Mom-Daughter Teams on the Camino
Interview: Catherine Hooper
The girls and I had such a magical time hiking the Camino in 2013. What I noticed there, however, is the same thing I continually notice here in the States -- mom-daughter hiking teams are rare. I'm speaking specifically of adult mothers hiking with their under-the-age-of-18 daughter(s), without the father or any other man.
Men are fine and wonderful, of course, but I believe women and girls need to see more and more examples of mothers taking the lead and heading out there with their daughters. Alex, Sage, and I were the only mom-daughter team I saw on the Camino (we were on our own more than half the time, with Hugh flying in on occasion). We were the only mom-daughter team I saw or heard of on the John Muir Trail in August 2014. I don't know of any other mom-daughter teams highpointing (with the daughters being under the age of 18). Here in the Whites, I know of only two other moms who get out there with their daughters on any kind of regular basis. There might be many mom-daughter teams I don't know about, of course -- but wouldn't it be great to see their stories all over the blogosphere? The mom-daughter hiking team niche is fairly empty out there in cyberspace. Kudos to Jennifer and 13-year-old Abby Lane, who completed Vermont's Long Trail last July -- that is one story I heard of over the summer, and their accomplishment is wonderful. If there are blogs or news stories I have missed, then please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.
I'd like to do my part in bringing attention to mother-daughter hiking teams. Therefore, I am starting an interview series. For now, the focus is on the Camino de Santiago. Any mom-daughter hiking team who has completed a section of the Camino de Santiago and who would like to be featured on this blog can contact me at email@example.com. Be sure to put "Camino" in the subject line.
I am kicking off this series with an interview with Catherine Hooper, a New York City resident who recently tackled part of the Camino Frances with her ten-year-old daughter, Sophie. Catherine sent me an email of greeting, peregrina to peregrina, after she and Sophie returned to the States from Spain.; I asked her the following questions and she graciously provided her responses. The interview, and the photographs provided by Catherine, are published on this blog with Catherine's permission.
Interview with Catherine Hooper
|Catherine Hooper and her daughter, ten-year-old Sophie|
What prompted you and your daughter to hike the Camino?
Because of the way the school calendar fell this year, my daughter ended up with three solid weeks free between school and camp. A nearby playground notwithstanding, there was no way I could keep her cooped up in New York for all of that time. I wanted to do something with her that had the potential for physical, educational, and spiritual development, and that allowed the two of us to connect even more as mother and daughter. Sophie’s stepdad, who passed away the previous autumn, had read a book called A Sense of Direction by Gideon Lewis Kraus. In it, the author explores three different pilgrimage routes including the Camino de Santiago. In addition, my stepdaughter would be walking the Camino during that time as well. So this journey was the option we chose.
What were the dates you began and ended?
We left New York on June 4 and returned on June 22.
We left New York on June 4 and returned on June 22.
Where did you begin and where did you end?
We began in Ponferrada and ended at Santiago.
How many miles/km per day did you average, and how many days did you take off to rest?
Because we were only walking for about two and a half weeks, we took no days off to rest. We walked between 10 and 15 miles a day.
What were your favorite places and why?
There are so many favorites! A place that really stands out in my mind is Cacabelos, where we stayed at a roadhouse called Moncloa Lazaro. Because of the way that the inn sat upon the road, and the flow of caminantes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or an overnight stay, it really felt as if we were in the Canterbury Tales. The local town choir also practiced their singing in the meeting hall, so we got the experience of a concert as part of our stay. It was such a warm and welcoming place. Also, of course, O Cebreiro was a huge highlight. There is a certain magic to that ancient Celtic village. And, as a history buff, I could not get enough of exploring the chapel and museum.
What were your favorite experiences and why?
Mostly, my favorite experiences were with my daughter – both in sharing time with her, and in seeing how other people reacted to her. You know, you think you know your daughter because you see her every day, take her to school, take her home, have dinner together… but what I realized on the Camino is that so much of our conversation during the school year consists of “put on your shoes, pack your school bag, don’t forget your flute, do your homework, it’s time for bed..” On the Camino, we really got a chance to know one another as people. We talked so much about her ideas about herself, her dreams, and her ambitions. I became aware, for the first time, of how much she wants to please me and how much that motivation drives her – and this is something I want to help transform into self-drive! But I also loved seeing other people react to her. My daughter was the only child we encountered on the Camino, so people treated her with extraordinary respect and delight. She loved it, and I loved seeing the growth in her self-confidence.
Were there any particular people who stood out?
I will never forget this argricultadora with a massive cherry farm along the way from Cacabelos to Villafranca del Bierzo, who came down from the ladder she was using to harvest cherries and brought armfuls of cherries for us to taste. She was an extraordinary woman – so strong, so beautiful, and while not a speaker of English, so communicative! She was made of love and acceptance. That emotion characterized much of what we encountered along the way. Also, of course, the clergy in Santiago were incredible souls. Because the space was so crowded, one of them came out into the crowd and took Sophie inside the gate to watch the Botafumeiro from that special perch. There were no words exchanged, or regulations followed or broken – just someone coming and taking my kid away from me and inside the velvet rope! Perhaps because we don’t speak the same language, our communication had to happen on another level that made it profound.
What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?
Before undertaking this journey, I thought I might have to overcome my 10-year-old’s unwillingness to walk fifteen miles a day. She often complains on the one-mile walk to school! But she rose to the challenge entirely, and her stamina was not an obstacle. One challenge we dealt with, rather continually, was the Spanish culture around food. My daughter and I prefer a paleo diet for the most part, and basically, the Spanish would just not respect our choices. On the first day of our Camino, we stopped at a café for eggs and bacon – a standard road breakfast for us. At the conclusion of the meal, our server brought us two enormous slices of chocolate cake covered in chocolate syrup – on the house. We felt somewhat obligated to take a few bites, even though neither of us typically eat sugar or grain. As we left, we laughed about it, failing to understand that this experience would happen again at every place we stopped, three meals a day, for the entire time! By day four, we had gotten pretty good at wrapping up the gift of cake into a napkin and tossing it into a bush a few meters down the road! We might be the only two people who actually gained weight on the Camino. There were sugar pushers at every stop – and often, the only choices at meals were bread, bread, and more bread.
Were there any particular pieces of gear you felt were particularly helpful?
Yes – a Camelbak was essential. I’m not sure how people do this entire walk carrying water bottles. Having a large reservoir of water that would last most of the day meant we rarely had to stop! Also, while my daughter and I talked a lot, the afternoon was for audiobooks! She listened to ten books on her summer required reading list, and she read them at night. I listened to Barbara’s Tuchman’s massive 14th century history, A Distant Mirror – and it took the entire walk! A great book – but something I could never have sat and read given the amount of time required.
I would say, don’t get down on yourself if you can’t make the entire walk from St. Jean, or carry all of your things on your back, or stay in bunkhouses every night. You are making a big step by undertaking this journey in any form. There is a mild form of one-upsmanship that you might encounter along the Camino, where people will ask where you started, or how far you are walking each day, or if you are carrying everything or using a shuttle service. Forget winning in anyone else’s eyes, and win in your own! Having this time and this experience with your child is its own form of victory.