22/365 – Girls gone wild

During this period of rest between jobs, I’ve been keeping myself busy with bits of work, volunteering with Childline and Myaware and trying to get myself as strong and healthy as possible. A key reason for this drive to get fit is because I’m going to be doing the Camino De Santiago with Elaine, and hopefully some of our friends, this May.

Today, I spent time doing another thing that’s been keeping me sane during my break from work – I went to the cinema to see Wild. If you’ve not heard of it, Wild is Cheryl Strayed’s true story. She walked 1,000 miles on her own, from the Mexican border to Canada, to deal with the grief of losing her mother, her subsequent drug addiction and the guilt over the breakdown of her relationship with her husband. As you can imagine, aside from Reese Witherspoon’s raw and powerful portrayal, the film’s concept has got me rather excited about our trek this spring.

Let me first tell you about why we decided to do the Camino for the first time last year. Last Christmas, Elaine and I bought each other flights to Santiago de Compostella without giving the logistics of what we were doing much thought. We had both wanted to do at least a part of the Camino for years – me since watching the film about it, The Way, and Elaine since hearing about it at church.

When I got my diagnosis of MG, I felt the desire to go become even stronger. I had something to prove to myself – I needed to know I could still live fully and challenge myself physically and psychologically.

If you haven’t heard of the Camino de Santiago, it’s a pilgrimage to Northern Spain that started in the Middle Ages. The idea back in those days was that you started your journey to Santiago de Compostella (where it is believed St James is buried in the cathedral) from your front door, however now there are many established hiking routes including the Portugese way and the French way.

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Last year we walked the last 120km
of the French way – from Sarria to Santiago. Along with many other glory hunters, we joined the groups who had been walking for months for the final stretch of the journey and it is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. We met people from all over the world with fascinating stories to share, got the buzz from achieving a really tough physical challenge, had too many blisters to count and saw a beautiful part of Spain that we probably would never have visited otherwise. I also used it as the first stage in my staggered triathlon to raise funds for Myaware, which felt fitting as the reason I had finally pushed myself to do it was myasthenia.

In preparation, I went out hiking from January onwards with my friend Keith, tried to walk as much as possible in my day-to-day life and even dragged my brother out on a mammoth trek one weekend in Edinburgh. The one bit of prep I didn’t do was training with a full backpack on – big mistake. Still, my back has nearly recovered. I also bought cheap shoes – even bigger mistake. My feet still hate me and can’t believe I’ve signed up to do it again this year.

Physically, the hike was challenging but I believe that was due to my poor shoe choice. While my muscles felt equipped to deal with the 20ish km stumble, my blistered feet did not. By the end we were being over taken by elderly ladies, chihuahuas and snails.

Psychologically, the trek was incredible for me. I never allowed doubt to creep in, I gave my mind space to wander anywhere it liked, I handled the challenge of being around all kinds of dogs (I have a dog phobia) and I felt mentally cleansed at the end of it.

When your daily routine is eat, walk, eat, read and sleep in the quiet wild, with the sound of frogs and birds singing as your constant companion, it’s hard to imagine that you’ll ever be stressed again.

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This year we are doing a shorter walk – the first stage of the French route from St Jean Pied de Port to Pamplona. It’s 60ish kms, about half the length, however it is in the Pyrenees so the terrain is more intense. Whether I do the pass over the mountains will probably be down to how fit I’m feeling at the time and how the weather is. But, at this point, I want to give myself the best chance of being able to conquer the Napoleon pass (the French general and his soldiers used the route).

The satisfaction of completing physical challenges like the Camino is something I’ve always enjoyed and I was delighted to find out last year that I was still capable of achieving such a feat.

Today’s photo is from my night walk around London. Stay tuned for more news about the Camino and about other physical challenges I have for this year.

I leave you with this quote from Cheryl Strayed from her book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

‘I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.’

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