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It is common in literature, poetry, and musical lyrics to use walking as a metaphor for life. This past summer, that metaphor took on a whole new meaning for me. In twenty-six long days, I walked about 700 kilometers across Northern Spain — from Pamplona to Santiago De Compostela. This journey is called the Camino De Santiago and is an ancient pilgrimage that originated over 1000 years ago. Arriving in Santiago De Compostela — after walking fifteen to twenty miles each day, after countless blisters and pulled muscles, after feeling so broken and beaten down that the end goal seemed unattainable — was sensational. I still get chills when I remember that moment. That is why walking the Camino De Santiago is my greatest accomplishment.
I remember clear as day the moment I decided to take on this challenge. I was sitting in a booth at BJ’s Restaurant and my mom asked if I would be interested in joining a pilgrimage in Spain over summer. I immediately agreed. I knew it would be tough, but when I decide to do something, nothing can stop me from attaining my goal. I began preparing myself emotionally and physically, but there was nothing I could have done to prepare myself for the adventure I was about to embark on. Finally, after months of anticipation, the big day arrived: June 6th, 2012. I moved out of my dorm, took three final exams, drove from San Luis Obispo to LAX airport, and finally got on the flight to Pamplona, Spain.
The first day of walking was like any other “first” — full of excitement, anticipation, and eagerness. We pilgrims couldn’t believe how far we had to go, but we were ready and willing. However, as we expected, the days got longer and harder as time went on. Our bodies grew tired and worn down, and our spirits were forced to compensate for the dwindling physical strength we had left. But as in the rest of life, some days were good and some were bad; sometimes we climbed up mountains, and other times we became weary of the seemingly everlasting plains. Every night we slept in bunk beds in large halls with as many as one hundred other pilgrims, all in a single room, and every morning we woke up a little bit stronger. Each and every day, we set out before the sun rose to pursue our goal of reaching the next town and, ultimately, getting to Santiago de Compostela.
I never understood what a “life-changing” experience really was before the Camino de Santiago, and even as I journeyed across Spain I didn’t quite understand the implications. But I do now, because those twenty-six days and 450 miles changed who I am forever. I knew what it was like to persevere, but I had never conceived of surpassing what seemed impossible. Now I understand, and now I apply such comprehension to everything I do. I wrote a letter to myself on the plane home from Santiago de Compostela, and as I write this new essay, that letter sits beside me. It reminds me that I will always be a “pilgrim,” yet that this role entails dedication, tenacity, and resilience. It reminds me that even though I no longer walk from town to town every day, I am continuously on the walk of life, which requires just as much emotional and physical strength.
During this voyage, I experienced more joy, suffering, and enlightenment than I had ever thought possible in such a short amount of time. I came in contact with human nature in its most vulnerable state, and learned that life at its simplest and most difficult often brings out the very best in people. I learned that determination is the strongest force a human being can posses, that no amount of struggle can placate the willing spirit.
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