Five things walking a pilgrimage taught me

  1. Being uncomfortable is OK.

When was the last time you were uncomfortable?

I’m talking actual physical discomfort, not sadness from a break up or nervousness before an exam or meeting.

Chances are if you are a modern, indoors working urbanite like myself you probably have rarely, if ever, experienced it. I hadn’t.

Being on pilgrimage taught me that it’s completely OK to be uncomfortable. To be cold, to be hungry, to have aching muscles, to not have a proper bed to sleep in, to feel sick and to continue on regardless, because you can be all of these things and still walk all day, every day it turns out.


Endurance, discipline and strength are gained from experiencing real discomfort and pushing through the mental resistance that creates. Some people have no choice to do it, if you have a choice as to whether you have to suffer discomfort or not, you are blessed indeed.

  1. You have more will power than you think.

Six months ago if someone had asked me whether I could walk 800km carrying all my belongings on my back I would have said no. Willpower is not something I prize myself on, generally when things get too hard, especially of the physical kind, I get out.

I have since learnt that I have more willpower than I previously thought and that hard things are possible.


It isn’t about doing the most tasks, walking the most miles or carrying the heaviest pack without complaints. It is persistence. Keep moving forward, no matter how little or how slowly, keep at it whatever it is, despite the voices in your head saying no.

If you keep going, eventually you will arrive. It just works that way.

  1. Everywhere is more walkable than you think and laziness is a habit

The majority of trips we take in a local, urban environment are less than 5 kilometres.

On a long pilgrimage, if you have only five kilometres left to walk on a day, you have practically arrived. You start to look at five kilometres as a regular person does 50 metres, a blimp to be crossed with your destination firmly in sight.


Previously, taking a taxi to a local bar three kilometres down the road would have been a guarantee. Now I compare that to the morning walk to the first coffee stop and realise it’s actually a very short walk.

Laziness is both built and dissipated through habitual practice.

  1. Time is bendable, mash-able and completely relative

Time runs our lives. We modern urbanites are often scheduled down to the minute and with the infiltration of technology into our lives, idle moments are rare.

Stripping away all of that so that what lies ahead is only an open road with just your feet to take you there, makes what was scheduled into a diary transform into one rather large, endless vacuum.


You enter at some point and you exit at some point.

Weeks, days, hours and minutes are replaced by stages, towns, coffee stops and mountain crosses. “We have climbed two mountains and I believe we have one more to the next village” becomes the reference point and you realise you can as soon manage time as you can the wind.

  1. You can’t eat whatever your want, just because you are exercising.

When walking 25-30 kilometres a day, backpack laden and only able to access only that food you can walk to, it is a refreshing change to care less about food. You eat whatever you want, when you want and what is available, no questions asked.


But as it turns out, eating a block of chocolate a day is, however you look at it, a block of chocolate a day. That sugar cannot be processed even on the most arduous journeys as it invariably gets stored somewhere; in your body, mind or mood.

A good lesson to remember is that no matter how much exercise you do, you are still what you eat.

Us millennials could do well to go back to a medieval pilgrims diet, namely scarcity of choice and availability and give up the foodie obsession once and for all.


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