The Rev. Ryan Newman gets back into the pulpit again today at All Saints’ Episcopal Church and Preschool in Kapaa, after walking the 500-mile pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago in northern Spain.
Known in English as The Way of Saint James, the pilgrimage is a network of paths to the shrine of Saint James the Great, which is in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.
He did it in one month, walking up to 23 miles a day along the Camino for 31 days and meeting colorful characters along the way.
He and his wife Erin are expecting their first child in May and he says his pilgrimage helped him prepare a little bit for fatherhood and taught him lessons in love and friendship.
Newman maintains, however, that he’ll always be a cyclist at heart and his 500-mile walk did nothing to change that.
Before returning to preaching at the Kapaa All Saints’ Church, Newman took the time to chat with TGI about his pilgrimage and the things he learned.
Tell us your background, what drew you to a life of service in the Episcopalian Church and what has been most rewarding in your career in ministry?
I did not grow up in the church. My family didn’t even attend church during Christmas and Easter. I started going to my best friend’s youth group in seventh- grade because of two things: free doughnuts and cute girls. However, starting in junior high, my parents sent my siblings and me to an Episcopal school (St. Margaret’s) in Southern California. The Episcopal Church has a strong history in the U.S. of providing exceptional independent school education amid an inclusive and nurturing spiritual environment. My parents wanted us to have a solid educational and ethical foundation in those formative years. At St. Margaret’s I discovered my identity, my voice, my passion for teaching and learning, my call to the priesthood and service in Episcopal schools and churches, and even the love of my life, Erin.
What inspired you to do Camino de Santiago and what does that kind of a journey mean to you?
Believe it or not, I don’t like walking — I am cyclist, not a walker. Those who know me were perplexed when I said I am going to walk 500 miles during my ministry sabbatical time. However, I wanted to combine my spirituality journey with my interest in endurance sports/activities. The Camino de Santiago is one of the three historical Christian pilgrimages (others being to Rome and Jerusalem). The inspiration to do the Camino came from the countless stories, books and movies that document the journey. For the me, the Camino is a journey more for your heart, mind and soul than your feet. When your only “job” all day is walking from point A to point B amid a stunning backdrop like northern Spain, you have amazing opportunity to recalibrate your life — physically, emotionally and spiritually.
How did you prepare for it?
I don’t know if you can truly prepare to walk 500 miles in one month. It is one thing to walk a few miles every day, but it is another thing to walk 15-20 miles a day for 30 days straight. However, in preparation, I tried to take daily walks/hikes — nothing too long, about five miles a day. In the final months leading up to the Camino, I did a few long walks/hikes on Kauai — about 15-20 miles. I was trying my best to simulate a day on the Camino. I learned it is hard to simulate a day on the Camino. You are never fully prepared to walk the Camino, but I think that is part of the journey.
Any specific gear you’d recommend for the trek and what were the conditions like?
On the Camino, nothing will beat a great pair of shoes! In preparation, I ditched traditional hiking boots for a lightweight, off-trail running shoe. It was the best equipment decision of my Camino. I did not have blisters, which are very common and painful on the Camino. Also, when I packed, I had no loose items in my backpack — everything was grouped together by need/category in specific smaller waterproof bags. It made getting in and out of my bag so much easier on the Camino.
Overall, the weather was excellent — most days were sunny and cool. We had no snow (except on the ground) and it only rained a few days. There was a four-day period when it was really cold (30 degrees) with high winds.
Did you camp along the way?
I did not camp. About 99 percent of pilgrims either stay in albergues (hostels), casa rural (room in someone’s home), or hotels. I stayed in a mix along the way. I will admit, I enjoyed any place there was a comfortable bed and a private bath.
You did 500 miles in one month, correct? What was your strategy, how many miles a day did you walk, and how did your feet feel after all those miles?
I did the Camino in 31 days, which included one rest day. Starting in Saint Jean Port-de-Pied, France, to Santiago, Spain, the Camino is just under 500 miles. I averaged about 15 miles a day. However, there were some days when I walked only 10-12 miles and there were a few days when I walked 20-23 miles. Guidebooks offer great recommendations on how to setup your stages on the Camino. Along the Camino, there is usually a small town about every 10 kilometers — you were never too far from a bed, food and a cold beer!
What were some of the stand-out moments of the journey, things that took your breath away?
The most amazing aspect of the Camino is definitely the people you meet. Some people you only speak to for five minutes and others become part of your “Camino Family” and likely friends for life. With each new person there is a chance for a remarkable conversation.
For a large portion of the Camino, I walked with a group of people who became my Camino Family. On the Camino, pilgrims often form Camino Families. This group becomes the “core” group that you travel with to Santiago or wherever your schedule allows. Like any family, you are not always together. However, over the 30-plus days, you share many steps and meals together.
In my Camino Family there was 9-year-old girl named Bayan who was walking with her dad, Brett (a Dartmouth professor), and grandfather Tom (a former Major League Baseball scout and manager). Also in our group was Jennifer (AA flight attendant and world traveler) and Caitlyn (interior designer). Our “family” was famous on the Camino because of Bayan. It is not common to see a 9-year-old walking the whole 500 miles to Santiago carrying her own backpack.
Our group spent countless hours together walking and talking until our various schedules and travel plans made it impossible to travel together. Each person in our Camino Family offered an extraordinary gift to me — some insight, some thought, some question that shaped my Camino and beyond.
The last portion of the Camino, I walked with another group (my second Camino Family). The group consisted of individuals from England, Belgium, Australia, Mexico and the United States. The Camino has this uncanny ability to pull people together. The common language and experience on the Camino is the journey.
What kind of lessons did you learn?
Such a tough question … I learned so much. Here are two takeaways:
Erin and I are expecting a daughter in August. On the Camino, I witnessed an amazing bond between a daughter (Bayan) and her father (Brett) and grandfather (Tom). I learned a lot about the type of father-figure I want to be.
Also, I learned about the importance of letting my daughter experience the world and to encourage her take on challenges and even risks in her life.
My Camino friend Daniela from Mexico shared a wonderful story with me. Her parents did the Camino last fall together from Sarria (100 kilometers from Santiago). Her parents have been married 35 years. Daniela said when her parents returned from the Camino “they were like teenagers in love again. They are always holding hands, hugging, and kissing each other.” After returning from the Camino, her father even organized a “la serenata.”
What is a la serenta? Traditionally, the boyfriend waits patiently for the sun to go down. Then in the town’s plaza he hires a group of mariachis or a trio of singers with guitars and goes to his girlfriend’s house. There, on the street, under his loved one’s window, they all start to sing the most romantic and heartfelt songs.
\The purpose of the serenata is to wake up the girlfriend, with songs that will touch her heart. The girl wakes up, but lets the musicians play two or three songs before looking out of her window, while her boyfriend anxiously awaits. At last the girl appears on her balcony, or window, which signifies that she is pleased, and approves of her boyfriend’s serenade.
Daniela’s father serenaded his wife of 35 years thanks in part to the Camino!
The Camino reminded me (and taught me) about love and friendship, especially the type of husband, father, friend and servant of God I want to be.
Did you do any other traveling while you were over there?
After the Camino, I traveled to Canterbury and London (England) for a few days. I spent a week in Paris with friends from Kauai prior to flying back to the United States.
Now, as you’re getting back into the swing of things, how do you think this experience will help you, how is it valuable?
I hope “my Camino” is still going even though I am not still walking to Santiago. Some say “the real Camino” begins after your return from Santiago. I hope the experience has prepared me a little bit more to be a father — the unpredictability of the Camino requires patience and a willingness to occasionally change your plans. I feel it has enriched my spiritual health and has given me new perspectives on my ministry.
It has given me a greater appreciation for finding more simplicity in my life — I lived 31 days out of a small backpack walking almost 500 miles — I am going to ask myself more often, “Do I really need that? Do I really want that?” I still prefer to cycle than walk; but ultimately, the Camino taught me there is no such thing as a walk “without a purpose.”
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at email@example.com