Pilgrim’s Journey

‘Hiker-gal Heidi’ Hits the Road for a Good Cause

In the final moments before she reached the Cathedral of St. James, Heidi Campini remembers lying down on the large square, Plaza Obradoiro, in front of the majestic, sun-washed structure and fully savoring the elation, sending up prayers of thanks. “Halleujah! Hallejuah!!!” she wrote in the subject line in an e-mail to friends and followers, telling them, “I’ve arrived,” and “I’m thrilled. Sound the trumpets—beat the drums!”

It took 42 days and 500 miles, but she reached her goal Oct. 14, 2010, which was to walk the “Camino de Santiago de Compostela,” across northern Spain with the famed, historic cathedral as her finish line.

It was both a pilgrimage and a labor of love for the Vaca Valley woman and longtime NorthBay Healthcare supporter, who used the opportunity to raise more than $30,000 for the NorthBay Center for Women’s Health.

The history of “The Camino” is vast—pilgrimages have been recorded since medieval times. According to legend, St. James’ remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain, where they were buried on the site of what is now called Santiago de Compostela.

Whenever St. James’ birthday—July 25—falls on a Sunday, it is declared a Holy Year, or Jubilee Year, and attracts many more travelers than in other years, explains Heidi. That was one reason she wanted to make her trek in 2010.

Actually, paths to the cathedral start all over Europe, but all end at Santiago. Heidi set out on Aug. 28, starting in the Pyrenees Mountains, traversing woodlands, rolling hills, the high desert plains of the sublime meseta, several moderate mountain passes, winding through ranches, vineyards, villages, cities and farmlands, across rivers and ancient stone bridges, on 2,000-year-old Roman roads, making her way west to Santiago.

Her nightly accommodations varied greatly, from the dorm-style bunk beds of “albergues” to rustic mattresses on the floor, pleasant pensions, rural countryside bed and breakfasts, a spacious cell at a former monastery, active convents and even a five-star hotel, built on the orders of Queen Isabella in 1492, the oldest continually operating hotel in the world.

She explored the quaint village of Burguete, where Hemingway stayed and signed the piano in a local tavern, and visited the famed Pamploma where the bulls run every July. As she walked through history, she witnessed sweetly singing nuns, partied with the masses at the 1,100-year birthday celebration for the city of Leon, savored tapas along the way, helped cook dinners for other hungry pilgrims, attended special masses to bless pilgrims, took shelter under huge chestnut trees in Galicia, marveled at the 125 majestic stained glass windows and a wedding in the Leon Cathedral, and hugged the precious stone dotted, solid gold bust of St. James in Santiago.

Her backpack weighed about 13 pounds, and she carried just one extra set of clothing, alternating and washing the other set each day.

She tried to keep her daily walks to 12 miles or less, vowing to take it slow, using her afternoons and evenings to savor the villages, cities, architecture, culture, art and cuisine along the way, and getting to know her fellow travelers.

And oh, the people she met. “Everyone has a story,” she says, her eyes sparkling. She recounts some of them in her travel journal:

“Met a Korean woman and her 7-year-old son!!! Imagine that!!! Husband doesn’t like to walk, thinks she’s crazy to fly to Spain and do this loooong walk.”

“Several Aussies and an Austrian man have so wanted to talk American politics!!! Not why I’m here, although that could be a terrific reason to pilgrimage. I listen to their lovely English or German, make a few comments in whichever language they speak… and change the subject as quickly as I can.”

“Met a Canadian Mountie who hasn’t had a vacation in 10 years. Her boss and co-workers forced her to take time off.”

“A Hungarian pediatrician and her engineer husband, wanting to reconnect after a couple of years of being far too busy with their respective careers.”

“Spoke at length with a British woman who is writing a book on self-realization, mysticism and self-discovery. She is totally expecting something otherworldly to occur or appear on the Camino and plans to include all her experiences in the book.”

“A Brazilian gal told me she left her 4-year-old with her husband because she needed a break before embarking on her next chapter: getting pregnant this winter, starting art school in the spring and becoming a new teacher once the new child is old enough.”

Heidi said other pilgrims were surprised that she was doing her walk as a fundraiser and said they doubted they would get such support back home. “I can’t believe that, but I do know that there’s an amazing amount of generosity in Solano County.”

Heidi says she’s thankful she made it to the end with “happy feet.” No blisters, no bruises, no blown-out knees. “I saw many people who had those problems, so I feel very blessed. I had great weather, I met wonderful people from around the world, and I managed to raise money for a good cause. It was very rewarding on every level.”

She took more than 2,000 photographs along the way, and has assembled them into a video, which can be viewed on www.NorthBay.org and on Youtube. She also sent detailed e-mails about her journey to friends and followers, signing off as “Your Peregrina (Pilgrim) gal,” and “Hiker Gal Heidi.” (For detailed excerpts, visit wellspring.northbay.org.)

Heidi has dedicated her trip to the spirit of women everywhere. “I walked alone, but I met many people and heard so many fascinating stories. Some people have asked if I was afraid, my answer is no, I was excited about the unexpected. It was something I really wanted to experience and I was energized to keep exploring. It’s important to tap into one’s inner adventurer frequently, awaken a can-do, courageous spirit and go for it.”

Her goal, she says, is to get other women to consider all the joys and adventures that life offers. Apparently, she’s been successful in that regard, because she’s already been told by a number of women that she’s inspired them to tackle some serious challenges in their lives, as well as a few who now also plan to walk at least part of the Camino in 2011.

Donations can be made to celebrate Heidi’s journey. Make checks out to NorthBay Health-care Foundation, with the North Bay Center for Women’s Health as the recipient. The nonprofit 501(c)3 number is 94-2995085.

For more information about donating, contact Colleen Knight at (707) 646-3131 or
Tim Johnson at (707) 646-3132.

Proceeds will be used to help pay for healthcare for women who cannot afford it.

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