Two backpacking boomers, just 41 years late

We love this story. It’s about a boomer couple that didn’t get to go on a great adventure when they were younger, but they never lost the urge. Now, more than 40 years later, they have the time to act on it. The story’s from Terry Hurley in San Francisco.

My wife and I never got a chance to backpack across Europe after college, but I retired a year ago and we were looking for an adventure, something we’d never done before but now had the time. After all, isn’t that what retirement is supposed to be? Try new things, create interesting experiences, get out of your comfort zone.

So we bought our first-ever backpacks and good walking shoes and took off for Spain. 41 years had passed, but we made up for it by walking in the footsteps of pilgrims.

The Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.

Literally. We walked the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James), a centuries-old 500-mile pilgrimage across northern Spain. It took 30 days. The Camino is probably one of the most famous pilgrimages in the world and has become more popular among Americans thanks to the 2010 movie, “The Way.” In the story, Martin Sheen walks Camino de Santiago carrying his son’s ashes.

Five-hundred miles is a long walk, so we traveled light: a change of clothes, toiletries, and a few other basics (backpacks still weighed about 13 pounds each). We stayed at albergues, which translates to “shelters” (and realistically they are hostels, not hotels), sharing bathrooms, sleeping quarters, and meals with fellow pilgrims. Communal living at its finest.

Communal dining along the way.

Our daily routine seldom varied: wake up, quickly and quietly get dressed, and hit the road at dawn. We’d stop for breakfast after an hour or two: “Dos cafe con leches y tortilla de patatas por favor” which got us two coffees with milk and cubed potatoes in tortillas. Then we’d walk until lunch. After lunch, we’d continue until we found an albergue with available beds, then we’d shower, hand-wash our clothes for the next day, share simple meals and conversation with fellow pilgrims, go to bed by 9 o’clock, and start over again in the morning.

We walked about 17 miles a day on dirt and gravel paths, stoney and paved roads, and cobblestone streets. We walked through farmland, pastures, wheat fields, vineyards, small medieval towns and big cities. We walked in rain, mud, fog, dark, and heat. We shared paths with sheep, goats, cows, donkeys, horses, and pigs.

We crossed the Pyrenees, climbed up and down mountains, and visited dozens of centuries-old churches and magnificent gothic-style cathedrals in Burgos, Leon, and Santiago. We walked alone (I found out things about my wife that I never knew) and sometimes with others. Some walked for religious reasons, some for the adventure or challenge. We made friends with young, middle-age, and seniors like us from North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Virtually every continent!

Terry Hurley

And it was all glorious. We required only a few possessions, lived frugally, and unplugged from the bustle of modern-day life. Our daily goal was simple: get to our next destination no matter the obstacles of weather, terrain, fatigue, or injury, while marveling at the magnificent landscape and rich history surrounding us.

Our European backpacking trip came late in life but it would have been hard to top it 41 years ago. We discovered that it’s never too late for a new adventure.

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6 Comments

  1. Lovely write-up. I walked a portion of The Camino (from Leon to Santiago — halfway across Spain) and wished I’d had the time and opportunity to start at the Pyrenees as you did. Regardless, it was a wonderful experience. After reading your article, I want to go again! Until that happens, I’m having lots of fun on hikes around the Pacific Northwest. Thanks for sharing your adventure.

  2. Like you, I just completed (at 72 years old) my first full Camino Frances on November 4, 2017. I share your experiences and emotions at achieving a major undertaking requiring endurance, sacrifice and dedication.

  3. Thank you for telling this story. I, too, walked the Camino at age 60. It was so so so much more meaningful at that age than it would have been any earlier in life. This age is really special!

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