With much excitement, I would like to introduce you to Michelle. Michelle is the first of our Intimate Conversations with Wellbeing Explorers, and as soon as I heard of her story; I knew it was one that needed to be shared.
Inspirational people like Michelle, people just like you and me, give us the courage and determination to know that anything is possible. And that with enough willpower, self love, passion and encouragement living this one life to it's fullest, with all of life coming from you, is the only option.
One things for sure, Michelle Curtis is definitely on a wellbeing exploration (the very large kind)! As we enjoy her story today, Michelle has walked 771 kms, with 19 left on her journey.
Michelle shares her intimate and enlightening moments as she treks across the French Pyrenees from the small town St Jean Pied de Port, across Spain, to finish in Santiago de Compostela….
790 kms walked?! With a pack, her partner and her journal.
Michelle shares with us an honest, heartfelt experience. You can feel her humour, see her smile, the gritting of her teeth and the lightness in her steps. And as of tomorrow her journey is complete.
I would love for you to share your support and cheer her on home by leaving her a message in the comments section below!
All photos take courtesy of Michelle and her partner.
What set you upon this journey?
I first discovered the Camino de Santiago in the bath in 2005.
I was listening to my newly purchased Loreena McKennitt album. She's a Canadian artist. The album was The Mask and the Mirror and the song Santiago quickly became my favourite track. Curious about the song, I read the liner notes and discovered for the first time the medieval pilgrimage route from St Jean to Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of St James are said to be interred in the cathedral there. From that moment, I knew I would do this. You could say it went on the bucket list.
There are many reasons to put off a foot journey of 800kms. My father was diagnosed with cancer in late 2012. He passed away 3 months later on my 39th birthday. That year was a struggle, physically and emotionally. My soul felt completely exhausted. It was then that I felt the ‘need’; not merely a desire to be walking. I'd had utilised bush-walking as a way to deal (escape probably) from his illness. This seemed the natural extension, but I didn't / couldn’t find the time while working. A week before Christmas in 2014, my role was made redundant. I took this as a sign — it was now or never. And here I am, in the middle of Spain.
What has been the toughest challenge thus far?
I'm almost tempted to say the blisters, but I won't. I expected them.
The toughest challenge has actually been other pilgrims - we all come with our own way to walk. As you make friends (and as the novelty wears off and you experience loneliness and home sickness) it's tempting to alter your plans to fit in with other people, or to have others do this to stick with you. You therefore have to be disciplined in walking the path that is right for you, and to exercise some social/ emotional intelligence - not everyone wants company or opinions when we are ready to offer them!
Another unexpected challenge is what I call the 'working of walking'.
Many of us come here to break the routine, but as the weeks pass, you wake to realise you are part of a rat-race of a different kind. You wake early to others' alarms in the albergues when you'd like to sleep in. There's the furious morning routine in the cold and the dark. You are all shuffled out of accommodation at the same time to join the Pilgrim Highway, taking the same breaks in all the same spots. Then you do it all over again. Suddenly, you realise that the Camino is a maddening routine, not dissimilar from the one you thought you left behind.
What are you learning along the way?
I'd like to say patience - and tolerance. But I'm not sure that’s true.
It has been said that the Camino is divided into 3 stages: the physical, mental and spiritual. I think there is truth to that. From St Jean to Burgos, the Camino is a novelty. You are focused on how your body reacts to walking and load-bearing: I’m tired, I'm thirsty, I hurt. But the landscape changes daily and it’s all new, so I at least found coping with the physical easy. Blisters formed - I swabbed them, popped them, whacked a plaster on and off I went. When you cope physically, it's easy to be benevolent.
But between Burgos and Leon, something mental happens.
I've spoken to many other pilgrims and we all feel the same. We're over it. We are sick of eating the same foods and the community of albergues and other peoples' snoring. We cry for no reason. We miss home. We’re all getting sore and sick now and it upsets us because we thought, 3 weeks in, we'd be used to it.
There are many long, long stretches of road with no defining or interruptive features. There’s a lot of time for dwelling - on what upsets us, what makes us sad or uncomfortable. We are all flat, and perhaps a little less tolerant.
I'm told that climbing to O'Cebreiro, the steepest and second highest point on the Camino represents the crossing of the mental into the spiritual. I hope so. I'll let you know!
Have you learnt something about yourself, that you didn’t know before?
I think I've learned that I am a largely self-preserving creature.
When I think I can't go another step, I actually can. When I think I'm done and the tank is dry, there is actually a lot of petrol left. There has to be. Nobody is going to go and get the car to pick me up.
It is amazing what you can achieve when you cease to rely on anybody, or anything, but yourself.
What does wellbeing exploration mean to you?
To me, it's mindfulness - continually asking myself if I am okay with a situation.
If not, why not?
And what is within my power to make myself feel okay. I think it is so important to not underestimate the power of physical well-being on mental and emotional well-being.
A happy side-effect of my walking - weight loss. I can actually pull my pants off without undoing the button or zipper and I feel fantastic! Hills do not seem so very steep!
In hindsight, what do you know now, that you wish you knew then?
People bang on about it all the time: don't carry more than 10% of your body weight. For me, this would amount to a sleeping bag, a litre of water and a sock! But they then list all the things you should take and you may as well hire a donkey!
This sums up the Camino (and life in general) - everyone has an opinion and don't we all like to air them? In the end, what works for you, works for you.
There is no one way to treat blisters, use walking poles, pack a back-pack, live a life to its fullest.
Can’t be without items on the trek? Any items that you just didn’t need!
So far, have not needed the bikini (I live in hope - especially now I've shed a couple of kilos!!) and the sleeping sheet.
I could not have been without the I-pod, my Gortex rain-coat (it comes out every other day!) my water bladder and my journal. It weighs a ton but it is as precious to me as my camera.
A few words that sum up your exploration?
The Camino is really just a metaphor for life - sometimes it’s pretty and exciting. Much of the time it's dull and hard work.
People drift in and out. You meet some that make an impression - when they go you miss them intensely. Others just seem to hang around. But some of the really special ones drop in and out on a recurring basis with new tales to tell and new laughs to be had.
If you weren't walking, where would you love to be right now?
I don't think I'd not like to be walking - but I would love to be doing that with my dog, Ulu. Walking past my favourite beach-side cafe. And I'd love to be eating a vegetable that is not a potato.
I never, ever, ever thought I would crave a plate of broccoli, snow peas and asparagus. I do not care if I never see potato (and bread!) ever again.
Note to self?
When washing one's smalls in a hostel sink, be sure to roll them in a towel after ringing and stomp on them with your foot to remove all possible excess moisture!
Best walking tune?
Every Other Freckle by Alt J and Silver Timothy by Damian Jurado have received a lot of air time, as have other tracks by these artists.
And of course, Santiago by my beloved Loreena McKenitt - LISTEN and immerse yourself here!
Thank you Michelle for allowing me to share your story and for giving me and many others inspiration to follow your dreams, no matter how long we may dream of them.
If we dream of them long enough they come to fruition.
Michelle lives in Melbourne, with her partner and her dog, Ulu.