In a previous incarnation, I worked as a Software Engineering, sitting at my desk, solving abstract problems, while spending my days staring into lines of computer code. I enjoyed my job, but had felt it was removed from the reality of nature and didn’t answer my quest for meaning.
I have participated in outdoor sports for many years, including running; swimming; mountain biking; and rock climbing. These activities took on the form of the weekend warrior – two days of activities followed by five days of a sedentary lifestyle.
In 2013, I walked two weeks of the Camino Frances (this is the main Camino, there are many) in Northern Spain, which was my first foray into long-distance walking; my first time carrying everything that I needed for multiple weeks on my back; and my first time really realizing how much, or more accurately how little, I really needed.
Since then I have walked many long-distance routes under blazing sun and alpine snow; wild camped in deserts; caves; forests; mountains; and olive groves. I have slept while listening to wild boars prowling outside my tent; listening to gun shots ringing over my head; in storms and blizzards. I have walked for days under the scorching sun without water or food. I have slipped, fallen, and been bitten by snakes.
However, that first walk on the Camino which began from a little village in the French Pyrenees, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and ended in the city of Burgos, was the beginning of a new journey – an existential journey. This journey of the mind began in 2013 and six years later it is still ongoing. I don’t think that I am any closer to answering the question prompted by that first walk, but it has changed my perception of the world, perception of things, and perception of living. I have come to realize that too many people are working too hard, to buy stuff that they don’t need, to impress people they don’t particularly like and looking outside themselves for happiness.
Even though I completed only the first 300 km of the Camino, which took me around two weeks, a new journey had begun. I realized the joy of walking long distances. Not just joy, no that’s not an entirely accurate word, but more so a peace and presence – a type of contemplative and even meditative experience.
There is something about the repetitive movement of each foot which is in a way mesmerizing and deeply tranquil. My journey on these long treks have been both alone and with others. Travelling with people is a very enriching experience, and I have learnt a lot from other people and I have really appreciated their company. However, for me, travelling alone allows one to travel deep into oneself and begin to discover who one really is.
Long distance walking is not about getting from place to place, rather it is an awakening, an existential journey, a spiritual awareness. It is where you begin to discover your essence and who you really are. Walking alone allows you time and space to think, to reflect and to contemplate. Even if the walk doesn’t provide an answer, for indeed they may be no answer, it’s the journey that matters – not just the physical one but also the more challenging mental one. Every walk is different and every walk is unique to that person.