The Way of St. James – Best Times

The Way of St. James – Best Times


Hello, I’m Cris Hardaway. Welcome to this edition
of The Best Times, a series that looks
at life after 50. Retirement means different
things to different people. For some, it may be playing 18
holes of golf in the morning, and then 18 more
in the afternoon. It may be tilling the
soil in your garden, or finally having the
time to read the books you’ve always wanted to read. And for some, retirement
means travel and adventure. Dr. Bryan Simmons
and his wife Barbara were looking for a
retirement challenge. They found inspiration
for that challenge in a 2011 film entitled The Way. It’s the story of a
grieving father’s trek along the Camino de
Santiago in northern Spain, a pilgrimage to honor the
memory of his dead son, and a journey to find
meaning in his own life. With this inspiration,
Barbara and Bryan Simmons set out on a nearly
500-mile pilgrimage along the way of St. James. (peaceful acoustic music) The Camino de Santiago
de Compostela, or the way of St. James
is one of the three great Christian pilgrimages
of the middle ages. The other two are to
Rome and Jerusalem. Pilgrims followed many
routes from all over Europe, and converged on
the town of Galisia and the cathedral de Santiago, which contains the
shrine of St. James, one of the 12 apostles. Christians in the middle
ages made this pilgrimage to atone for and reduce the
punishment for their sins. Some still make the
journey for atonement and spiritual growth, but
the reasons for traveling the Camino are as numerous
as the 200,000 people a year that make the journey. Barbara and Bryan’s
journey began on the French side
of the Pyrenees in a town called St.
Jean Pied de Port, and traveled nearly 500
miles through northern Spain ending at the
shrine of St. James. Before we get actually
in to the journey, and talking about the stories,
I have to ask the question, why, why did you decide
to make this trek? – Well, Bryan had decided
to retire in September of this past year, 2015,
and he said, y’know, I’d like to have a goal. Y’know, to quit work after
30 years of private practice, and let’s have a goal,
but I’ve sort of misspoke, this was over two
years ago, he said, when I do retire in
September of 2015, let’s do the Camino, he
always wanted to do that, and I can have him explain why. – Yeah why, when did you
hear about the Camino? – Oh, probably three
or four years ago, when we saw the movie The Way, and we wanted a
physical challenge, a challenge in terms of
keeping ourselves busy, having a goal, not just
falling into retirement and not, y’know, doing anything
but look at the internet, so we did set that goal, and
when I mentioned it to Barbara who had no physical experience. – [Barbara] No. – She never was on a team
or sport or anything. She liked the idea
and went into training and got herself ready. – Well, let’s talk about that,
because I’m gonna have to tell our viewers that you
have two artificial knees. – Yes, it’ll be ten years in
July that I had them replaced. – Well, let’s talk about
that physical preparation. What did you go through
to prepare yourself for this nearly 500-mile walks? – Well, he’s quite a
great trainer there. We decided to start walking,
we live in Harbortown, so we would walk
along the river walk, which is, in Harbortown,
about two miles, and then we decided, well,
we better try a little hill, so we started at the
Auction Street bridge. – That’s a good hill,
that’s a good hill. – And, he would go
right up the bridge, and I would be like ooh, I
don’t know if I can make it, so we started out that
way and then we thought, well, this isn’t gonna
work going back and forth across the Auction Street
bridge eight times, so we ended up finally
walking to miles to the Y from our house, and then
walking on elevated treadmills for an hour on number
five, whatever that is. – [Bryan] Five
degrees of elevation. – Five degrees of elevation. And then, we would walk
back the two miles, so it was five miles. – That was a total
of seven miles, three miles on the treadmill, and then four miles on
the round trip walking, and we did that repetitively. It was then, and
another experience, when we actually walked
out to Wolf Chase Mall that we discovered that
I was blister prone, and that was
important to discover, because so many people on
the Camino had blisters, and some of them actually failed as a result of blisters. Y’know, they can
be very painful, and I found out, and actually
went to a podiatrist, who helped me find a pair of
shoes that were blister free. – Well, you have to realize,
by the time he found out he had trouble with his feet, we had been training
for over a year. It wasn’t until doing
these seven miles back and forth to the Y, we said, well, we
better do a longer walk, because we knew the Camino,
there were several days that we’d have to walk
20 miles in one day, and we thought, oh, so we
figured out going out East to – [Bryan] Embassy Suites. – Yeah, Embassy Suites or
Ridgeway was 13 miles each way, so we thought, well,
we’ll walk out 13 miles, stay overnight at the hotel, and then walk back
home the 13 miles, and that’s when he discovered,
after the 26 miles. – Well, it’s good you
did that training. – [Bryan] Absolutely. – And yeah, he had problems. – Y’know, five mile
training doesn’t get you ready for the Camino. – No, not at all. – It was so important
that I discovered that I was blister prone, because I was able
to take care of it before it became critical
to finishing the Camino. – Now, before your journey,
did you have any expectations? – I don’t know, I was
very apprehensive. It was quite a challenge,
and I thought, boy, I don’t know if I’m gonna do
this, and I thought, well, I’ll just take it one day at
a time, one step at a time. If I had realized, though,
all the hills involved, all the up and down severe
hills we had to climb, I don’t know, I know I
can do them now, but. – [Cris] Let’s talk
about the route. – [Barbara] Okay. – [Cris] Tell me where you
started, cos you started on the French side of
the Pyrenees, correct? – [Bryan] Right. – [Barbara] Mmhmm. – [Bryan] St. Jean Pied
de Port, St. J-E-A-N, and that’s where I think
most pilgrims, well, most pilgrims that’re
gonna do the Francais, the Camino Francais
start right there, and so, on the first day, you
go right across the border, so it’s a very small
amount of time in France, but also by the time
you get into Spain, you’ve climbed like
3,000, 4,000 feet. – [Barbara] Exactly. – It was a real challenge. The Pyrenees are a
true mountain range, and it really tested us. For the first day, Barbara
was lingering behind. She barely could keep up,
and I started to worry, but dag gummit, she
wouldn’t give up. Y’know, I even asked her one day in the first three or four days, Barbara, do you want
me to call a taxi? And, she said never. – What kept you going? – I thought, well, this
wasn’t supposed to be a pleasure trip, and I was
doing it for religious reasons, and to get in better shape, and I thought, no, I’ve made
this decision, this commitment, and I’m going to do it, and
as long as I don’t get ill, or get an infection in one
of my feet or something, I’ll be fine, I can
put up with discomfort, and it’ll get
better, and it did. – By the end, she was climbing
hills with the best of people and she did it with out
even taking a break, y’know? Before, it’d be like
100 yards or 100 meters, and then take a break. She just got so she’d scoot up the hills with the youngsters. – Well, we were always like
the tortoise and the hare. He was the hare, so
he’d get a little rest, y’know, at the top of the hill, and then I would be the
tortoise and everything, but I’d always make it. And then we found out, gee, even though Barb’s
a little bit slower, I ended up being, y’know, I
was pretty fast by the end. Even people that
would just zoom by us, I mean, they’d stop for
longer periods of time. They’d stop and have an
hour lunch or something. We just kept going. – [Cris] Now, the route,
of course it goes through mountainous areas
like the Pyrenees. – [Barbara] Mmhmm. – But, it’s quite
varied, isn’t it? You’ve got trails that’re
going through pastures, and then you’re
walking alongside busy highways, correct? – [Barbara] Exactly, exactly. – [Cris] And, meeting,
I would imagine meeting hundreds, maybe thousands
of other similar pilgrims taking the journey. – Yeah, we did, and
we met many people from all over the world, and
it was a very nice experience because sort of thrown in
together with the same goal, and they’re all trying
to help each other. There were Australians,
New Zealanders, French, Spanish, and
just some Americans, but America was clearly
underrepresented on the Camino. – The people were very nice, no matter what country
they were from, and when we were
first starting out, we didn’t take any
hiking poles with us. We decided against them
for certain reasons, and people would walk
by me and they would go, oh dear, you don’t
have hiking poles and you have to go
down this big hill, and I said, no that’s alright,
I’ve decided not to use them and everything, but
they would’ve given me one of their poles to use,
or, oh, are your feet sore? I mean, they were very helpful, cos we were all
in the same boat. I mean, some of them are
very experienced hikers, but I guess I know
of just one person that didn’t have
any difficulties, one person that we made
friends with in the 35 days. Even experienced hikers,
they ran into situations, blisters on feet or
feet going into spasms. – Now, neither one of you
speaks Spanish, right? – [Barbara] No. – [Bryan] No. – Did you have any
trouble not being able to speak the native language? – Very little, we
could generally point, say a few key words,
y’know, like menu. – Coffee con leche,
coffee with milk, yeah. – Beer got to be
a favorite phrase. – Or just beer and point. – In fact, we learned
to love lemon beer, and we would be able
to go to the bartender and say lemon beer. The people from Spain
are just wonderful. – [Barbara] Oh, they
are, they’re fabulous. – That was one of the
delights of the trip was that even though we
couldn’t understand each other, they cared so much and
no one turned their back and walked away and said,
y’know, I can’t understand you. They were there until
they figured it out, and, when they knew what you
wanted, they helped you get it. – In fact, there
was a young lady, we were walking into the
large town of Burgos, which has over 700,000
population, and it was ugly. We were walking through
these desolate, y’know, industrial suburbs and
buildings that’ve closed down, and we’re walking and walking,
well it was a very long day, and we thought,
where is our hotel? And, we’re trying
to look at the map and can’t figured it out, and
we’ve walked so many miles into town, and this young
lady came over to us, oh, is there a problem? And, would you believe,
she took us to the local tourist agency and
asked them, y’know? She took us right to our hotel. I mean, she just
did it to be nice. – Went out of her way. – Y’know, it’s a perfect
example of how welcoming they are to the pilgrims. – What do you feel
like was your most rewarding experience
on the trek? – My most rewarding experience
was when we got to Santiago, and we went to mass,
it was in Spanish, so we couldn’t
understand it, but they. – Santiago, by the way,
is the end of the journey. I wanna make that clear, yes. – [Bryan] Yeah, the
end of the journey. – [Barbara] Yeah, Santiago. – So, we were finished,
but we hadn’t gone to the pilgrims mass yet, and
they have one everyday at around noon, and they
had an incense container, what do you call it? – [Barbara] Boda fumera. – And, in the movie, The Way, they show that where it
just rocks back and forth, and they did that, and it
was so emotional for me to see that, because it
meant I had finished, and, y’know, this was it. This was sort of the indication
that I had done well. The incense container
apparently came from, the history was the
pilgrims were so stinky when they came in. – [Barbara] That’s right. – That they used the incense to. – [Barbara] Fumigate. – Fumigate. – And, the incense
container, it’s huge, it’s like it’s massive. It takes eight men
pulling it with ropes. – [Cris] What was your
most rewarding experience? – Walking into Santiago
and standing at the stone there that says you have
completed the Camino. It’s like, gosh, I did it, and we didn’t have to slow down. We knew of a few people who
had to even change there, those who had their
reservations like we did, had to change their schedule
because they had injuries, or they were exhausted
and they had to slow down, but we stayed to our schedule, and we had some very
long days, over 20 miles, about four of those. On an average, we walked
about 14 miles a day, 35 days, and I just felt such a
feeling of accomplishment. – [Cris] Was there a
point where you thought, I don’t know if I can make
this, maybe we should quit. – There were several. I mean, when you’re
going, it’s almost like having a good angel
on one shoulder, and a bad one on the other,
and the bad angel is saying it’s raining, it’s
below 50 degrees, you’re freezing,
you’re miserable. You’re going up a
hill, it’s full of mud. THere’s a torrent
of water coming down the middle of the trail,
and what are you doing? And, the other one
saying you can do it. You can make it, and she
was part of the good angel. She actually refused to give
in to any very uncomfortable periods that we had,
when things were cold, and you were just starting out. I mean, you might have
ten more miles to go, and you were already miserable, but we just clamped
down and did it. – [Barbara] Yeah. – Tell me about the cross,
the story about the cross. – Oh, the Cruz de Ferro, well,
that was the miserable day. That was the day
he’s talking about when he got so cold, and it
was a long trek that day. It was raining, not
torrential rain, but just, we were climbing
up to over 4,000 feet, you have to realize, and this constant rain,
and our rain jackets, yes, kept the water off
at first, but then you’re expending
so many calories that you’re actually sweating
inside the rain jacket, so you’re soaked inside
and you’re soaked outside, and you’re trying to
be pleasant in that. It was a very difficult day, and getting to that
cross to see, wow, I thought, Barb, look at
all those little pebbles and little tiny little gifts
that were below the cross. People for all these years,
hundreds of thousands of people have left these little
pebbles or stones from their homeland,
or from St. Jean, and I thought, well, if they
could do it, you can do it, and today was very difficult,
but you can complete this. – So, it was sort of a
moment of renewal for you. – [Barbara] It was
encouragement, it was, it was absolutely. – At the Cruz de Ferro,
that is the goal. You’re supposed to, once
again, say what is your reason for doing this to yourself? And then, to redouble your
efforts to get it done. If it’s spiritual, then you
get into the spiritual aspect, and you pray and so
on, which we did, cos ours was very much
a spiritual reason. – [Barbara] Yes it was. – Let’s talk about that,
because, since the middle ages, of course, this has
been a pilgrimage that has a spiritual purpose. You say there was a
spiritual component, talk to me about that. – I did it for certain prayers
about my family and that I’d like to keep private,
but it was spiritual to show, I don’t know,
re-commitment with god, re-commitment with,
actually, our marriage. We found out we
loved being together. Even though, the days, some
of them were pretty torturous. – [Bryan] Yeah. – And, I carried my
mother’s rosaries with me the whole time on my belt, and
when I would get frustrated, which I hid from him, there
were two or three times that I just broke down
in tears and thought, oh, I don’t know if I
can make that other hill, boy, look at that big rocky
hill, and, oh, I’m so tired, and I put my hand on
my mom’s rosaries, and my mother never gave up
when she made a commitment. She always followed through,
and that kept me going. – And for you. – Pretty much spiritual,
but there was also physical, I can do this, y’know? I’m not gonna give up. – [Barbara] Yeah, yeah. – I could’ve gotten rid of
my backpack, but I refused. – [Barbara] Yeah, he carried
the pack the whole time. – I wanted to sort of do
it all the way to the end, and the spiritual, we
went to mass a few times along the way. We certainly went into a
number of gorgeous churches, including the one at Burgos, which was one of
the most beautiful. – [Barbara] Oh,
that was fabulous. – [Bryan] Cathedrals
I have ever seen. And, that was awful
inspiring as we went along, cos we had a day off in Burgos, and we could really
spend some time looking at the cathedral. It was very
spiritually rewarding. – You know, I’ve heard
the walking the Camino being described as a
life changing event, and I’m curious to know
what you may have learned. What did you learn
on this experience? – As Barbara said, one
of the things we learned was we were able to get along even under the worst
of circumstances. It’s wet, it’s cold. You’re spending hours
together in such pain that you can hardly walk, and yet you’re helping
each other out, helping each other over rocks, pointing out, y’know, holes
in the sidewalk and so on. Don’t trip. It was very nice
for our marriage. It was very rewarding
in that aspect. How bout you? – Well, the rewards were just,
I really can’t name them all. It was a life-changing
experience for me. I will keep up the exercise. I can now walk up the
Auction Street bridge. It’s a piece of cake. I mean, there’s not
much to that now, that little hill. But no, I learned a lot of
patience and compassion, too, because you’re seeing
people, a lot of them, under the worst circumstances. They’re tired, or
they’re in pain. In fact, that reminds
me of one lady that we met from Australia. Bryan made the comment,
he goes, oh, that woman, she won’t even smile, she
won’t even say hello to anyone, you know, she was staying at
the same bed and breakfast and that that we were
a lot of the times. And, we’d say, oh, good
morning, y’know, at breakfast. She wouldn’t say a word,
she just sat there, and would sit by herself
and eat her food. We found out afterwards,
she was a charming woman, but, the first couple of
weeks, she was in so much pain with her feet that she
couldn’t even talk to people. She finally got some
help, I don’t know where, maybe from a foot doctor
or something in Spain, but she ended up one of
the friends that we made on the Camino, and
it taught me, too, don’t judge people
because we thought, boy, you know, she’s sort
of a nasty person, but she was charming, but she
had a tough time at first. – Both of you were on the
same journey in a way, weren’t you? – [Bryan] Yeah. – Yeah. – And aren’t we all? Speaking of journeys, do
you have plans to go back? Do you have further plans
for your next adventure? – Well, some people
have asked us, would we do it over again? And, if, knowing what I know
now, I would over it again, but won’t repeat it. In other words, there’s
no plans to go back and do it a second time, but it was so rewarding
that I would clearly commit once again
from the beginning. We’re talking about,
thinking about hiking across Scotland,
the Scottish highlands. The same company that
set up our trip this time to the Camino has a hiking trip across the Scottish highlands. It sounds wonderful. Camping, huts along the way,
beautiful mountains and lakes in Scotland. – Well, go do that and then
we’ll have you back on. – [Barbara] Oh, okay. – [Bryan] Yeah. – So, thanks very much for
being on The Best Times. – Oh, thank you. – Thank you. (peaceful acoustic music) – Want more information
about Life After 50? Go online to watch more shows
and find more resources, and send us your
feedback and story ideas to [email protected] That’s all for this
edition of The Best Times. Please join us next
week for more stories about Life After 50. Until then I’m Cris Hardaway. Thanks for watching, goodnight.

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