Preparation, Hubris, Humility: Only Two Can Coexist

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Dr. Gustavo
September 19, 2022

I learned many lessons from hiking El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James) in Spain. Several of them took place while I was preparing for the Camino. Many more took place during the hike itself.

Before the Camino, I had hiked more than 2,000 miles – all day hikes. On those hikes, I would end up where I started, either at home or in a hotel with all the amenities of the modern world. I had to carry only what I might need for that day.  

The Camino is different. You have to carry on your back everything you will need for a multiday hike. I had never done this before, so I began with humility and started to read and learn.

I learned what gear to take (fast-drying synthetic clothing, light rain gear, solid vs. liquid soaps because they occupy less space) and not take (too many clothes, heavy items such as shoes and unnecessary technology).

I also learned about how important the weight of your pack is. For this type of hike, your pack should be as light as possible — no more than 20% of your body weight. For me, that’s 38 pounds. This is where hubris raised its ugly head. “I’m tall,” I thought. “I’m fit. I’m an experienced hiker. That recommendation is for others, not for me.” Hubris! And it would come back to haunt me. 

The night before I left for El Camino, hubris had me packing all kinds of “just in case” items: extra food, water bottles, cables and chargers. When I got to the airport to fly to Oviedo, my pack weighed 54 pounds — 35% of my body weight! If you’re thinking, “This is going to get ugly quickly,” you’re right.

Day 1: Oviedo to Paladin, 13 Miles

This day was full of excitement, energy and pictures. I had intended this day to be a day of introspection, and it was. While I crossed paths with other peregrinos (pilgrims), I did not engage them in conversation other than to say “Buen Camino!” — the common greeting between peregrinos. Hikes like El Camino lend themselves to review where you are in your life, decisions you’ve made, things you have left to do, etc. I welcomed the opportunity to spend time in introspection.

At the end of the day, I found myself more tired than I had anticipated. I had certainly hiked 13 miles before, but never while carrying a 54-pound backpack. My feet and legs felt tired, and my shoulders were sore. Still, I really didn’t give it another thought.  It was my first time with a pack of this size and weight. “Weight limits are for others.” Still, hubris.

Day 2: Paladin to Salas, 20 miles

When I woke up on the second day, my body had not recovered. My shoulders were still very sore. I left early in the morning, planning to cover the 20 miles between Paladin and Salas in about seven hours and beat the heat of the afternoon. But after leaving at 7 a.m., I didn’t make it into Salas until 5 p.m. Why?

I found myself having to stop every two miles to take off the pack to give my shoulders a break.  At first, I would stop for five minutes, then seven, then 10. Between breaks, I was walking slower and slower. Needless to say, the experience on this day was vastly different from the first. This day that was intended to be used for introspection was focused on pushing past the discomfort to get to my destination.

When I arrived in Salas, I went straight to the albergue (hostel) where I was staying. The man working there could see I was exhausted. When he tried to move my pack, he almost dropped it because it was much heavier than he had anticipated. He started peppering me with questions: Had I done any hiking with a pack before? Had I done any multi-day hikes?  

“I’ve done seven different Caminos,” he said. “I have to tell you, your pack is too heavy. It may keep you from making it to Santiago.”

My response to him was polite, but internally, I was pretty dismissive. More hubris – ignoring the experience of others. I went to my room to shower and change.

After the shower, my soreness really started to settle in, as did his words. How could I have been so stupid to take too much stuff? This is something I’ve been planning for eight years! What if I can’t finish? I was so stuck in that downward emotional spiral that I could not see a solution.

But the next morning, I was able to return to a state of humility, reconsider the statement from the night before and begin to problem solve. What I couldn’t see the night before became obvious in the light of day. If the pack was too heavy, I had to lighten it. As much as I still didn’t want to, I emptied the pack, refilled it with only the bare essentials and shipped the rest back to my family’s home in Madrid. I brought the weight of the pack down to 30 pounds, and that made all the difference for the rest of the Camino.

The Lessons

  1. Hubris or overconfidence can blind you. Whatever skills you have gained through your life, hubris can make you overgeneralize them. The excess weight of my pack was a clear and avoidable example. But how many times have you found yourself in a situation where you thought, “If I had only…” or “I know better than to…”. Yes, you likely do, as did I. Know your limitations and use available guidelines from more experienced people to shape and improve your decision-making.
  2. Listen to others. This requires humility. Regardless of your fitness, intellect and accomplishments, we can always learn from others.  The person working at the albergue in Salas made a statement: “Your pack is too heavy. It may keep you from making it to Santiago.” In my hubris, I dismissed it. I couldn’t listen. I couldn’t consider his experience. When I returned to a mental state of humility, I heard the statement for what it was: a sign from an experienced peregrino who was trying to delicately guide me to do something different. Context — in this case, my own mental state — made all the difference.
  3. Sometimes doing what is best for you is hard in the moment. Do it anyway. After two days of carrying a pack that was too heavy, I still had some internal resistance to shipping things home. In hindsight, I can see I was just trying to hold onto some sense of “being right” when I packed initially. I was wrong! I just couldn’t see it until I created a change. Sometimes you can’t see how what you are doing is not what’s best for you — until you do something differently.

I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note. 

Buen Camino!  (Have a “good way”!)

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