Just Explore

(Excerpt from my soon-to-be-published book, Just One Step: The Journey to Your Unstoppable You)

Have you ever been lost? Have you ever felt lost? I’m sure that I have at some point in my life (at least metaphorically), but one specific experience on the Camino taught me this powerful lesson about life and choices – Lost Is a Choice! While there are many elements to this life truth, the two most important elements are trust and a surrender to the adventure that life is (and is meant to be). While the entire Camino journey was indeed intended to be an adventure, I learned this lesson about being lost and having a choice on my final day on the Camino. 

That morning I set out from Muxia for Fisterra (the final leg of my Camino journey), which would involve a twenty-mile walk over the course of approximately eight hours. It was a beautiful morning with plenty of sunshine, and I set out heading southwest towards Fisterra. For the first half hour that morning, I was making my way along the Camino trail; however, the trail from Muxia to Fisterra isn’t well marked (apparently, many fewer people walk this way). To put it simply, early that morning I lost the Camino trail, and I walked four and a half hours that day wandering through northern Spain without being on the Camino. I knew the general direction from Muxia to Fisterra (southwest), so I kept walking and trusting. 

My wanderings took me down roads, trails and paths. I walked through small villages and across fields, and I spent much of that morning walking through dense forests. There were roads (dirt roads), but no signs for miles and miles. One interesting element of my walk that morning is that during the entire four and a half hours I saw only one person and not one vehicle. I saw some animals (dogs, cats, chickens, cows and birds), but no people. It was the epitome of being alone and literally lost in the woods, but what I realized then and now is that I was never really lost, and I never felt lost. This was the beginning of the lesson that lost is a choice.

When I was making my way from Muxia to Fisterra, I wasn’t on the Camino and I didn’t know exactly which way I was going, only where I was headed. I had to make many choices that morning, with very little information to make those choices. While I had a pretty good idea of which direction was southwest, my choices at road and trail intersections or splits were often unclear in terms of direction, and there were no signs to guide me. I had to make choices based upon instincts and guesses, and I kept walking. In case you’re wondering, I had GPS on my phone, but I was not about to use it – that was not the point of this adventure.

At some point, I realized that I had to get off of the roads because, while they might eventually get me to Fisterra, they would likely make the journey much longer. Remember, roads are made for cars and therefore often without regard to the shortest distance. I needed to find a more direct walk to Fisterra, so I intuitively decided that I’d take the next left when I found a trail and get off the road. I soon came upon my first left and took that trail down between farm fields, and that’s when the weather changed. The early morning sun had turned to clouds, and within two hundred yards of turning onto this new trail, it started to rain (hard). Oh well, time for the poncho again.

After walking another three hundred yards, my new trail … ended. So much for those instincts. But there was a trail, sort of (see picture), and I began to make my way down what used to be a trail, which was largely overgrown with tall grass and prickly bushes. Did I mention that I was wearing shorts? So, I beat my way through and down this trail using my walking sticks and getting cut up along the way, and then I quickly came to the end of the former trail as well. It was a dead end. To my left was woods, and behind me was the way I’d come, and I wasn’t going back the way I’d come. That left what was to my right – a large, open farm field – and I took it. 

Poet Robert Frost famously and prophetically wrote these words in “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

I was, indeed, living and walking the experience that Robert Frost described. I was taking the road less traveled, which has been a big part of my life experience for the past twenty years. And now the road less traveled adventure was becoming literally and metaphorically more pronounced and profound, here in northern Spain.

When I’d crossed the field, I found another path and took a left (sensing that this was more or less south in direction), but I soon found myself at a crossroads. The path had ended at a small road, and my choices were left or right. Since Fisterra was to the west, I chose to go right, which I was guessing was mostly westerly in direction. Once I again I listened to my intuition, which told me to take the next left (whatever it was or looked like). I guess it was a form of commitment and represented trusting myself. I soon found a trail (again, sort of) to my left and, while it wasn’t much of a trail, I took it – following my intuitive commitment. Within two hundred yards, a much nicer path crossed and I took that to the left again, still trusting. After just one hundred yards of walking, I found what I was looking for – a Camino sign post. I’d found it – I’d found the Camino. I’d wandered, not knowing where I was, trusting myself and trusting that I was and would be okay.

In that moment of discovery, standing in the rain on the Camino in northern Spain, I did something that I hadn’t yet done on the Camino – I danced. My face lit up, and I danced a jig on the Camino. Many have guessed that I was dancing because I was no longer lost, but they’re wrong. I’d never been lost, and I’ve had to clarify this hundreds of times since my Camino journey. I was never lost, and I never felt lost. Yes, I lost the Camino and didn’t know where I was (other than northern Spain), but I was simply taking a detour on my Camino adventure.

Have you guessed it? Why I was dancing? Because I’d had an adventure. My little boy inside was dancing because he had just experienced a walk down the road, through the woods, over the hills, through the towns, not knowing exactly where he was going, but just having the adventure. And in the grand expanse of this part of Spain, I’d found the Camino, and I was back on the trail to my destination. It wasn’t perfect or straight. It had many twists and turns –and setbacks. It had some admitted moments of uncertainty (which way do I go?). I was hungry and thirsty (a lesson learned about making sure to have more water). I was many things (including wet, cold and tired), but one thing I wasn’t and hadn’t been all day was lost.

I was rejoicing through dance not because I was no longer lost, but because I’d just experienced an amazing adventure. On the road as in life, I’d embraced the adventure and the uncertainty and found my way. I’d taken the road less traveled and, as Robert Frost inspired us, “that made all the difference.” I’d experienced and embraced the adventure on the Camino, and we all have the choice to similarly embrace the adventure in our lives –a pivotal choice for all of us.

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