26-day trek across Spain fulfills dream
July 30, 2013
A Fort Carson, Colo., contracting specialist fulfilled a desire to complete the 800-kilometer Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across Spain.
Also known as the Way of St. James pilgrimage, Stella Juarez said she received much more of a reward than she could have imagined while accomplishing that goal in April and May.
The Mission and Installation Contracting Command member traveled to France in late April to begin the journey she said proved to be a life-changing and amazing experience. Juarez said in many ways she didn't really know what to expect, but she knew the trek would be physically challenging. What she quickly learned is that the low expectations of what she could do was far off from what she actually accomplished.
The journey usually takes 35 days when people walk at a regular pace. The problem for Juarez was she had to do it in only 28 days.
"I ended up doing the walk in 26 days. I had a friend who walked with me, but at times we walked alone because you needed that solitary time," Juarez said.
"This journey is really not something that is designed for people to do together. It's not a race, and people start and stop wherever they want to," she said. "People decide when they need a break, when they want to stay in an area longer; so you end up separating a lot from people as you're walking. I ended up walking alone a lot more than I anticipated, but also I found that I wanted to walk alone."
Juarez said she benefited from training at altitude in Colorado.
"I heard there were a lot of hills on this journey, and my road work gave me a great advantage. The mountains are not like they are (in Colorado), but there were a lot of mountainous areas, and (it) seemed like every day the town I stopped in was on a hill," she said.
Juarez woke up on the 26th day of her journey knowing it would be the last leg and that she would be at the finish line by early afternoon. While that may have been enough for most people to feel overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment, it would prove to be the lesser of the good things that would happen to her. After completing the journey, Juarez was soaking in the accomplishments of having walked the route in 26 days.
"When I heard the songs that were playing in the village, I remembered thinking how incredible I felt, and I remember feeling as though my son was there with me. I was standing there and someone tapped me on the back, and when I turned around, it was my nephew. I was so shocked that it seemed like, for two minutes, I just kept saying what are you doing here? I couldn't talk and I tried to pinch myself to see if it was real, but I couldn't. We hugged and cried and then he told me my father, who I am very close to, and two other nephews were there.
"My father, who rarely cries, and I embraced," she said. "We were standing there shaking. We were crying so hard because I just felt how proud he was of me."