We set out to walk the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage in Spain. The plan was created almost two years before we actually walked it. Many stories start out this way – an idea comes to mind, you begin to plan around it and either it fizzles out or by some miracle it blooms.
With the Camino, the plan bloomed. It was going to be a big deal. Big, not just because it was a hike that was over 500 miles and would require almost two months to complete (including travel time) but when you are a business owner, it’s just difficult to leave. And on a personal note, I had never traveled outside of the United States, had a fear of flying over oceans, and well, the list goes on.
Making A Life or Making A Living
There is always the question on the table whether we are just making a living or are we are making a life. One doesn’t have to be self-employed to make a life. Being self employed can trap you into endless hours of work and non-stop effort to keep all of the pieces in motion. Taking time to leave your business is not only an emotional challenge but certainly a financial one as well.
Prior to leaving, a number of potential new clients began calling. With the knowing that we, the two co-owners of SEO Essential Solutions would be gone, we just could not take on new clients at that moment. While we have staff, we also oversee and lead a minutia of detail. It would have been unethical for us in our minds to bring on new clients in this scenario.
This was a trip of a life time, one of those bucket-list items that had to be done. As it is with quests, you answer the call and with that often comes sacrifice. We answered the call, made the sacrifice and moved forward. As they say, at the end of your days you don’t recount the stuff you bought but the experiences you lived. This trip would be for the internal books.
Facing Your Fears
So, without our laptops and simply one big backpack each with everything we would need to live for two months – we set off in April 2016. We gave ourselves a lot of time to travel before our backpacking venture on the Camino as we wanted to savor every moment before the big journey. We flew from Arizona to New York. We spent time in New York. We then flew from New York to London and then from London to Bilbao Spain.
Neither of us speak a lot of Spanish so landing in Spain on what appeared to be a paved clearing, we jumped on the bus and took it into town where we departed at what appeared to be the town center. With a whole lot of pictionary skills and questions, we eventually found the bus station where we could travel to Pamplona.
Maybe the biggest reason many people don’t travel to foreign countries is due to their fear of not knowing the language. I know this to be true for myself. I know little Spanish and people speak different dialects wherever you travel in Spain. Walking around Bilboa, which is gorgeous by the way and decadent, we were dressed in hiking gear and in backpacks. I couldn’t help but feel a little self-conscious. Looking like this, as we approached people trying to ask how to get the bus out of town, we were often given fearful glances. This was a good lesson in judging others too quickly before helping them.
I have to say, the short experience of being lost in this small rural city was quite frightening. We spent over an hour walking around a myriad of streets, not knowing even where to find the street’s name (it is often embedded in a nearby building – or not) before we found the station. The bus station was on the edge of town and for the record, Google Maps doesn’t really work when traveling. (I unlocked my cellphone before leaving the country, but despite International Roaming and Sprint’s best efforts it was hard to get a good map signal).
I had bookmarked the bus stop on my phone but I could not get my map to track me or where I was and it was running my battery down. This would be the beginning of learning to let go and be in the moment for a number of days. It would also be the beginning of never quite knowing where I was in relation to other communities. I felt as if I was floating in time and space.
Backpacking Across Spain
We eventually made our way by bus to the beginning of the Camino and it was a relief to be ‘on track.’ We met up with other random strangers from all over the world who would be doing the same thing as us. We all would walk the Camino as far as we could each day, eat, wash our clothes, sleep and start again. The excitement of a walking routine and seeing new sites as well as being relatively technology free was almost more than wonderful. But, my knees told me otherwise after Day One. Luckily I had hiking poles as I believe I dragged my left leg through most of Spain
As for the technology – I never checked my email, I knew better than to use Google Maps but I did upload photos to Facebook so that I could clear them from my phone’s memory and keep taking more photos.
The weather was perfect for hiking – which for me was that it was equally cold and sunny. I had two layers on every day and the Mediterranean climate was amazing. Coming from the dry desert, having moisture on your skin was heaven. I felt like an apple doll that had been dropped into a bucket of water. Every pore on my skin re-hydrated
Throughout the hike there was so much water. Being a desert dweller, the site of water quenches a thirst you forgot you had. It is like the craving for greenery is a craving for abundance and in the desert there is never quite enough. In Spain, rivers, springs, and waterfalls followed us along every trail. Of course, I thought to myself, this is why the trail is here in the first place and has been traveled for over a thousand years – people and their horses need water to journey.
As we rested between walking, I pulled my one book out to read about the area we were passing through, discovering its rich layered history. The Romans had built many a bridge and wall. The Moors from the south had their influence and then of course their is the long history of the Spanish. Every land has its story and with Europe, the stories remain well within the structures left behind. Rock walls and bridges still stand after thousands of years. Some covered in moss and ivy, but for this Arizona native, it was mind blowing.
Not Knowing What To Expect
Most people research their vacation spots to no end beforehand – this wasn’t the case with us. We had books on the Camino, maps, and we had the movie The Way with Martin Sheen. Despite our minimal investigations, we really had no idea what we were in for.
We didn’t know what a diverse expanse of landscape, people and weather we would encounter. We didn’t know what it would be like to share a room with sometimes a handful of strangers, other times hundreds of strangers. We didn’t know how weak our bodies were nor how strong. We did become very familiar with every pharmacy between the start of the trail to Santiago. Some people were making it a point to visit the local church upon entering town, we were making B-lines for pharmacies – buying up knee braces, Arnica, anti-inflammatories, more knee braces.
We didn’t know how good a cold Coke would taste at the middle of a day or a ‘cafe con leche’ first thing in the morning. And who knew you could eat so much bread and get away with it? I love bread. I walked sometimes over 14 miles a day – I deserve bread. And pastries.
Condiments were hard to find but packets of sugar were always readily available with everything you ordered – so yes, I ate a lot of sugar. And yes, as I sit here back in my office in America, I’m trying to not eat that sugar.
Not knowing what to expect is not an easy thought or feeling to accept or allow in one’s thinking. I’m a planner and I like to know everything that will happen when I’m on a trip – typically. While in Spain, this could not be the case. We never knew how far we could walk each day before needing to stop, what the town would be like that we stopped in, what the sleeping arrangements were like or the food or the people from either the town or who also were stopping for the night.
Each day was different and completely unpredictable. Isn’t being a small business owner the same? While there is some predictability and routine, owning your own business means never knowing who shows up each day? And for us not knowing what type of new technological challenge may lay ahead that can be bent toward assisting that client. Rarely has a completely identical challenge occurred in our industry – each person brings their own set of personalized goals- both personally and professionally.
When The Journey Becomes Challenging
Backpacking for fourteen miles isn’t too challenging, but backpacking for fourteen miles for 36 days in a row is a whole other story. Very few people get up every day and put the weight of their needs for their journey on their back and begin walking up steep rocky hills or down slippery muddy paths, while it is raining, day after day after day.
I have to admit, by the second week I was questioning the whole challenge of walking the full length of the Camino. Who in their right mind leaves business behind and money on the table to put this kind of challenge on themselves? And yet, quitting just wasn’t an option. When you pull yourself along for such a distance and you know there is a goal that lies somewhere ahead, you just keep putting one foot in front of the other each day.
As with life and being self-employed, there are days where you put into question everything you are doing. You are tired, probably exhausted and most likely even frustrated and lack hope. Even with all of this – if you are the type of person who can maintain the ups and downs with the mundane, before you know it a week and a month have passed and much ground has been gained.
We work with all types of businesses – startups to businesses who have tasted great success, some were successful and are now finding themselves falling behind, struggling to keep up in a now digitally lead environment. No matter how long you have been self-employed, the challenge both mentally and emotionally is always taxing. As one American woman on the Camino who was traveling with her daughter said to me ‘we take our ups with our downs’. She was having a rough time with her health and had to sleep on a few kitchen floors at night due to the lack of room in the Inn so to speak.
“You take your ups with your downs “- I like that. We all want ups. We are all sold on the idea that if we keep our attitude positive and our will strong, we will be guaranteed to have a lot of ups. This isn’t true. Life always throws us curve balls and we cannot judge our existence on the downs nor the ups but on our ability to persist and sometimes let go.
Completing A Goal
We may not be guaranteed success in life but we certainly can achieve goals. Setting out to achieve a series of goals simply by having a passion to achieve that goal and taking each day to work toward it is very rewarding.
We did make it to Santiago we did receive our Compestellas and our knees and blisters healed. I didn’t die of fear flying over the ocean – twice – and despite not knowing the language, people can seemingly learn how to interpret another’s needs and meet them when necessary. Google translate is also helpful.
We don’t all have to walk Caminos or run Marathons to feel we have completed a goal. A goal can simply be to get up each day and put one foot in front of the other. Other goals can include: reading all of your emails thoroughly, making that phone call you have been putting off, beginning the first chapter in a book you’ve always wanted to write or reading a book you always wanted to read. We just need to pick one thing and stick with it until completed then move to the next.
The simple things in life are just as poignant as the complex. We don’t need to travel half way across the world to find what we need, we need to find what gives us great joy and what we are passionate about in the every day moments and just keep after this. Truly. Fears are faced in a number of ways, often in the unseen small ways and not always in the big grand gestures. Give it a shot.