During the month of December, Buddy will highlight, the Twelve Days of Fearlessness. Whether it is getting up the nerve to lace up your old ice skates with your five-year-old or conquering a halfpipe like your teenage days, fearlessness is not just situational for all- for some, it is a way of life.
“Can I make 490 miles?” This was the question Wendy Wadsworth, a charismatic Spanish teacher from Virginia, asked herself countless times as she strapped on her boots each morning in July of 2010. Wadsworth was the recipient of the prestigious REB Award for Teaching Excellence. What had once been merely a dream was now a reality.
Thanks to the REB, Wadsworth ventured to Spain for two consecutive summers and forged memories that would last a lifetime.
“The first year I went alone for one week…to test the waters, to see what it was like. I met many people from all over the world. The next summer, I set out with my daughter, a nineteen-year-old college student, to finish. She and I split up about ten days into the trip — she hiked with some young Russian students she met. I hiked alone and with various people I met along the way,” she said.
With fifteen miles being her longest hike prior to El Camino, preparation for this journey was key, but so was adaptability. “I took as little as possible. I got rid of as many non-essentials as I could. The experts suggest carrying one-tenth of your body weight. That would have been a fourteen-pound pack including everything for more than a month. I started with twenty-eight pounds and got it down to about twenty pounds after the first three days. My journal was one of the most important items along with moleskin and liquid skin; your feet feel the miles more than any other body part,” she explained.
At night, pilgrims stayed at pensiones or albergues- think Air BnB on a budget. “I slept with an Italian underneath and a German on top,” she joked. Hundreds of bunks would be set up in a church or a rec center for tired hikers to shower, eat, sleep, and regroup.
Not only were Wadsworth’s feet put to the test, but her spirits were, too. The experience was grueling at times, “The hardest thing about hiking for thirty plus days was the physical challenge to my body and mind. It was hike fifteen miles; go to bed and get up an hike fifteen miles the next day, and the next, and the next.”
Ever the extrovert, Wadsworth remembered the pure exhaustion- mentally and physically- as she reached Burgos, Spain. She relied on her outgoing personality and the inspirational stories of others to lift her spirits.
“I met a German man who lost his wife. I met a Spaniard whose daughter was about to ‘age out’ of a facility for students with disabilities…he was hoping to find an answer on where she might live…on his pilgrimage. I hiked to experience nature, and as a Quaker, to look for the Light in all things natural and human alike,” she said.
For the remaining days on her solo trek, Wadsworth pushed herself physically and mentally,“ I am more fearless when I am alone. I must be self-reliant, self-sufficient, and more careful when I venture out,” she said. With each passing day and mile, confidence grew, “Sometimes it was just put the right foot in front of the left.”
Finally, what started as a lesson plan, developed into a dream, and then played out in reality. Wadsworth arrived in Roncesvalles, Spain.
“It was definitely one of the best decisions and honors I have received in my life,” she recalled, “It’s like finishing a marathon. I ran a marathon in 1988, and it’s a similar feeling. Finishing is euphoria as you arrive at this cathedral. I had only seen it in pictures. There, in this huge, plaza, I saw my fellow pilgrims. It was a huge celebration, and I was like- I did this.”
Today, Wendy Wadsworth is a retired teacher and a full-time adventurer. Whether it is cross-country skiing or hiking the High Peaks in the Adirondacks, Wadsworth takes full advantage of her time and her love for the outdoors. When asked what advice she would give to others planning a long trek- literally or figuratively, she smiled, “Do it…don’t hesitate. Plan it sooner than later. It’s an unbelievable feat. The journey will stay with you years after the physical adventure.”
Written by Meg Sheriff