Every pilgrim knows how hard it can be to keep walking. Especially when there’s 1000-km walk ahead you. I remember how stressed I felt during my first kilometers on the Camino de Santiago when I realised that I walked 20 km, felt tired, and had another 680 km to go. Things got easier when I was able to admit to myself what was bugging me. Then I relaxed and just enjoyed walking.
Aching muscles was the next challenge. Your muscles might get you on the first days because your body is not used to walking each day and carrying all your belongings on your back. No matter how little you have with you, it will still be heavy on your back. All you can do is to keep walking, repetition is how muscles adapt to a new routine.
I began to feel mentally sick of walking in the middle of the pilgrimage. I just got sick of the idea that I needed to walk another kilometre, find another place to sleep, or find another shop to buy food. The uncertainty of what I would find in the next albergue, or the availability of a good nights sleep with no snoring around me made me tired. But when you think of it, that’s not so different from real life – you never know how things will go. I looked at it as an adventure, surprised and curious as to where and when I would eat next. Maps and guidebooks are helpful too. You might not find what is written in them, but at least your mind will be calmed by the potential of what could be found. Asking other pilgrims is also helpful. Sometimes they walk the route not the first time and might have some information on what to expect. I also liked to sleep on my mat sometimes. Then I did not have to rush to get a place in the albergue. I could pick a nice spot, or just stop whenever I was tired to walk and read a book, or draw.
Can’t take your thoughts anymore? Talk to other pilgrims. It is nice to find out different stories and reasons as to why people walk. Or if you don’t want to hear any stories, it is a good time to pray, repeat some mantras, or maybe sing a few songs – rhythm can be very helpful for walking. Once you sync the song with your steps, it is easier to move on. It’s like dancing, you don’t think about how hard it is or how to tackle that last kilometre to the albergue.
The one thing a pilgrim should have is a walking stick! It is supportive not only to keep a balance, but also takes a bit of a weight from your knees. Not to mention the many other practical use of the stick like drying you wet clothes, beating the rhythm while walking, scaring angry creatures away, measuring the depth of a river, reaching an orange on a tree, and anything else your imagination can come up with. You can buy a more posh stick in the souvenir shops along the way or just find one in the forest.
If your backpack feels too heavy, then it is a good time to review its content and keep only the things that are necessary for the pilgrimage. The recommended weight of the backpack is usually 10 percent of your own weight (i.e. if you weight 70 kg, your comfortable load is 7 kg). I started with 10 kilos and then got rid of all extra clothes and things on the way. The next time I walked I had:
- one pair of shorts, one longer trousers, underwear, two pairs of socks, shoes, slippers, two t-shirts, one waterproof jacket – I washed the clothes of the day in the albergue I was staying and if not during the night they dried quickly hanging on my back pack next day;
- Kindle with books and maps, mobile phone, photo camera (plus chargers) and a journal to write down my adventures and draw;
- Toiletries including toothbrush, toothpaste, some soap and shampoo, toilet paper, deodorant, plasters, sunscreen and tee-tree oil (worked for wound disinfection, and against moskitoes), sports towel;
- Thermos which I used for water or to bring some hot tea or coffee in the mornings.
All the extra things you might need you can easily buy in the supermarkets on the way. It is helpful to have a sleeping mat and sleeping bag if you plan on sleeping outside. However, usually albergues have single use bed sheets for extra euro or two. The private hostels have bed sheets included in the price.
Before deciding on what is necessary to take with you it is a good idea to read about the route you choose for the pilgrimage and the situation in the albergues and availability of shops on the way.
Hope it helped. Buen camino!