Words by Christine Van Dyk
Walk!Begin training by walking at least five or six miles a day, increasing the distance as the hike approaches.
Train for the conditions.Take a few walks in your hiking shoes; this will break them in and confirm you’ve chosen the right pair. Next, get fitted for a backpack that suits your frame and the gear you plan to carry. Spend some time training with a full pack. While a good deal of your hiking should be done outdoors to prepare your muscles for rugged, unstable terrain, you’ll also want to walk on a treadmill to practice rises in elevation.
Determine your Camino experience.Not every trek looks the same. Some pilgrims camp at night while others stay in hostels and hotels. Some travel The King’s Highway by foot while others have been known to complete the journey by bike, motorcycle, or even horseback. Don’t have time for a thru-hike? That’s all right. Breaking up the hike into multiple segments allows you to experience the Camino on your schedule.
Make a plan.Practice alerts you to your limitations. If you struggle with long distances, you may want to break the 20-mile stretches into two days instead of one. Determine the type of road, trail, highway, or bike path you’ll be traveling, and where you will stop each night. Get information about the route, find useful tips, and arrange for assistance from fellow mission walkers with these resources:
- “The Original Hiker’s Guide to California’s 21 Spanish Missions Along El Camino Real” by Butch Briery
Make accommodations.There are a number of ways to experience the Camino: rideshare to a hotel at the end of the day, camp in a local campground, stay with friends, or head to a hostel. Just remember, if you choose to camp, you should practice setting up your tent, re-packing it, and hiking with it, prior to your mission walk.
Gear up!Aim for the lightest gear you can afford; remember you have to carry your pack for several hours a day. If you’re camping, an ultra-light tent is worth the splurge. As for clothing, pack three days worth, including: a spare pair of hiking pants, lightweight shirts, wicking undergarments, a fleece, hat, and a light raincoat. Wearing layers allows you to adjust for the ever-changing conditions. Finally, this is mostly urban backpacking; supplies are accessible along the way, so you shouldn’t carry more than you need.
Fuel up!The days along the trail can be particularly hot, especially on the southern portion. Carry enough water for the entire day. Electrolytes and hydration mix can provide added hydration, while salt tablets will prevent leg cramps. And since you’ll likely be hiking long hours, bring along lunch and snacks.
Be prepared for silence.Even when walking in the company of others, there are times you will find yourself on your own. Take advantage of the opportunity to listen to the rhythm of your footsteps and the world around you.
The California Mission Walkers Facebook group has like-minded people dedicated to the mission walk. Connecting with the group allows you to find gracious people who might offer a meal, a shuttle ride to your hotel, or just a phone number in case of an emergency.
The best way to enjoy your pilgrimage is to leave your expectations behind. Always plan for contingencies but understand that sometimes the things you don’t expect are the best part of the journey.
Get your credentials.
Make sure to stop by each mission gift shop to get your stamp toward “Certificado.” This certificate of completion is awarded to pilgrims who complete the walk to all 21 missions.