I’m in a quandary here on the Camino. To receive a Compostela (a certificate of completion) at the end of the walk, you’re supposed to have walked at least 100 km, or 62 miles. I haven’t been walking the last few days; I’m eight miles short of 62. Every night I debate whether to walk the next day. Every night I think I will get back on the trail. Every morning I wince at the thought of the pain in my heels and knee, and I don’t go.
It’s possible that I’ll log those missing eight miles somehow in the next few days. But what if I don’t? It’s true that I walked 122 miles of the Camino in France in 2001, but I have nothing to prove that I did it. And does it count, so many years ago?
I want the Compostela because it would feel like graduating with my class. But I’m quite clear that it’s the ritual of receiving the certificate with the All Souls pilgrims that matters more than the piece of paper.
I’ve never much cared about the physical artifacts of achievement. I gave my college diploma to my mother, who promptly shelved it in a closet. About a month after graduate school, I tossed my degree in the trash; too big and unwieldy to keep track of.
When I finished the Wainwright Coast to Coast walk across England, I marched right over to the Wainwright Pub in Robin Hood’s Bay to get my certificate of completion. I don’t think it even made it all the way back to my hotel room.
There was one certificate I did hold on to for several years. I was walking in the Sahara with a group led by several Tuaregs. One day we had a long transfer from one camp to another, so we saddled up our camels to ride across the desert. It was a clear day, and we were crossing over rock, not sand, so I jumped down from my ride and struck out alone in front of the caravan, listening to Linda Ronstadt’s Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind. I sang and danced for 30 miles that day. When we got to camp, the Tuaregs were so amazed that I’d walked that far that they made me a certificate on a sheet of lined notebook paper. (The next day, I had blisters the size of small dogs.) But eventually I tossed that one too.
Will I get a Compostela? Don’t know. Will I always remember this experience? Absolutely.