Three amazing Bellbrook women, Becki Pinkus (62), Elaine Long (59), and Sherry Wimmers (59), completed an adventure of a lifetime by traveling the Camino de Santiago in Spain. With a travel guide by John Brierley and after walking over 500 miles over 33 days last month, they are finally home and reflecting on their spiritual pilgrimage.
“The Camino takes you across northern Spain. People have been walking “The Way of St. James” (as the Camino de Santiago is famously known) since shortly after Christ was on earth. St. James, son of Zebedee was a brother to John. Both were apostles to Jesus and became known as the “Sons of Thunder” because they had tempers. After Christ’s death, James went to Spain and tried to convert the local people. He wasn’t very successful. Nevertheless, he was beheaded due to his close association with Christ. James became the first apostolic martyr. James’ followers gathered up his remains and returned them to Spain, where they are said to still be housed in the city of Santiago de Compostela. At about 833 AD, Christian warriors were losing the fight against the Moors in Spain. The spirit of St. James appeared before the soldiers on a white stallion, brandishing a sword and gave the Christians new vigor to drive out of the Moors. He thus became regarded as the patron saint of Spain,” said Wimmers.
Pinkus, a retired salon owner and Long, a retired Spanish teacher have been friends for over 25 years. Wimmers, a local pharmacist and Long have known each other casually for over 35 years through their husbands. The three came together after watching a rendition of a man’s journey on the Camino de Santiago by Martin Sheen called “The Way.”
After a year of planning, training and mentally preparing, the three women said goodbye to their comfortable beds, dry surroundings and set off for the unknown with a 25 lbs backpack, a money belt, comfortable shoes and walking sticks.
“500 miles gives you a lot of time to reflect on your whole life,” said Long. “I think the Camino has made me more patient, more tolerant and stronger both physically and mentally.”
Their days rolled from one to the other and even though they were in a country far away from American, the 4th of July had strong meaning. Not being home to celebrate our nation’s holiday, they decided to have their own celebration in a land not accustom to our ways. “We serenaded fellow pilgrims on the Camino with patriotic songs and did an encore performance at a local bar in Ribadiso,” Long said.
They traveled over 500 miles in downpour, sleet, fog, and some sunshine in between. They dealt with mud, sleet, hail, dust and heat. They endured steep terrain, extreme descents and home sickness. But together they encouraged each other and never gave up. “I did question why I was there. But, I never wanted to quit,” Pinkus said.
Their daily routine became monotonous but invigorating at the same time because of the unknown and a new adventure ahead. “We got up about 5:30 a.m. and left about 6:30 a.m. We would stop for coffee and breakfast. We would stop about every two hours. We would walk 14-16 miles a day, about 6-7 hours a day. We would check into a hostel, do laundry, shower and get something to eat. We might take a nap or play cards,” Pinkus said.
“We met people from at least 25 countries, all age groups from all walks of life. That was the best part of the Camino,” Long said. “My favorite part of the trip was visiting 33 different towns. Each one was distinct; each one famous for something (chocolates, pastries, octopus, castles, cathedrals, etc.) The scenery was spectacular, the Pyrenees Mountains, fields of wild flowers, vineyards, olive groves, eucalyptus and more. But what gives the Camino its uniqueness is the Spanish towns,” Long said.
While on the trail, Wimmer wrote some new lyrics to a popular song that summarizes their experience:
There were times. I’m sure you thought
That we’d give up, that we’d been bought.
But through it all, there was no doubt.
We Sucked it up. We spit it out.
And we stood tall, backpacks and all.
And did it. The Way.
When asked if they would travel the Camino de Santiago, “The Way” again, they all three smiled and quickly said “no”. Their experience was rich, reflecting, challenging and spiritual enough for a lifetime of gratefulness. How can you top that?