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A Trip of a Lifetime

When Lee Sandstead, assistant professor of art, and Rebecca Raab returned from walking 600 miles through France and Spain in the summer of 2010, friends told them it was a trip of a lifetime. But as soon as they finished, they knew they would do it again - and this time for their honeymoon.

The bones of St. James the Apostle were found in North Western Spain around the year 800 A.D., and shortly thereafter launched one of Christendom's greatest pilgrimages. Known as the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), ever since hundreds of millions of pilgrims have marched through Europe to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Pilgrims through the ages have walked the Camino de Santiago for many reasons. The medieval pilgrim walked for the forgiveness of sins, reduction in purgatory and to help their loved loves. The renaissance pilgrim focused more on adventure, companionship and the knowledge gained walking through thousands of years of history.

"Rebecca and I both immediately fell in love with our walk last year," said Sandstead. "So much so, that while pilgrims have walked this trail for many different reasons, we decided to walk it in celebration of our honeymoon. Travel is intense, and traveling via Camino is intense multiplied by one hundred."

Sandstead and Rebecca were married June 18, 2011 on a section of the Banister River in Halifax County known as "the Pines." Filled with sentimental value for both, they chose a Camino-themed wedding.

"Lee proposed to me while walking the Camino in 2010," said Rebecca, "and we spent a good amount of time during our first Camino discussing wedding plans. If we saw something we liked, such as a flower or color, it became part of our wedding."

While last year they walked the section of the Camino de Santiago known as the Camino Francs, this year, they walked a route known as the Camino Portuguse. The Camino Francs is important because it is the main route much of Europe travels to Santiago. It is the route that Charlemagne, Isabelle and Ferdinand and countless other historical personalities have traveled. The Camino Portuguse, which starts in Lisbon, has more significance, because it follows the route that St. James walked while spreading the new Christian religion to the Iberian Peninsula.

While there are many routes to Santiago, the Camino Francs receives about 85 percent of the traffic, and the Camino Portuguse receives only about 7 percent.

And for the newly married couple, this caused some problems.

"Physically, walking 500 miles is extremely difficult," said Sandstead. "But while walking the Francs, the pilgrim is immediately thrust into beautiful bucolic scenes, ancient history and intense friendships with other pilgrims. With the Portugal route, there are very few pilgrims, and the first 250 miles are along major roads and through suburbs. So psychologically, the Camino Portuguse is much more difficult to walk."

Which in the end for these newly-weds, brought them closer together.

"Since we spent a great deal of time together in absolutely exhausting situations," said Rebecca, "we had to find ways to entertain ourselves. Our iPhones were already loaded with books, so each night we would read and then have Camino Book Club for two hours each morning. That proved so entertaining that we divided our days into meetings: 'Camino Planning,' 'Camino Safety,' 'Camino News,' and - since we are from the South - 'Camino Gossip!'"

So was this the trip of a lifetime or are the newly-weds planning yet another pilgrimage?

"Actually, we are planning another trip," Sandstead said. "Next summer, we want to walk 500 miles through France and 500 miles through Spain. Then, I think we'll finally be done with the Camino! For a while..."

While mostly traveled by Europeans, the Camino is gaining a larger American audience. Sandstead has lectured about the Camino to packed audiences in California, Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina, and, along with his other scheduled talks, he will be speaking on the Camino at Collegiate School in Richmond on March 14, 2012.

When asked if he had any regrets from taking his new wife on such a demanding and emotionally exhausting honeymoon, Lee remarked: "Rebecca and I have been married for one month now. My only regret is that it has not been two."

If you think you would like to walk part of the Camino de Santiago, please click here for pictures and information for your first Camino.

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