About two weeks ago, I spent time hiking part of the Camino de Santiago trail across northern Spain. Beforehand, I spent months studying elevation maps and Instagram photos to pick the section to hike. Apps were downloaded, clothes were bought and returned and then bought once again. And training on multiple shoes happened until the avant-garde choice of Nike sneakers won over hiking boots. I had the lightest pack, the best clothes and even a system to wear my headphones in a way that wouldn’t let them slip out of my ears. The only thing I didn’t have in my massive preparation campaign was “the book”.
I have no clue who wrote the bible of all Camino guides that everyone else had stuffed in their backpacks. Those books were out on every coffee table. Every bunk bed at night. Even the windows of the small stores we passed along the way had “the book” in multiple languages. People poured over them to plot out their next day and the day after; following along with the prescribed daily treks across the 780 km of mountainous, Spanish terrain.
The night before my trek in Pamplona, I decided to sneak a peek at the book’s itinerary for my first day. It was a modest 21km walk, with only 1 mountain elevation. There were tons of pictures of what I’d see along the way, with fabulous accommodations to choose from. It was an extra 7km than what I originally was thinking, but I thought, it’s the book. And it got everyone this far, so… why not?
At the end of that first day, it became very clear that my guidebook did not give two shits about who I am and what I wanted to do. It had no clue that both of my Achilles heels were on the verge of separating for good. No idea that it guided my injury along the backside of an incredibly steep mountain, whose terrain was similar to walking across marbles on a linoleum floor. And it gave zero effs about whether all those private accommodations it recommended had been stricken with bed bugs this season or not. (I totally got bit up.)
Righting The Wrong
For the rest of my week, I consulted the book of a fellow hiker and restudied the elevation maps again, but did my own shit. Stopped where I wanted to stop. Continued whenever I wanted to continue. Borrowed some wine grapes from a farmer along the way and had the best time of my life.
In the end, if I had followed “the book”, I probably could have gotten a lot farther. But then I couldn’t have made the friends I made along the way, or memories that are actually so perfect for me. And from my months of prep, I actually remembered enough info to keep me mobile and happy. I was even able to provide info to my friends that the book didn’t cover.
Putting It All Together
In a way, the war of following the guide book reminded me of my sister. She got into this habit a few years ago of crowdsourcing her decisions for her life; what shirt looked best, or what earring she should wear. We all know people like this. My mother and I came down pretty hard on her for developing this habit — not only to say it was annoying as shit, but also to remind her that her opinion is more than enough to solve those problems and that it’s really the only one that counts.
In life, advice, opinions and guidebooks are great ways to glean information. There will always be larger challenges that need a little help to paint the full landscape. When do we know it’s the right time to quit our jobs? How do we know if it’s the time to buy a house? Or is Mexican food really want I want to eat right now (always yes. duh!)? And it’s times like these where other people really do help us discover the depths of the answers available to us.
But in the end, the only voice you can really trust is your own. It’s the only voice that fully knows what’s going on in you — what’s injured, what’s excited and what is truly needed. It knows when you are doing something out of ego or when you are doing something that will sincerely be life changing. And unlike a guidebook that’s written with someone else’s superb abilities in mind, it’s the only voice you can really trust not to damn near kill you.