No doubt the same could be said of many journeys - in fact I'm sure it has been, but it has occured to me, as I approach the end, that walking the Camino de Santiago has been much like a full life cycle for me.
I started in St Jean Pied de Port, wandreing out into the morning mists, fresh as a baby with my shiny new gear and all the enthusiasm and naivety of a small child. Back at the start we all seemed to be abuzz with surplus energy and an ability to overlook the scrapes and grazes we were getting along the way. I made new friends at every turn, got excited about every new corner and every view and I soaked it all up like a sponge.
Somewhere further on I gained just enough knowledge of what I was doing to have an adolescent air of superior knowledge. I could have told even those on their fifth Camino a thing or two about how to do it right. We all became 'experts' on blister and injury cures and the best distances to do or the best places to try and stay. No theory was the same, because we were all painfully unique ina rather predictable way... I wasn't interested in the advice of others and was thoroughly emersed in 'My Own Journey', which required long periods of silence and solitude.
At about the halfway point we hit the Meseta, or 'adulthood' as I like to call it. Frankly it was hard work. A lot of effort with well-hidden rewards. It sometimes seemed like I was walking for the sake of walking and I worried that I was missing something, but I wasn't sure what. I could see the scenery had some beautiful elements, but beauty was not the overwhelming quality of that period. It brought me to tears, made me sweat and exhausted me. But it also provided a time of great solidarity with other walkers - it was hard on all of us, and there was good friendship and a lot of laughter to be had as a result.
At the end of the Meseta, in León, I had what I consider to have been akin to a mid-life crisis. I wanted a hotel. I wanted a comfortable bed. I wanted a bathroom all to myself. I suddenly wanted to buy everything I saw - beautiful jewellery, clothes, anything I couldn't carry on the Camino. I wanted to be able to stay out past 10pm (the curfew of most Albergues) and I didn't want to be so immediately identifiable as a Pilgrim (honestly, you can spot us a mile off). I wanted to be effortlessly cool and Spanish for a day... and then for another day... and then another... Until it became clear that I was drifting from the Camino...
So I got back on it. And slowly began to move towards old age, or 'The Final Stretch'. After the mid-life crisis I struggled to get my full physical energy back. The aches and pains that had been a vague bother slowly began to increase their presence. My body began to move slower. Sitting down is easy... standing up again requires a full refresher on how each limb functions. I can't stay awake beyond 9.30pm. My friends of the earlier days have either reached the end ahead of me, or are a few days behind, so I spend most days and evenings on my own. At this stage it's harder to make friends, because we're all aware of how close the end is now. At the 100km mark it stopped being about walking and started to be about reaching Santiago. My body and mind feel like they can only hold out as long as the road does and each day is a major struggle to the end...
But it's not a sad space to be in. I look back at the most amazing six weeks (it will be 42 days when I reach Santiago) in which I have met people I am proud to call friends, I have seen places and sights that I couldn't have imagined, I have opened my heart and my mind, I have pushed myself to achieve things I would have thought impossible and I've learned a lot about myself, about others, about my world and about what is important.
In two days time I will have walked 800kms over 37 days (plus five rest days). But that's not the end. After five very welcome rest days in Santiago I'll carry on walking a further 90kms, with my mum for company, to a place called Finisterre, which literally translates as 'The End of the Earth'. Maybe that's like the after life... I'll let you know what it's like on the other side.
Massive love to you all, lovely people.