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Called to Camino: One woman’s life changing journey

By Staff | Dec 9, 2016

Submitted photo Theresa Fersch in a poppy field in Spain.

On May 17, 2015, Shepherd graduate, Theresa Fersch took the first step on a pilgrimage that would change her forever. She’s written a book about her experience on her incredible journey through Spain, called “Sunrise in Spain: Finding the Good Life Hiking the Camino de Santiago.”

El Camino de Santiago, also called the Way of St. James, is an 1,100 year-old pilgrimage comprised of many routes all ending at the tomb of the Apostle James in the famous Cathedral Santiago de Compostela. Originally embarked upon as a Christian pilgrimage, now only about one-third of the over 200,000 pilgrims per year travel for religious reasons.

Fersch traveled the almost 500 mile, 38-day journey on the most popular route, the Camino Frances which starts in Saint-Jean Pied du Port in France on the French side of the Pyrenees. This means that the first part of the journey is spent hiking over the majestic Pyrenees into Spain. This route passes through some major cities like Pamplona, Burgos and Leon, but the way is also well-supported by small towns with cafes, bars, hostels and even churches as a respite for weary travelers.

Fersch explained that most days there are several travelers on the road and she often had a traveling buddy, although she set out on this journey alone, overcoming fear and anxiety about doing so.

A typical day involves waking at around 6 a.m, breakfast, walking, second breakfast (not just for Hobbits), visiting a church, walking, going to a bar or cafe, finding a bed (Fersch walked slowly and sometimes when she arrived at a hostel, they wouldn’t have a bed for her so she’d have to keep searching), showering and washing clothes, dinner, visiting with trail family, journaling, then bed, usually by 9 p.m.

“I always took time at the end of the day to journal so basically my book was pretty much done before I came home,” said Fersch. “I found that it was a critical part of my experience. It was really helpful to reflect at the end of the day.”

Despite pain, injuries, tedium, physical and mental exhaustion and sometimes cramped quarters, Fersch says she and her walking partners were having a blast because hardship provided an even greater capacity to experience the beauty, exhilaration, simplicity, peace, connectedness and kindness of others.

“The Camino is said to break down and rebuild your body, your mind, and your soul-in that order. I found this to be absolutely 100 percent true.”

She continued, “The thing about that is so special about the Camino is that it is such a loving and supportive and compassionate environment. Everybody is there with the same common goal, so they all want to help each other. I experienced the greatest acts of kindness while I was on the Camino. I had complete strangers helping me when I was at my lowest point. I was in a country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know anyone, and complete strangers took care of me when I was sick and injured.”

“The Camino is a very personal journey. You really have to know why you’re doing it in order to finish it,” said Fersch. Although when she had first heard about the Camino several years prior, she didn’t give it a second thought. It wasn’t until her husband had hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail and then encouraged her to have her own amazing experience that she began to consider the Camino hike.

“A lot of people think they can’t hike the Camino de Santiago, but the fact is, anybody can hike this,” said Fersch. “There are people from all walks of life in all kinds of conditions that do this. You just put one foot in front of the other. Some people even do it in wheelchairs-and you don’t even have to be in shape to do it.” Fersch added that many of the people she saw on the trail were retirement age.

Fersch travels as a motivational speaker now, sharing her Camino experience and encouraging others to have their own adventures, wherever they may lead.

Her book, “Sunrise in Spain: Finding the Good Life Hiking the Camino de Santiago” is available on Amazon in both digital and print.

Her Camino experience blog and video can be found at www.theresas camino. com.