OCEAN PARK — If you want to go for a walk with Mary Atherton, you better be ready: She likes to go for very long strolls.
Atherton is a single, longtime Ocean Park resident who has been active with the Ocean Park Chamber of Commerce, the Peninsula chapter of the Audubon Society and Women of the Moose.
Along with her 66-year-old sister, Delorese Miller from Oklahoma, she decided to go on a pilgrimage in Spain on the old Camino de Santiago earlier this year.
During the past 10 years, the Camino has regained its place as the most popular Christian pilgrim route in the world. Currently, about 100,000 people per year do this trek, but this is no modern fad — this ancient path has been transforming lives for more than 10 centuries. In addition to faithful Christians, it also attracts history buffs, who want to enjoy the 1,800 buildings of great historic interest that lie along its path that earned it designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
In order to undertake this challenging hike, Atherton had to train. From October 2015 to May 2016, she walked on the Peninsula and in Portland, gradually increasing the length of her walks until she felt comfortable on all kinds of terrain. She went to the REI outdoor-equipment store to research the correct attire — shorts, top, jacket and — perhaps most importantly — a backpack, which REI staff fitted to her. She also made sure to properly break in her hiking boots.
Even without much food in it, her backpack weighed almost 12 pounds. To keep it light, she relied on restaurants and suppliers along the trail for most of her meals, and carried only the bare essentials, and some snacks. She carried so little that when she went through customs upon her return to the U.S., the agent could barely believe she had been in Europe so long but had nothing to declare.
After meeting in Dallas, Atherton and her sister proceeded to Madrid, Spain, on May 24. They started walking May 27. Their shortest day was eight miles, the longest day was 18 miles, and they averaged 12 miles per day with the help of walking sticks.
During the trip, Mary and Delorese walked a total of 775 km — about 440 miles — and made it from St. John to Santiago, Spain in 38 days. The path was very rocky, and she lost 14 pounds.
“While walking the Camino we met people from all over the world, the oldest being 92,” Atherton said. She noted that the trail was a friendly place.
“We saw some police in the larger cities but on the trail we never felt unsafe, threatened or insecure,” Atherton said. “There were medical facilities all along the way, and the ‘farmacias’ were most helpful.”
“The food was very good,” she said. “We had coffee and croissants every morning, and purchased cheese, bread, hard-boiled eggs and tomatoes to eat while we were on the trail during the day. In the evening we had pasta off the pilgrim menu.” They initially stayed in hostels and other lodgings costing between five and 12 Euros each. After two weeks, they upgraded to those costing 20 Euros apiece.
On July 4, they began a two-night stay in Pamplona and attended the “Running of the Bulls,” which they enjoyed immensely. Atherton said there were thousands of people lining the streets and it was a very exciting — but quite dangerous — experience. Many of the participants “were just crazy,” she said.
She said that they were blessed with good weather the whole trip. Would she do it again?
“Well maybe,” she said, “but not for a while.”