Last week, Paul Haines, 62, the City of Sequim’s Public Works director, announced he is moving on this November after four-plus years in town.
The news comes after Haines took a three-month leave of absence to walk 500 miles along El Camino de Santiago or The Way of St. James across northern Spain.
He and his wife Karen allowed for 50 days to walk their journey, which they started on April 13 in St. Jean Pied du Port, France, arriving in Santiago, Spain, on May 30. They arrived back in Seattle on June 19 after stops in Portugal, Ireland, Belgium and Iceland. Three of these stops included walking on the extended pilgrimage trail system of the Camino.
“Our itinerary was to do something epic as a couple,” Haines said. “The walk can be thousands of miles long with different trails throughout Europe that all lead to Santiago. We ended up walking the Camino for 42 days with several days off for rest. We would be considered slow.”
The Haineses found the journey to be quite epic encountering numerous fascinating, inspiring and friendly people on their pilgrimage. This is not to mention Middle Ages structures still in use, small village churches that feel like cathedrals and many world-class museums built into the mountains and mesetas of northern Spain.
They made plenty of new friends from as close as Victoria and to as far away as New Zealand.
Prior to coming to Sequim, the couple worked at Holden Village, 50 miles up lake from the city of Chelan, managing the retreat center for 3 1/2 years. They even ran into one of their village staff, a medic, walking the Camino on her way home from volunteering in Zambia.
For the pilgrimage, the couple walked village to village and stayed in albergues, which Haines said are like a hostel but you sleep with 100 of your best friends.
“Most nights I ended up on the top bunk. It isn’t as much fun as you remember it being when you were 7 years old,” he joked.
“After a few weeks of bunk beds, we missed a few things like sheets and a comfortable bed. Both make a big difference to help with soothing the aches and pains of the daily walk. By the end we were consistently looking for affordable hotels with private bathrooms.”
Some days, they walked upwards of 25 kilometers (about 15 miles) between lodging with as much as 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) between villages.
“It was harder than I expected,” Haines said. “It’s not an aerobic-type effort. It’s more of an endurance event. Your body is just walking for 500 miles. We’d walk six-ish hours a day, maybe more on some days.
Bars and cafes became your best friends. It’s where all the bathrooms were. For 800 kilometers there were no public bathrooms.”
Haines said the last 100 kilometers were different than the first 700 in many ways architecturally, topographically and in terms of the trail condition.
“The most astonishing difference though, is the number of pilgrims. Hundreds, possibly thousands of pilgrims begin their pilgrimage on this last leg,” he said. “The energy of the new hikers on the trail celebrating with their clean new boots, initially startles you. Once you accept this change and do away with the expectation of solitude after a month of walking, you begin to understand the Camino again.
At one point we had to stop because there was a conga line going. People on their first day were experiencing what we experienced 700 kilometers ago without the Pyrenees in front of them. It showed how important it is for any kind of community to infuse new life because it lifts everyone’s spirit. If you just hang in there with the same people all the time, eventually the community dies. This infusion of new life became a joy to be around. After enough days out there, there is monotony.
“The routine is you get to where you are going to stay, quickly wash your clothes in the sink or shower and hope it’s warm enough to dry them for the next day. Our routine was get up, walk, look for a place to spend the night, shower and wash clothes, hang to dry, eat and fall asleep. In between these routine items was the meeting of many people and having incredible conversations. There were a few blisters and a kidney stone to deal with also.”
“On April 13 we started walking from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, a small village at foot of the Pyrenees. The challenge is to climb 5,000 feet and down 900 feet to the traditional first night. We took a longer alternate route that climbed about 4,500 feet to have an option to spend the night half way. We happily took advantage of the option. It was just humbling in deep ways to meet people from all over the world who were helping other people attempt or complete their pilgrimage. Everyone is on equal footing on this journey. It involves putting one foot in front of the other day after day.
Fairly early in our trek, we saw a young, humble, charming Frenchman, someone you’d love to spend time with, assisting a couple of other men on their pilgrimage.
One was completely blind and the other had advanced Parkinson’s. This trio was methodically walking the Camino resting frequently. The Frenchman would have a hiking stick tucked under his arm for the blind man to hold on to. The fellow who had Parkinson’s kept this momentum by shuffling along. It’s a reminder of how powerful of a journey this is for a lot of folks whether for personal spiritual needs or other personal missions to just help people who need help. It can bring tears to your eyes.”
“Later in the trip I became quite the paparazzi for a couple of nuns dressed in civilian clothing. The first time we came across them was at a location with rugged footing and a steep grade. They were both 70-plus in age; a gray-haired woman and a dark-haired woman. The gray-haired nun was completely blind and carried her backpack in a cart. She kept her arm tucked into her partner’s arm. Karen and I passed them (the first of a half dozen times) and beat them to the top of the grade. I told Karen that I would go back and offer my help with their packs. I was almost scolded by the dark-haired nun.
‘No, we’re fine,’ she told me in broken but very clear English.
Each time we passed them over the next couple weeks, they were never as tired or exhausted as we were. I was convinced we were witnessing a miracle of some sort. We would arrive in small and large villages and there they were. We would find a café on a side street and who would come in and sit at the same community table, the nuns. We would wander the streets and alleys of a big city to enjoy the sites as well as to locate a place to eat and use restrooms, and here they come out of the cafe telling us they have great coffee. It was just miraculous meeting these two. The last sighting was on a long uphill grade where Karen and I stopped to adjust our shoes when out of nowhere they fly by in a cloud of hiking dust as if they are late for Mass. I cherish my collection of nun photos.
“Later in our journey, talking to someone who had a chance to spend some time with them said part of their story was that the grey-haired blind nun was worried about her dark-haired friend. She was worried she may get lost as she has early stages of Alzheimer’s. These two women were caring for each other. The blind woman was making sure the woman with Alzheimer’s was not going to get lost and the sighted woman was making sure the blind woman was making this journey safely.
You realize the aches and pains we experienced seemed minor compared to what others were challenged with. Most certainly this was another of the many humbling moments we experienced.
As a trip, it’s hard to put in words how much it truly affects you because I don’t know if I can describe what you experience on a pilgrimage; but I do know, you know it when you feel it.”
Everyone has a story and now they have a place to tell it. Verbatim is a first-person column that introduces you to your neighbors as they relate in their own words some of the difficult, humorous, moving or just plain fun moments in their lives. It’s all part of the Gazette’s commitment as your community newspaper. If you have a story for Verbatim, contact editor Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.