The Way of Saint James
"Imagine walking 20 miles in one day. OK, it may be a bit rough on your feet, but this stays in the realm of the possible. What about taking another 20-mile walk the next day, when your body has not yet recovered. This approaches the borderline of the reasonable. Now, walk another 20 miles the third day, and the fourth, and so on for four or even eight weeks. Now, this may seem really insane but quite a few 'normal people' or 'almost normal people' do just this."
The way of Santiago is a trip through European history as well as through Nature.
There are a number of walking itineraries in the world. Some are undertaken for sportive reasons, like the Appalachian Trail in the United States (2160 miles, created 80 years ago). Some are followed for religious and spiritual objectives. Many Moslems choose to walk to Mecca for the annual trip, called Hajj—a tradition that is more than 1300 years old.
The Way of Saint James—also called the Road to Santiago—is the Christian counterpart. It goes from all over Europe and leads to Santiago de Compostela, in the province of Galicia, Spain. Across France, there are three main sections, one from Tours, one from Vezelay and one from Le Puy. The three sections converge in a spot close to the Pyrenees Mountains, called the Gibraltar Cross.
The Gibraltar cross is the point where the three main paths to Santiago converge. For the people coming from Vezelay (like me), it is about half way.
About 100,000 people completed portions or the whole route in 2004. I was one of them. I completed 875 kilometers in August and September in consecutive hikes, ranging from 18 to 38 kilometers (12 to 25 miles) per day. During this period, I did not take one day off from walking. It would be childish to belittle other great walking itineraries, as those who undertake them are to be congratulated, but I have a special feeling about the Way of Saint James and most people who take it claim that the trip stays with them for life. The walker steps in the footprints of the people who followed the same path a thousand years ago. El Cid, King Louis VII of France and Saint Francis of Assisi were among them. The trip is not only through woods and forests, but through the history and culture of Europe.