The Spanish sun glared through my sunglasses as I looked up at Sue lifting the barbed wire to widen the gap between the fence and the piercing metal that crowned it. Christine squeezed under the wire and swung her leg over the top of the fence. Her descent was less graceful and included wedging a boot in the fence, a half twist and a tumble into a thicket of waist high thorns and thistles. But Christine had been through much worse.
The Camino or Way, is filled with options and at the last intersection Sue and I followed the old, faded yellow arrow that pointed to the right and led down a soft dirt trail that ended at a tall fence topped with barbed wire. In hindsight the newly painted arrow that pointed left and led down an asphalt road was “The Right Way” but if we had turned left we would not have had the pleasure of walking with Christine and would not have learned how she ended up walking “The Way of Saint James”.
Christine grew up in New Zealand but moved to the Australian Outback to teach English and Math to Aboriginals a couple decades ago. After doing that for a few years she moved onto Alice Springs where she met her husband, an American from Michigan. Things were going well for the energetic young woman until she developed a “cold” that lingered for a week. The “cold” was actually a smoldering cerebral aneurysm that burst on day seven and resulted in left sided weakness, double vision and right eyelid droop. The adventuresome woman from New Zealand who “always loved to walk” was now unable to stand without assistance.
As we hiked, Christine shared her sad and complex medical history with us but concluded the topic in an enthusiastic upbeat voice by saying, “After my brain surgery my neurosurgeon told me that the best thing I could do was walk – and he was right”.
It took brain surgery and weeks of physical therapy before Christine could even hobble to her mailbox. During the months that followed she forced herself to walk everyday, rain or shine. Over time she became stronger, her lid droop improved and her double vision resolved.
One day her husband brought home the Martin Sheen movie, “The Way”. She loved the story and by the end of the movie her goal was to walk all five hundred miles of the “The Way of Saint James” form Saint-Jean-Pide-de-Port, France on the North side of the Pyrenees Mountains, to Santiago de Compostela near the Atlantic Coast of Spain. But her husband was concerned that she would not have the endurance to walk twelve miles a day, week after week. He would not be able to go with her so they struct a deal, if she could walk twelve miles a day for two weeks straight he would feel comfortable letting her walk by herself.
Christine agreed to the deal and for the next two weeks she walked daily but her left sided weakness and limp did not improve, her recovery had peaked. But despite those permanent deficits Christine managed to squeeze out twelve miles a day for two weeks straight and was soon on a flight to Spain.
Today Christine walked twelve miles before lunch and has completed over two hundred miles of “The Way” so far and when she tumbled into that thicket of thorns and thistles her response was a cheery, “Good thing we’re country kids”.
Walking the wrong way with Christine was a delight and an inspiration and it will take a lot more than a fence, barbed wire and a wrong turn to keep Christine from completing her goal of walking “The Way of Saint James”.