Even while in the middle of an exhausting 559-mile trek across northern Spain, 19-year-old Lucy Jergens of Lee’s Summit still had energy to burn in spite of the daily resting habits of the local population.
“Siesta. That was a killer,” Jergens said in regard to the time the Spanish take to recharge every afternoon. “There was a good three hours of the day (where) I just didn’t know what to do with myself.”
On July 6, Jergens completed the Camino Francés, walking from St. Jean Pied de Port on the French border to Muxia on Spain’s Atlantic coast. Equipped with nothing but her clothes, backpack, medicine, food and souvenirs she picked up along the way, she and her companions completed the journey in 39 days, sometimes walking more than 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) per day.
The Camino Francés is one of the routes of El Camino de Santiago, a Catholic pilgrimage that concludes in Santiago, Spain, at the Cathedral de Santiago. There, pilgrims receive their certificate (Compostela), verifying their completion of the pilgrimage.
Jergens isn’t Catholic, but the Camino is open to all, so she jumped at the chance after her grandmother brought up the idea after reading about it.
“I’ve always been an outdoorsy kind of gal, and it just sounded like it would be something fun to do,” she said.
Before going to Spain, Jergens had expressed interest in walking longer, more dangerous routes like the six month-long Appalachian Trail. Ann Domjan, her grandmother, promoted the safer, cheaper Camino in response.
“You know where you’re going, and you have a lot of support,” Domjan said.
So on May 26, Jergens left for Spain. However, upon landing in the Spanish town of Bilbao she was told her one piece of luggage – her backpack – had not arrived with her. Not an auspicious start.
She was worried at the time, but was thankful for the delay in hindsight.
“I had to stay a day in Bilbao, which I wasn’t planning to do, but it was OK,” Jergens said. “I’m happy it happened because if I hadn’t have stayed that day, I would’ve been ahead of everybody that I would’ve met, and that’s just a sad thought.”
Another bump in the road came on the sixth day of her hike when both her calves seized up, severely limiting her ability to walk. Just like the luggage mishap, Jergens found the silver lining.
“That was the most painful day, but that was also the best day, just experiencing the kindness of strangers,” she said.
Two people in particular helped. A French woman, who spoke no English, brought Jergens ice packs every two hours while a doctor eased her pain by prescribing painkillers.
All this time, and throughout the entire journey, a very nervous Domjan remained at home, anxiously waiting communication from her granddaughter.
“I was a wreck every morning until I heard from her,” she said.
Waiting by the phone, Domjan would also use a map to track Jergens’ progress and speculate where she could be. Whether by call or text message, the two connected every day except for two during the excursion.
Domjan also coped by posting daily updates of Jergens’ journey on her Facebook page. The posts usually included pictures of where Jergens was, an update on her progress and what Jergens said when the two spoke that day.
“I know she was worried. Everybody in my family was worried. I’m pretty sure I shaved 10 years off of her life, and I feel guilty about that,” Jergens said.
Eventually, Jergens became part of a group of five pilgrims that traveled together for most of the journey. She became close with two of them, Naomi Levine and Alexander Scherlitzky.
Jergens described Levine as the sister she never had while Scherlitzky accompanied her on an additional 85-kilometer journey past Santiago to Finisterre and Muxia. There, the two burned their clothes, a pilgrim tradition at the end of the Camino.
A Lee’s Summit West High School graduate, Jergens is pursuing an associate’s degree at MCC-Longview. As for after graduation, she is thinking of studying journalism or English.
But for now, she’s writing a book about her experiences on the Camino. At first it was going to be about surviving the walk as a non-Catholic, but it has since taken on a different theme.
“Comradeship. It doesn’t matter what country you’re from or how old you are, race, anything like that,” Jergens said. “You’re a pilgrim. Nothing else matters.”
The book is still in the offing, but that doesn’t keep Domjan from being proud of her granddaughter’s accomplishment across the Atlantic.
“I think it’s an amazing thing to do,” she said. “I’m very proud of her.”