This might be the week…

This might be the week I actually buy airfare. Committing to those non-refundable, staggeringly-expensive tickets is quite possibly the scariest part of the journey for me.

At present, I am watching no fewer than eight possible itineraries on Google Flights.

flight price graph

Conventional wisdom holds that the best prices are 171 days from departure from the US to Europe. Sadly, everything took a jump last week while I bit my nails and second-guessed myself. I hope I don’t regret that.

In spite of my nerves, the most amazing generosity has been pouring my way. I don’t have adequate words to describe my feelings about this. Stunned comes close. Humbled too. I’ve wept in astonished gratitude more than once. The faith of supporters in my purpose invites me to trust the Divine plan at work in all of this.

 *   *   *


In quiet moments, I hear two messages about this journey. One of them is a constant companion, my old chattery brain with its hair-trigger worry reflex. It sets off without stopping to take a breath, “What if you’re doing the wrong thing? What if you’re not supposed to go? Don’t you have better things to do with your time and resources? This is ridiculous. Why are you doing this to yourself?” All reasonable concerns.

But. If I pat this hyper messenger on the head and send it off with a cookie, it settles down. Only then can I hear a second one, a truth-telling guide who whispers gentle, one-word messages in basso profundo, “Go.”

“Are you sure?” I ask.


Though I lack a strong conviction about the identity of that messenger, its simple statements make my jaw unclench, my shoulders relax, and my body takes a deep, refreshing breath. This gets my attention.

 *   *   *

Tuesday mid-morning is the best time to buy airfare, so I’ll likely be hovering over the “Purchase” button with sweaty palms this week.

With everything happening in the world right now, I hesitate to ask for prayers when so many suffer and endure extreme uncertainty. My struggle seems so small by comparison. What compels me back to Spain is a calling into deeper relationship with the Divine and to be on the path, both literal and spiritual. With my whole heart, I hope to be a beacon of peace wherever I go.

I’d be grateful if you can send up a flare or a prayer for this one pilgrim’s next step.

Risks and sticks — Safety on the Camino de Santiago

“I’m worried about you going back there,” Steve tells me.

“You are?” This is news to me. “I’ve already been there once, you know.”

“It just doesn’t seem safe for a woman alone,” he explains. Steve is twenty-ish years my senior and former military, so I respect his opinion. His words of concern echo my dad’s worries three years ago, when I was planning my first Camino.

“You know, Steve, I have two walking sticks with pointy tips. I’ve thought of at least eight ways to kill someone with those suckers.”

He cracks a smile, “What if there’s more than eight of them?” I burst out laughing.

Steve’s fears about my solo journey aren’t completely unfounded. Last April, when an American pilgrim Denise Thiem disappeared en route, her frantic family turned to social media to try to locate her. Sadly, this fall we learned she was murdered by a local man–now in jail. However, her disappearance sparked unprecedented sharing online about other accounts of harassment, particularly of penis-exposing and groping by older men.

Then, a few months after Denise disappeared, a local Spanish woman was almost abducted by two men in a car while she was out for a walk outside Astorga. This really spooked me. My response was to spend hours online reading about organized crime, the organ trade, and sex trafficking in Europe. It turns out that eastern Europe is where the really scary stuff happens whereas Spain’s organized crime focuses primarily on trafficking tobacco. In other words, it’s just like everywhere else.

For all the creepy details that have emerged from these events, it’s important to view the information about crimes in perspective: over a hundred thousand pilgrims walk the Camino each year without being killed or accosted. In my opinion, it comes down to odds–and the odds of completing this pilgrimage without incident are very favorable.

That said, travelers would do well to prepare for worst-case scenarios in the unlikely event they do occur. For example if you’re traveling internationally, it’s a good idea to learn how to get in touch with your country’s consulate for aid (not the embassy) and know the region’s emergency response number. For pilgrims, it’s important to take precautions en route; don’t let yourself get too tired, hungry, or distracted, making you less able to respond to danger. I spent time online after the near-abduction report came out learning how to prevent an abduction or escape from one. Necessary? Probably not. Good to know? Definitely.

Not to go all Girl Scout on you, but being prepared is a great way to not get hurt or injured. Be prepared, and you’ll be able to deal with the unexpected.

In terms of odds, the real peril comes from the terrain itself since the chances of falling, injury, or breaking a bone are good. The path is sometimes nothing more than a long, downhill swath of loose cobbles. Be alert. Don’t walk while eating, reading, texting, or anything that takes your eyes off the terrain. Historically, one of the biggest killers of pilgrims is of getting struck by oncoming traffic.

As a naturally high-strung person, I am inclined to hear a comment like Steve’s and join him in the fear. As if I don’t already have my own worries! The truth remains that not going on this journey doesn’t make me safer. I could just as easily be accosted or killed by an intruder in my own home, blinds drawn and doors locked. But what kind of life would that be? I can’t wait in fear of an unlikely worst-case scenario. I want to live, to challenge myself and grow!

So I’ve made peace with this fact: it’s not unsafe to be a solo peregrina, but it’s unsafe to travel unprepared. That’s a big difference. I’ve got a good brain and some pointy hiking sticks–and I know how to use them both.



Want to know why I’m doing the Camino in reverse — and how you can help? Read on!

Exciting almost-news about my 2016 pilgrimage

Oh, wow. I have news! Well, it’s almost news. Technically, it’s not-quite-for-sure-yet news, but a conversation today took a next step into discussing actual dates and locations. A thing! It’s moving from the realm of “wouldn’t that be nice?” into “OMG, this might actually happen.”

What on earth are you talking about, Jen?

Well, I had a lovely catch-up Skype session with one of my camigas today who lives in Europe. I shall not name her since it may all fall through, but she is a wise soul who was part of my little Camino family early on in the journey in 2013. I adore her. And I learned she might be able to join me for the tail end of my walk.

OMG! I’m so excited!

And you know what? We had this great discussion about how one of the key lessons of the Camino is to Trust How It Turns Out, whatever it may be. Stay Open. Refrain From Being Attached. Her reminding me of this pivotal insight was so great, because I am now free to just enjoy the possibility of shared walking plans without worrying about what ifs. It may happen or not, but I’m at peace with any outcome. That’s living the Camino, right there.

If it does work out, I will still get to walk alone in Galicia, which I very much want to do. I will get to have the experience I’m supposed to have as I make my way towards France and the Pyrenees (it’s still so strange to think of the big mountain pass coming at the *end* of my journey, rather than the beginning). And if she and I can rendezvous in Pamplona, I will have a companion of the most delightful kind at the very end of my journey back to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

The very idea!

I’m so excited about this development, I just had to tell you.


I want to thank Mary Ellen for the perfect thermometer/compass key fob (which I mentioned needing in a previous post) and also to Nancy for my newest pair of Injinji liner socks! I am so blessed and grateful for your thoughtfulness and generosity!

Finally, I will likely be buying airfare in the next week. With the risk of such a big purchase and so much room for error, any good energy or prayers for “the best possible outcome” are welcome. Here I go!

Finally, finally, I wanted you to know about a new page on this site which is back after a three-year hiatus. Also exciting!

Stay posted for a new post soon!

Want to know why I’m doing the Camino in reverse — and how you can help? Read on!