Hiking the Camino de Santiago

On the trail on the Camino de Santiago

Thousands of travelers, from Medieval pilgrims to modern-day seekers, have walked the Camino de Santiago. On Thursday, August 31, Natrona County Library is hosting two who made the journey — former library director Bill Nelson and his wife Beth — for a special program where they’ll share their amazing experience. The program will take place at 6:30 p.m. in the Crawford Room.

The Camino is a historical path leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. It is believed that the bones of St. James the Great, one of the 12 Apostles, lie under its altar. According to Bill, St. James spread the Gospel in the Iberian peninsula before returning to Jerusalem where he was martyred. His body was returned to Spain and rediscovered about the year 800.

The Nelsons walked its most popular route, the Camino Frances, in 2014 and 2016. “We loved our experience the first time so much that we swore to each other we’d do it again,” Beth said. They could only do part of it in 2014, as Bill was still working and could only spare two weeks. In 2016, over 34 days, they walked the full 480 miles from France, up over the Pyrenees and across Spain to the cathedral.

Beth Nelson

“It was just magical,” Beth said. “It was a time warp — a time out from life the way we usually live it. Everything we needed was on our backs.” Not only, they never knew where they’d eat or sleep when they set out each day.

“We had no idea some days where we’d stop for the night, but we always found a place,” Bill said. “That’s the beauty, because you just kind of roll with the punches, and you just live life. You’re just living, you don’t have everything planned.”

People still walk the Camino as a spiritual pilgrimage, but it can also be a cultural or international experience. It was physically demanding as well. Beth said their training on Casper Mountain made it doable on the first, toughest day when they hiked 20 miles in the Pyrenees, up 4,500 feet and down 2,500, over an 8-hour period. On that day, and those that followed, they were treated to stunning scenery — first mountainous, then flat plains, then rolling hills, as the trail wended its way through farmland and cities.

“Families” of travelers merge, split, and meet again along the trail. “You meet people from all over the world,” Bill said. “You might meet someone from Bolivia on Tuesday, have a coffee with them, and separate for whatever reason. Three days later you run into them again, and it’s like old friends. ‘Buen Camino’ is the saying — have a good walk.”

Among the fellow travelers they met were a German engineer and a South Korean woman who taught mathematics for the gifted. An 80-year-old retired lawyer from Britain who did mountain climbing outpaced them all.

“It’s kind of like a traveling community,” Beth said, “a city that’s always moving.”

For the Nelsons, the Camino was a transformative experience. “You learn that life is really simple, and you really don’t need much to be extraordinarily happy,” Bill said. “Being with other people, sharing it with others is remarkable. By day 30, you have a whole different outlook on life”

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