer work, many find the Spirit of the Camino, an awareness of nature and the simple beauties around us, a kindness towards others, and an appreciation for one’s body. The religious may call this a spiritual awakening, others speak about finding their inner self. I came to the Camino without expectations and was surprised to find that I was forever changed by the experience.
- For the solitude
- The distance between towns can provide hours of peaceful walking. Many people prefer to tramp alone, take in the local surroundings, and spend time listening to their inner thoughts.
- For the camaraderie
- To experience another cultureIn-country: There is no better way to see a country or experience a culture than through long-distance hiking. Depending on the route, you can visit several towns each day, meeting locals, learning their customs, and eating regional foods. Most people are helpful and respond to a smile, at times using charades and pantomime to communicate
- International: Since UNESCO has designated the Camino de Santiago a European Cultural Itinerary, it attracts people from all over the world, providing you with an opportunity to speak with these people and learn about their countries and customs.
- The Camino provides two ways to experience other cultures.
Reasons for not doing the Camino
- To lose weight
- Walking for hours with a 15 lb (7 kg) backpack burns many calories, but anyone can outeat the calorie expenditure. Wine, beer, bread, chocolate croissants, desserts, local cheeses, not to mention the potatas that accompany most pilgrim menus can make losing weight difficult.
- To make life-changing decisions
- Many woman with whom I spoke in 2011 were more preoccupied with finding a place to eat or sleep than solving heady problems. The Camino can provide a break from your problems, which may give you clarity, but don’t plan on the Camino’s providing you with answers.
- To find a man
- Women comprise about 40% of overall number of pilgrims on the Camino. A high percentage of these are recent divorcees. Bill Walker (author of The Right Way) humorously nicknames the Camino “The Divorcee Trail.” So, if you are looking for man, you might want to consider an adventure that has less competition.
This was wonderful, Jane. Thanks so much for coming!