What Now?

| February 2, 2016 | 0 Comments

The Treksters

She went north; he crossed the ocean. Both Maggie Espinosa and Don Gullans invested months of preparation for their “Camino” treks: Espinosa, 800 miles through the California’s El Camino Real, from San Diego to Sonoma, and Gullans, across northern Spain’s El Camino de Santiago.

Gullans spent two months on the trail; Espinosa, in short bites, covered the El Camino over the course of a year.

Here, Espinosa is a noted writer and traveler; Gullan is retired from his newspaper clipping service, dances “Flamenco,” contributes time and heart to our churches and schools.

Espinosa produced a book; Gullan collected memories; they’re both resting up:

LW: What inspired you to take this trip?

Espinosa: I’d been mulling around the idea of walking either the length or width of California, but wasn’t sure of the approach. Then I read an article in Westways magazine about Butch Briery — a retired Oregon school teacher — who walked the El Camino Real to visit its 21 historic missions. Bingo!

Gullans: I didn’t walk the Camino to “find direction.” I intended to focus on what it means for me to be fully in the moment as I journey along the rest of my life.

LW: Did either of you consider taking the other trek?

Espinosa: I didn’t know about the other Camino until I started walking and met a few hikers who had walked the Santiago. It sounds very appealing, but after testing my fortitude and stamina trekking 800 miles hill-and-dale through California, I told my husband if I ever utter the words “I’m thinking about walking the Camino de Santiago,” please tie me to a chair.

Gullans: I have a deep connection to Spain; I’m attracted to the historical, religious and social aspects of the Camino de Santiago. Consequently, I did not consider the California Camino.

LW: How did you – and how long did it take you, to prepare, practice, train?

Espinosa: I trained on an old treadmill I won on “The Price is Right.” I walked between six to nine miles a day – different from Don’s in that I divided my journey into a year, walking one long weekend every month, and returning home between walks. Prior to launch, I sent an email to family and friends inviting them to join me. Many said yes.

My buddy, Tracey Elliott, and I started at the San Diego Mission Alcala and walked four days, 80 miles, to the San Juan Capistrano Mission. We took Amtrak home, and three weeks later I again trained up to San Juan Capistrano to resume the walk. Upon completion, it was only 10 months of actual walking because I lengthened some of my long walking weekends into a week. The final tally was 49 total walking days, 796 miles, 1,841,931 steps…but who’s counting :-).

A few months into the walk, I found I needed to rest in between walks rather than train.

Gullans: I prepared for the walk for more than two years. Guide books were helpful, Paulo Coelho’s “The Pilgrimage” inspired me and the Camino blog kept me up to date.

REI staff guided me in selecting the best clothes and equipment. My back pack, shoes and trekking poles are first rate – and I did not exceed the recommended 10 percent of my body weight limit in my pack.

Physical training was important. I broke in my boots, got used to carrying my pack and using my poles while walking over 300 miles of hilly terrain. I made rookie mistakes and lost – a toe nail. But I learned – and the 500-mile trek across Northern Spain gave me no physical problems, even though, I got cold, hot and tired. Giving up whining and learning to accept “the Camino walking me” was an important lesson.

LW: Did anyone, friends/family, try to talk you out of it, per safety, money, time, energy and investment?

Espinosa: Nope. I’m like a dog with a bone when I get an idea.

Gullans: My family and friends were fully supportive and bought me underwear, socks, pants and a hip flask.

LW: What were your expectations vs. your surprises?

Espinosa: I tried to not have any preconceived notions. That was easy because I had no idea what to expect. One big surprise was how horribly sore my feet were! From the ankles up I was fine, but most of the time, my pieds were killing me! I just had to walk through the pain.

Another surprise was the kindness of a Facebook group – “California Mission Walkers.” Many of them, who I had never met, offered their guest rooms and meals. Also, strangers who saw us walking along the side of the road, and thinking we were lost or carless, offered us rides.

Gullans: My expectation was to walk the Camino slowly in two months; and I did it! I hoped to meet interesting “pilgrims” from all over the world while walking, eating and staying in hostels – and I did it. I planned to travel alone. That lasted only as far as the JFK Airport bar in New York, where I met a woman, also awaiting the flight to Madrid. We travelled together the first third of the Camino. Almost everything after that was a surprise, as I accepted what the Camino offered, while I:

Scattered my mother-in-law’s ashes in a church altar (with permission)
Used the Heimlich maneuver when my friend choked
Watched the sun rise while the moon set at the same moment
Rang the wrong church bell in a spiritual exercise and angered the nun in charge
Waked up with someone else’s ear plug in my ear
Brainstormed a children’s story while walking
Drank free wine from a tap welcoming travelers to town
Walked through crumbling ghost towns hundreds of years old
Met many Koreans and people of other faiths on a Catholic pilgrimage
Saw miles of countryside and no toilets. (Use your imagination!)
Viewed the stunning Hobbit Shire beauty of Galicia
Picked and ate grapes, figs, almonds and apples
Dodged pigs, cows and goats

LW: Describe the best (and the worst!) experiences along the way.

Espinosa: The best ware the people I met. We bonded instantly while traipsing The King’s Highway.

The worst was the intense heat in Central California during the summer. And my feet! Also, some of the roads were precarious at best. I was extremely nervous walking on a few windy roads with no shoulder. Dangerous!

Gullans: The worst of the Camino was the challenge of walking steep hills in wind and cold rain – while in awe of the beauty surrounding me.

LW: Was there any point at which you regretted the whole d-n thing?

Espinosa: Numerous times! I questioned why I was doing it – but I haven’t regretted the adventure at all.

Gullans: No regrets. None.

LW: One of you took friends; the other of you made friends? Have these been lasting friendships?

Espinosa: I took friends and made friends. And, we are all still friends, both the old and the new.

Gullans: I’ve connected with four friends and hope to see them again!

LW: How has the experience changed you – if it has? Other than for physical health/safely, who should not, in your opinion, take such an adventure, a trip/trek?

Espinosa: Being only the eleventh person to have completed the walk, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. Many times I brush accolades under the carpet, but this one has stayed with me. It took so much more out of me mentally and physically than I expected.

My hat is off to Don for completing the Santiago without a break from beginning to end. Even with breaks, I definitely felt the huge physical feat of walking an ultra – marathon every three weeks for a year.

I advise people to begin with one section of the El Camino Real. The infrastructure that accommodates walkers on the Santiago is not present on California’s roads, forcing walkers to often deviate from the path, for safety reasons.

Gullans: Did the Camino change me? I’ll answer in six months. However, I already notice that my relationship with nature is more personal. Stepping out each day on the Camino and walking for many hours, rain or shine, with the simple goals of finding food and lodging while I walked west to Santiago de Compostella made life simple. I could learn about myself, my life, while constantly interrelating with the weather, the landscape, the path or road. I now look at the weather and ask it how will we be related today? Is the moon pulling me like it does the tides? I never had these questions before.

LW: When are you going again? Are you planning a new adventure?

Don Gullans took more than two years to prepare for the walk.

Don Gullans took more than two years to prepare for the walk.

Espinosa: Refer to questions number two…tie me to a chair :-). A podcast host recently asked me if I was going to tackle the Santiago, and for a split second a tinge of yes surged through my body. But, the more pragmatic word no took over.

New adventure? I just returned from the Bahamas where I was swimming with swine on Piggy Island! So much fun!

I’m scheduled to go to Baja in March where a group of us will take pangas into the Bahia de Magdelena to pet gray whales :-). So excited!

Gullans: Anyone who feels the desire or call should take the Camino trek.

(Maggie Espinosa’s book: “On a Mission: An 800-mile Walk to Discover California’s El Camino Real” — can be purchased on on her website: www.travelwithmaggie.com/).


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