Introspection on the outback

Mary O’Neill is taking a hike, and a pretty long one at that.

She and her mother are taking three weeks to hike across Spain. It’s a pilgrimage known as El Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James.

This will be O’Neill’s first time doing the trek, but her mother has done it the past two years. Both times O’Neill wanted to go, but it conflicted with her exams at St. Thomas. When her mother would come back from the trip, O’Neill could see a change. That was one of the reasons that spurred her to go.

“Seeing the difference in a person when they come back from walking for three weeks straight [was amazing],” said O’Neill. “I saw my mom, and she was tense and going through certain things internally and when she came back it was almost like as if all this weight was off her shoulders.”

This year O’Neill decided to take the semester off from her communications major so she would be able to go. For training, O’Neill and her mother started off walking three kilometres a day. From there, they upped their distance every day. They did so until O’Neill suffered a setback.

“I think what happened to my foot is that I over trained it, like I kept walking on it without stretching it too much,” said O’Neill. “Stretching is very important.”

O’Neill has been wearing a special boot to make sure she doesn’t aggravate it. The doctor said her foot would be good for the hike, but she is going to wear a splint and tape up her foot to make sure nothing happens.

They will be walking a minimum of 25 kilometres a day through different types of terrain. They start the journey off with a two day hike through the Pyrenees mountain range and then it’s pretty flat from there. They have to make sure they keep up their pace. There are hostel-like places along the way called Albergues set up for those making the journey.

“So, you kind of have to keep up your pace throughout the day so you can get to the hostel, because they’re quite spaced out so you want to get there before there’s no space left in them,” said O’Neill.

There are more risks that comes with the trip. The weather is unpredictable. And not many, but some, have lost their life on El Camino de Santiago due to weather. Still, O’Neill is looking forward to the new experience.

“I’m excited to get some culture, and kind of rough it for a little while, in the mildest sense of the term,” said O’Neill. “It will be challenging, and I’m sure that I’m almost underprepared for it.”

The pair starts their three-week journey April 8.

When the journey is done, O’Neill hopes she will have a similar experience to what her mother had.

“Clarity. That’s what I’m expecting of it,” said O’Neill. “But I really don’t know what I’m going to get out of it. It could just be a lot of back pain.”

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