I lived the majority of my life in the fast lane. I was born with the type A gene and have tried to harness the energy.
After college, I worked for a Fortune 500 Company and quickly climbed the ranks as a senior sales executive. In 2000, at the age of 36, I decided that time was more important than money, so I retired. I filled my days with volunteer work and developed a passion for adventure travel. In 2006, I took my first “non-business” trip to Europe and rode 2,000 miles on my bike over six weeks. This liberating trip took me through nine countries. In 2008, I heard about the Camino de Santiago, but had a hard time with the slow nature of walking. It seemed like a trip more suited for a type B. After seeing the film “The Way” in 2010, I felt a strong need to try the path someday. In August of 2012, a wild hair twanged and I bought a plane ticket. Three weeks later, I found myself on the French side of the Pyrenees.
I spent about 35 days walking 500 miles walking on the ancient pilgrimage path. A million is a rough estimate of the number of steps I took while walking the Camino de Santiago. I made the calculation on day 13 of my trek as I walked along a portion of the path that was parallel to a highway with kilometer markers. Over the course of a kilometer, I counted 1,153 steps. I did the math and discovered that I would take a total of 909,717 steps on the trail between St. Jean Pied-de-Port, where it began, and Santiago de Compostela, where it ended. I added in another 3,000 or so steps per day to cover the walks to dinner and short hikes for sightseeing. One million steps seems a good estimate.
When I arrived at the first hostel, the hospitalero (hostel host) was flirtatiously helping three young women from France. The mood of the room was light until another young lady from Hungary arrived with tears streaming down her face. All attention turned to her until we determined that her tears, running over freckles and framed by red dreadlocks, came from a joyous place. She was emotional about being at the start of the Camino.
The hospitalero advised our small group of pilgrims with broken English. “This ’ees your trip, your life, your adventure,” he said. “Do not make the trip for anyone else. Make ’eet for yourself. If you walk with a new friend and they walk too fast, say goodbye. Let them go. This is your trip. Your Camino is for you.”
It seemed a bit selfish but sure made sense a few days into the pilgrimage.
In my life, I have been fortunate to feed my addiction to travel. I enjoy every facet and type of travel including romance, adventure and business. As I reach the half century point in my life, the best memories always seem to center around some experience on a trip. Traveling with a lover, business partner, friends, or family is always good, but the road less traveled is the solo journey.
My first time alone was a bit nerve wracking. The cause is unknown, but there were many moments of insecurity. My ego convinced me to feel like a lone diner in a packed restaurant. Instead of taking advantage of the good fortune, I spent time worrying about what other people were thinking. Age taught me to disregard this idiotic thought process.
Life is about compromise and we all do it on a daily basis. Solo travel is one of the few arenas where this is left in the dust. You choose everything from the destination, wake up time, restaurants, and the daily list of activities. Group travel can quickly morph into an exercise in herding cats. The larger the group, the slower they move. Time is a precious resource on vacation and waiting for others in not the reason I travel.
One of my favorite features of travel is to place myself in an environment where things are on the outer edges of my comfort zones. From previous life experiences, I find that the best way to break the routines is to place myself is situations where things are outside of my comfort zones. Walking the Camino was an extreme version of this practice. I put myself in a foreign country, sleeping with strangers in bunk beds, walking, eating a different diet, not connected via cellphone, carrying all my possession on my back, and not really knowing where I would go each day. Autopilot disengages and I had a chance to fly the plane again. For me, personal growth happens in these unfamiliar territories.
When traveling with another person or a group, meeting strangers is not likely to be high on the agenda. You may briefly cross paths with strangers, but not likely to spend time getting to know these people. Solo travel allows a person to open the gate and let people into your life.
One of the many great things about the Camino de Santiago is meeting strangers from every corner of the globe. They come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors. Each person has their own emotional backpack and unique outlook on the world. Their previous experience translates into life stories that are shared while conversing along the trail. Beautiful tales that reshape and enhance perspectives.
The Camino is a prefect arena for people to open gates and let others into their lives. By the end of the 500 mile walk, I met hundreds of people from 35 different countries. Some intersected one time and others with a frequency that would confound statisticians. Since this is the land of strangers walking with strangers, the openness seemed to be amplified while dining, resting, and even snoring together in our albergues (hostels for walkers). It created a feeling of one big family walking each other home.
Unlike the daily routines of life, every single day is filled with uncertainty. The terrain, weather, distance, stamina, and acquaintances change on a daily basis. In this “challenged” environment, you will likely be sucked into the now. With so many unknowns, there is little time to waste on the past or the future. Spending 30-45 days in this zone will likely help you to rearrange your emotional backpack. If you are traveling with a group, worrying about the needs of others can easily take you away from the moment.
About The Author: Kurt Koontz is the author of A Million Steps, a book about his journey on the Camino de Santiago. Website, Twitter, and Facebook. Kurt is available for select lectures and presentations. To inquire about an appearance, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Source: Kurt Koontz and Wikimedia Commons