Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Lona O'Connor
As he drank his coffee every morning in October, John Boden could track his wife, Pat, as she made steady progress across the back roads of northern Spain. She was wearing a GPS device that posted her whereabouts on a computer tracking map.
She was roughly 2,000 miles east of their Highland Beach condominium on the Atlantic Ocean, heading to a place on the northwestern coast of Spain: “Finisterre,” the end of the Earth.
Pat Boden, 73, and five companions walked 490 miles in 34 days on the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James.
“I still can’t believe I did it,” she says, looking through a pile of guidebooks and maps and a photo of her in her floppy blue hat. If John Boden had been able to zoom in close enough, he might have seen that spot of blue bobbing along the Camino.
Pat Boden became fascinated with the Camino after watching The Way, a movie starring Martin Sheen as a grieving father who walks the Camino after the death of his son. She watched it again, and then a third time. She got busy researching the trip.
The Bodens have been all over the world, to Egypt and Turkey, to China and even Spain on a previous trip. But John Boden decided that walking 490 miles was not to his taste.
Through a travel service, Patricia Boden joined a group of five strangers with the same fascination and started her training. To allay her husband’s worries, she wore the GPS device. She also texted him daily.
After Jesus’ resurrection, believers say, he instructed his disciples to preach the gospel to the ends of the Earth. That’s where St. James (Santiago in Spanish) ended up, at Finisterre, the end of the known world at that time.
Remains thought to be those of St. James were discovered there in the 11th century and the church of Santiago de Compostela was built, 30 miles inland from the Atlantic. Trodden by peregrinos (pilgrims) for a thousand years, the Way of St. James, like the roads to Rome and Jerusalem, became one of the most holy pilgrimages for Roman Catholics.
Pat Boden had no way to prepare for walking in mountains as high as 5,000 feet, sometimes steeply up, other times down. The highest local elevation she had was the Linton Avenue bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway near her home.
“I trained during the summer in the wicked heat, walking the sidewalks of Highland Beach, Boca and Delray Beach,” she said.
“My husband didn’t take me seriously until I bought the plane ticket.”
The Camino trip was broken down into daily sections of 10 to 15 miles a day, ending in a private room in an inn each night. The pilgrims’ luggage preceded them in a van, so they carried only what they needed for the day. Some days they ate meals or snacks on the road, some days the tour company cooked hot lunches for them on propane stoves.
“To me, at this stage of life, it was perfect,” said Boden. “In the old days, the pilgrims had to walk home, so it was double the distance. A lot of them died.”
Making friends of strangers
One man in Boden’s group walked so fast — 3.72 miles an hour —that he was already showered and waiting to greet the rest when they arrived at their inn each day.
“We just bonded so well, we laughed so much,” Boden said. “The people really made it for me.”
Though she had not embarked on the Camino for religious reasons, she had her share of transcendent experiences.
“We came to that great big hill with the big tall cross on it. It’s the highest place on the trip,” she recalled. “You bring a rock with you from home and you are supposed to leave your problems and cares, and pray for anyone who’s sick.
“I didn’t think I was doing the walk for any [spiritual] reason, but a lot of friends had said, don’t forget me when you’re there. And I was giving thanks for my friend Brenda, who had a cancer on her spine that just went away two years ago. The doctors couldn’t see it anymore. I put down my rock and I just started crying.”
As the pilgrims came within 62 miles of Santiago de Compostela, streams of others were converging on the same road. There are several routes, including walks from Portugal and France, and some pilgrims walk only the last 62 miles, so the small trickle of walkers became a steady stream as they closed in on their destination.
“When the five of us got to Santiago, we all started crying,” said Boden. “Part of it was just, we made it. Part of it was seeing all those peregrinos together.”
Boden avoided foot blisters by wearing toe socks under regular socks. One companion had blisters covering the soles of both feet, which had to be drained and bandaged. She never complained.
“You’d ask her how she was doing and she would say, oh, fine. I said to myself, I’m through complaining.”
By the time they reached the outskirts of Santiago, Boden had developed painful shin splints.
“I was near tears. The others said, you don’t have to walk the rest of the way. But I said, I don’t care if I have to crawl on my knees.”
And she didn’t complain.
She also decided to go back to church. As it happens, she lives within walking distance of St. Lucy Catholic Church in Highland Beach.
“Every Sunday, I could make up a reason not to go,” she said. “But for some reason, God put me across from that church, so now I go every Sunday.”
Boden is already planning to walk the Way again, this time north from Lisbon, Portugal. Her sister, as well as the woman with the blisters, are planning to join her.
“When you’re there, you don’t have any worries in the world,” said Boden. “We didn’t have to worry about anything. It’s just you yourself, nature and your friends.”
Lona O’Connor has a lifelong interest in health and healthy living. Send column ideas to Lona13@bellsouth.net.