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A spiritual journey

Fergus Falls man hiked the 500-mile Camino de Santiago

By Carol Stender

Bryan Morlock is no stranger to exercise. The 69-year old Fergus Falls man is frequently seen riding his bike along the Central Lakes Trail making jaunts from Fergus Falls to Dalton or Ashby or even as far as Alexandria.

At the start of their Camino de Santiago 500 mile trek, (L to R), Terry Thiel, Kathy Thiel, Bryan Morlock and Vince Wright. Contributed photo

And sometimes, he got a little bit more adventurous... In 2017, Morlock made a roughly 500 mile “hike” spanning northern Spain. His walk along the Camino de Santiago was not only a physical journey, but a spiritual one.

The Camino was the route traveled by the apostle St. James during his ministry. After James was beheaded, his followers brought his body from Nazareth to northern Spain where he was buried. A chapel and later a Cathedral were built at the site and soon a town surrounded the area. Today, more than 200,000 people a year travel to the region to make the journey.

This was all news to Morlock, who didn’t even know the Camino existed until one of his sisters and her now husband watched the movie, “The Way.”

In the 2010 movie, Martin Sheen portrays a father whose son dies while on the Camino route. Sheen takes up the pilgrimage and completes it on his son’s behalf.

The inspiring movie prompted Bryan’s brother-in-law Vince Wright to announce his plans to make that same trek. That news resulted in a call from the sister to Bryan asking him to go along. She feared her husband would get lost. Bryan agreed to go.

Joining them were another sister and her husband, Kathy and Terry Thiel. Even though they were spread apart - Bryan in Fergus Falls, Kathy and Terry in North Dakota and Vince in Montana - each began to prepare for the trip in their own way.

Bryan watched YouTube videos about the Camino. Some chronicled the individual walks

plus sites of the journey. Others detailed what to pack and how to arrange lodging each night.

But there was no mention of how physically demanding the trek would be, he said.

He chuckles now at his efforts as he took long hikes around Fergus Falls. Even with the area’s rolling hills, it didn’t compare with the very steep inclines and equally steep declines of

parts of northern Spain.

Then there was the packing. They wouldn’t have luggage so everything they needed had to be carried on their backs. Clothing was limited to a pair of tennis shoes and flip flops for the shower, he said. He had two shirts, a long and short sleeved, plus a light rain coat and light weight pants he could unzip below the knee. Soap, bandaids and lotion for the feet plus sock

liners which prevent blisters were also added. He had a lightweight sleeping bag, a towel and a few packets of water tablets.

He wanted to keep the weight at 12 pounds. That increased to 15 then 18 pounds. In the end, he carried 21.5 pounds on the journey.

They were enthusiastic with boundless energy when they left for the Camino in late August.

While there are numerous routes to get to the Camino, they started at St. Jean Pied de Port in France and headed west. They were 500 feet above sea level. The next town, Roncesvalles was 500 feet high in the mountains. Markers along the trail kept them on track. But their first day was quite a doozy.

One of the views during the Camino hike. Contributed photo

The group was walking in the Pyrenees mountains in what was a non-stop five mile trek. There wasn’t a chance to stop. And rocky terrain caused everyone to look down at the path as everyone tried to keep their footing. It was a steep climb followed by an equally very steep decline. And it was muddy. Bryan slipped and had to have help standing again. When they reached the hostel where they would stay, each one cleaned up.

“I am done,” Bryan said to himself. “My legs hurt so bad. I am thinking I have to fly home.”

He learned quickly that one set of muscles were used going up the steep grades and another set of muscles handled the steep decline. And every one of them seemingly screamed after just one day.

They had only traveled five miles.

The next morning, he still hurt, but the terrain was flatter and his muscles loosened up. It

was good.

Each member of their group had different strides. Some would walk ahead while others were further back on the daily hike. And they weren’t alone. There are more than 200,000 people who hike it each year, he said. More college and high school students make the journey

in the spring and summer, while older people tend to make the journey in late summer and fall.

During their hike, they met people from around the globe with many in their 70s and some in their 80s, he said.

“We bumped into people who were doing the Camino for a number of reasons,” he said.“One person was doing it to honor a friend whose 18-year-old child committed suicide. We met an elderly man from Australia walking for his son who woke up one morning paralyzed from the

neck down. He was accompanied by his daughter-in-law.

“We met people who were devout in their faith. It’s a very religious experience. It was almost embarrassing to think we were just there because we wanted to do it.”

Every night when they stayed at the hostels, they would hear the stories of others making the trek. And the people who call the region home, knew the significance of the journey. Some would place plastic bags of food along fences for the walkers to take.

At one stop, those walking the Camino can place something of significance at a cross.

Bryan put a rock from the family’s North Dakota homestead there. It’s symbolic that you leave the old self there and start new.

It was truly a spiritual journey.

“I am much more serious about my religion now,” he said. “And I am much more open to listening to people and seeing how I can help.”

The hike also included stops at some unique cathedrals. Pictured is the interior of one of those cathedrals. Contributed photo

There were light moments on the trip. During one stay at a hostel, he was staying with a man from Germany and several women from the United Kingdom. He struck up a conversation with the English group talking about his time spent in England when he was in the military.

One woman asked where he was from and Bryan replied, Minnesota.

“No you’re not,” she said.

Bryan asked why she said that.

“I watched the movie “Fargo” and you don’t talk like them,” she said.

Those who walk the Camino are called “pilgrims” and are given a book at the beginning of the journey. At each town or cathedral, the pilgrims have their book stamped.

There were many cathedrals, some more than 900 years old, all each one was beautiful in its architecture, paintings and stained glass, he said.

The newest cathedral they saw was built in the 1700s.

“It’s amazing the history of the area,” he added.

They had a few mishaps. Bryan fell over a rock and “face planted,” he said. He suffered some scrapes while his sister, after a fall, got a black eye. And then there were blisters.

At the end of their journey, they’d hiked for 33 days traveling between 13 to 17 miles a day.

Despite the sore and strained muscles, scrapes and bruises and blisters, would he do it again?

“Yep,” was his quick reply

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