Clueless on the Camino, but Oh WOW!

Hunter, Helen, & Wick in 2007; clueless, but willing. Then WOW!

Hunter, Helen, & Wick in 2007; clueless, but willing. Then WOW!

That’s Wick, our son Hunter and I twelve years ago, gearing up for our first walk on the Camino de Santiago. We had no idea what to expect, but we all “knew” in our spirits that we were supposed to go.

Finding St. Jean Pied-de-Port, FR on a map and figuring out how to get there from our home in Florida was the first challenge, and the physical part of the walk was something we discovered we could not have really prepared for, though we tried. We were native Floridians doing training walks incorporating ascending and descending back and forth over the arch of a bridge near us to try to get our legs used to the elevation changes we would encounter; going to the YMCA, putting the treadmill on an incline and walking with our packs and hiking boots. We tried.

We always have been, and still are, big walkers. That gave us some sort of misplaced confidence that we could handle the Camino walk physically. We carried more items than we needed in our packs, like so many newbies, not realizing we could have done with much less and picked up anything we hadn't brought along the way. We learned hard lessons about what not to do, which we pass along to our readers now.

But with all of our mistakes and hard lessons, we experienced a closeness to God that lit us up! Though we had intended that the three of us would stay together, in just a few days Wick and I realized we needed to let Hunter go. He was 18 and able to put in the distances day after day to walk to Santiago in the time we had allotted. Wick and I trudged along because I had suffered what turned out to be a stress fracture in my right foot. We just couldn’t keep up with dear John Brierley’s guidebook itinerary.

In the end I had to hop a bus to Santiago, find crutches, and wait for Wick and Hunter. Wick had bussed with me to Sarría, and was able to walk from there solo. Hunter walked solo the whole way. Except for a sick day early on when he took a bus to the next village, he walked 500 miles into Santiago in 23-24 days, with a beard and 20 pounds less body weight.

The three of us had many fun, holy, glorious and painful moments along the Way. We met some of the most interesting and different people, and realized that we wanted to take home with us that sense of God’s presence that was so profound on the Camino. Hunter heard God’s call on that trip to come back to Spain and serve Camino pilgrims for his life’s work, and so he is doing. He went to seminary for training, and is now an ordained Anglican priest with plans to move to Spain in January 2020 with his wife Stephie and little son to live into that call. We have all been back many times for more walks on different routes, and repeating favorite sections of the Camino Francés. And other family members and friends have also walked.

All of this is what moves us to encourage and help others go and walk. I wrote a guidebook with tips to remove some of the barriers we faced as first-timers. We created a website for people to use a resource to plan and prepare, and we continue to write and talk about the Camino on whatever platform God provides.

One last thought for you, “What do you have on your calendar in the next 12 months that will take you deeper into God’s love?” If not the Camino, then find some other way to unplug and go deep with 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 have continued to make many more trips to research routes, test gear, and volunteer along The Way. In 2016 they founded Camino Provisions, which includes a website full of Camino resources and blogs, and are more active than ever before on FaceBook and Instagram encouraging others to discover and live the pilgrim lifestyle. You can contact them at