This spring, Suzanne Kirkup and her daughter Karissa went for a walk. A very long walk. Together, they hiked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
The Camino is an 800 km trail that winds its way across northern Spain over mountains, through fields and forests, to end up in the city of Santiago de Compostela, home of the magnificent cathedral of the same name.
Pilgrims from around the world walk the Camino for various reasons: spiritual, personal challenge, health and exercise.
The Kirkups arrived at the starting point in France on May 3. This is the story of their 33 days on the Camino:
Q: Had either of you trekked or been on a pilgrimage before?
We have completed day hiking trips in the past, but no, neither of us had been on an overnight hike or a camino previously.
Q: How did you prepare yourself physically?
Suzanne: I have been walking to keep physically active for the last two and a half years. Beginning in March, I started doing all my walking with my backpack on and 10 pounds of weight and gradually worked my backpack weight up to 20 pounds.
Karissa: I played competitive hockey since I was eight years old and most recently finished my hockey career playing for the University of Manitoba Bison Women's Hockey team. I had to differentiate my training regimen to better fit the Camino. I began walking longer distances in February, carrying a backpack. The Camino is difficult to train for as the terrain varies so much compared to where we live in Manitoba.
Q: What was driving you to do it? Did you have a personal reason for needing to do this walk?
Suzanne: Personally, it was the physical challenge that drove me to do it. I had some health issues a few years ago and decided I needed to make my health a priority. When I finally got to the point where I knew I was physically able to walk 800 km, I made myself a promise that I would complete this Camino as part of my health journey and I'm proud that I kept this promise to myself.
Karissa: The number one reason why I wanted to take on the Camino de Santiago was to spend time with my Mom. I am a very proud daughter and wanted to take on this challenge with her. Of course, I am a huge advocate for physical activity and challenging myself as well with different adventures, but the fact that I could complete such a challenge with my Mom is amazing and not many people can say the same.
Q: What was the highlight of the experience for each of you?
Suzanne: My highlight was to be able to walk the Camino de Santiago with my daughter. It was a huge goal that I had set for myself a couple of years ago, but knew that it would be so much more special if I could share this journey with my daughter. We created memories together that will last us a lifetime.
Karissa: My highlight was that my Mom and I crushed this adventure together. We had a great relationship before starting the Camino, but I think we only grew closer as we had to work together to figure out the path each day. We now have memories together that I will always remember.
Q: Was there a low point or challenging/difficult time?
Suzanne: Probably the worst day for me was the day I grew ill and not able to walk. We stayed at the same albergue (hostel) for two nights. It was difficult as we knew all the other Camino friends travelling with us to that point would now be a day ahead and we may not see many of them again.
Karissa: Heading into Leon is the day that sticks out for me. I began to fall ill towards the end of our walk, when we were trying to find an albergue. We ended up agreeing to walk to the next town which was another 8.5 km away. I will be forever thankful that my Mom lead us with her positive attitude and the song "Up" by Shania Twain to get us to our destination.
Q: Who is the most interesting person you met on the Camino?
The one gentleman that does come to mind is our friend, Erik. Erik is from Germany and is 72 years young and was walking the Camino with his son. He loved talking to people and sharing his experiences.
He told us he had taken a bus tour with his wife to Auschwitz. He said it is mandatory for Israeli children to tour Auschwitz so they never forget what their ancestors had endured. While he was there, a group of children touring that day began to sing. Even as he was telling us this, he began to cry. He had to stop talking to us for a moment to try to regain his composure. It was so emotional for him as a German.
You could tell he was so remorseful for what had happened and he struggled with that. He is truly a man that lives his life to serve others and wants to leave this world a little bit better with how he treats people. I hope that we made a small impact on his life. He certainly made an impact on our lives.
Q: Have you had enough time to process the experience and talk about what you gained from it?
Suzanne: I think I will continue to process this Camino experience for many years to come. I feel it did change me. It made me appreciate my life more. I said thank you every single day for being healthy enough to be on the Camino. I said many prayers along the way, for my family, for many of my friends and for myself. I truly realized how blessed my life is and to not take things for granted.
Karissa: The underlying lessons and simple details about each other's lives is something that I will forever treasure. I truly believe the Camino did change me in a few ways, not all that I can fully explain quite yet. There are too many reminders that life is short, and there are no words to describe how thankful I was to spend this time with my best friend.