The walk of a lifetime
Minot couple completes 560-mile hike across Spain
What started as a crazy idea from a movie led to the trip of a lifetime for a group of friends and family members, including Kathy and Terry Thiel, who’ve lived in the Minot community for about 27 years.
The crazy idea? Hiking 500 miles from St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. They would then hike an additional 60 miles to Finisterre, also known as the end of the world.
They took this trip with Kathy Thiel’s brother Bryan Morlock from Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and Vince Wright, a family friend from Kalispell, Montana.
Kathy Thiel said that before the Americas were discovered, Finisterre was understood across Europe as the end of the world or the easternmost part of the continent.
The trip was planned over three years as they waited for everyone to reach retirement. Wright and the gang had seen the movie “The Way,” in which a man makes his way along the Camino de Santiago, or as known in English, The Way of Saint James.
Wright really got excited about the idea of completing the hike himself. That’s when the group agreed they would take the trip once everyone retired so they could devote the nearly two months it took without worrying about income.
Before embarking on their journey, the four put together a goal of 45 days to complete the hike with an additional four days to travel overseas. They planned for 36 days to get from St. Jean to Santiago, another four days to walk to Finisterre, and five days off in case of ailments or injury. With that and travel time, they were committing 49 days, seven weeks, away from their everyday lives.
Kathy Thiel and the gang had started to walk daily before the trip, trying to work up some muscle before tackling this 560-mile feat.
“There was nothing to prepare us for what this (hike) was,” said Thiel. “We went over two mountain ranges, one at the beginning and one at the end, and it was just a lot harder than any of us thought.”
To begin the journey, the first two days were spent hiking over the Pyrenees Mountains, which left the crew sore and tired. Thiel recalled that after that first week, she couldn’t believe they were crazy enough to do this.
They had left behind all their creature comforts, were staying in albergues, or hostels, where bunk beds lined a huge room that they shared with many other pilgrims, and were walking constantly.
“At about day six I thought ‘Oh my god, what have I done?’ I had knee issues. I had to buy knee braces to finish the rest of the hike. It was very challenging,” said Thiel. They ended up using one of their free days around this point to regroup. She said after two weeks the group felt they were in good shape, and at the third week Thiel finally felt like she was enjoying the hike.
When asked if the trip was spiritual, Kathy Thiel said it could be anything. Everyone walks the camino for their own reasons, be it spiritual, religious or just to prove they can do it.
“For me, the reason I wanted to go is I just retired and I wanted to disconnect and reflect on my life as a teacher for 37 years and a mother of three children and raising them,” said Kathy Thiel. “A time of reflection of what my life has been and what it will be in the future.”
Thiel said being away from Minot wasn’t really hard for her because that was her goal to get away and do something she would not normally think to do. It also helped to have the four of them as a support system the entire journey.
What was difficult for the group was going without the comforts of home, sleeping in their own beds and showering in their own homes. That hit them the hardest.
There were many people the group witnessed from all over the world, of all ages, walking the camino for different reasons. Thiel was impressed with the number of women, young and old, walking the camino alone. Not only that, but the camaraderie Thiel felt among all the pilgrims is a feeling that will stick with her forever. She said they never had to worry about anyone stealing their belongings or worry about their safety because everyone that walked the camino was there for a good purpose.
“The joke was that no one would steal anything because that means they would have to carry it the rest of the way,” said Thiel.
“We did a really good job packing,” said Thiel. “We used basically everything we took along so there wasn’t much extra. The part we really didn’t understand was the difficulty and the length of what we were getting ourselves into.”
When it came to packing, Thiel packed three shirts, two pants, a skort, toiletry essentials and, of course, underwear. The only “luxury item” she allowed herself to bring was a deck of playing cards so at the end of every day, the group could unwind with a few hands of their favorite games.
Though it was tough, the group felt it was quite the accomplishment to finish the journey. Because they had completed the hike from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, they received a certificate showing the 800 kilometers, 500 miles, they hiked to the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.
As you walk along the trail, there’s a pillar with the mark of Santiago, a seashell, that shows how far you have to go. Since the gang reached Finisterre, they were able to see the pillar marked at 0.0 kilometers as they reached the ocean, which was a moment of pure joy at the feat the group had accomplished.
To those who would want to walk the camino themselves, Thiel says you will want to be in good physical shape. If you have a knee or hip issue it could be almost impossible for you to be able to finish. She says it’s also good to be aware of how difficult it’s going to be physically. It also take a lot of mental strength to give up the comforts of everyday life, sleep in rooms with other people and give up daily routines.
This is an experience Kathy and Terry Thiel will never be able to forget, and one they are quite proud of.
To follow the group’s day by day journey, visit their blog at pilgrims4blog.wordpress.com to see entries from Kathy Thiel and Morlock.
(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Editor Mike Sasser at 857-1959 or Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to email@example.com.)