Camino Impressions from a Canadian Guy

Symbol of the Camino
Symbol of the Camino

What is it about the Camino de Santiago that attracts walkers and pilgrims from all over the world? I must be one of them. I walked Le Chemin de St. Jacques in 2013. This year, I’m celebrating the National Park Service Centennial with a new book. Next year, I hope to be back on the Camino – I even bought the guidebook already.

Part of my preparations is to go to meetings of the Western North Carolina meetings of the American Pilgrims of the Camino. Before our speaker was introduced, Esther Slater, the den mother of the WNC Camino group, gave out shells to all the walkers this year. Sea shells are the symbol of the Camino.

On Monday (April 4, 2016), Guy Thatcher, a retired Canadian Armed Forces helicopter pilot, came from Ottawa to talk to us.  He had walked both the conventional Spanish route and the French route. The meetings are always informative and inspirational but this talk was more meaningful to me because Guy talked about his walk from Le Puy in France and across the Pyrenees to Spain.

Guy Thatcher
Guy Thatcher

After a little history of Le Puy, he described how pilgrims need to make sure that they are following the way (GR 65) in the correct direction. Every Grande Route in France is marked with a white and red bar. This is particularly confusing at intersections if you’re not paying attention.

He started his walk in 2011 when he was in his mid-70s. But after a hundred miles, he realized that something was wrong. He thought he was having heart trouble so he went home. After being checked up and down – this is Canada after all, where one doesn’t have to worry about how to pay for medical care – he learned that he had diabetes. Undeterred, he got back on the trail the next year at the same village where he ended before. Good for him!

He found trail magic in the form of free refreshments. He learned that you don’t ask pilgrims why they’re doing the trail. “You can tell them why you’re doing it,” Guy says “but you just listen when they tell you.”

Chemin de St. Jacques
Chemin de St. Jacques

He learned to mark his poles and boots in a distinctive manner since in most places you have to leave them in a public area. He wore toe separators when he walked to prevent blisters, a trick I need to try.

Then he reached St. Jean Pied de Port and climbed over the Pyrenees. You can walk the road, which is safest in bad weather or go for the high route for the vistas.

“Pilgrims didn’t go for the vistas. They went for the easiest route which became where the highways are now.” Every gite has information from the police each day on whether the high route is safe. So there’s no excuse to do something foolish. Remember how the movie, The Way, started, with a death.

Guy sells his books on his website. He has some wise words which he flashed at the end of his presentation. My favorite is:

If I really have a dream, make sure to do it while I can. 

So get out there!


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