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What I Really Know About Long Walks: God's Cathedral

The AARP Bulletin's "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Below, reader  Marcel Sirois of Battle Creek, Mich., shares what he really knows about long walks.

Imagine walking in God’s cathedral day after day. That’s what my girlfriend, Beverly, and I did last spring. We walked across northern Spain from a border town in France called St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela, Spain—500 miles along a trail known as the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James.

We were on the road before 8 each morning. The first day—through the Pyrenees Mountains—almost broke us. We traveled 19 miles, reaching an altitude of 4,723 feet. The day started with beautiful sunshine and a temperature of 70 degrees, then turned to heavy rain, high winds and biting sleet. Beverly was 59 years old and I was 60, yet we weren’t the oldest ones making this pilgrimage.

For 42 days we walked. Our foot care ritual became critical—washing, drying and rubbing them with ointment to prevent friction. Moleskin inserts to protect sensitive parts of our feet. Foam cushions to help avoid tendinitis. Piercing and draining blisters.

But it wasn’t all preparation and pain. Meditation was the biggest reward. Usually meditation is associated with being very still, but my mind emptied with the steady rhythm of moving arms and legs as we walked. Many times I didn’t feel the pain and strain in my body—just a communing with God and his natural wonders.

The adventure also drew Beverly and me closer. It was like compressing several years of courtship into a few weeks, and we were married July 21, 2007, six weeks after our return from Spain.

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