Camino Reflections – Lesson #10: Take Care of Your Feet! Daily!

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Each day on the Camino seems to be the same.  We get up early, eat some breakfast, and start out walking.  Our feet and legs feel fresh as we start out.  After a few miles, we usually come into where we can stop for a cafe con leche, and a snack if we want.  By mid-afternoon, we have usually walked 20-25 km (12-15 miles), and our feet are pretty sore.  We are ready for an albergue or hotel, and a hot shower, and some food, and beer and wine. We will end the day with a Pilgrim’s Mass (Misa del Peregrinos), then get ready for bed and the next day.  It’s always amazing how much the body rejuvenates overnight!  My legs and feet feel good again with the new day, and I’m ready to tackle the day’s walking.

                                                        Camino Journal entry, May 22, 2015

In 2014 and early 2015, when I was planning to walk the Camino de Santiago, I did quite a lot of research on all things Camino: how to train, what to bring on the pilgrimage, and what to expect along The Way. My research included reading books about the Camino, reading various blogs, watching documentaries and homemade Camino videos, and reaching out to acquaintances who had already made the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. A curious, but familiar complaint expressed by many pilgrims was that their feet got sore while walking the Camino. Surely, walking 500 miles across northern Spain is no walk in the park. On the Camino, you walk on mountain trails, cobble-stoned streets, paved highways with cars (even Lamborghini’s) whizzing by at high speeds, dirt paths, mud paths, gravel paths, along stream beds, and on 2000 year-old Roman era roads. Yes, at the end of each day’s walking, my feet were usually sore!

Fortunately, there is a cure for sore feet, or at least there was for me. It was really a cure for a sore body, but it did wonders for my feet as well. I called it my “daily rejuvenation of the body” process. For me, that routine involved getting out of my walking boots and into some comfortable sandals, a shower and change into clean clothes, washing my set of dirty clothing for the next day, and most importantly, finding a local bar where I could get a beer (or two) and some tapas. Rest, relaxation and nourishment for the body each day is an important part of the rejuvenation process. 

There’s no doubt that the physical exertions of the Camino can take their toll on the body over the course of 5 weeks of walking. Our group of 4 pilgrims (Larry, Carl, Bill and myself) experienced various levels of physical challenges, from minor issues that were mostly a nuisance, to debilitating foot issues that required professional attention and extended days of rest before resuming the walk. 

Our friend Bill experienced major issues with his feet, which very nearly caused him to prematurely terminate his walk. Fortunately, he was able to get the professional help he needed, and after a few days of rest (and some orthotic inserts for his shoes), was able to resume walking. It was difficult for him, but he persevered, and through the grace of God, was able to walk into Santiago de Compostela with the rest of us.

In my own situation, I began to get blisters about a week into the walk. Fortunately, the blisters were manageable, and daily care was all that was really necessary for me to keep going. I did, however, have a bit of a scare only a few days out from Santiago when disaster nearly struck and I almost got stepped in by a cow! This video more or less tells the story. Suffice it to say that at that point, I would have done whatever was necessary to get to Santiago, even if it meant crawling the rest of the way!

As I write this blog, I can’t help but be reminded of the New Testament account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet at The Last Supper. It was a supreme act of love on the part of Christ to his followers, and it’s instructive that he chose to wash their feet as a way of showing his love for them. In a similar way on the Camino, foot care services can be found in many albergues and villages, and the people who provide these critical services are part of a much larger community of Camino hospitaleros that provide care and hospitality for pilgrims. It really is one of the most impressive things about the Camino, that network of people dedicated to providing the necessary care for the tens of thousands of pilgrims that make the Camino trek each year. As much as anything, I think it is what sets the Camino apart from other pilgrimages.

Our feet are arguably the most utilized, but least appreciated, of all the parts of our bodies. By my own rough calculations, walking the 490 miles from St. Jean Pied du Port to Santiago requires somewhere in the neighborhood of 850-900,000 steps. That’s a lot of pounding for our two lowly feet, and it will eventually take its toll on the entire body if you don’t pay attention to the daily care needed to sustain yourself. So, treat your feet with loving care, be kind to your body, and the Camino will provide for the rest of your needs.

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