“You weren’t in any hurry to walk,” my mother said as she showed me a photo of myself at 15 months, happily sitting on a blanket in the yard.
But after a late start, there was no stopping me. I walked to school almost every day of my long student career, walked to work when distances allowed, took a daily walk to keep body and spirits in shape and walked around cities, along coastlines, and through national parks on holidays.
Walking the Camino de Santiago, a 1200-year-old pilgrimage route across Spain, was a natural next step, so to speak. The portions of the Camino that my husband and I have done (and there are several major branches of trail to choose from) have ranged from 600–900 kilometres in length. That’s a month or so of walking.
I’ve always used the word walking rather than hiking when talking or writing about the Camino. Although most do the Camino with a backpack on, the pack isn’t very heavy (no tent or cooking gear). There are dormitory-style albergues along the way, as well as other inexpensive accommodation options. And there are cafés, restaurants, snack trucks and grocery stores galore. Pilgrims are well cared for along the Camino.
And everyone along the Camino is considered a pilgrim, which is another reason I use the word walk. Whether or not one’s motivation for doing the trail has anything to do with history or religion or spirituality, there is something very meditative about getting up every morning to put one foot ahead of the other for hours on end. It can be very peaceful. The word hike doesn’t have the same feel.
After walking my fifth Camino this spring, on a route that had some serious steep ups and downs, I started thinking about the Chilkoot Trail. I had hiked that old First Nation trade route and gold rush trail from Dyea, Alaska, into the interior, four times before, but the last time was about 12 years ago. Could I still do it now that I’m a senior citizen?
With legs toned up from the hilly Camino, and a back used to carrying weight (although not as much as the Chilkoot requires), I figured there’s no time like the present. Why not do a fifth Chilkoot after a fifth Camino?
My husband and I loaded our packs and drove to Skagway, early the next morning, to claim two of the eight available walk-in spaces per day. We filled out the forms, bought train tickets to return to Skagway from Bennett, went through the orientation session and were on our way.
I felt fit as a fiddle for the first few hours to Finnegan’s Point, but my energy started to fade as we made our way to Canyon City where we ate a quick cold dinner. Then we had to push on to Pleasant Camp, because to make our train we’d have to reach Bennett in three-and-a-half days. That night in our tent, I got charley horse cramps in my legs every time I tried to curl up on my side.
Long story short, the hike was much harder than I had remembered, despite new stone staircases in a few spots that used to be intense boulder scrambles. Maybe I found it more difficult simply because I’m older. Maybe it was due to warm weather, soft slippery snow fields and some whitewater creek crossings. Maybe it was because I’d been spoiled by the Camino where it’s possible to really walk as opposed to constantly having to pick one’s steps over rocks and roots and along edges. Or maybe hiking is like childbirth—once it’s over, you don’t remember the hard parts.
My knees hurt for about two weeks after finishing the Chilkoot Trail hike, so since then I’ve savored easygoing morning doggy walks and evening strolls. These are nice times to chat with walking buddies or neighbours. Strolling definitely has a social dimension, whereas the Camino encourages quiet reflection and the Chilkoot involves such serious huffing and puffing that it’s hard to talk.
The social potential of strolling was demonstrated on the evening of July 25, as about 15 people joined in the second annual St. James Day walk organized by the Whitehorse chapter of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims.
Earlier in the day I had marked, with yellow chalk arrows reminiscent of Camino waymarkers, a route from the Wharf, along the waterfront to Earl’s, up Chilkoot Way and across Two Mile Hill, then back along the clay cliffs and down Main Street, a nice hour-long jaunt on a sunny evening. There was a lot of “Camino talk” among those who’ve recently done the trail and those who are going to Spain soon. The social part of the evening’s stroll continued for hours as walkers enjoyed cold drinks and appies together afterward.
The Whitehorse chapter of the Canadian Company of Pilgrims hosts three events each year: the St. James Day walk, in late July; a Camino dinner and slide show in November; and Camino 101, an information evening in March. It’s all about the pleasure of putting one foot in front of the other. Find us on Facebook or contact us at [email protected] and we’ll add you to our email list.