Last week we wrote about where to stay along the Camino. Sometimes lodging can be difficult, but the challenge of finding a place to stay pales in comparison to today’s topic. “What was the toughest part?” might be the most frequently asked question and the answer varies for both of us. Whether we look at the most significant physical or emotional challenge, our responses differ.
A Camino journey in a wheelchair is filled with challenges of all kinds. Whether they are physical struggles, emotional/spiritual awakenings, moments of facing demons, or equipment failure – tough situations are bound to happen.
When we get asked about the toughest part of our journey, we can’t ever land on just one. The physical strain was brutal on both Patrick and me, but there were definitely mental challenges as well. The nature of physical vs. mental struggles differ enough it’s important to address both.
When Patrick and I hit the trail, some people look at me in my wheelchair and think I’m just along for the ride, but the trail took a toll on my body. The long days going over dirt and rock were hard on my backside and spine. To make matters worse, anytime the trail wasn’t flat from side to side, which was often, I got an unexpected workout. With only one wheel in the front of my chair, it had a propensity to drift to the left or right depending on the sideways slope of the trail. I had to lean in the opposite direction of any pitch, using my body weight to counter the drift of the chair. Every day on the trail was a core work out that left my stomach muscles fatigued and sore when my head hit the pillow at night.
A close second in the physical realm of struggle was being constantly manhandled. Patrick was always as gentle as he could be, but everyday I was rolled back and forth in bed in order to get dressed. Then I would be lifted to a seated position and drug to the end or side of the bed, picked up and placed in my chair and then adjusted. Each time I had use a bathroom I would have to be lifted onto the toilet or (when my wheelchair was to big to fit) seated on a chair and drug into the bathroom. Every shower meant multiple transfers and at bedtime the process of the morning was done again, but in reverse. This was exhausting, but so were the emotional challenges.
When I am in my wheelchair at home, I have some say about when and where I go. My motorized set of wheels gives me a certain amount of independence. On the Camino we used a manual wheelchair. This meant I had absolutely no control. While this definitely wasn’t easy, completely depending on Patrick and others during tough spots challenged my heart and mind. Watching friends and strangers pour out every ounce of strength and determination they possessed was difficult. I wanted nothing more than to be able help, but I simply couldn’t. People endured remarkable amounts of pain and fatigue, and they did it all for me. Watching this was humbling to say the least. It was so challenging, but I am forever grateful for having experienced that kind of love lived out.
Though we faced many struggles, I wouldn’t trade any of them. Each moment I look back on, easy or hard, is a part of who I am and fills me with appreciation for each person that helped me accomplish something I never could have done on my own.