Alternative Ways to Walk The Camino

A pilgrim walks The Camino near the town of Burgos, Spain. (CNS photo/Felix Ordonez, Reuters)
A pilgrim walks The Camino near the town of Burgos, Spain. (CNS photo/Felix Ordonez, Reuters)

There he was again, up ahead of me on the trail, walking his bicycle, his backpack fastened to its seat. I had seen him a few times over the last week but never once did I see him actually riding that bicycle.

I could no longer stand the mystery. When I caught up to him he smiled and greeted me, as all pilgrims do, with, “Buen Camino.” He spoke no English, but thanks to sign language and the few words of Italian I knew, I managed to ask him if he ever hops on the bicycle himself.

“No,” he said. He gave me an explanation supplemented by pointing to his pack, then putting a hand to his low back and showing me a grimace. Later, a pilgrim who spoke both Italian and English confirmed what I had suspected: this man had wanted to walk the Camino and did not want to use one of the services to carry his pack for him. So he brought a bike with him whose sole purpose was to hold his pack.

He was not the first person I saw who was walking the Camino despite their limitations.

Carlos walked the entire Camino on forearm crutches. The first time I saw him he had someone beside him pulling his wheeled bag. A few hours later I saw a group of men go by with packs on their backs. One of them was also towing that same wheeled bag. I pretended to stop to write, but really I was waiting for this man. I wanted to know his story.

As he approached, I packed up my writing materials. “Buen Camino,” I said as I fell into step with him. Carlos was Spanish-born, but now living in South America. I never asked what ailment he had that made one foot turn out at an awkward angle, but I did ask him if he always found people to pull his pack. “I never ask anyone,” he said. “But maybe I should. If someone offers to pull it, I use both my crutches to walk. But if I have no one to pull it, I can walk with one crutch and pull my bag with the other hand.”

He interrupted our conversation 20 minutes later. “There it is,” he said. Ahead of us stood his pack, along the side of the trail, waiting for him. I offered to haul it for a while and when it was time for me to move on, I rolled it behind me for as long as I could and then left it, as the men had earlier, along the side of the trail.

I kept in e-mail contact with Carlos. He made it to Santiago.

A reader asked recently about resources for people with disabilities who might be interested in walking the Camino. Here are my suggestions:

  • Ask for Advice: there are many forums on the Internet where potential pilgrims can ask questions of returned pilgrims.  Click here for a link to a forum post where questions of handicapped accessibility are discussed.
  • Use Your Resources: There are services along the Camino who will transport packs from one town to the next. Bikes can be rented for those times when walking is too much to handle. Buses and cabs are available to take pilgrims for a portion of The Way.
  • Consider the Alternatives: Alternative routes I mean. A pilgrim can walk, bicycle, or ride an animal the length of the Camino. Perhaps consider one of those options. 
  • Think Abundantly: Whatever you need is somehow provided for you, if you’re open to seeing it. If someone offers to help you say, “Yes.” There are many tales of graciousness given and received along the Camino.

What’s holding you back from doing something you’ve always wanted to do? Is there an alternative way to do it? Seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened up for you.