At 61, Harrisonburg resident Russ Eanes decided it was time to finally check something off on his bucket list - hiking 500 miles on the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain. Russ will speak about his journey at WMRA's Books & Brews on February 11 and 12 . WMRA’s Chris Boros spoke with Russ about why this adventure was so important to him.
Russ Eanes: I first heard about it about twenty years before I went and it intrigued me, the idea of pilgrimage. And then I was aware that there was a modern revival of it. And then every year I would meet somebody that had gone and the more I found out about it, the more it intrigued me.
WMRA: Is this a journey that a lot of people take?
RE: Last year, nearly 400,000 people arrived in Santiago, not all of them walked the 500 miles, about ten percent walk 500 miles. The most popular route, the one I walked, is 500 miles and it is along what was traditionally the most popular route in the Middle Ages.
WMRA: What was it like when you were finally on the trail after spending years dreaming of doing this?
RE: I got there and the day I took off I was about an hour into the walk and I thought to myself “What am I doing here?” I’ve got this big family, they’re all home, I’m going to be gone for six weeks, I won’t see any of them, it’s raining out, it’s very early Spring so there’s no leaves on the trees. So it was the weirdest thought. Then a little while later the sun kind of came out and the rain stopped and all of a sudden this thought came into my head: it’s a great day to be alive. And from then on, every day I woke up and thought it’s a great day to be alive.
WMRA: For people living in the valley, they can maybe experience something like this with the Appalachian Trial. Do you have any idea of how similar that journey might be as compared to the one you took?
RE: I have an idea from what hikers have told me. And they would say on the AT you have to bring more stuff. You’ve got to bring a tent, you’ve got to bring more food because you might not be able to stop for several days. And on the Camino, you’re walking through towns and villages and you cross three mountain ranges but even those have villages in them.
WMRA: If there is someone who’s contemplating taking a journey like this but they’re a little afraid, what would you tell them?
RE: Don’t be afraid. You can do it. In my book I describe the first morning when I’m getting ready to leave the albergue, I’m starting my journey. And I wasn’t sure – maybe I’m too jetlagged, should I go all the way over the Pyrenees this day, it’s twenty-four kilometers. Can I do it or not? And the owner of the albergue listened to me and he said “You can do it.” It was just that simple. And I’m like, OK.
WMRA: Do you think you changed at all after doing this?
RE: Well for one thing, I’ve really become determined to slow down a lot and not be in a hurry. It’s been an issue for me for decades, this thing that I call hurry sickness, we’ve got to get somewhere, we don’t have enough time, we’re always starved for time. And the one thing I learned from walking on the Camino is that every day I had all the time I needed. The one thing you experience on the Camino – they have a word for it, they call synchronicity – I call it magic. It’s just things you don’t expect. I share an incident in the book where I was walking and was by myself and I was passing by an albergue – one of these hostels – and there was a man in a car and all of sudden he stopped the car, jumped out and started talking to me in Spanish. And he grabbed a hold of me gently and he steered me towards the door of the albergue and I had no clue what was going on – I couldn’t really understand him. And then we get near the door and he opened it and pushes me into the dining room. And there was this sumptuous feast there. They had made a big breakfast and there was a lot left over and all the pilgrims had cleared out. And he said to me in Spanish basically it’s all free, take it, eat it, it’s going to be thrown away and it was incredible. I had been sort of resistant to this guy, where is he pushing me, who is he, and then there’s a feast waiting inside and I didn’t know it. And I think that’s kind of something I learned from walking the Camino that life is a lot like that but we’re too distracted, too preoccupied, to slow way down and look for those things.