Today we are walking alongside: Nadine Karel, a school counselor in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
1) At the outset, why is it that you choose to walk so many places? I mean, why not drive? Explain your travel philosophy to our readers.
When I walked my first long distance trail (the Camino de Santiago), I didn’t know that I would respond so strongly to the experience. I mean, I love a good road trip! And I worried that spending 30-35 days slowly moving 500-miles across a country might be too daunting or challenging. But instead, I discovered that it is such a beautiful and special way to travel. I am able to discover the sense of a place in a different way than if I rented a car or took a bus or a train. I begin to feel part of the landscape. I have time to notice the bigger things but also the smaller things: the way the morning light turns the red clay earth a different hue, how when I stand on top of a hill I can see far back from where I started walking and also far into the distance where I’ll be headed, I stop in small villages and order a beer at the local bar and it tastes different than it does in the larger cities. Walking great distances truly is the definition of slow travel.
2) What have you gained through your trekking adventures?
I’ve gained and learned so many things from my trekking experiences that I don’t even know how or where to begin. I think the most important discovery was that the utter and pure feeling of freedom that I get from my solo treks. To be deep in the belly of a foreign country, with a backpack and sturdy shoes and a walking stick in my hand and no one else in sight, the wind against my skin and the endless sky above me, I feel like I could go anywhere, that I could do almost anything.
And secondly, I discovered that I’m stronger than I think. I’ve never been an athlete, had never physically challenged myself in any big way before I walked the Camino. And honestly, when I started, I had no idea if I would make it more than one day. And this might sound funny, but I’ve learned that I’m really good at walking long distances! A lot of it is physical of course, but so much of it is mental: how to walk through pain, or fatigue. How to give myself a pep talk and focus on the positives, how to enjoy the sometimes monotonous experience of walking day after day.
Sunburst on Primitivo
3) How do you prepare before undertaking a big trek? (physically and mentally)
The physical preparation before a big trek is important to me, and I try really hard to incorporate some specific training elements into my days at least 6 weeks before a trip. I walk nearly every day throughout the year as part of my own self-care, but when a trek is coming up I try to go out on longer walks, as well as find places to hike. I like to do at least a couple 12-mile hikes wearing a somewhat loaded pack, so that my body at least recognizes what it’s about to be in for. The beginning days of any long trek are always difficult, but I find that they are made less difficult with some physical preparation. That being said, one of the best things about long-distance walking is that you really don’t need to prepare too thoroughly; the first week might be rough, but eventually your body adjusts.
As far as mental preparation, I think this is an area that I could focus on a little more; the weeks before a trip tend to be a whirlwind and I find that sometimes I can only really begin to think about an upcoming trek when I’m on the plane. But part of the mental aspect of my trips is a journaling practice, or the habit of keeping up a blog while I’m walking. This helps me process my days and hold onto the memories of my experiences.
4) Among all the treks that you have done, which one is closest to your heart, and why?
Am I allowed to give two answers to this question?? It’s so hard to choose because each trek has had some unique element and all of them have been so special to me. The Camino Frances, my first Camino, was what started this love of walking and it will always be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. But my 5-day walk on the West Highland Way in Scotland was also a very special experience, in ways that are difficult to articulate. I was at the end of nearly 2-months in Europe and had spent a lot of that time feeling under the weather and not fully energized. The walking I’d done previously had felt very difficult and the need to drag myself to each day’s destination took away a lot of the joy of walking. But I felt strong when I arrived in Scotland, and I arrived without expectation. And then I fell in love with the land. I had a very solo walking experience there: spending my walking days alone and my evenings often alone as well, but I had very fleeting and special encounters throughout the trip, and I remembered why I loved traveling to new places and walking through them. I think the walk on the West Highland Way cemented the knowledge that as long as my body will let me, I will keep walking.
5) Where’s your next trekking adventure going to be?
This June I’ll be heading to northern England to walk the Pennine Way, a trail that runs 268-miles from Edale to Kirk Yetholm which is just across the Scottish border. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for good weather! (That being said, I need to update my rain gear).
Nadine likes to spend her summer breaks trekking across Spain, hunting down the best baguettes in Paris, and throwing back double espressos in Italy. You can read more of her travel tales at nadinewalks.com