Tag Archives: Transitions

Ich Bin Aufgeregt


[Rama V palace ruins, Thailad]

Heading into the unknown.

I met this woman once, when we were both university students. I don’t remember her name or what she looked like or why we met. I just remember her story.

She wanted to travel to Australia. It was her greatest desire, the thing she’d always dreamed of doing. And one Christmas, her parents said they would buy her a plane ticket there whenever she wanted.

No worries, right?

But if that had been all there was to the story, it wouldn’t have stuck with me. The thing was, that Christmas had been more than a year ago. The student kept coming up with reasons not to go. When I talked to her, she wasn’t sure she’d ever make it to Australia.

She really wanted to go, but she was scared.

That encounter made me think a lot about fear and travel. I figure a lot of us get scared—or at least nervous—at some point, but the timing of that point can vary widely, and have a huge impact on whether or not we actually go.

I’m lucky. When I’m planning a trip, it’s the excitement that wins out. Otherwise, like that student, I’d never buy a plane ticket.

The serious fear hits about two weeks before I leave—when I’m too committed to back out. Like, say, right now, when my thoughts begin to cycle through an endless litany of potential problems.

I haven’t trained enough and will never survive that 30-kilometre section on day three. My boots are all wrong and my pack is all wrong and my knife won’t sharpen and my second pair of brand new hiking socks has vanished without a trace. And if the weather changes (snow in Southern Spain may not be likely in April, but surely it’s possible) I won’t have enough warm clothing and will freeze. Probably to death.

And then I’m going to miss my connecting flight on the way home—I knew I shouldn’t have cut it so close—because either my first plane will be late or for some unfathomable reason I’ll be hassled going through Customs. Of course, that will only be an issue if I make it to Europe in the first place. I can come up with any number of disasters that would prevent my arrival.

And … well, that’s about it for now, but I’m sure I can come up with more in the next week or so.

My saving grace is the excitement from the planning stages. It’s still there, beneath the fear.

I keep thinking about a conversation I had two and a half years ago, the day before I walked into Santiago.

“Is there a word in German that describes being both excited and scared at the same time?” I asked Sascha, a pilgrim from Switzerland, as we walked through a eucalyptus forest.

He couldn’t come up with one off-hand, but promised to think about it.

“I bet there’s something,” I said. German, I am convinced, has a word for everything. If one doesn’t exist, the Germans just mash two or more words together to create something new.

After a little more walking, Sascha came through for me. “Aufgeregt,” he said, and he patiently taught me to pronounce it.

Ich bin aufgeregt.”

The nervous excitement I felt when I walked out of Le Puy-en-Velay on my first pilgrimage was different from that of walking into Santiago, but the two had a lot in common. They were both related to the ending of one life—even if only temporarily—and the beginning of something new.

So now, as I pack and repack my backpack, as I put my affairs in order before setting out, as I go on long walks and think about my upcoming journey, of course I’m feeling the same way again: scared and excited, excited and scared.

I don’t know what happened to that student who dreamed of Australia. I hope she, too, came to feel aufgeregt about the journey, and that the excitement won out over the fear.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 2:05 pm
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Refusing the Adventure


[The moon and the cathedral]

I took this photo of a cathedral detail just before the pilgrims' blessing, the day I walked out of Le Puy.

Furthermore, we have not even to risk the journey alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.
Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces (and quoted in The Power of Myth)

I’ve written before about the end of my Camino, and the post-Camino blues that followed.

Now, as I get ready to walk the Vía de la Plata, I’m thinking of beginnings rather than endings. And I’m hoping not to duplicate the beginning of my last Camino.

Here’s the thing: I wish I were more like Rob from SlowCamino. I really do.

But while I am a relatively slow walker, and I can be laid back about some aspects of life, I am also a first-class worrier.

So here’s me, the night I reach Le Puy-en-Velay at the end of August 2008.

I’m pacing up and down a hill that seems more vertical than horizontal. I’m trying to convince myself that my boots fit, but can’t escape the reality that they’re rubbing against my heels: a blister just waiting to happen.

My head itches. Part of me is sure this is psychosomatic—in my head rather than on it. The other part, the louder one, is convinced it’s fleas or lice or something worse, which I must have picked up in the hostel in Chartres and am now going to spread around the Camino.

Then there are my pants (that’s trousers for you British folks), which I suddenly realize I should have worn for more than three minutes back home. A piece of plastic-covered fabric scratches constantly against my leg as I walk. Later, I’ll find that my leg is bleeding.

And I don’t have a sleeping bag liner. I hadn’t considered this item before, but it suddenly seems a necessity on the Chemin du Puy. It’s hot out and my sleeping bag is too warm, but a gîte d’étape blanket with a sleeping bag liner, like the one the pilgrim in the next bunk has, would be perfect.

Then there’s the sheer fact of the hills. I’d walked around with my backpack a little at home, but I’m not really in great shape. I’d seen pictures of the hills around Le Puy before leaving home, but I didn’t understand, then, how steep they really are.

I am a complete fool, I decide, walking up and down that hill in the darkness, still trying to convince myself that my boots fit.

There are a lot of kilometres between me and Santiago de Compostela. My plan to walk them all, which seemed so reasonable at home, suddenly seems the height of hubris.

* * *

[The Chapel of St Michael d'Aiguilhe]

The Chapel of St Michael d'Aiguilhe, in Le Puy-en-Velay. The Chemin du Puy, I must admit, didn't ascend quite that vertically, though it sometimes felt like it.

The late mythologist Joseph Campbell outlined the “hero’s journey,” which shows patterns that he said are found in many stories from a variety of cultures around the world.

After showing the hero in her normal world, the story really takes off with a call to adventure—something that warns the hero she’s in for a journey, even if she doesn’t realize it yet.

The next stage of the journey (and not all stages are found in all stories, but this one is quite common), is the refusal of the call. It can range from a flicker of doubt to an outright refusal.

Or maybe the panic I felt that night in Le Puy-en-Velay as I paced under the streetlights.

Now, I’m no hero.

My point is that this refusal, which is part of so many myths and other stories, reflects a universal truth: doing something big and different is scary. It’s tough, too, even when we’re beginning something we really want to do.

And if galaxy-saving heroes like Luke Skywalker (Star Wars always comes up in a discussion of the hero’s journey, and who am I to break tradition?) can refuse their journeys, shouldn’t we be able to do it, too?

The problem is when the refusal becomes the story: it’s never overcome. Looking at my own life, I can see a number of times when I was living a refusal instead of an adventure.

But Campbell said we should choose the adventure, every time.

He was using the term “adventure” in its broadest sense here. You don’t have to leave home to have one. It could be taking a job you’re afraid you can’t do, or asking someone on a date when you’re afraid they’ll say no. Or, of course, (to choose an example totally at random) it can involve walking across a country or two.

Adventure is risk. It can be frightening. It can be tough.

But in the end it’s absolutely worth it.

* * *

Stained glass in the Chapel of St Michael d'Aiguilhe

Some of the simple, beautiful stained glass in the Chapel of St Michael d'Aiguilhe.

I didn’t reach a firm decision that evening I paced the streets of Le Puy.

The next morning, I woke up when my roommates got up to head for the pilgrim’s blessing at the cathedral. Then I rolled over and went back to sleep.

That day, instead of beginning my pilgrimage, I went on a long walk to a sports store, where I bought new pants and a silk sleeping bag liner. I decided my boots fit after all—and they really did, once my feet had swelled up from all that walking. I found a pharmacy and asked for anti-flea shampoo, after summoning all my French to describe “shampoo for the little bugs that bite in the hair.” (I’m still not sure if I actually had fleas—but at least it had a placebo effect.) I climbed the many steps to the lovely little Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe Chapel, and that alone made the delay worthwhile.

The next day, I got up early and trudged up the hill to the cathedral for the pilgrim mass. And when the mass was over, I started walking.

It was tough sometimes, the adventure I started that day— mentally, and emotionally exhausting.

But I walked into Santiago, almost three months after that evening in Le Puy, having walked the whole way. And I wouldn’t trade that journey for anything.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 9:31 am
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Chemin to Camino Culture Shock


[Saint-Jean Sign]

A sign that told me I was a few hours from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

I went out for a walk today and just wanted to keep walking. I suppose I could have done it, too, but eventually I would have had to turn around. Walking around home is fine—I try to do it every day—but it’s not exactly the same as being on the Camino.

So I was feeling a little melancholy as I headed home, and I guess that’s why I started thinking about the transition between walking the Chemin du Puy in France and the Camino Francés in Spain. Mentally, it ended up being one of the most difficult parts of my journey.

Before I started walking, I basically saw the Chemin du Puy as an extension of the Camino Francés, which I’d read so much about I thought of as the real Camino. I walked from Le Puy because the 780 or so kilometres from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port didn’t seem like far enough.

Of course, all that had changed by the time I actually reached Spain. After almost six weeks in France, I appreciated the Chemin in its own right.

My last few days in France were particularly wonderful. I met some great people, and began, more or less, to leap small hills in a single bound. But I was still excited to reach Saint-Jean. I didn’t see it as the real start of my Camino any more, but I knew it would mark the beginning of something new.

What I’d forgotten was how difficult transitions can be. On the Chemin du Puy by the end of September, the fairly large number of walkers had slowed to a trickle. But crossing the Pyrenees, I was suddenly surrounded by pilgrim hordes, so many that it was hard to talk to any one person.

And there were so many other contrasts between the Chemin in France and the Camino in Spain. In retrospect, I can’t say I preferred one of the other, but rather enjoyed them both—sometimes in different ways. But for a few days after starting the Camino Francés, I really missed France.

I missed the cleanliness and the beautiful gîtes d’étapes that didn’t make me sleep right next to strangers. I missed the open churches where I used to stop and think. I missed the red and white waymarks of the GR-65 and rather resented the yellow arrows that had replaced them.

And it seemed like I had just grown used to speaking French when I had to make the transition to Spanish. My second night in Spain, I wrote:

My speaking is a mess. I try to speak Spanish, I know I know the words, but French comes out. I hadn’t realized how … not fluent, but at least how used to French I’d become…. I speak in this weird mélange that more or less works for now, but I have to train myself to automatically say “gracias” and “si” instead of “merci” and “oui.”

At the time, I’d also lost track of all my Chemin friends (I did catch up to some of them just after Pamplona), and I missed them. On most of the Chemin du Puy, I’d shared a common background with the other walkers, even if we’d never met. Now, I had no one to talk to about past experiences. I couldn’t say, “The Pyrenees weren’t as bad as the road out of Conques,” to the new pilgrims without sounding arrogant and irritating.

It was also strange to be at a different stage of my Camino than most of the people around me. I was at the halfway point, and beginning to really think about the experience and what it had meant so far. Everyone else was just starting out. It was such a relief to have someone to talk to about all this when a Frenchwoman I’d met once on Chemin du Puy walked into the refuge at Zubiri.

Of course, I soon got used to the Camino in Spain, and learned to love it—and its yellow arrows—too. I made more friends, most of whom had started in Saint-Jean, and we soon had a Camino history in common, too.

The biggest culture shock of all came when the Camino ended. The transition from France to Spain was from one part of the Camino to another, but going home meant returning to another world.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 3:51 pm
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