Today on Artist Strong we celebrate creativity in multiple senses. You will soon read about the physical journey a dear friend of mine challenged herself with, and then the creative fodder that was borne from such an endeavor. Today on Artist Strong we welcome Heather Onderick, Creative, Walker, and Teacher. Heather is going to share with us her experience of walking El Camino. Thank you for taking the time Heather to share your journey with us!

Carrie: What is El Camino?

El Camino, often regarded to as “The Way,” is a pilgrimage which traces back to Medieval times. Many years ago, people believed that the Camino began when you left your house and it ended when you arrived in Santiago De Compostela, Spain, which rumor has it, is the burial site of St. James’ remains. Nowadays, due to the popularity of the film, the Camino has become one of many things: a journey across a country, a religious pilgrimage, a time to remember or forget and many more.

Heather on El Camino

Heather on El Camino

Carrie: How did you learn about El Camino?

A good friend of mine returned from Spain one summer when I was living in Dubai. It was all she could talk about. I watched the Martin Sheen movie, “The Way,” nearly two years ago in January 2012. While I was watching, I connected so much with the exercise aspect and with the wanderlust of the people in the film. All of the walkers, bikers, were looking for something completely different and often undefined, but they had each other and a great big open to help them sort out the meaning.

Carrie: What motivated your decision to walk it?

I am very good at saying I am going to do things, dreaming big, and then, not following through with my plans. Having said that, because I was able bodied, living in Spain and eager to make one of these “big dreams” come true per year, I committed 3 weeks to walking the first year. I loved it so much that by the second week of walking, I committed to returning the next year and reaching Santiago.

Carrie: How is walking El Camino a creative endeavor?

When you are walking, the recommended weight to carry is 10% of your body weight. This leaves little room for journals, computers, writing devices, etc.  For better or worse, you are often disconnected completely while walking the Camino. It wasn´t until September 2012, a month after the first 500 km, I started to tell my stories during our personal narrative writing unit. These stories overflowed into my own blog. They danced in and out of my dreams and this year, I wrote my personal narrative, in my 6th grade Writing class, about finally finishing the Camino.

Carrie: What was one of the more difficult moments in the journey? How did you overcome it?

During the first year of walking 500 km, I sucked up every minute of my experience. I was practicing Spanish, making new friends, enjoying the fiestas with local Spaniards and peregrinos alike. The second year was more complicated as I was with my mother. I love my mother, but we are very different. The first problem was that we walk at very different paces. It´s important to remember that the Camino is yours. You should have a reason for doing it. While I was finishing, I went in with the goal to finish and repeat the fun, language lessons and beautiful landscapes I had seen the first year. When I came out at the end, I realized the second Camino in which I finished,  was to develop and strengthen my love and respect for my mother. It´s not easy to walk 205 km in a week as a 60 year old woman, and it´s even harder when you are in a place where your communication is limited.

Heather and her mum walking El Camino

Heather and her mum walking El Camino

Carrie: What kind of people did you meet along your way?

I met incredible people: families, friends, old folks, young kids, cyclists, horseback riders, people from as far as Japan, others from the town 20 km away. I met people who wanted to do the Camino for religious reasons, to get over a relationship, to prove to themselves they could do it, to make a creative perspective, interview, video, etc. on their experience or the experiences of others.

Carrie: Can you describe what your days were like as you walked El Camino?

Simple.

I woke up early between 5 and 6. I would walk silently in the dark, smiling at the sun, slowly creeping up into the sky. Around 8-9 am I would stop for a coffee and a sandwich, sit, relax, mingle, breath, enjoy the goosebumps from the morning breeze and the dew on my legs. Normally, between 9 and 1, the Camino was crowded. I would converse with 1-2 passers-by and often get lost in a long discussion about Spain, life, and the pursuit of happiness. Often, I arrived at my next destination between 1 and 3 pm, where I would promptly take off my shoes, and let my feet breath with happiness. Following my foot rejuvenation, I would enjoy a snack and a glass of wine or beer. Depending on the length of my journey, normally between 20 and 40 km, I would hop in a hot shower. In true Spanish style, I would head towards the bed for a siesta, before sitting down with pilgrim friends for a 3-course meal, including wine, water and bread for 8-12 euros. And, then, at 9:30-10, lights were out.

Carrie: Would you be willing to share one pivotal moment or experience while walking El Camino?

One of my favorite moments the first year walking the Camino, was when I stayed in a very small town, Foncebadon. The population of the town officially, was 2. In Foncebadon, I stayed at a small albergue (guesthouse), that looked like it had been dropped out of the Tibetan sky. That night, I was sitting outside, trying to stay warm, on top of the mountain. The stars were twinkly like someone had cut holes out in the blueberry colored sky and the Italians were hosting a sing-along on their ukuleles. Everyone was invited and leaned in to keep warm, sing and be merry together.

Carrie: You wrote a lovely short essay describing the experience. What motivated writing and sharing this journey?

Writing personal narratives is one of my strengths, however, blogging like a narrative can turn more into an essay and sometimes many stories get scrambled up in each other, losing their original meaning. With this story, I felt it was important to tell, about 5 minutes after it happened. When I began to walk up the steps, all I could think about was my mother, but as I saw her face and her reactions, and felt my own reactions in my heart and head, I knew it was the story I wanted to write in my personal narrative unit this year.

The full image of Heather's sunrise on El Camino

The full image of Heather’s sunrise on El Camino

Carrie: You are an artist/creative/educator. How has this experience shaped your journey in these endeavors?

When looking at all three combined, it reminded me to keep making goals, endless goals, and keep doing each bit you can, a little bit at a time, your loved ones and your determination will help you finish. As an artist, it challenged me to think out of the box for creative expression, to revisit, oral storytelling, as a writer. As a photographer, I was limited to my phone to document my journey on a daily basis, but I liked this technological transformation, that journaling, with photos and a minimal post, is so accessible and easy. Finally, as an educator, it reminded me that we must re-examine the simple, small moments in our life for beauty, and I try to elaborate this to my kids every time I tell a small fragment of my life that holds something wonderful in it.

Carrie: How do you define creativity?

To me creativity is letting go of control, being willing to take risks and accepting all that comes with those spontaneous, invigorating decisions. The risks can be super small, like trying a new word in a different language on a friend, or super big, like telling someone that you love them when you have no idea what lies behind opening that door.

 BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: How can you allow your other interests and goals inform and fuel your creative goals?

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