Reverse Camino Day 2: A Tour of Dublin on Foot

Discovering Santiago in the heart of Dublin (eventually)

Total km on foot: 11.38mi / 18.31km
Towns traveled through: Santry, Coolock, Edenmore, Raheny, Fairview, Temple Bar

Dublin was always the plan. It’s not only a more affordable way to get to Spain than many European cities, it’s also where I flew through on my first Camino. I was excited to be there again.

Due to a scheduling snafu, I had an overnight stay in Dublin plus eight hours to kill before checking in to my AirBnB room (which was fantastic!) for the night. At the insane hour of 6am, my host Rebecca picked me up at the airport and brought me to her and Rob’s place. After a short shower, I even had time to take a quick nap. Just laying down on the bed felt soooo goooood after the trans-Atlantic red-eye.

When my hosts left for work, I set out. My goal was to walk downtown about five miles to St James’ Church, home to the Camino Society Ireland. It’s not far from the Guinness Brewery, and rumor had it that I could receive my very first credential stamp there. I’d printed out a map on Google and planned to return by the same route to be home in time for dinner. I thought walking there would be a breeze. Fortunately, I packed a good attitude.

There was a cool breeze and overcast skies as I set out at 8:30am from Rebecca and Rob’s cozy suburban neighborhood on foot. Within a few minutes, I ran straight into a busy highway and a frightening roundabout with no sidewalks. Cars everywhere. My Google map made it look easy: just walk along the M50 into the heart of Dublin. In reality, it became clear these instructions meant walking along the break-down lane of a major four-lane highway. No way. 

At a break in traffic, I fled across the roundabout onto the grass. There, I took stock. A more peaceful-looking street went in the opposite direction to the M50. I wasn’t sure where it led, but it was a better alternative to death! On this less-busy route, I passed a church, a sports field, and several corporation complexes. I was one of many people out walking—some with their little dogs, others headed to school in identical well-pressed uniforms, others in professional outfits talking on cell phones. How novel to be among other walkers.

Periodically, I’d look at my map for insight, but I had no idea where I was. Maybe I was headed south toward town. Eventually, I asked an older woman with a little dog on a leash how to get to Dublin city. She looked at me quizzically—first for my odd accent, then for the oddity of the question—and said, “Well, dear, you take the bus!”

“No, no,” I explained. “I want to walk there. I’m trying to walk to Saint James’ church.”

The expression on her face gave me no hope. She didn’t know how to direct me. “Good luck, then,” she said. Undaunted, I continued.

After an hour, I had a funny feeling I was near the sea. I couldn’t see it or smell it, but I sensed saltwater nearby, with boats afloat and gulls screaming. This brought to mind fond memories of my grandmother Peg, the most adventurous person in my family by a long shot. If she were here, I thought, we’d be off to the nearest pier and skip the church visit entirely. Smiling at the memory of her adventurous spirit, I carried on.

In a grassy park, I ran across a mother and teenage daughter walking together, chatting animatedly.

“Sorry to bother you,” I interrupted. “I’m trying to walk into Dublin city. Can you tell me the way?”

They looked dumbfounded, first at me, and then at each other. The mother piped up, “You take the bus there. The nearest stop is just…” she pointed off toward the road.

“Actually, I’m trying to walk there,” I said.

“Goodness. I don’t know. I think if you keep going on this path past the old folks’ home, you’ll get there. Good luck to ye.” With a small wave, they continued on with their conversation.

Well, this response settled into a trend. In Raheny, a retiree out with his dog listened as I recounted why I was walking from Santry to Dublin town. When he mentioned the bus, I started wondering just how far off course I’d gotten. We found Raheny on the map. The road I’d taken at the roundabout went east, miles away from Dublin center and toward the sea, just as I’d sensed.

“Well, if you’ve got the time, you stay on this road a very long way, and you’ll get there,” he said. “Or there’s also the bus—which should be along any minute.”

“I’ve got lots of time, so I’ll go on foot. Thank you so much for your help.” As I walked away, I had the distinct sense he watched me go. Even in a city of walkers, the distance I’d chosen was remarkable and odd.

By now, I was getting hungry and passed a pub and a bank beside it. I couldn’t make up my mind. Should I go in and eat? Should I just have the snacks I brought? This indecision signals hunger, but I went into the bank to change some of my larger bills, ate a protein bar, and continued on.

The sun had come out as I walked through yet another suburban neighborhood. As I passed a tiny, young Indian woman, she gave me a bright-eyed and friendly look. “Hi,” I said.

“Hello,” she replied.

I decided to go for it. Again. “I’m walking from here to Dublin center. Does this road take me there?”

She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Yes, it does. I’m certain.”

“Thank you! I’ve been walking all morning in the wrong direction, but I want to get to Saint James’ church. So it’s just straight on this road all the way in?”

“Oh, yes. I’m going that way now. I’ll walk with you and show you.” And she did. Camino angels are everywhere. It was lovely to have a friendly, chatty walking partner–especially because I knew I’d be alone on my upcoming Camino.

After we parted, I continued walking toward my destination, stopped at a tiny library to send an email home, then at an adorable cafe with amazing coffee. Within an hour, I was growing very tired, but the scenery started to look familiar. I’ve been here! I walked along the River Liffey and through Temple Bar, which I’d seen twelve years earlier on a solo trip to Ireland.

With a few more inquiries, I found myself standing before Saint James’ church at last. Hanging between its dramatic arched doors was a banner declaring The Camino starts here. At my feet I saw a spray-painted yellow arrow and promptly burst into tears. After hours of walking and hours more traveling from my home, here was a confirmation. I am a pilgrim. I am on the Way.

Although the welcome center and church were officially closed, a friendly woman from the office stamped my credencial. She didn’t think it was at all strange that I’d walked from Santry. “Well done!” she said and wished me a buen camino.

It was finally time to go home to Santry, but I had no qualms about the bus. Now that I was tired, the Camino angels came out in full force. At the bus stop, I struck up a conversation with a retired couple. They helpfully confirmed the route number I needed. As we chatted, I shared that I was leaving tomorrow to walk the Camino de Santiago.

“Oh, how lovely!” said the woman.

“We’ve always wanted to do that,” said the husband.

“This is my second time,” I shared. “I walked it three years ago, but now I’m returning to walk it in reverse, from the Atlantic Ocean back to the beginning in France.”

“How ambitious! You liked it the first time then!”

“I really did. It was a life-changing experience for me.”

“Have you got change for the bus?” the man asked.

Surprised, I said I had a five.

“Oh no,” he said. “That won’t do. You need exact change. Here…” He rummaged around in his pocket and then, with a palm full of jingling coins, he counted out my fare.

“I couldn’t. I’m okay, really.”

The man extended his hand and said, “There you go. This is our way of going with you to Santiago. Say a prayer for us when you get there, won’t you?”

*   *   *

On the ride back to Santry, nothing looked familiar from the bus windows. I couldn’t remember what the neighborhood or nearby intersections looked like. What if I miss it? Wasn’t there a church nearby somewhere? Seeing me stand up in the bus and look like a crazy person inspired several of my fellow passengers to help me. One man looked at my map and other passengers gave opinions on which stop I needed.

When I stepped off the bus, nothing looked familiar. No four-lane highway. No roundabout. Walking a few minutes clarified nothing. A woman out for an evening walk looked surprised when I asked for help. While we frowned together at my map, a cyclist stopped and said, “Lost, are ye?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m staying with some friends nearby, but I left for a walk early this morning and have kind of forgotten my way back. The turn is near a church, but I can’t seem to find it on this street.”

“There’s a lot of churches around here,” he laughed.

“It’s Blessed somebody’s chapel,” I added unhelpfully. I showed him the address.

“I know where you’re going. Follow me.” We said goodbye to the lady, crossed the wide but not-busy street, and approached an elderly man painting his fence in front of his home.

“Hello. Nice work you’re doing there,” the cyclist said. “We’ve got a lady here trying to find her way to Oak Avenue. It’s nearby, isn’t it?”

“Oh, yeah. Just on the other side of that church there.” I hadn’t recognized it from the back. I was only one street off.

“That’s just what I thought,” the cyclist replied. “Thank ye.”

Around the corner we went. Suddenly everything looked familiar. In front of us was the path I’d come from that morning, which led into the development.

“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you so much. You have no idea how much trouble you’ve saved me.”

“So, you’re good now. I’ll be on my way then.” He clipped in his shoes and rode off.

I was good now thanks to these angels. I walked along eagerly through the subdivision, and with growing dread realized I didn’t recognize Rob and Rebecca’s house. I didn’t see Rebecca’s car. And with no phone to call them, I didn’t know what to do. I walked up and down their road, muttering to myself, “Which one is Oak Avenue?” Every road in the development was called Oak something—Lane, Drive, Court, Circle… but no Avenue.

After the third pass, I was starting to get really anxious when a sketchy-looking car pulled into a driveway ahead of me. As the man got out, he looked less than thrilled to be stopped by a lost Yank, much less one needing directions. But I was desperate.

“This is Oak Avenue,” he said.

“It is?”

“Yeah,” he sighed.

“I keep looking for the house that has the white Mini. That’s my friends’ house.”

“Well there’s usually a white Mini parked two doors down. That them?”

“I don’t know. I thought they were on a side street. I have their number, do you think you could call them for me?”

He was not in the mood to be a good Samaritan, but handed me his phone.

“We’re not on a side street,” Rebecca clarified. She was at work, but said she’d had a feeling it was me calling. “We’re on the main street. Green door.” Sure enough, it was two houses down.

Embarrassed but grateful, I thanked the sketchy guy. “You were right,” I said.

He nodded and without another word walked into his house.

As I approached the correct door, it opened and a smiling teddy bear of a guy asked, “Are you Jennifer?”

“Yes! Are you Rob?”

“Yes! Welcome! Rebecca told me to expect you. Do you want some tea?”

Even though I was tired, I felt happy to have survived my crash course in being lost and thankful it was in English. I felt more confident I could do the Camino in reverse too. That night, despite every effort to stay awake, I fell into blissful and uninterrupted sleep at 7:30pm. While I would leave for Spain the next day, I was just glad to be prone, accounted for, and found at last.

Reverse Camino Day 1: Portland to Dublin

Spain awaits, and I really can’t believe I’m going back!

Total km on foot: Officially 0. Navigating through airports was probably a mile or two.
Towns traveled through: Chicago
2013 Camino contrast: How this day went 3 years ago

“Why are you walking the Camino backwards?”

Even with a year of planning and seven weeks to hone my answer, nothing rolled off my tongue when people asked. And they asked a lot.

It’s a really hard question to answer.

*   *   *

In the front of my journal, pasted next to my emergency contact information is a note from Nancy. Written in her hand on pink paper, it became both a touchstone and a rallying cry for my second journey across Spain:

Set out!

Your steps will be your words,

The road your song,

The weariness your prayers,

And in the end

The silence will speak to you.

Taken from a longer message written on a monastery wall in Majorca, every time I opened my journal, I saw these words and knew their truth. Some days the empathy brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes in astonished silence under a silvery sky, answers came. Now, as I prepared to leave, this message filled me with excitement. I’m going! I’m setting out!

*   *   *

The cats blinked at us incredulously as we rose in the dark. We spoke little as I tied my shoes and tossed my pack in the trunk. Just before turning the ignition, I remembered: my altar!

I raced inside to retrieve the worn-smooth, grey scallop fossil Mary had found on the coast. Its presence at our back door would anchor my return. I paused to set the fist-sized fossil on the cool concrete step, then added two pieces of frosty teal beach glass from Finisterre and a soapstone carved with the word FAITH from Nancy. When I touched them again in seven weeks, they would confirm that I had walked the full circuit, and my pilgrimage was truly complete.

I took a deep breath to focus. I asked for blessings on Mary and peace in my absence. Then, turning toward the garage, I walked with purpose into the darkness.

These are my first steps. I’m on the Camino now. 

*   *   *

At the airport, backpack checked with time to spare, we held hands and said the kinds of things you say when a long journey is just beginning, and no one knows how it will turn out:

I hope you have an amazing time and get exactly what you need from this.

– Thank you. So much. Me too. 

Nothing terrible will happen, but if it does, know that my last thoughts will be of you.

– Yes. (pause) But you’ll be fine. Better than.

Thank you for supporting me in doing this. It means the world to me.

– Of course. I love you.

I love you back.

It’s hard to say who started crying first. We hugged a really long time, my face pressed to her freshly-washed hair, and then she let me go. Through security, waving through tears until I was out of sight.

It was so so so hard to leave this time.

I didn’t expect that. On my last Camino, I was so excited to go—scared too—and eager to be on my own. Her emotion annoyed me then, but now I feel blessed and grateful. How much things have changed between us in three years.

*   *   *

Finding Chicago’s international terminal is like running a human-sized rat maze. I looked around as I deplaned and was immediately confused. I needed help.

A TSA agent passed me. I stopped her for directions.

“Oh, yeah. That’s hard,” she said in a Chicago accent. “Whatchew do is follow the signs to baggage claim? Then you gonna take the elevator up, cross the bridge, and then take the tram to the International Concourse.”

“Okay.” I summed up to be sure, “Elevator, bridge, tram.”

“Yup. That’s it.”

“Thank you!”

I repeated this three-part phrase as I navigated the maze. Elevator, bridge, tram. Elevator, bridge, tram. I didn’t care if anyone thought I was a muttering nut. Elevator! I found it! Bridge! There it is! Tram? No problem!

I’m on my way. I’ve set out!

In the air toward Dublin, the reality of it hit me. I’m really doing this. I’m really going back. I was returning to the place where my false shell of a life crumbled apart. The place where joy awoke and strength coursed within me—until I abandoned them on the rocky shores of Finisterre, disbelieving and afraid. And although I now feared the emotions that might arise in seeing these places again, somehow I was returning to reclaim the authentic self I’d left behind three years before.

That’s the reason I walked the Camino backwards. I would walk myself home at last. It was finally time to be whole.

Post-Camino culture shock

Is it me?

Being back home after the Camino is strange. Everything seems different when held in the light of comparison. It’s not just culture shock, it feels like priorities shock.

For example, after greeting shopkeepers across Spain with an “Hola, buenas dias.” (Every single time. This is just how it’s done.), I walk into a store in my town and am ignored. Not even eye contact. My greeting is not returned. I feel invisible.

Or, last week, when I walked for five miles around my neighborhood, exactly one person said something friendly to me in response to my hello. At least a half dozen others went out of their way to avoid meeting me or making eye contact.

Or how this week, on my way to work, a woman tailgaited me for two miles and honked when I finally made my turn. I felt so threatened by the closeness of her car to my bumper that my hands shook for fifteen minutes afterward. I actually cried in despair. Why do I matter so little? Why such a hurry? Why so angry?

The distinction between there (the Camino) and here (my town) is jarring.

In praise of the Camino life

Obviously, not everyone has been changed by my pilgrimage. It would be unreasonable and borderline insane to expect that. My glow isn’t necessarily contagious (though wouldn’t it be cool if it were?). Right now, my heart is just open and trusting and vulnerable.

If you’ve walked it, you know that the Camino isn’t utopia—there are spiritual sleepwalkers and selfish people everywhere—but it does give you an experience of how truly kind humanity can be. For weeks, I was surrounded by people caring about each other, having conversations about deep and meaningful topics, and sharing a common goal. We all tried to take good care of ourselves and looked out for each other.

In the Real World vs. Camino matchup, there’s a clear winner. It’s hard not to feel a bit despairing when comparing the two. As a remedy, I’m only going to places that are friendly. I’m driving less. I’m reaching out to loved ones near and far. These are ways to care for my tender, open pilgrim heart.

The devil you know

The other issue I’m facing post-Camino is the person I was before I left. In the weeks that elapsed before I flew to Europe, I had a mighty list of To Dos going. Honestly? I actually had two lists of To Dos—one for Camino-related tasks, and one for everyday life and work responsibilities. I had no less than 44 items on the regular To Do list and 57 on the Camino list. Dear reader, this level of focused output isn’t sane or sustainable.

At the time I thought, This is perfectly normal. Look how efficient and organized I am. I can definitely get all of this done before I go. I’ve got to. This must be done before I go. This is the voice of my Inner Tyrant. And she scares me.

For contrast, my Camino self got up around 6:30am and just walked. Later in the morning (usually after a good cup of coffee), I’d figure out where I wanted to stay for the night. No stress. My gut usually told me where I needed to be—or a pilgrim gave me a great recommendation. Day after day, I took things one moment at a time, one step at a time. I trusted there would be enough—food, beds, meaningful connection—and there always was. There was no reason to hurry or plan beyond the next few hours. I was free to enjoy the moment, the people, the place, the sensations of the moment—and I did. Over and over again. For Type-A me, this extended experience of non-attachment and not controlling was a revelation. I experienced firsthand how to live in the moment and feel deep peace with “not knowing.”

Unlike after my first Camino, this groundedness feels deep and enduring. But how do I know for sure that Manic Me won’t pop up again and take over at some point?

May the real self please stand up?

Maybe a lot of pilgrims experience this push-pull after walking. How do you integrate into life while honoring the slower, more grounded, more trusting way of being? I want to be more mindful and intentional with my time. I want to be less tech-obsessed without alienating my loved ones. I want to be productive without writing scary To Do lists.

One step at a time, I’m finding a way forward that isn’t exactly graceful, but it’s honest and true to my Camino’s gifts. Starting with body and home care, I’m developing regular rituals for maintenance and nourishment. Since last week, I’ve started adjusting my work schedule to create sanity and healthier boundaries. My next focus will be on meaningful connection with loved ones and setting aside writing time. It’s coming.

A note on writing: In case you didn’t know, I’m working on a memoir about the personal transformation that took place in my life after my first Camino. If you want to be kept posted about that project, here’s a link to sign up for news and info.

In any case, shifting back into “life mode” after my second Camino has been so much easier and less stressful than the first time. No comparison. I’m enjoying the process so much more.

And

If you have thoughts or insights on how you shifted back into life after significant travel or other life-changing experiences (or tips for dealing with aggressive tailgaters), I’d love to hear about them! We’re in this together, pilgrims.

(tap-tap) Is this thing on?

I’m back!

Back on terra firma, back in my own home, in my own bed, and feeling so so so grateful for so many things–life, love, and my blessed pillow. The seven-week backwards journey from Finisterre to Saint Jean Pied de Port was wonderful, weird, and full of characters, stories, and insights I’m eager to share.

At the end of my first Camino in 2013, I’d left a piece of myself–like a few spiritual ribs or a soulful femur–out at Fistera’s lighthouse, overlooking the moody Atlantic. For three years, these very real parts of me have sat out on the windswept rocks like a forgotten umbrella, waiting to be reclaimed.

The last time I was there, my life felt split in two, as I faced an immense decision about who I was to be in the world. We all come to this point eventually: Do I keep investing energy in keeping up the act or finally risk being myself? Should I keep playing the role of peacemaker and chameleon, or could I be the authentic, trusting, happy, loving, open person I discovered myself to be as I walked across Spain? I really didn’t know how I could do the latter without upsetting friends, business partners, family. So I set aside a vital, newly-discovered sense of self that windy June day.

On this return, I went back to that very place to reclaim my abandoned parts. I went to become whole again, completely–and then walk with my full, real self back to where I had started in France. Most of all, I walked back across Spain in order to bring this loving, authentic self home–back to my life, my friendships, my work, my family, my marriage. It was finally time.

And this I have done, I’m happy to say.

What a journey! I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Truthfully, I’m a little rusty on the technology front! I seem to have forgotten how to type. It’s been eight weeks since I’ve spent more than ten minutes on social media. In fact, my email account was temporarily suspended halfway through my walk due to “suspicious activity” (it was me, using coin-op computers along the Way). It was a surprising relief to be tech-free for so long.

Anyway, rest assured: my reverse Camino tales, insights, joys, frustrations, and reflections are all on their way… in time. Just like on the Camino.

In the meantime, please know how grateful I am to you. Thank you so much for your comments, thoughts, prayers, love, support, and enthusiasm for this spiritual adventure that is the Camino. Thank you for cheering me on–and in some cases, cheering up my wife, Mary, in my absence. To be held in your mind and heart for so long is a gift to me, and I thank you. I hope your life is unfolding in love and trust.

Sending much love and Camino dust,
Jen

Two weeks of walking backwards (so far)

I have to remember not to be cocky. I´ve gotten kind of smug about walking the Camino in reverse since I arrived here two weeks ago. A ¨sure, I´ve got this¨ kind of bravado.

Except that rain, impatience, hunger, pride, dogs, and fatigue all combined yesterday to break my sense of confidence in finding the Way.

There´s so much more story here… It will have to wait until I´m back. I´m fine though. It´s still raining, but the hill up to O Cebreiro becons tomorrow.

Buen Camino, amigos.

Leaving

What do you say after your bags are packed, money is transferred for two months of bills, the boarding passes are printed, and you have tomorrow’s clothes in a neatly-folded pile waiting to be worn before the sun is up?

What does it mean to shed a house-worth of stuff, two jobs, countless names and roles, so that everything left fits into a fifteen-pound pack?

Honestly, the only thing I can think is that it’s a little bit like what death must be like. A final parting wave and then—nothing. No roles. No to-dos. No more appointments. And perhaps, the same promise of unending joy. Don’t we all eventually run out of time? This feels like a practice run.

When you go, those who are left get a chance to say how much you were loved, how much you gave, and what a difference you made while you were here. I leave in less than twelve hours, but for weeks  I’ve heard things like, “You’re so inspiring!” and “We’re going to miss you.” and “May you be blessed on this journey and find everything you’re seeking.” and “I love you.” Something about my departure is inspiring loved ones to pause and say the heartfelt things we don’t usually. Me too.

Why do I wait? Why do we hold back? I want to remember this poignancy every day: Speak from the heart. Tell the truth. Take the risk.

In the end, there’s nothing left but love. None of the stuff matters.

Here’s what I know: the spaciousness of the days ahead call to me. The friends I’ve yet to meet are out there already walking towards Santiago. The Holy Door is open, waiting for me to walk through and receive mercy. And after, there will be only weeks of days of walking in reflection, in joy, and in occasional confusion as I find my way in reverse.

And when the walking is done, I will have a home to come to, a devoted wife (who, by the way, will update my blog with excerpts from my emails home), and many loves and interests and good work to do. I’m excited to finally see and understand down to my bones that the pilgrimage truly doesn’t end. Only the venue changes.

Think of me in your prayers, and I will do the same. Until next time.

Buen camino, y’all.

 

The two girls I admire most

Though I’m not exactly the black sheep of my family, I’ve certainly not followed the path they might have imagined for me. I don’t have kids. I’m the token rainbow-flag waver. I didn’t follow a typical upward career path. Instead, I juggle self-employment and find ways to travel and explore the world–both outer and inner. Sometimes it seems as if it’s my job to carry on the adventuring gene while everyone else in my clan does the right and responsible things.

When my brother had kids, I was kind of baffled about how to be an aunt. Over the years, I’ve made time to get to know these two amazing young women on their own terms. L is practical, wickedly funny, and a master negotiator. O is smart, vividly imaginative, and an old soul. They’re so different, and I love them so much–even though we only see each other every summer.

Last December, I gave the girls a Christmas present. It was one of three hints leading up to an activity we’re doing together this fall. Although they have no idea what this activity is (their current guess is Mars), the USPS has bridged the 3000-mile distance between us, allowing me to send bizarre and hilarious hints to their doorstep. They’re smart kids, so they’re overthinking my clues. No matter. It’s the connection that really counts between us.

So I couldn’t have been more surprised today when they returned the connection to me. In mail came a fat envelope that said “Buen Camino,” full of inspirational quotes, scallop shell confetti, hand-made keychains, and a real scallop with love notes written on it to carry in my pocket.

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I don’t even have words. Just speechless tears of gratitude.

How amazing to be loved right back. For my seeking to be understood, even just a little, by these two young women I admire so much.

To think–I was so worried I might feel lonely on this return trip. Now I know two Camino angels who will be along for the journey.

(Two and a half days!!!)

In one week. . .

My short training walk this morning was full of birdsong—robin, osprey, woodpecker, white crowned sparrow—and cool breezes in the morning sun. It will be like this on the Camino. 

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In one week!

 

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My head is full of pre-departure logistics and Benadryl-induced fog. Yesterday I was diagnosed with seasonal allergies (!), so I’m trying to figure out meds before I go.

The best part of the appointment was reporting to my awesome doc (the one who was nervous about me doing this trip) about how my health has improved since January.

“I’ve lost 18 pounds. I’ve been gluten- and dairy-free since January. I’m taking glucosamine, turmeric, and Vitamin D daily, just like you said. My knees feel great. My body feels strong. And I have you to thank.”

“Wow. I’m impressed! Good for you. Maybe ten percent of my patients take my advice—especially about gluten. Give yourself credit, though. You did the hard work.”

“Well, you were pretty honest about your concern. I got mad and was determined to prove you wrong,” I said with a laugh. “I’m so grateful you took that time with me. It made a difference.”

My doc smiled and wiped a little tear.

Her reaction made the indignity of bearing a butt cheek for a steroid shot a little more bearable.

“Normally I don’t go that extreme until we’ve exhausted natural and Western solutions, but since you’re flying in a week and your inner ear is swollen. . .”

“Thank you.” I have the best doc. It feels like such a collaboration.

It’s uncanny how when I left Spain three years ago, I also had stuffy ears, sore throat, and a cough. Now I’m going back with the same symptoms (but thank goodness no pneumonia!).

Blahbittyblah. I go on. Can you tell I’m excited? Thanks for reading!

Blessed are you, pilgrim

All of us stand in a line under the eaves of this outdoor pavilion—some wearing backpacks, others excited expressions—anticipating our imminent departure on pilgrimage.

We face a row of smiling pilgrims holding laminated sheets of paper.

Blessed are you, pilgrim, if you find that the Camino opens your eyes to the unseen.

Kind faces and clear voices read these benedictions aloud for all to hear.

Blessed are you, pilgrim, if your backpack empties of things, as your heart doesn’t know how to fit so many emotions.

Blessed are you, pilgrim, if you discover that a step backwards to help another is more valuable than a hundred forward without awareness of those at your side.

Blessed are you, pilgrim, when you have no words to give thanks for all the wonders in every nook of the Camino.

Blessed are you, pilgrim, if you search for the truth and make of your Camino a life, and of your life a Camino. 

Blessed are you, pilgrim, because you have discovered that the true Camino begins at its end.

Here, in the middle of a Portland park, we call to the Divine who is always in our midst and bless each other. This is holy ground. Every step is. Nancy grins at me.

And, then a woman presents the box of scallop shells tied with red cords.

One by one, our host calls our names. I step forward.

Jennifer, receive this scallop shell, the badge of the pilgrim, that all may recognize you as a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela.

I accept the shell and shake his hand. My eyes mist.

BUEN CAMINO!

The whole company cheers, and I grin and fight tears. This. This moment means everything. I’ve been commissioned, blessed, and sent. Now the only thing to do is walk.

(Eight days to go!)

What APOC is and why I joined it

What it is

American Pilgrims on the Camino is a US-wide organization that gathers pilgrims together at an annual conference and in local chapters throughout the country to connect around the Camino experience. They also train members to be a hospitalero in Spain. Similar country-specific confraternities exist all over the world, but ours it pretty cool.

Independent streak notwithstanding

I’m not normally a joiner. Politics make me want to crawl out of my skin. However, my entree to this group came from participating in APOC’s Facebook group. At over 12,oo0 members, it’s a vibrant group. When I was in the throes of my Camino blues, I was on that page every day, reading stories, answering questions, and posing some of my own.

I’ve benefited in so many ways from this online connection with other pilgrims. In the back of my mind has been the awareness of receiving all this support, connection, and help—at no cost.

I owe APOC a debt of gratitude

Last December I participated in the APOC Portlandia chapter’s Christmas potluck. There I met friendly people with interesting stories, humor, and soulfulness. It was a fantastic event to which I contributed nothing but a tarta de Santiago.

While preparing for my Camino, I requested two official credencials which APOC sent free of charge. Though they requested a donation for this service, I was not in a position to contribute at the time. Enter small dose of Catholic guilt. 😉

Finally, when the new-born Las Vegas chapter invited me to visit (with the REI connection just one degree of separation), I started to think: I should really join. This would be a good idea.

The cost versus value

If you’ve done the Camino (or are planning to), check out their resources and Facebook group. It’s so refreshing to meet pilgrims from all over the country, united in a love for this life-changing pilgrimage, no matter their political background or walk of life.

The membership fee for one person is $50, which (for me) is not chump change. Now that I’ve joined, I feel so good supporting the work of this organization. It’s one way to give back for the many gifts I’ve already received from them. (And yes, with a windfall tax refund I was able to throw in a few extra bucks for the credencials and postage.)

Catholic guilt? Absolved. 🙂 What a great way to start my next Camino–IN TWO WEEKS! (If you want to read updates, please subscribe!)

Are you an APOC member–or considered it? I’d love to hear about your experience.