The Power of Resilience: Lessons from the Camino

By Bob Morrell on September 7, 2023

I never thought I was that resilient. In preparation for walking the Camino I did some walks around a local lake - 14 miles max - and a few circular walks around my town where every five miles or so there was a conveniently placed pub, so it was effectively an elongated pub crawl. When I arrived at St Jean in France, I had some idea that Day 1 of the Camino (up and over the Pyrenees) was going to be the hardest day and it totally was. There’s a really steep bit after about 6k that you’re leaning forward to get up the hill and with your pack and lack of fitness it quickly becomes a nightmare. Shortly after that I arrived at a lovely cafe overlooking the view. After a coffee and a pastry I felt a heck of a lot better - and thought, ‘well, if there’s places like this every few miles I’m laughing.’ Au Contraire! Three miles later in 36 degree heat I was puffing and panting and wheezing like a good’un. There’s nowhere to stop you just keep going up and up to about 1400 metres. Eventually after what seemed like years you’re rewarded with spectacular views of both France and Spain. But at what cost? I was dying of thirst and thought my legs would fall off. And you’re then only halfway! 

The plateau levels out for a bit then goes up again for 2 miles - before it starts to come down. I was a wreck. 

When you start to go down there’s immense relief. Until you realise that going down a steep incline is even harder! 

Hours later I staggered into the monastery hostel when some lovely attendants looked after me and checked me in. Twenty minutes later I was standing in the shower for 35-40 minutes? 

I thought there was no way I could survive this journey. I thought I was a naive fool to think at 53 I could manage this. 

For the next few days every slight incline felt like the Pyrenees. I wasn’t alone. One chap I met reckoned the designers of the modern route had, on purpose, made sure there was a major hill and incline just before the end of each days walk. It felt like it. 

Anyway, I’m writing this from 400km later. So, what happened? Firstly, I learned to get up at 5am and walk most of your day allocation before the real heat kicked in. Secondly over 2 weeks I must be fitter, a little, each day. I’ve lost a few pounds which makes it easier probably, and I am now used to: get up, walk, coffee, banana, walk, music, podcasts, audiobook, and then, ‘oh look I’ve made it’, so shower, change, eat, beer, bed by 10pm - then the same again, day after day. Now the walk is just ‘what you do’ and now a hill or steep incline you don’t even register. Is it resilience? Habit? Muscle memory? 

It comes down to people a lot. On about day 4 I was suffering with blisters and hobbling along, and some chap with a huge moustache grabbed my shoulders and said “Bon Camino” as he sailed past me. It helped! 

One day it was sweltering, and I stopped at a catering van in a field run by two lovely ladies. After a drink I began walking again, slowly, tentatively, because my blisters were agony. One of the ladies ran out and called after me, “Signor! If you get into trouble, call 062 and the Guardia Civil will come and pick you up!”. I said, “Jesus do I really look like I won’t make it?” Very funny when you think about it. It worked though - I didn’t want to be seen as someone quite so pathetic! 

I wasn’t sure I could do this. I didn’t think I would have the resilience. It is a hard thing to do, to be fair, for anyone. You or I can’t be sure of our own resilience until it is tested. And I am pleased to report that whatever I have in terms of resilience, is slowly improving. So if I can do it, an ageing Bon viveur with a penchant for curry and karaoke, then anyone can.