The Long Walk

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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A year down the 'track'……

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A year down the 'track'……
Prahran, Australia

Prahran, Australia


Yes, you thought this blog had gone permanently into abeyance! No fear – I’m back…. but only for a brief reprisal (yes, yes I know Isaid that last time) but you can blame Neil a friend in Sydney. I saw him recently and he asked how the last year since the walk has been, and said that he was sure he wasn’t the only one who would be interested. So if you’re not….stop reading now! But before you do – I just want to wish you a merry Christmas and a wonderful, safe and fabulous 2015!

So what did I say about the expected changes from the walk..?

  • identifying the focus that I want to place on different elements of my life;
  • valuing myself;
  • dealing with change and travel – too much or lack thereof
  • how to handle the possible loss of new friends that had been such a wonderful part of the adventure
  • realising that the everyday ‘process’ of life is only one part of life – there is more to me than that and all the rest still keeps going whether I engage with it or not. (read here…work!)

As it was in January, at times life can still feel a little like a runaway train (for example, work, travel, and kitchen renovations in the month leading up to Christmas…yes self inflicted craziness I know now! ;-)) So yes sometimes things are still the same, but more and more different – I do definitely know that I am the one who is allowing this to happen and when it gets too much I am also the one who can stop it. Something that I realised I have actually put into action this year for next year – to step down a bit and focus on quality not quantity. Work will always be there; but friends, loved ones and opportunities to explore the richness of life may not; so I am slowly changing.

I had the opportunity presented to me this year, through a relationship, to really learn to walk the talk of valuing myself – a hard and at times painful, lesson and one that is still being learnt, but is much more embedded than it was even this time last year, let alone 18 months ago.
The commitment to really be true to myself and being me, so that I attract more of my style of people, who make me happy, calm, content, and energised, has at times been sorely tested this year, but I am pleased to say that I have come through it and feel that I am improved as a result… 🙂

I no longer blithely do what I believe is the ‘right thing’ to do … and now choose what I do much more conciously – I have found I think that this might make me an easier person to be around becuase what you see is truly what you get and if you don’t like it, that’s fine too. I’m OK with that. (well OK ….most of the time…I’m still human! 😉 ) Travel is still a part of my life and I now believe it always will be – work now seems to be taking me on interesting adventures internationally which is stimulating, flattering and exciting all rolled in together. I’ve realised that this diverse life I have is what makes me me in this part of my life…and gives me the zest I enjoy for life; its not worth fighting it and trying to have the life of a picket fence……not yet anyway!

Finally in talking about being worried about losing friends made on the Camino, I am thrilled that I’m not only still in contact with John and Raquel, but saw both of them in October and November, when I was in Toronto and Port Douglas respectively. We all said that the 10 -12 months that had passed seemed nothing at all. Thanks to FaceBook, Whatsap and Viber I’m also still in contact regularly with another 6 friends made along the way, and also still remember very fondly many others that while contact may have lapsed the fun and cherished moments have not. Almost every day there is a memory or thought of an interaction I had with someone somewhere along the path that pops into my head…. thoughts and memories that will always be with me and make me who I am now – the people who put them there will never leave me. On that note, Sheila a very good walking friend of mine has ended this year with the suggestion that we should walk the camino through Italy…..2016 here I come!! 😉

That being said, the lesson I didn’t really talk about was that of being kinder to myself, and this one was also re-presented to me, when I found this year I had to have a hip operation to tidy up wear and tear on one of my hips. Not necessarily as a result of the walk but that probably didn’t help! While I still push my body I am slowing coming to the point of acceptance that for it to keep serving me, I will have to love and cherish it more…..a work in progress!

So who knows what 2015 will bring … I have learnt it is rarely what we expect and only sometimes what we think we hope for. I am enjoying the continuing unfolding of my camino journey because it really does continue.

Wishing you all a very merry festive season, and a safe, happy, satisfying and joyful 2015 in what ever it holds for you.

Take care,
Kate


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By popular demand – 'Re- entry'

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By popular demand – 'Re- entry'
Prahran, Australia

Prahran, Australia


In my last blog, I said it was my last – however! So many people have asked how I have found coming back to ‘reality’ and asking me to do one last blog about how the experience has ‘changed me’. Well, I hope that I don’t disappoint anyone, but it was no ‘road to Damascus’ – to quote one wonderful friend – that is, there has been no great change, or reversal of my ideas or beliefs, about religion, myself or others. Rather it was an exercise in identifying the focus that I want to place on different elements of my life, and the value I place on myself. As much as it was a really wonderful two months away, by the time I had spent a week in Santiago and Madrid, I was also looking forward to coming home, though not as much as I thought I would be – butI put that down to contemplating a long haul flight with a bad cold! (Yes the body gave in once I arrived in Santiago! 😉 )  However, on arriving in Melbourne I remember being driven across the Bolte bridge and looking out across Melbourne and for the first time ever, being both physically and mentally flat about being back here.  OK some of you might roll your eyes and say that’s a normal reaction to arriving in Melbourne – but for me it’s not – I love Melbourne and I have always enjoyed living here. The ‘flatness’ (emotionally not physically) I think was a reaction to the reality of it all; the impending lack of change, the loss of new friends and the possibility of others; the predictability of life – the very same thing that also makes so many of us feel safe and secure! That was an interesting realisation for me – that as much as my work travel wears me down at times – I need it to feed a part of my soul. I kept low for the first few days, just feeling like I need to find my balance again – aside from dealing with cold and jet lag. But it was so heartwarming when I did let people know I was home, how I was so embraced with warmth and welcoming friendship. I actually came home a few days earlier than originally planned as I realised that I wouldn’t  otherwise have a chance to draw breathe before being flung back into the regular work cycle of trips to Sydney, meetings/teleconferences etc.  And yes after four days at home that’s exactly what happened and continued for the next six weeks – reality had returned with a major THUD!! During this time, while I was aware of feeling a little stressed about it, I was also aware of being still a little separate – some small part of me has stayed with the Camino – realising that all this stuff, while important, is only one part of my life and not necessarily the most important part in terms of what makes me me, and keeps me going.  Life out there, will also all keep going without me – as proven by me being away for two months and nothing had changed! (well OK maybe that’s because I just crammed the work in before I left and after I got back, but you get my drift!) However that being said, for six weeks – which went by in a blur – yet again my life, I thought, was back to where I feel like I’m sometimes grasping for space to breath and take stock. Originally I had thought that a conference I had committed to in the USA at the beginning of January was just another thing that I should have really said no to, but as it turns out, it was that which gave me the opportunity to stop briefly, take a breath and reflect on really how was I ‘doing’ on coming home.  The verdict? Despite what I thought….pretty well in fact. Yes life still is a bit of a run away train. But now I know that I am the one who has stepped down from the drivers seat; that I’m the one who has – probably because it seemed like I was on a pretty good tack and I could just let things run – allowed things to come to a point where at times I’m hanging by my fingernails from the caboose being flung out as we round a corner.    It gave me the opportunity to have a long ********est conversation with myself that, in fact, I need to claw (if necessary) my way back to the driver’s seat and take back control and responsibility for the ‘busy-ness’ of my life. The time out in Aspen confirmed that I need to act on saying ‘no’ more often; do what really makes me happy and suits me, not just fit in with other people because it is the right thing to do (well OK mostly 😉 ); and that by really being true to myself and being me, I attract more of my style of people, who make me happy, calm, content, and energised. I’ve realised that in the past I have often done what I think is the ‘right thing’ to do … not that its totally the wrong thing for me, but because of our social norms, I really don’t interrogate it for &lt;i&gt;how&lt;/i&gt; right it is for me. I’ve not been living my life as consciously as I want to, to allow myself to be the best I can be.  Yes that is going to take time and constant attention – old habits are very hard to break; and saying ‘no’ feels very selfish much of the time. However my time on the Camino has helped me realise that it is time to really focus on myself and by doing that I will ultimately have more to give others. I am looking forward to living my life more vividly and with more conscious purpose in every thing I do.  And I am so very pleased to have this blog to remind me of the commitment I have made myself, as I will no doubt falter, as we all do when learning new skills!! 😉 And in perfect timing, John, who was one of the core group of us who walked together in the last few weeks and days, has put together his clips and photos, along with music to develop this lovely short (8 minute) film of our adventure – I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!  http://vimeo.com/84562274 Thank you again for sharing this journey with me and for the support you might have provided in my fundraising (which still continues up to the official Weekend Walk to Cure Cancer on the 1st and 2nd of March where I will finish my walk with the final 60km) – it has been such a positive experience on so many fronts – thank you! Cheers, Kate PS!   If you haven’t and you’d still like to donate….go to: http://ml14.endcancer.org.au/site/TR?pg =pfind&amp;fr_id=1090 Thanks! 🙂


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Santiago de Compostela – Arrival!

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Santiago de Compostela – Arrival!
Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Santiago de Compostela, Spain


So, 1,120km, some blisters, shin splints, many laughs, some querying of my sanity and lots of wonderful memories and new friends later, I have arrived in Santiago! I must admit that I look at the map and see the distance I have traversed on foot – almost the equivalent of the entire width of Spain – and I still find it hard to believe that I have done it. We just don’t conceive of covering such distances in such a slow and fundamental manner anymore and yet once it was the only choice for many – if they were crazy enough to do it at all!! However, let me digress to give you a brief (and so impossibly inadequate) review of the last week of my walk. I last left you shortly after O’Ceibeiro, which just yesterday we believe enjoyed up to 20cm of snow! That was 155km and a further five days walking ago. That night I made it down to Triacastela totally some 31km that day – basically as the Albergue at the planned 22km point was too dubious to contemplate (no buddies for ‘Billy’ if you please!) and the only other option was too expensive for the lack of dinner, breakfast, or heat on offer for the price given that I was within an hour and a quarter walk of comparatively many options in Triacastela. One friend told me that upon entering Galicia I would now enjoy some of the most beautiful scenery of the entire walk. I must admit it has been absolutely delightful, enhanced by unexpectedly generally sunny weather the whole way (Galicia is renowned for its rain and miserable weather). It has been akin to suddenly finding oneself walking in parts of England, Wales or even the southern highlands of New South Wales. Rolling green hills, and deciduous oaks, chestnuts intermingled increasingly as we came toward Santiago with a variety of eucalyptus (that have been previously imported for plantation forestry and pulp milling). The buildings are generally much better cared for and while there is still the new right alongside the old (the bridges into Portomarin provide a classic example of this!) it felt as if there is less of the complete abandonment of property to the forces of nature – however it is still most definitely there compared to how we treat buildings and property in Australia: quite interesting and something Ive not the opportunity/ability to talk with a local about. The other memory I will take away from this part of the walk is the enduring presence and smell of cow **** (sorry!) and silage!! Some days it has been difficult to get it out of your nose and one figures that for the locals it is a good thing that we can all learn to accommodate noises, sights and smells in our daily lives that can’t be changed regardless of how unpleasant they are; perhaps to our detriment at times when thought of in a broader global context?! By this stage in my walk there was a core groups of about 20 who have been more or less moving at the same pace, meeting up in Albergues or the town bar of an evening (or every other one); news of people, bed bugs, good and bad Albergues and hotels/pensions being passed back and forth by email/viber/whatsAp. The camaraderie of this was delightfully underlined when John, Raquel and I (who have more or less walked together for the last three weeks) were meandering along the path to spy Carlos and Petra (Spanish Carlos walked his bike since shortly after Leon in order to stay with his love (yet unrequited) the gorgeous Hungarian Petra) lolling in the sun on blissfully green dry grass just over the stone fence. ‘Hola’s!’ were exchanged and they immediately invited us to join them, at which point John flippantly said ‘only if you have wine’ which of course any well prepared Spaniard does!! We were immediately clambering over stone walls and emptying packs of hoarded nuts, crackers, cheese chocolate etc to add to the repast. We were very temporarily halted in our enthusiasm when the issue of drinking vessels was raised, however this was very quickly and innovatively addressed through a variety of water bottles, empty yoghurt cartons (adding a delightful strawberry nose to the wine as noted by John!) canister caps and even a shell – the symbol of a pilgrim and also a handy drinking vessel as it turns out – albeit minimal! A further few pilgrims were enticed to join us before the wine and snacks were exhausted and the clouds rolling across the sun dropped the temperature to the point where we were forced to rejoin the path. Not only will that be an enduring memory of this last week but it was also a significant moment for all of us remembering to stop and enjoy our days rather than focus on the destination. Consequently it seemed to be instituted thereafter for the rest of our trip. So yes we ambled and stopped, extra coffees, liqueur de herbacias, and vino tinto’s assisted in taking a step back and enjoying the moments in between the departures and arrivals. On a more practical note, this last week also spoilt us with some lovely modern Albergues though did also introduce us on one night to a whole new interpretation of ‘central heating’ (ie one small heater in the centre of a 25 bed room!) Albergues are the ‘hotels’ for pilgrims which range in their facilities anywhere from some 35 beds crammed into a very small renovated church with minimal areas for ablutions or socialising and where one provides their own sleeping bags and hopes not to find any of ‘Billy’s’ friends for 5€’; to ones that only opened two months ago and in addition to group rooms of 6 for 10€, also offer twin rooms with ensuites, towels and sheets for 20€. Needless to say the search was always on for the latter!!! In this last week our search for our yellow arrows that have so reassuringly guided us all for the last four or more weeks in Spain, became ever more poignant as we became aware that after arriving in Santiago we would no longer have them to guide us in our daily lives. But to progress; on Wednesday the 20th we gathered for the final 20km into Santiago – to say there was a variety of emotions amongst us is probably an understatement and consequently we tended to string out a little. Though five of us (John, Raquel, myself, Florian and Hans) formed the vanguard and stopped two kms from the old town centre at a lovely grassy slope overlooking the southern areas of Santiago to indulge in a late lunch of red wine, cheese and ham bocodillo’s, and tortilla; at least this time we had also managed to procure paper cups, so we looked a tad more respectable! After suitable toasts to the journey undertaken and about to be completed (and after being overtaken by the rearguard), we headed on for the final assault, to the Cathedral in Santiago. There is no way to describe the feeling of finishing such a journey -if even only for the fact that it is different for everyone. Needless to say, it was a mixture of many feelings. Once we had stood in front of the main entrance to the cathedral, entered through the Pilgrims northern door, toured the cathedral and traditionally exited through the southern door and headed directly to the Pilgrims office to receive our Compostella’s, I realised that aside from with your help raising over $9000 for cancer research – I have now also been officially cleansed of all my sins?! Yes I know – I still don’t know how to think about that either but it is an interesting concept! The detail of the rest of the evening does not need to be gone into but needless to say, it was suitably celebrated! 😉 Dealing with a cold that had been doing the rounds and slammed me the day after our arrival, seeing the magnificent city of Santiago, and saying some very poignant goodbyes have occupied the last few days, delaying this post. In some cases goodbyes have not been appropriate but rather just ‘until we meet again’. Crazy or not, the significant benefit of this walk has been that of the sheer time involved and the way it forces us to slow down and really look and consider the things around us and how we feel. This is something that it so very evident when you have already had the benefit of being on the road several weeks and you meet those who are just starting out. While we are all so different, the mirrors such interactions of
fer are difficult to avoid; how ‘busy’ and ‘focused’ we are on the activity and the ‘end game’, that often we drive ourselves and bodies into the ground without having even noticed some of the beauty and wonder in the small things around us. I am so very grateful to two friends who so strongly encouraged me to take the full two months to undertake this; the benefits of being able to really slow down and ‘exhale’ are too numerous to detail. The challenges to take all the memories and learnings of this trip home with me and keep working on them are numerous. However the primary one many of us have identified is that ongoing work on the relationship with ourselves is one that we often neglect but is fundamental to everything else we do. On top of that the key messages I am taking with me from the last 9 weeks are; “piano, piano” which was said so often to me as I pounded the paths in France and I found whispering to myself as I was passed by eager new pilgrims in Spain. It is a reminder to me to slow down, tread gently and take the time to breathe and see what’s going on around me. The second one is “respond, don’t react” – it’s actually one that is helped significantly by undertaking the first lesson!! So often along the way we would subconsciously judge people only to find they were quite different or had excellent reasons for their behaviour when we were later forced to get to know them due to the close quarters of Albergues or walking paths! To think before we react so that we can respond objectively is a huge gift not only to those around us but also ourselves. Ultimately, the biggest thing is to live every day, not just survive it (and in the process enjoy walking on the ‘grassy bits’ of life!) Lastly, thank you to Jill and all of who over the last few months have supported the other key objective if this ‘pilgrimage’ which was to raise money for cancer research. With your help we have raised $9,640 – almost the $10,000 I had thought to be ambitious! (Just goes to prove another thing I’ve learnt on this journey – you can pretty much always achieve 30% more than you ever think is possible!) So thank you, and if you haven’t donated and would like to kick us over the 10k mark, go to http://www.endcancer.org.au; select ‘Melbourne’; ‘Donate’; and then enter my name under ‘Find participant’. Thanks again for all your support. So in all, as I make my way to Madrid and then home to Australia, I just hope you have gained as much enjoyment from my blogs as I have had in attempting to share the experiences of this once in a lifetime opportunity, with you. Till the next one…… 😉 Hasta luega! Post script that is written by William Ward and offered by John Brierley in his guide to the Camino, as a way of thinking about what the journey entails, feels appropriate to leave you with it, as risks however large or small might be considered in this light: To laugh is to risk appearing a fool To weep is to risk being called sentimental To reach out to another is to risk involvement To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss To love is to risk not being loved in return To live is to risk dying To try is to risk failure But risks must be taken Because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing The people who risk nothing may avoid suffering and sorrow But they cannot learn, feel, change, grow or really live Chained by their servitude they are slaves who have forefeighted all freedom. Only a person who risks is truly free


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Thank you!!

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Thank you!!
Triacastela, Spain

Triacastela, Spain


Didn’t get into my donation website yesterday but now I have and I have to share with you that together we have raised an amazing $9,040 !!!! Thank you most recently to John, Jenelle, Sue, Denise and Jo – you’re support is just wonderful thank you Www.endcancer.org.au


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Updates still coming…..

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Updates still coming…..
Pedrafita do Cebreiro, Spain

Pedrafita do Cebreiro, Spain


Since my last detailed post I have crossed two mountain ranges – at 1505 (the highest of the trip) and 1330 metres (the other high point being passing over the Pyrenees at 1450m on day 17 or day 2 out of St John Pied De Port). I have been sooooo lucky that on all three occasions I have had lovely clear if not stunning weather. Perhaps the most memorable of these three some of you may have already seen on Facebook, was on the 11th of November coming over the Irago pass (1550m) which also had the point of Cruz de Ferro. Thus is a cross around which people have left stones in the memory of loved ones. This mound is now significant to say the least! As it turned out, we managed to arrive at Cruz de Ferro at 11am on the 11th just in time for a minute of silence for Remembrance Day. As at the time I was walking with another Aussie and a Canadian we couldn’t have planned it better if we had tried. So yes, there is now another stone on the pile at Cruz de Ferro that I carried with me from my starting point at Moissac in France (890km earlier), and left for all those that I am walking for and those who have been and are so special to me. We have left the plains and obviously have been enjoying much more varied country and lots of mountains – my calves are reinforcing this despite almost a 1000km under foot!! At many points there has been the opportunity to take a variation from the route which is more scenic and with only one exception I have always taken these so far, and have thoroughly enjoyed the benefit of doing so even if it has meant a few more kms and hills. Yesterday was a classic example from Cacobelo to Ruitlan; the road way would have been about 25km whilst I ended up doing about 32 over the mountains – but oh so worth it to be walking amongst vineyards, forests of chestnut trees, and ridge tops in the sun rather than in the valley below the cloud. The downside is that it is at times less well marked so I ended up doing a few variations of my own.. What is it they say about the road less travelled?! Anyway I am just finishing up a bocodillo con jamon y queso con un vino tinto (a ham and cheese sandwich with a glass of wine) before heading back out into the cold. It is currently 12C at 12.45 and true to predictions as soon as I crossed into Galicia, the weather changed and the cloud rolled in. However now fortified it is time for me to step back into the path for another 12 or so kms today. Hasta luega, Kate


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Time to contemplate

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Time to contemplate
Villafranca del Bierzo, Spain

Villafranca del Bierzo, Spain


It is interesting to contemplate all that I want to distill and ensure I take home with me from the last two months as I enter my last week of walking. There are so many little things that I have observed in myself and others that I have had the rare opportunity to toss around and either take on board or gently set aside as not quite right or relevant to me (anymore). These range from the very practical things of being able to observe how my body operates when walking and how the slightest change in stance, foot placement, or head incline can change my attitude, stress on my body, air movement around me or the weight I feel I am bearing. To the bigger issues that I have wanted to observe iand contemplate for myself about how I interact with people, and where and how I get my sense of self and peace from. And then of course there is the big question of how I internalise these thoughts and feelings when I return to the hustle and bustle of home! Many of us at this point (200km from Santiago) are thinking about the end that is looming, but all for different reasons, invariably. Some are looking forward to the celebration of not having to walk again the next day; some can’t face the thought of not walking so are changing plans to accommodate a continuation to Finnestre! While others are already mourning the loss of new friends and walking companions. Me? I’m definitely not planning to walk to Finnestre – but I may catch the bus to check out what the end of the world looked like to people for all those centuries. I know that while I will miss the camaraderie of the Albergues, I will never again take for granted clean sheets, personal space, a queen size bed and the privacy of an ensuite bathroom!! I will miss not only the changing scenery but the wonderful conversations I am having and have shared with many along the way – it has been a true privilege to have had so much shared with me. Perhaps, the thing I am looking forward to the most in Santiago is meeting up with those a few days ahead or behind me now (Jen from Mt Buller among them :)) and sharing stories of both our experiences in the last weeks/months and expectations of what happens next. They say The Way changes you – I don’t know if that is true – perhaps only those of you who know me well will be able to judge that – but it is definitely an experience that provides one with the opportunity to open many new doors and windows for new views on life and also to reflect in many mirrors! 😉 Hasta luega! Kate


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