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Hiking El Camino Trail: Islander writes new guidebook

Avid hiker Bryson Guptill embarked on his 34-day hike of El Camino trail with a guidebook in hand, but quickly found himself in need of a better one — so he wrote it himself.

'Be prepared to be moved spiritually'

Bryson Guptill walks on the 807-km Camino Frances trail from France to Spain. (Submitted by Bryson Guptill)

Avid hiker Bryson Guptill embarked on his 34-day hike of El Camino trail with a guidebook in hand, but quickly found himself in need of a better one — so he wrote it himself. 

The retired civil servant, 66, and his partner Sue Norton embarked on a 800-kilometre pilgrimage from France to Spain in September 2016 — a journey popular since the 1100s, and last year undertaken by nearly 300,000 people. 

"The existing guidebooks, and especially the most popular one, are quite bulky," Guptill explained from the couple's Charlottetown home. "And also didn't have particularly good maps. I'm a bit of a map fanatic, and I found myself mapping what we were doing anyway with the GPS on my phone." 

'The first two weeks, the Camino was all about grapes. Grapes we saw, grapes we ate, grapes we drank,' Guptill wrote on his Facebook page. (Submitted by Bryson Guptill )

Guptill's guide, Camino Francés A Practical Guide to Walking the Pilgrim's Path from St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, is different than existing books, he said, in that it's more of a daily guide to walking the trail — details on which routes you can take, where to stay and where to eat. 

It's also peppered with some of Guptill's beautiful scenic photos. 

'This was the half-way point, but you wouldn't know if you didn't have a GPS. No indication on the trail,' wrote Bryson Guptill of this spot. (Submitted by Bryson Guptill)
'Fresh water is always a challenge on the route, but it's more fun with fountains like this,' writes Guptill. (Submitted by Bryson Guptill)

Which way?

As the couple hiked, Guptill paused to take lots of photos with his phone and write notes, "especially noting places where we were having trouble figuring out which way to go," he said. At the end of the day he recorded where they went and interesting things they saw. He uses screen shots of the maps he used to navigate. 

Bryson Guptill snapped this shot as he and his wife hiked into the town of Astorga, Spain. (Submitted by Bryson Guptill)

There's a series of hostels along the way used by pilgrims, called albergues, in which Guptill and Norton stayed and review in the guide.  

Some of El Camino is very urban. 'Heading west out of Logrono this morning before sunrise. The suburbs went on for about 10 km!' Guptill wrote on Facebook. (Submitted by Bryson Guptill)

They carried everything they needed in their backpacks — extra layers of clothing, toiletries and a sleeping bag — which each weighed just over five kilograms or 12 pounds.  

Guidebook and souvenir

It was the couple's first international hike, but that didn't deter Guptill from assuming the role of guide — he saw a void, and wanted to fill it. 

'I can see a need to post better maps and instructions which are currently woefully inadequate in the guidebooks, especially in the towns and cities,' Guptill wrote on Facebook with this photo of Virgen del Camino, Spain. (Submitted by Bryson Guptill)

"It's not as illogical as it sounds," Guptill joked. "I had done a poetry book about two years ago, so I had a bit of an idea what was involved in self-publishing," he explained. He also published a small book this summer about hiking P.E.I.'s portion of the International Appalachian Trail. 

'This one is billed as "the real Pilgrim experience" — no electricity and no indoor plumbing!' Guptill wrote. He stayed at a different hostel. (Submitted by Bryson Guptill )

His market is people who are thinking about walking the trail — he's just filled orders from Germany and Halifax for prospective hikers, he said, while others buying it have already done the Camino, and want it as a souvenir.

'The famous castle built by the Knights Templar in Ponferrada,' Spain, Guptill posted. (Submitted by Bryson Guptill )

5 Camino tips

Here are Guptill's top tips for hiking the Camino:

  • Pack light. A heavy pack will be hard on your feet.
  • Prepare by walking at least 10 kilometres a day the few weeks before you go.
  • Go with the flow. Don't worry about where to stay or where your next meal is coming from — there are so many places along the trail, neither is ever far away.
  • Be prepared to be moved spiritually. Although Guptill did not undertake the hike for religious reasons, "the whole experience is very moving," he shared. Escaping your daily routine and focusing on your next physical steps can clear your mind.
  • Stay open to making friends along the way. You will meet many others making the hike from all walks of life, who can become good friends. "We've staying in touch with a lot of those people afterwards, and it's fun," he said. 
'The whole experience is very moving,' says Guptill, seen here hiking El Camino trail from France to Spain. (Submitted by Bryson Guptill)

The book, which retails from $19.95, is available now in some P.E.I. bookstores and on a Facebook page Guptill has created to promote it, Camino Francés - New Guidebook. He's holding an official launch at the Confederation Centre library on February 9. 

They made it! The cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, is the ultimate destination of Camino pilgrims, said Guptill. (Submitted by Bryson Guptill )