Category Archives: Camino/Chemin de St. Jacques

Writing Sleepaway Camp with Nicole

I first met Nicole Ayers of Ayers Edits when I was looking for an editor for Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey through the National Parks of the South. Through a series of happy events, she was recommended as a good editor. She was – and is.

This past weekend, Nicole offered a writing retreat/workshop, which she called Sleepaway Camp to distinguish it from the one day or shorter workshops she holds. It was held at a B&B in Waxhaw, NC. I was intrigued. It fit into my schedule and I signed up.

“Come prepared with questions, a project, ideas…”, she said.

Writing retreat

The other two writers were also nonfiction writers in the midst of major writing projects. Marni writes about intuitive healing and Mica deals with children with educational challenges.

Me?? I wanted to see if I could make some headway with my research on Camino pilgrims in the Middle Ages. Could I write a few hundred words about a fictional character walking the Camino de Santiago in the Middle Ages? Could I do it without being paralyzed by extensive research?

Friday afternoon, we gathered in the huge house and got our individual writing corners. I spread out on the dining room table. We all signed up with our one-to-one hour with Nicole. What luxury to be able to bounce ideas off a knowledgeable editor for an hour! I spent some time writing down my questions and ideas.

“Set a goal for the weekend,” Nicole advised. So I wrote;

To write about a Middle Age pilgrim without doing much research and without worrying about how elementary it was or full of holes.

I started my story but had trouble from the beginning. I decided that this pilgrim was going to be a woman in her late thirties to mid-forty. But what time period in the Middle Ages? The tenth century was very different from the fifteenth century.

And where would she live? Where would she start her journey from? These questions bothered me more than her motivation or how she was going to find a group to walk with.

I looked at pictures of female pilgrims on the web. Yes, here we had access to our iPhones and the  Internet at this retreat, not always the best idea. I could see their costume but not their shoes. I’m pretty sure they didn’t wear hiking boots. How much research did I need to do? How much research was I willing to do?

I got the bolt of lightning that you’ve already figured out. I didn’t need to read academic treatises. I could focus on novels set in the Middle Ages. Let’s see how this works. I wonder how long it would have taken me to figure this out if I wasn’t at a retreat, thinking about my writing a hundred per cent of the time.

Nicole led two discussions: Writing Personal Essays and Tips on Writing, Editing, Publishing and Marketing. We shared tips and ideas which I find so motivating since writing is a solitary occupation.

Nicole prepared lovely lunches and dinners and we all seemed to dig in for our own breakfasts. Mica and I took a couple of hours off yesterday afternoon to walk on the Carolina Thread Trail. Otherwise it was writing and discussing writing. As we hit snags, we put questions up on a board. These were our meal time conversations.

Was it worth the time and money? Yes. I feel I have a direction now. No guarantee that the direction will get me to the writing I think I want to do but it’s a direction. And, as an extra bonus, the Waxhaw B&B was close to a historic place I’ve been meaning to visit. Stay tuned.

Camino Meetings – Of rocks and shells

On Monday, I went to the monthly Asheville REI meetings of the American Pilgrims on the Camino. At this point, I don’t go to these meetings to learn more practical stuff – though I always do. I go for camaraderie, support and plain entertainment. Mark Cobb, the evening’s moderator, said that there are now over forty American Pilgrims chapters, a far cry from when these meetings started.

Karen and Dan

Karen and Dan presented their trip from Porto, Portugal to Santiago, along with another couple that didn’t want to be part of this blog. Starting from a picturesque fishing village, Karen and Dan walked 140 miles to reach Santiago and get their Compostela. You need to prove that you’ve walked at least 100K (60 miles) to get your certificate. To do that, you need two stamps per day, along the way. You get stamps at your lodging, bars and even churches.

Their slide presentation showed a compilation of farmland, stacked hay, and grapes ready to be harvested. They also talked about the reality of walking every day, such as sore feet that needed Compeed and long lines at the albergues (hostels).

Their beautiful food photos showed only fish, bread, and baked goodies. Where were the fruit, vegetables, and even grain? I need to get those from grocery stores because restaurant and snack bars aren’t going to offer anything fresh. In these small towns, fresh fruit and vegetables are the luxury items since there isn’t much traffic.

On the Camino

Karen and Dan took a rock from home and carried it to Santiago. They also put a shell on their backpacks. Supposedly, leaving a rock behind is symbolic of leaving a marriage, a job, a burden that you’ve been carrying. The shell is for keeping something (I’m not quite sure what) close to you.

This presentation made me wonder about pilgrims in the Middle Ages. What did they wear? What did they eat? Were there women pilgrims? It’s time for me to do some research.

Prissy and Steve’s Excellent Adventure

How much should I prepare to understand the Camino de Santiago? I’m not talking about my packing list or budget. I mean:

Have you read books on Spanish history or the Camino pilgrimage, beyond the guidebook of course? Seen Spanish movies? Learned Spanish? I like to see what other people read, study, and learn before hand to enhance the quality of their journey.

The Camino provides seems to be a familiar saying but being prepared is better.

Steve and Priscilla at REI

The Western North Carolina Chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino  hosted its December meeting at REI Asheville. Priscilla Richter and her brother Steve Pierce talked about their respective Camino experience.

They first showed a picture of themselves as children, Prissy and Steve, and dubbed their walk as Prissy and Steve’s excellent adventure.

Priscilla walked the Camino Frances on her own. She looked at the experience as Life at the speed of walking. Starting on April 22, it took her seven weeks all together.

She emphasized the pleasure of walking into a village, a “shelter from the storm” she called it.

“Villages are economically depressed,” she concluded at the end of her walk. “There are no young people, no kids in school. If it wasn’t for Camino pilgrims, I don’t know how they would make it.”

“There are so many icons on this journey. The plane trees, which are sacred,” said Priscilla. The plane trees, which line so many streets, are related to the sycamore. And the storks. I never thought that storks would nest on top of stone ruins but they seem to be common on the Camino.

However, I have a feeling that it’s the people she met that made Priscilla’s trip. Some people like solitude but there’s a balance between community and solitude.

”Some people carried ashes of their loved ones,” she recalls. The Camino pilgrimage attracts a world community. Fellow pilgrims gave Priscilla the moniker, Speedy Gonzalez, which she found funny. In the US, she wouldn’t be considered a fast walker.

She introduced a new concept in my Camino lexicon, “Camino brain” which I looked up.

“On the Camino most people at one time or another forget what day it is, the date, and even where they slept two days ago.” A blog from Slim on the Road explains the phenomenon.

Steve was on The Camino Portugues from May 18 to June 8. He walked from Port in Portugal to Santiago and then onto Muxia with Priscilla.

In front of the Santiago Cathedral

“It’s good to have an itinerary to deviate from,” he quotes advice from Don Walton, a longtime Camino walker.

“The villages were very quiet,” Steve said echoing Priscilla sentiment. “Every day felt like Sunday morning.”

Steve enjoyed the routine, even doing the laundry – by hand, you understand.

He learned to choose a bunk bed against the wall so he would have one fewer snorer to contend with. He praised the seafood of Portugal.

Then he and Priscilla met outside of the Santiago cathedral. I’m amazed that they could meet in the huge crowd without prearranged it.

Together they walked together to Muxia and back to Finisterre, the end of the world, and finished their adventure.