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* * David Mullins walks on


Months back, I wrote to tell you about my friend David Mullins, a Blacksburg lawyer who is the local king of long-distance walks. He recently returned from Spain where he completed another epic jaunt, the historic Camino de Santiago. We returned from one of our frequent evening walks together on the Huckleberry Trail to talk about it.

“It’s been about five years since I did my last long-distance hike, the Continental Divide Trail,” he told me. It goes from the Mexican border to the Canadian border on the crest of the Rocky Mountains. “I felt that to keep my credibility as a long-distance hiker, I needed to do another occasionally. A friend of a friend did (the Camino) last year. It sounded unlike anything I’d done before. I researched it and it sounded like a good challenge, so I went for it.”

Unlike his other hikes along the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail, the Camino is not a wilderness hike. On the others, he had to be self-sufficient, carrying tent, sleeping back, and cooking gear. He spent every night on the Camino indoors and ate almost every meal at restaurants.

“The Camino started as a religious pilgrimage. Christians walked various routes through Europe to reach Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of the patron saint of Spain were supposedly found in the 10th Century. Since then pilgrims have been trekking there to prove their religious chops. There’s been a resurgence of interest in the last 50 years as it has emerged as a recreational hike.”

The most popular route begins at the town of St. Jean Pied de Port in France where the trails from throughout Europe came together to cross a convenient pass in the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. From there, it’s about an 800 kilometer (500 mile) hike to Santiago.

“Over the decades, an entire infrastructure of hostels, called albergues, has emerged to service the hikers. You sleep in a bunk bed in a communal room. There are cafes and restaurants all along the way. So I didn’t carry food, a stove, a tent, or a sleeping bag. I took a towel and a change of clothes. I carried only twelve or fifteen pounds and that made hiking much easier. It is much more civilized hiking than I’m used to.”

He said the cost was minimal, with breakfast costing $3-4 dollars, the dinner meal around $10-11, and lodging about the same. As an experienced hiker, he did more distance than most, typically covering 20 to 30 kilometers (12 to 18 miles) each day. He did the 500 miles in 27 days, and then continued another 50 miles to reach the Atlantic Ocean at Finistera. “It’s Spanish for the end of the earth, the westernmost point in the country.” He never took a rest day.

“I’m not a world traveler and had never been to Spain before. The food was different than I expected. I thought the food would be like Mexican, but it’s not. There are no burritos, tamales, or tacos. There was a lot of meat, seafood, beer and wine.

“There was a mix of hikers from Europe, North America, Australia, and a few Asians, including many Koreans. Most of the communities were small. They are used to seeing the pilgrims. It is not a luxury vacation. 250,000 people do some or all of the Camino every year. I guess no more than 25% are there for purely religious purposes. I’m not a religious man, so there were no epiphanies. My revelations were about how green Spain was and how the food and people were. I had no other expectations.”

Wearing a “VT” baseball cap, he walked from around 6:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. He met people of all types. “The best part of all the hikes I’ve done is the people I met along the way.” He walked with them, ate with them, and shared bunk rooms with them. “I met some wonderful people from all over the world, particularly the Aussies and Kiwis, who have a great outlook on life, a great sense of humor, and are fun to be around.

“I’m a solitary hiker; I’m used to that from my other walks. I’m a good planner. I bought a good guidebook and I knew what to expect. I packed well. My only regret was not speaking Spanish better.”

He has no plans for another hike, but staying home and being a better father to his son who has recently come back to the NRV and better grandfather to his grandkids. But he was always open to new ideas and new trails to walk.


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