Last Monday, past and future pilgrims piled in at the REI in Asheville to hear Bill Walker speak at the Western North Carolina chapter of the American Pilgrims on the El Camino.
Bill Walker calls the El Camino the European trail of the masses, like the A.T. in the U.S. However, it’s a lot easier to walk than the A.T.
According to Bill, the number of Americans on the El Camino is up 90%. The trail is a balanced experience, a journey. It’s in the middle between the Pacific Crest Trail and a packaged tour.
Charlemagne (782-814) may be considered the first pilgrim in the 9th century. At the time, it was thought to be an honor to die on the El Camino. Remember that during the old days, pilgrims walked back home from Spain as well. It allowed people to escape their village for once in their lives. The trail became out of favor with Martin Luther and Protestantism.
But after World War II, Europeans wanted something to unify their continent and set upon the El Camino. Europeans are forming a common culture and a social experiment. In France, Bill judges that 70% to 80% of the hikers are French. It’s not as international a group as in the Spanish section. In the latter, English is the “lingua franca.”
Now the El Camino is the European divorce trail or the most ecumenical trail. You see a posse of overweight post middle age women. Except for the overweight part, that’s me, Bill. It’s a struggle, spiritual, good wine, and socializing.
I learned a new term, pink blazing. From the A.T., you know that hikers follow white-blazes. Blue blazes are on trails that emanate from the A.T., including trails to shelters and water sources. Yellow blazing occurs when hikers skip a section and hitchhike, sometimes just to catch up with friends.
“Pink-blazing” is when a guy hikes unusually fast or slow in pursuit of a female hiker. I guess that can be friendly or considered stalking, depending on how the woman feels about it. And what color would we use when a woman is pursuing a male hiker?
Three nemesis of the El Camino- Snoring (ronfler), bedbugs (punaise de lit) and blisters (cloque). I looked those three words in my French Dictionary.
Take earplugs to protect yourself from the snorers in the hostels. For blisters, get low-cut boots, not high ones. Buy them a half-size bigger since your feet are going to expand in the heat. Bill didn’t have a solution for bedbugs.
Bill ended his talk with a quote from St. Augustine “Walking solves all problems.” Solvitur Ambulando.
I have my tickets to France, my pack and my accommodations guide – see the picture above. Now I just have to keep up my French.