Michelle Stelmach, a local resident of Morden, recently completed the 780 km Camino de Santiago trek in Spain, also known as the Way of Saint James.
Many people consider it to be a spiritual journey, which ends at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The remains of St James are said to be buried within the Cathedral.
Stelmach walked from Sep. 19 to Oct. 15. She had been wanting to walk this route for almost 12 years. While there are many ways to complete the trek, Stelmach chose the French Way.
"I don't know if any one of them is more important or more historical than the others... people do it for many reasons," said Stelmach.
"When you arrive at the starting place, for me it was St Jean Pied de Port is the name of the town, there's a pilgrim office where you go to and you give your reasons for... doing the walk, and so it could be spiritual, or religious, or cultural historical."
Stelmach notes she was intrigued by the longer route, even though she did not have extensive hiking experience.
"This is all quite new, especially the backpacking and staying in hostels or things like that, so that was really new and very interesting," she said.
She also thought it unique to see people from across the world hiking on the same path.
"Just seeing the world, kind of global view of everyone that's on this walk, doing it for different reasons, and we can share our woes together and our joys together," she said.
"You get to know people for a short time, sometimes very short," she explained. "You might never see someone again, but then there was some people that you kind of kept on bumping into."
Stelmach said the route she chose was physically challenging.
"I think the main thing is... if you get blisters, to care for them," she said. "Most mornings I would have about a 15 minute ritual of wrapping up toes."
The path she took involved uphill and downhill treks, making it different from Manitoba prairies.
"You had to be pretty careful," sail Stelmach, noting that they were fairly far away from any hospitals.
Stelmach walked for 26 days, and averaged about 26 kilometers per day. She said it took about 2 weeks for her body to adjust to the daily hikes.
"You learn that you can survive a difficult challenge," she said, reflecting back on the journey. "It's such a great opportunity to have time for yourself to... do some contemplation and see the world."
Although Stelmach had a lot of time to think, she said it was important to stay present.
"I would try to tell myself to really concentrate on the here and now because you're only in that spot for a short time," she said.
Back at home, Stelmach said she enjoys the comfort of knowing her surroundings.
"Here I can drive the roads, I can do whatever and I know exactly what I'm doing," she explained. "Out there.. it's always the unknown because you're not sure where you're going to stay for the night, you're not sure if your feet will make it."
Stelmach adds the scenery and culture were highlights that stood out in her mind.
"Northern Spain was very beautiful," she said.
Stelmach also recommends walking the longer route to see the changing landscape, although she said it's important to keep your body's limit in mind.
"People do... many shorter versions and you do what you can just to even get a feel for it, and that's great too," she said.