Becoming a Pilgrim Again


Backpacks outside a store in Carrión de los Condes.

It’s funny what a difference twenty or so pounds can make when you’re walking.

I’ve been walking with my backpack for a week now—the same one-hour circuit I’ve often done unencumbered.

Here’s how it’s gone so far.

Thursday: I loaded the pack up with a stack of books, and a small blanket to fill in the places where light objects are supposed to go. I hardly felt the weight as I walked the route, which involves a few hills but nothing terribly strenuous.

Friday: I added a large trade paperback book. The only difference that day between walking with a backpack and my usual unencumbered stroll, was that the pack kept my back cozy in the sub-zero weather.

Saturday: I added an even larger trade paperback. I’m not sure if it was because of the added weight or because I’d been doing this for three days now, but I noticed the weight as I trudged uphill, and my hips were a little sore by the time I got home.

Sunday: I didn’t add a book, and my shoulders hurt a little.

Monday: I wimped out again and didn’t add any weight again. This time, my shoulders were still stiff and I developed a slight pain in my left heel that disappeared the moment I took my boots off.

Tuesday: I added another book. My shoulders were still a little stiff, but other than that I felt great.

Wednesday (today): My hamstrings were stiff until I stretched them out. Apart from that, I had no problems. I’m obviously going to have to increase my distance and/or add more weight, because my body is getting used to this.

And I have to admit, I rather like having a few aches and pains.

Don’t worry: I’m no masochist. It’s just that the small discomforts make me feel like I’m starting—barely—to get back in shape.

And they remind me, physically, of being a pilgrim.

My body remembers what the walking was like, so the ache in my shoulders, like the mere act of strapping on my backpack, brings a cascade of memories. And then, of course, here I am cataloguing my precise aches and pains, as I’ve done at no other time in my life except while on pilgrimage.

So why am I doing this?

Well, I get more exercise from walking with a pack. And, as I mentioned already, it keeps my back warm.

And then (insert drum roll here) … I’m going to walk the Vía de la Plata/Camino Mozárabe this spring.

I’d been thinking about other routes—particularly Saint Olav’s Way—for my next pilgrimage. But then I realized that right now I just want to walk and walk and walk for as long as possible, so I need a long, relatively inexpensive route. The Vía de la Plata seemed a good choice in that regard.

So I started reading up on the history of medieval Spain/al-Andalus (as the part under Muslim rule was called) since the Vía de la Plata passes through cities and towns that are part of that story.

And, history geek that I am, I’m now totally, absolutely, completely, head-over-heels besotted with this fascinating period. (I’m sure I’ll be inflicting sharing more with you on that in the near future.)

So now I’m reading as much history as I can manage, and counting down the days to my next journey—only slightly hindered by the fact that I don’t yet know exactly which day I’m leaving.

And I’m preparing my body for walking, one step at a time.

* * *

The timing of this post is pure coincidence, but it worked out rather nicely for the first week in the new year. Have you made any exciting resolutions/plans/decisions for 2011?

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Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 4:18 pm
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6 Responses to Becoming a Pilgrim Again

  1. emilene says:

    Wonderful news! I’ll be following your progress all the way! You have to go and get Tony Kevin’s book – he writes quite a bit about the history – it’s all very well researched, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy the book immensely.

    Good luck!

    • Anna-Marie says:

      I should really get hold of that book. And you should really read All the Good Pilgrims—I’d love to know what you think of it.

      And then next year, I’ll be following your Camino Francés trip!

  2. Mark Nienstaedt says:

    Advance physical conditioning is a great idea. Reducing backpack weight is another. How much weight to you expect to carry on the Via de la Plata?

    • Anna-Marie says:

      I’m not really sure. I don’t have everything I’m going to need yet. I’ve read up on ultralight stuff but am probably not as hardcore as you are (and it’s a bit of a balancing act between weight and cost). It sounds like April can get a bit chilly, so I might take some warmer clothes and ship them to Santiago as the weather gets hotter, too. I may end up e-mailing you for advice!

  3. Helene says:

    I walk daily as a letter carrier. I so wish I could be walking your way 🙂

    Safe Journeys!