Two Fort Saskatchewan women are reflecting on the journey of a lifetime.
Dorothy Loy and Janet Fisher recently walked the Camino de Santiago, a 790-kilometre trail and ancient pilgrimage route in Spain. Loy and Fisher hiked the Frances trailhead, which begins in the French town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and is one of several routes leading to the final destination of Santiago, Spain.
The pilgrimage to Santiago began centuries ago when pilgrims walked there to pay homage to Saint John James, who they believe is entombed there. Initially, it was done only for religious reasons, but later non-religious people were allowed to complete the walk.
For Loy, who was supposed to complete the journey before COVID-19, preparations started as early as 2019. Training for both women involved long walks, often carrying packs to adjust to the upcoming adventure.
"Hike every day if you can; a minimum of 10 kilometres. I was probably hiking about 5K every day," said Loy. "You should start hiking with your backpack on, with a minimum of ten pounds. Your feet have to be conditioned."
Fisher was the first to begin the trail on April 10, walking an average of 23 kilometres a day to complete her journey on May 11. Loy started on May 16, completing the walk on June 21.
On the journey, neither Loy nor Fisher were ever by themselves. The first day's journey ended with a night in a small hostel in the Pyrenees Mountains. The people there on the initial night, whom Loy referred to as her Camino family, were a group of around 20 people she would repeatedly run into along the way.
During Fisher's experience, she was in Spain during their Holy Week, which takes place over Easter. In addition to all the families, events, and people, she described how incredible it was to see the display of culture.
"A lot of people in Spain actually do the pilgrimage over the Easter week – it was really fun, actually, because we got to meet a lot of real, local people," said Fisher.
"The infrastructure is there for people to walk this thing because it's been there for so many hundreds of years," Fisher said.
During the journey, Loy found it challenging to listen to her body and to rest whenever she was tired. Fear of the unknown was a significant barrier, and it required a massive leap of faith to fly alone from Edmonton to Europe.
However, the most rewarding part of the journey was standing in front of the cathedral in Santiago.
"It was absolutely stunning. It met all my expectations plus more, and I learned so much about myself – even with the fears that I had, the blisters that I had, it was absolutely amazing getting to Santiago and standing in front of the cathedral."
Once you complete the pilgrimage, you receive a certificate of completion called the Compostela.
Fisher initially set out on her adventure only to finish the hike. In the end, however, it was about the culture, the experience, and the people.
"Meeting all the people and finishing the walk with all the people that I've met from all over the world; was totally rewarding. Watching some of them who struggled with different issues in their lives finish it, that was amazing," she said.
Loy said anyone who wants to learn more about the hike is welcome to contact her.