The completion of the Camino, a 500-mile trail in France and Spain, is perhaps the last international hike for people in the long distance hiking community.
It was a physical, mental and spiritual journey of a lifetime for a group of Chattanooga Hiking Club members – including five from the Rome area.
Barbara McCollum and Ron and Helen Owens of Rome and Terri and Noel Holcomb of Plainville made the trip last September with Carolyn Brannon, Joyce Campbell and Janet Hale from Tennessee and Catherine Love from Alabama.
They always meet for hikes and, on Sunday, they spent time remembering their biggest trip via Zoom videoconference.
Holcomb is a former Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, an outdoor veteran and the only man in the group to have made the trip.
Brannon organized the Camino trip. They started from the Saint-Jean Pied-du-Port region in France and finished near Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Brannon took the lead and made nightly reservations at locations along the way.
“They were basically small, inexpensive motels,” said Brannon.
“I’m glad we made reservations,” added Terri Holcomb, Noel’s wife.
Good accommodation every night also meant good dinners at the end of the day and a hearty breakfast to start each morning, leaving the group with lunch as their main daily responsibility.
The trip lasted 29 days, largely because Brannon had asked for a month off because she had to factor in the travel time before and after the trip.
“We have never had a long rainy day,” said McCollum. “Maybe two days when we had to put on our raincoats, but it wasn’t a long rain all day. “
The Camino is a well-defined track for most, said Brannon. They walked in the dark, which posed some challenges. The days that included night walks were the longest, and people told them that they could not go that far and that they would not arrive at their destination.
“They turned out to be some of our favorite moments,” said Brannon.
McCollum said the longest day was close to 26 miles.
“The hardest thing was three days of 25 miles in a row,” said Holcomb. When asked why they did this, Holcomb replied, “I was following seven crazy women. “
In fact, these three days were probably the flattest part of the route, which started across the Pyrenees. Brannon said the weather was essentially perfect on the days they crossed the Pyrenees.
“It is difficult to train so many kilometers back to back. I think 23 miles was our longest hike, ”said Brannon.
“This is a pilgrimage from ancient times,” said McCollum. “People have been doing this for thousands of years. I think each of us may have had a different motivation, but I think it ended up being spiritual for us, physical and cultural, a lot of different things. “
Brannon said the first third was physical, the second third was mental and the last third was spiritual.
Janet Hale said she believed the experience of outdoor Holcomb had helped the women on the long journey. She said they were counting on her outdoor experience.
“He taught us how to pick ripe figs and blackberries; it was excellent for foraging, “said Brannon. “In fact, winemakers have given us grapes. “
Ron Owens, who joined his wife and the others about six days after the end, said the trip was great to get away from the hectic life.
“It had a lot to do with me,” said Owens. He spent some time fly fishing in Spain while the others hiked in the Pyrenees.
McCollum said that, unlike many long distance hikes in the United States, the Camino attracts people from around the world.
“You would see these people almost daily,” said McCollum. “The Camino is very international and I really appreciated that aspect. “
The group had a trip to Havasupai Falls in the Grand Canyon planned for April, but the hike was canceled by the COVID-19 crisis. They wait to see how long the coronavirus situation plays out before deciding what to try next.