Superior couple makes pilgrimage across Spain

·5 min read

Nov. 18—SUPERIOR — When Barb Agerter of Superior watched the movie "The Way" a long time ago, she thought "someday."

The 2010 film features Martin Sheen as a father who heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son who died while hiking El Camino de Santiago. Sheen's character decides to make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela along the 807-kilometer trail that travels along the coast of Spain.

"That movie really moved me, and I thought 'someday' not thinking it would really happen," Agerter said. "I just rewatched that movie, too ... and this time I could say 'I remember that spot' and 'I remember where that spot is.'"

In September, Barb and her husband, Tom Agerter, flew to Madrid, Spain and took a train to Pamplona, where they boarded a bus for the 25-minute ride to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France where the trail starts.

"How she got that big bus up around those switchbacks in the mountains, I don't know," Tom said of their bus driver as the couple started their 33-day, 502-mile hike along El Camino de Santiago.

Barb said she knew the pilgrimage was popular, and the couple decided to go in the fall, hoping the journey would be along a less busy trail.

That wasn't the case.

"We met people from Canada, Ireland, Afghanistan, Israel, Poland," Barb said.

"A number of times we would see these people for a number of days on the trail," Tom said. "And everybody takes a break at a little different spot, so you're leap-frogging people a lot and you kind of run into people over and over again."

"You kind of develop a relationship with them," Barb said.

The couple had actually planned to take the trip in 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

"We tried to go before COVID," Tom said. "A week before COVID shut everything down here, we almost sent in our deposit for that year. It's a good thing we didn't because everything closed."

He said they had to wait two years to finally make the journey.

In planning the trip, Barb said she read a lot of books about the trail and followed what one girl did; they hired a company to transport their luggage from one hotel to the next as they made the journey across Spain on foot.

Now in their 60s, the high-school sweethearts sailed from Bermuda to Newport, Rhode Island; climbed to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa; and sailed in the Pacific Cup from California to Hawaii in their 50s. They were not keen on the idea of pitching a tent along the way and avoided the pitfalls of having to find a hostel where they could spend the night after walking 15 miles each day; a couple of those days they traveled 20 miles on foot.

"A lot of people stay in hostels, but they were having trouble getting lodging, so they would have to walk four or five more miles to try to get into the next spot," Barb said. "So I was very happy I did it like that."

Tom said they talked to many people who had made the pilgrimage a few times before who said it was the first time they had trouble finding lodging.

"I was glad Barb hired a company to make these arrangements ahead of time," Tom said. "We had a room every night."

He was also grateful his wife insisted that they train for the journey along the Munger Trail over the summer. Aside from a couple of days pressing onward despite feeling ill, and one blister Barb experienced along the trail, they were prepared for El Camino de Santiago, he said.

Barb said there was one day where they walked at a faster pace, which left them sore, but they learned from it. Walking 1 mile in 23 minutes proved to be the right pace.

The couple said they traveled each day on foot, stopping along the way to rest or get something to eat every couple of hours or 4 miles as they made their way across Spain. When they got to their hotel at night, they would put their feet up for about an hour, and by morning, they were ready to go again.

Tom said the trail took them through the Pyrenees Mountains for about 1 1/2 weeks before they came upon larger towns, which were also an adventure to walk through.

Along the way, they collected stamps from various places in a little book to earn certificates noting they had walked the journey.

"I don't know what I'm going to do with it; I still got it," Barb said of her certificate.

"Each day's progress is marked by those individual stamps," Tom said.

There are seven different ways people can go, including one route that starts in Portugal, one in southern Spain and the longest one — the route they took from France — but all trails lead to Santiago.

When they finished the trail, Tom said 2,100 people went to the pilgrim office where they could get their certificate for accomplishing the feat. They were advised to go to a church and knock on a door where a priest would give them a religious certificate for completing the trail. He said they picked an entrance to the church, walked down an aisle and just happened to be in the right place.

"Through the whole trip, something was guiding us," Tom said. "... It was a fantastic experience."

Barb said the trip left her with a feeling of peace.

"It taught me you're capable of a lot more than you think," Barb said.