It seemed appropriate to title this the Last Post as it is the 11th November today. (The 11th November is the anniversary of the ending of the First World War if you had forgotten).
It is two weeks now since I stopped walking. Two weeks ago today at 3pm I arrived in Muxia on the Spanish coast, the end of my Long Walk. In the last two weeks I have been readjusting to the stationary life. For the last seven months (apart from one occasion) I have not spent more than three days in the same bed!
I must warn you before we go any further. This is going to be a very different post as I am writing this on a proper keyboard and anyone who knows me well also knows that I can touch type. You might want to make a cup of tea and settle down to a long read. J I was exhorted the other day to write a post without the reticence that I have applied up till now.
Does the world look different on my return? How have ‘things’ changed? Would I do it again? What have I learnt or discovered on my journey? Has my body suffered on the journey? These are all questions I have been asked and if you are interested in some of the answers then read on. This may be a bit self-indulgent but it is also a good process for me to try and express what has been going through my head.
My purpose for embarking on this Long Walk was twofold. One was to use the Pilgrimage part of it to give thanks for the wonderful things that I have experienced in my life. Someone asked me if I was a Catholic when I was in France. My reply was “I am 80% Catholic having been raised for eighteen years in that environment”. I should also have added that I am also 80% Buddhist. I know, the maths doesn’t add up!! The second purpose of embarking on this long walk was to give my brain a good washing. Walking gives you lots of time to ruminate and meditate and hold lingering conversations with your fellow travellers. I had retired a few months previously and my partner had died recently. It was definitely time for life to change!
So would I do it again? A definite yes. Well to qualify that, I would not do the exact same route again but would I go for a Long Walk? Oh yes. I would recommend everyone to do it. It is life changing. G.K. Chesteron said “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” But my Long Walk was not just about travelling it was also about walking. Walking is the speed of travel that the human body underwent millions of years of evolution to perfect. It is what we were meant for! To embark on a Long Walk it is necessary for three thing to be in conjunction together. You need to have enough time. (The oncoming winter was my only deadline) You need to have good health. (At 69 I am so lucky to be fit and strong. Years of fellrunning perhaps?) And of course, lastly, you need to have enough money. This last one is the most difficult. I met one Canadian on the walk through Spain who was living successfully on a budget of €15 a day. I could not do that.
I didn’t have any real problems with my body in the seven months. There were a few blisters and a corn which all went away after a while. I had a bad cold at one point and spent a couple of days in a hotel room doing very little. I had a few strained muscles in my legs but taking Arnica tablets and reducing the mileages worked wonders. I think I survived so well because on average I took at least one rest day per week. I found that the best plan was to hole up in a hotel room for two days. The first day I spent leisurely shopping and maybe a bit of sightseeing and doing the washing. The second day I spent lying in bed just reading and eating the shopping I did on the previous day. That is my definition of ‘doing nothing’. However I have found since I stopped walking two weeks ago that I was more tired than I realised. I had been coming to the conclusion that it was time to stop, that my legs were getting stiff, that perhaps I had done enough. (4,000km). Well it has taken two weeks of easy days to recoup and recover and maybe I am not there yet. Despite spending days trying to be sensitive to the body’s feelings and messages it is only in hindsight that I can come to any true conclusion.
My right knee had a torn cartilage some forty five years ago which was removed. Over the years it has sometimes given me pain. I was most worried about whether it would cope with the Long Walk. As I walked further and as I became fitter and the muscles in my leg grew stronger my knee gave me less and less trouble. That was a completely unexpected outcome and a lesson I need to carry forward into the future. I found that it took a month of walking to ease into that zone of more effortless walking.
So what happened to me over seven months?
I loved living in the outdoors. Every day seeing the sun travel across the sky. I loved camping especially the wild camping away from electric lights. I must point out that the weather was wonderful. Only on a few evenings was there rain. I wore my t-shirt and shorts day after day after day. To be living in such warmth was amazing. When I was largely camping I slowly lost weight. One day I looked at myself in a mirror and thought “Gosh”. Once I started the Pilgrimage route in France from Le Puy and started staying in pilgrim hostels where there was usually a communal meal with wine – well the weight loss started reversing. I could write a whole post on French food! I know that I have to go back to eat in France again.
The time spent walking allowed me to grieve for the loss of my partner and to reflect on the meaning of life. I made a list of my conclusions and thoughts. I will offer it to you as my list, not a universal list. Each person has their own list.
1. Humans need other humans. We need community to build connections with others, to empathise with them, to love them, to share a set of values.
2. I realised that I like walking. It is a simple thought, I know, but I really like walking through the countryside.
3. Relish the present moment because it will be gone very soon. The latter part of my walk on the Camino de Santiago was a good teacher in this. There were many conversations and meetings and fun with other pilgrims on the route. You met someone for five minutes or five hours. Chances were that you would not see them again and that time spent together was all the time you had.
4. Being at ease with not knowing what is going on! Many times I sat at a communal table and only understood a small fraction of the conversation. It did lead to a study of body language. You can tell so much about people’s feelings without knowing any words.
5. Realisation that I am now an expert at walking. Well I must be, surely having spent seven months doing it! I don’t feel like an expert. I just feel the same.
6. I discovered how much I enjoy writing. Producing the blog was a real pleasure. Well most of the time!
7. I don’t need lots of stuff. One of my favourite bits of graffiti that I came across was “The best things in life are not things” I lived for seven months with only what was packed in the rucksac on my back. I have a four bedroom house filled with “stuff” that I obviously don’t need!
That’s seven thoughts from seven months of walking.
If you have reached this far, congratulations. Thank you for reading my efforts. I cannot post this without including a photograph. This was in central France. This is countryside. Who wants to live inside and miss views like this?