On June 4th, Minnehaha faculty Nancy Cripe, Diane Hallberg, Wendy McDonald, and Mary Quello embarked on a 14-day pilgrimage on the historic 200-mile Camino Primitivo trail in Northern Spain. The trail dates back to the 9th century, part of the Camino de Santiago trail network.
Much more than a summer challenge, the teachers stated: "Our deep hope for our students through our Camino Primitivo hike (and through our school community’s determination to rebuild in the face of tragedy and unimaginable loss) is to 'teach our children to love challenges.' We desire that our students and our school community will learn to embrace difficulty as a doorway to growth. We desire to help our students flourish as they invest effort in gaining skills and strategies that create a love for learning and a resilient spirit."
Q. Have you ever done any serious hiking before?
DH: Never. That makes me the poster child for people considering doing this in the future but wondering if they can do it. It was hard, but there is a saying that "The Camino provides." All of us found that to be absolutely true.
MQ: Nothing like this. Two summers ago, I did a 4-day hike on Mont Blanc. It was difficult hiking, but only 4 days.
WM: I’ve done a fair amount of day hiking in State and National Parks, but only the 5-10 mile type hikes and not with a 20 pound pack.
NC: I’ve been on two other Caminos (Italy in 2015 and Spain in 2017), so I knew the rigor and demands of a 200-mile pilgrimage hike.
Sharing an evening meal with other hikers at one of the first hostels along the way.
Q. What were your initial thoughts when you considered the trip?
WM: I was looking forward to deepening relationships with other MA teachers, excited to experience the Camino culture, the Spanish countryside, and fellow pilgrims, and motivated to meet the physical challenges of such a long hike. BUT I was nervous about being able to hike so far day-after-day.
DH: From the start, I jumped in full force on this trip, which in retrospect seems like a complete leap of faith. I had known about the Camino for a long time and always dreamed of doing it. Honestly, I don't know if I really ever thought about being nervous about it; my desire to complete the Camino eclipsed that in a "I don't know exactly how I'm going to do this, but I'm going to do it anyway" sort of way.
NC: I’ve had the opportunity to go on two other Caminos and was eager to share the experience with other Minnehaha faculty. I was eager and hopeful that others would be interested.
Embarking on what is often called the "leg wrecker," the most difficult section of the Camino de Santiago.
Q. How did you prepare for the hike?
DH: I took 25 pounds of my heaviest text books, loaded them up in my backpack and hit the road--with any of my friends that were willing to join me. You know that odd-looking person hiking along the River Road with poles and a full backpack? That was me.
MQ: I did my best to get out walking in my hiking boots as much as possible. Eventually I also went hiking around town with my backpack on filled with hand weights and books. When I had time, I would walk to do my errands rather than drive. I also did a lot of reading online about the hike. As a group we met and watched "The Way," and "I'll Push You," two movies about the Camino. I also prayed a lot, especially for my feet to survive the hike. My prayers were answered!
NC: We prepared physically with several months of training, both individually and together—walking, running, hiking, and gym workouts. We spent a great deal of time developing and writing our Camino goals and applications to our teaching.
Patching up blisters before bed.
Q. What did you hope to learn or take back from the hike?
NC: As teachers we’re becoming concerned that some of our students shy away from challenges because they believe they might not succeed. They might fail. We want to help our students learn to love a challenge, to see failure as a gateway to growth—very Carol Dweck “growth mindset." So we thought we should have some skin in the game and do something hard ourselves. We also desired these weeks on Camino to be a time to heal, reflect, laugh, pray, give thanks, and rejuvenate after two demanding, difficult years.
DH: There are difficult yet important lessons that come from humility and failure. I can honestly say that all of us were humbled many times on the path. We had to ask for help, problem-solve, show empathy for one another, consider different opinions and compromise. As adults, these are things that we often think we have mastered—until we have to really do them. It is my deep hope that the perspectives that we gained through our struggles will continue to give us inspiration and empathy as we return to our classrooms this fall.
MQ: [In addition to our goals related to our students], hiking the Camino de Santiago was set as a physical challenge for myself as I get ready to celebrate one of the bigger birthdays—something to help keep me "young." In addition to the physical push, I was looking forward to the time for reflection and time for building relationships with the Minnehaha group going, and the people we would meet along the way.
Upper School Band instructor Diane Hallberg placing a small shard of brick from the school explosion on top of a monument where other travelers had laid rocks that represented burdens they had been carrying.
Q. Did you learn anything unexpected through the process?
WM: The stress of the downhills caught up with one of my knees a little more than halfway through the trip and I couldn’t hike for a few days. This caused me to have some very uncomfortable time with God where I had to confront my utter dislike of not being the best, or even competent, at a task, not wanting to do something if I couldn’t do it perfectly, and not wanting to need anyone’s help. My fellow hikers intervened and convinced me I couldn’t quit because, in a nutshell, “Together We Rise.” I managed to finish the Camino by taking a few short cuts on some days and with lots of help and encouragement from my friends.
NC: I learned that everyone has a story, and in the hustle-bustle of everyday living I need to create and guard time to listen intently to the stories of others—and to share my own.
DH: I realized that I have continued to carry a lot of grief and stress from the past two years that it is now time to let go of. One of the most poignant moments for me was laying a small shard of brick from the 1913 Upper School building on top of a monument right before we reached our final destination. My backpack literally felt lighter after I set that tiny piece of brick down. While I will never forget what it felt like to walk out of that building the day it exploded and the lessons we have all learned, I also realize that a part of trusting in God's faithfulness is letting go of things that are weighing you down.
Sharing chocolate with other hikers passing by.
Q. Any funny memories or surprising revelations from the trip?
MQ: One of my favorite memories is when we had just finished hiking up a long and steep hill, we just sat at the top and rested, waiting and catching our breath. One of us (probably Diane) pulled out a chocolate bar to share. We had some leftover and so we were offering chocolate squares to the other hikers once they made it to the top.
DH: Too many to recount! The six of us began the trip as acquaintances and ended as life-long friends.
WM: Mary Quello, of course, spoke Spanish to many of the people we encountered each day and I knew going into the trip how much easier that would make our logistics. But I didn’t anticipate how much richer a cultural and spiritual experience the trip was for all of us because of her abilities. Through her we were able to engage people at a much deeper level. They opened up to us much more and the hospitality we received was extraordinary. It was a great reminder of how valuable second language skills are!
NC: We named our pilgrimage hike the “Together We Rise Camino,” but after several hard days of climbing Spanish mountains we renamed it the “Together We Rise…and Rise…and Rise Camino”!
Along the way the group stopped at the home of a local man who lived on the path. Each day, he sets out coffee for the travelers and at times takes his own coffee breaks to chat with the passersby.
Q. Is there anything else you would like us to know about the trip?
MQ: I am so thankful that I had this amazing opportunity. I really appreciate all the support we received. Thank you for the support from the group on the trip and the support from those back home, the financial support from the grant, the prayers, notes, and the followers on Instagram cheering us on to the finish, thank you!
DH: One of the really powerful things about the Camino is that it is different from a "hike." Everyone who you are walking with has chosen to make this pilgrimage for a particular reason, which creates a sort of instant fellowship between you and the other strangers who you encounter on the path. People are willing to share stories, open their hearts and show amazing acts of generosity to people they have never met before. What a beautiful way to experience the community of love and fellowship that God desires us to engage in!
The team arrives in Santiago de Compostela.