Camino Pilgrim Stacey Wittig: An Interview With The Author of the Spiritual and Walking Guides
Chance encounters: How I met Stacey Wittig
One of the first things that I learned about the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James, as it’s known in English) is that you meet all sorts of interesting people while on the road. The second thing that I learned, was that your Camino begins the moment you decide to do it. I can’t find a better example of both these statements than my chance meeting with author and veteran pilgrim Stacey Wittig-prior to even leaving on my Camino.
I met her on the Confraternity of St James’ Facebook page. The famous (In Camino circles at least) Johnnie Walker posted that he had enlisted the help of Stacey Wittig to update the Confraternity’s guide to the Camino Primitivo. I replied to him volunteering my husband Bill’s services for map making; since, as an environmental scientist, one of his areas of expertise is Geospatial Information Systems (GIS). Johnny took him up on the offer and they are in the process of producing map books. Somewhere in that conversation, Stacey connected with me and we started chatting online. She asked me to write a guest post on her blog about my ancestral connections to Asturias and Galicia, the regions through which the Camino Primitivo passes through. I, in turn, discovered that she is an award-winning author, veteran pilgrim, and quite an experienced backpacker.
She graciously agreed to let me interview her for my blog even though she was in the last couple of weeks of preparing for her own Camino and still conducting research for her guidebook. What follows is a peek into the life of a fascinating lady who was “Called” to not just walk the Way of St. James, but to write spiritual guides for other pilgrims. She is clearly a deeply spiritual person. I think her guidebooks can help anyone who is searching for answers, regardless of their spiritual or religious inclinations.
Tell us about your trek through the Canadian wilderness as a teenager!
I backpacked 150 miles in 15 days with a YMCA Youth Group out of Minneapolis, Minnesota in the early 1970s. If I remember correctly, we carried 40-pound packs with all our food for 15 days – so the packs were heavy and the meals were meager. Back in the 70s, outdoor equipment was heavy – we had canvas Boy Scout, metal framed backpacks with no padded waist belts. I used one of my Dad’s old leather belts to help balance the weight on my hips. It was the best time of our lives as far as we – 10 teenage suburbanite and inner city boys and girls — were concerned.
You have a lot of backpacking experience. What other places have you trekked?
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is simply magical. Walking on ancient trails through the clouds in the Andes Mountains was a spiritual experience. Ruins seemed to appear out of nowhere as the mist lifted momentarily to give us a glimpse of massive stone temples. The South Island of New Zealand was probably the most dangerous place that I backpacked. Trekkers would get killed attempting to ford rushing waterways.
It is one of the rainiest places on the planet and so the creeks would rise fast and stay that way for hours. The day I flew home, three trampers were drowned in such a way at Franz Joseph Glacier where I had just strapped on crampons and was glacier hiking. New Zealand’s under-developed roadways also make it a dangerous place for travelers. For instance, overseas drivers were involved in at least 558 crashes that resulted in death or injury in 2014.
What led you to the Camino de Santiago? When did you complete your first Pilgrimage?
In 2005, during a self-imposed weekend retreat, I heard the Lord whisper, “Walk El Camino de Santiago.” El Camino hadn’t crossed my mind for over a decade; and, in fact, I really didn’t know much about the ancient pilgrimage route. Yet I felt the Lord’s call to take a spiritual journey. The obedient act of walking would teach me to shift my emphasis from trust in a busy calendar to trust in God’s provision. I had to let go of the belief that if only I had enough sales appointments, won enough sales contests, (fill in the blank with your own “if only”) then I would be perfectly happy. I thought of myself as self-made and relished the image of me – a working woman – pulling myself up by my own bootstraps, or in my case, by my own Bandolino Italian leather pumps.
…For years, I had repeated the words, “Let go and let God.”
Now was the time to do it.
I needed to step out in faith and explore the unknown path of St. James.
…For years, I had repeated the words, “Let go and let God.”
— Excerpted from Stacey’s first book, a daily devotional for Christian pilgrims entitled: Spiritual and Walking Guide: León to Santiago.
Which trek was the most physically challenging for you?
Grand Canyon hiking is the most physically challenging, I think. The combination of the dry air and the hot sun really evaporates the moisture out of your body. Most people don’t understand that they have to drink about 3x the amount of water that they do back home in a more humid clime. You have to get very ingenious about caching water when backpacking in the Canyon. And I haven’t even mentioned the extreme elevation changes… most people don’t even consider altitude sickness in the canyon – like getting “the bends.”
Which one was the most emotionally challenging?
Shortly after I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, I went on an all-women backpack trip with a small group from my church. One of the older women (she was probably much younger than I am now –LOL) had packed into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area many times before and gallantly led the way. I followed until she announced that “we” were lost. As the deep woods got darker and the wolves started prowling, I vowed to myself that I would NEVER blindly follow again.
What got you started writing walking guides?
When I got back from my first pilgrimage in 2005, during my morning devotions, I would hear the Lord whisper, “Use this scripture for the book.” I would ignore the voice and head out to work. Then a week later, “Use this scripture for the book.” After a few months of this happening, I finally asked, “What book, Lord?” That’s when I felt called to write daily devotionals for Christian pilgrims walking the Way of St James.
You now have two spiritual walking guides for the Camino. Do you have plans to write more?
Spiritual and Walking Guide: Leon to Santiago
Spiritual and Walking Guide Lourdes to St. Jean Pied de Port
The first has been translated to German, so I actually have three volumes now. I’m working on my fourth now. It is a daily devotional for pilgrims walking from St Jean Pied de Port to Leon.
***Also available as Kindle Books if you don’t want a physical book to carry.
How are your spiritual guides intended to be used by the pilgrim? I personally love the blank spaces to write in and the reflections.
The spiritual guide contains recommendations for daily starting and stopping points, distance information, meditations, appropriate scripture readings, questions for personal reflection, lodging suggestions and insider travel tips. While designed for pilgrims on El Camino, the lightweight manuscript is equally suitable as a spiritual guide for any trekking, biking or camping adventure. The scriptures cited will guide any wanderer along the pathways of his or her heart.
How difficult was it to write your first book?
Writing a book is a long process. I did a lot of praying and seeking God’s direction for each of the daily meditations and the questions for reflection. It took me six years to get my first book off my heart and onto paper. The second was a faster process.
How much research do you do before writing a guide?
I spend 100s of hours researching – I don’t keep track because it would be too depressing to add up all the hours.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently finishing up a project with the London Telegraph (UK) on reviewing luxury hotels in Sedona, Arizona. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/north-america/united-states/arizona/sedona/hotels
I am in the middle of researching for a revision of the Confraternity of St James guidebook for the Camino Primitivo. They want me to add historical and cultural information, and so that has kept me at the library. Follow the research at https://caminoprimitivo814.wordpress.com
I am leaving in three days for Spain where, after walking the Camino Primitivo, I will serve as a hospitalera at Monasterio Benedictinas de León. Surely I will run across some fun stories to add to my fourth book.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
1. Just do it.
2. Invest in yourself by joining an international writers group to learn about the craft. I belong to the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA). http://ifwtwa.org/author/stacey-r-wittig
3. Form a small writers group of 3-4 people in your hometown to keep you accountable.
Where can my readers discover more about you and your work?
Twitter: https://twitter.com/travelwriter @travelwriter
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Stacey-Wittig/e/B00J4WUOR4
Camino Primitivo Blog
A million thanks to Stacey for sharing her story with me and for allowing me to publish it. We are both walking the same route this year but unfortunately, we are about 2 weeks apart. As of this date Stacey is making her way along parts of the Camino del Norte and into the Camino Primitivo. After that, she will serve as a hospitalera (hostel host) at the Monasterio Benedictinas de León in Leon. So If you are walking the Frances route in mid-May 2017 you will come across her if you stay at this albergue. I do encourage all of you to check out her guides. I have the guide for Leon to Santiago and I plan to adapt it for my Primitivo walk.
A look ahead
I hope to bring you more interviews from adventurers and authors this summer. I also plan to post from Spain as we walk our own Camino (cell and WiFi coverage permitting), so remember to follow my blog and get updates of new posts as I publish them. We leave Alaska on May 11 and start walking on the 14th.
Tell me what you thought about this interview? Any more questions for Stacey?