Illustrations by Barbara Raymont
Learn how one Nova Scotian woman created an At Home Camino right from her
back door and why.
Waking up this morning, my adrenalin was in full tilt. The sun was shining which was a welcomed change from the weather of the past two days. I was pumped to start the day, which started after only five hours of sleep. I didn’t mind. I was ready to walk and experience whatever the day would bring.
– Excerpt from At Home Camino Journal: Day 2
I have always been a person who needs a challenge.
A challenge gives me purpose in my life. When I retired from my career as an International School Counsellor and felt directionless, I decided to challenge myself to walk 800 kilometres across the 900-year-old pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I naïvely thought, if I can walk 10 kilometres a day, I can walk 800 over a number of days. It ended up being a journey that challenged me both physically and mentally. It was a journey of self-discovery.
Throughout the long and demanding walk, I experienced moments of both personal achievement and hardship. I was tempted during the difficult days to pack it all in and head to the beach. Yet, I persevered, and finished the thirty-six-day journey.
I learned to listen to my body, take breaks, and have fun along the way. One pilgrim friend summed it up nicely, “The Camino’s not about the destination. It’s about surprises, and what I learn about myself along the way.”
Above all else, the Camino de Santiago had provided me time to clearly think through what I wanted to do in my next stage of life. By the end of the walk, I had it figured out. Upon my return to Nova Scotia, I would create a social/emotional wellness program for schools.
But things changed when I returned to Halifax.
The day-to-day pressures at home preoccupied me. Developing my new plan now seemed impossible, leaving me dismayed. What was it about the Camino de Santiago that had made me see my path forward so decisively? Was it the place? The people? The focus of repetitive walking day after day?
I wanted to regain the fortitude I felt on the Camino. I decided to create an At Home Camino for myself here in Nova Scotia and see if it would bring a positive focus to my life. Perhaps another challenge is what I needed.
I knew I needed to formulate a goal for my At Home Camino. The thrill of finishing 800 kilometres in front of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral square had propelled me throughout the walk. I often imagined myself standing on the cobblestones, throwing off my backpack and jumping up and down with joy. But now I didn’t have a destination goal to walk to, though I knew an overall goal and a focus for each day would be important to have.
Stephen Covey, in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People says, “Goals are the oxygen to our dreams. They are the first steps to every journey we take and are also our last.
I settled on three goals for my At Home Camino:
Physical: Walk at least 10 kilometres each morning for
Mental: Focus on being present, and in the moment,
on each walk for 36 days.
Spiritual: Reflect in a journal each day.
I had taken my first step, as the ancient Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
I was committed to my goal of walking 10 kilometres for 36 days, but I still had doubts whether I would be able to do it. It was easy for me to step out my back door to walk a route around my neighbourhood, giving me little excuse not to walk. Because I like to have variety, I chose a few destination routes to spice up the weeks, like driving to a Rails to Trails path outside Tatamagouche or to take in the sand dunes on Melmerby Beach. Some days, I preferred to walk alone to have time and space to think. Other days
I walked with a friend.
Soon the 6:00 am wake-up became routine and my muscles grew accustomed to walking distance every day. As the door shut behind me each morning, I didn’t know what my walk would bring. Would I find a new patch of heather or rosehips? What would the sky be like today over the Strait? Would I find sea glass? I noticed I began to look forward to seeing familiar faces of other walkers. I felt comfort, and a sense of comradery. We were in this together, I thought. With a nod of our heads, or a passing smile, we acknowledged each other’s journeys.
Reflecting while journalling one day, I thought about Maria MacDonald of Pictou, whom I met while walking the Jitney Trail. Looking fit and trim, she was taking a break to enjoy the view from the waterfront pier. Once weighing 300 lbs., she knew it was time to regain her health. “I couldn’t climb up the stairs without huffing and puffing,” she recounts, “So I decided to walk 30 minutes each day to lose weight.
My goal was just to finish the daily walk. Since then, I have walked every day for the past ten years, rain or shine.”
Over time Maria lost a whopping 150 lbs. “The best part is when I finish each walk,” she said with a cheeky smile, “My husband is ready with tea, and creams my feet.”
I marvelled how Maria was essentially walking her own At Home Camino. She had formulated her goal to lose weight and walk each day. I wondered how many others were walking their own At Home Camino either on Nova Scotian shorelines or trails without knowing it?
Well into my own At Home Camino, my goal of journalling each day began to cause me angst. I was missing days and getting behind. I needed to reshape this goal to fit into my daily schedule better.
There is nothing so debilitating than feeling out of control, that things are overwhelming and that you are being driven along a course, rather than driving yourself. I am beginning to feel that my focus is wandering.
I have missed seven days of blogging now. What do I do about my goal? Stop procrastinating and get on with it, I tell myself. I have made some small changes.
– Excerpt from At Home Camino Journal: Day 30
I breathed easier after I revised my goal to reflect what was realistic. For the six remaining days of walking, I would only journal two more times instead of six. This relieved my stress and I could now balance all my responsibilities.
My mental goal of being in the moment was probably the hardest for me. I knew from my experience of walking the Camino de Santiago that I had a tendency to power through my walks without pausing to enjoy or to take the time to reflect on the beauty around me. I had to slow down, but how?
I scheduled in breaks to my walk today…to make sure there was time to stop, to do something different. I spotted a vacant bench, sat down, breathed in the salty air and munched on a handful of dried mangoes. Over the harbour, I watched two large flocks of sea birds performed a swooping dance in choreographed precision.
– Excerpt from At Home Camino Journal: Day 31
I started to pause and have fun; pick daisies, chat with a fellow passerby, take sunrise photos or just sit on a bench to enjoy a square of yummy chocolate. The more present I became, the happier I began to feel.
Not every walk was easy. Especially challenging was walking in our coastal weather. Like the day at Brule Point, when a squall whipped around the point making my walk a wet mess. But as the old Nova Scotian saying goes “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.”
There were other days I felt too tired to get out of bed with my muscles screaming to stop. On these days, I reminded myself of my goal to finish thirty-six days and to continue walking, step by step. I slowed down my walking pace and listened to my feet hit the ground. The rhythm of my steps acted as a mantra, quieting my mind, and clearing its needless chatter. Ironically, after finishing these tough days, I felt mentally the strongest and most determined.
I had started my At Home Camino feeling directionless. Even though I had made the commitment to complete 10 kilometres each day for 36 days, I didn’t know if I could do it. But step by step, I reached the final day. I achieved my first goal. I tried my best at being present for the second goal and revised the journalling goal along the way.
In retrospect, I realised that goals, a necessary component to structure my At Home Camino, brought a sense of purpose back to my daily life. I slowly regained focus and determination to pursue my personal plans and dreams. I made time for daily writing, and I started working on creating an online kid’s social/emotional program app.
I learned how interlinked my physical and mental states are. Being out in the brisk Nova Scotian breezes experiencing nature every day made me feel invigorated. I had more energy to do things after returning from my walks. As I began to take time to tune into nature, notice cloud patterns over the sea, or a seal popping his head up to say hello, I could feel my energy begin to flow. I felt mentally and physically stronger.
My At Home Camino brought me closer to myself, my goals, and the beauty of Nova Scotia; spectacular sunrises, sandy beaches, and the richness of flora and fauna in the woods. All, right out the back door.
• Before leaving home, go over your goals
• Walk with a friend, and set a meeting time the night before
• Remember how good walking makes you feel at the end of your walk
• Have something to eat/do when you finish that you look forward to
• Create a musical playlist/podcast for your walk
• Be prepared for all kinds of weather, embrace it
• Make up a mantra to repeat when you face a tough time, such as “You’ve got this!”