Could We Make the Pyrenees Crossing This Time?

Wick was still smiling, but our last Snickers bar said it all.    Could we make it all the way over the Pyrenees?

Wick was still smiling, but our last Snickers bar said it all. Could we make it all the way over the Pyrenees?

In the Fall of 2016 we didn’t know if there would be any more walks on the Camino for the two of us, much less a Pyrenees crossing. My husband Wick had just been told by his cardiac team that it was time to replace his leaky heart valve. In November he had the surgery and we entered a longer recovery time than we anticipated. By spring he was finally past some setbacks and able to venture out onto our driveway for some easy short walks using his Leki walking poles for balance and confidence.

As he increased his distance under the watchful eyes of his docs and his strength began returning, we set our sights on a fall trip to Europe, which would include an attempt to walk the first section of the classic Camino Francés route from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France over the Pyrenees mountains to Roncesvalles, Spain. 

But 10 months later, on September 27, 2017 we set out before dawn from SJPP for what we call our 10th “Camino-versary.” (I know, we are big nerds!) We had managed our first Pyrenees crossing in September of 2007, and now we would try it with Wick’s new heart valve. It was a gorgeous weather day, just like it had been 10 years ago. Eleven hours after leaving St. Jean we arrived in Roncesvalles. My phone’s health app recorded walking 37,993 steps, 18.8 miles, and the equivalent of 228 flights of stairs climbed. Our maps show this section ascends to nearly 5,000 feet in 11 miles, then descends steeply to 3,300 feet in the last few miles. 

“A prayer with every step” was how we walked for the last couple of hours. The sun was dipping behind the ridgeline we were walking beside bringing an early dusk into the forests in the final stretch. Our strength was flagging, but God gave us his strength to keep going. Thanks be to God, we did it! We were completely spent. No reserves, but saturated with the beauty of the walk and God’s presence.

When future peregrinos (pilgrims) ask us about the Camino, they seem to be intrigued by how many times we have walked. (Seven or eight Camino walks since 2007.) For us it is an opportunity to soak in the presence of God in the beauty of our surroundings, in His provision as we go, and in the hearts and lives of fellow pilgrims. Even if you don’t know God yet or doubt His existence, we would encourage you to walk the Camino with your spirit open for what God wants to reveal. It can come in many forms. Watch and listen for Him.


Wick and Helen Van Wagenen first walked the Camino in 2007, and God has used every part of their experience to shape their lives since then. They are grateful for the opportunities to make many more trips to research routes, test gear, and volunteer along The Way. The Van Wagenens and their family and teammates continue walking the Camino, and enjoy helping others make the trip of a lifetime. You can contact them at