Rain, sleet or snow, Bayfield resident Lisa Carnahan laces up her leather Merrell boots and walks errands from the bank to the post office to the library.
Carnahan, 58, who is a patient service representative at Mercy Regional Medical Center, has been walking seriously for the past three years. Last year, she completed the Camino de Santiago, a popular pilgrimage in Spain, and walked 2,018 miles for the Run The Year fitness challenge. Carnahan jokingly calls herself the Bayfield Street Walker.
“If you still want to do a story on my little story, we can talk about it. I don’t want to toot my own horn,” Carnahan said on a voicemail. She was out of breath because she was out on a walk.
Carnahan was concerned because there are other people who hoof it around Bayfield and have completed the Camino. But despite the necessary nods to other walkers, Carnahan deserves some credit for the miles of footprints her Merrells have made.
She hasn’t always been a walker, though. As a kid, the only adventures she went on were the ones she read in books. “I grew up with really severe asthma. I wasn’t allowed to do P.E.,” she said. “As an adult, those symptoms have abated, so I wanted to do more physical things.”
Carnahan learned about her physical grit on a first-time punishing rim-to-rim hike across the Grand Canyon. It took her hours longer than it should have and she was miserable, but she did it.
“I had never had that experience of physically pushing myself and then going, ‘Oh yes, I can push a little harder. I can walk more steps,” she said.
After that, Carnahan started walking as an excuse to listen to books on tape, which she doesn’t do anymore. She will occasionally listen to the podcasts “Wait, Wait ... Don’t Tell Me” or “Stuff You Should Know,” but she mostly covers her Bayfield and Three Springs routes in silence, occasionally spotting bear scat, waddling raccoons or spooked deer.
“I suppose it’s a form of meditation. I don’t find myself thinking,” she said.
Her pace would get the stamp of approval from any New Yorker. Speed is necessary for her to reach her yearly goal. This year, she is walking 2,019 miles for Run The Year with her teammate, Lois Deming, a retired Bayfield school teacher. But both try to hit that mark on their own.
“It’s about 5.5 miles per day, which is similar to that 10,000 steps your Fitbit likes to start you out at,” Carnahan said. “You have to really carve out time.”
A generous chunk of last year’s challenge was completed during the Camino. She took the 500-mile journey by herself. The pilgrimage is a network of routes that lead to the tomb of Saint James at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, where the apostle’s remains are buried. Carnahan completed it in 34 days, on her own time.
“My only responsibility was to walk each day to the next destination,” she said. “It’s very freeing to have walking be the only thing on your agenda.”
Many travelers walk the Camino as a spiritual journey, but Carnahan, who is not religious, said that wasn’t her intention.
She was told by a fellow walker, “The first two weeks your body rebels and all you can think of is the pain.”
The second portion is through the high plains of Spain called the Meseta, which some say is boring because there isn’t much to see.
“That’s the time where you are more introspective,” Carnahan said. “Your blisters have healed, you are not in as much pain anymore. Your body doesn’t rebel and you are able to just walk. And then the last two weeks is where (they say) the body and soul come together.”
She said she was surprised her experience was similar to this, and even though she was traveling alone, it was meeting and walking with other people that felt meaningful.
One of the most memorable moments she had was at a pilgrims’ Mass at one of the cathedrals along the way. A traveling priest had attendees from different countries sing a song from their childhood. The Americans sang “This Land Is Your Land” and the Australians sang “Waltzing Matilda.” There were people from Japan, Korea – around 20 countries total – who all sang a song. Then together, the whole congregation sang the same hymn to the same tune but in their different languages.
“(The Camino) helped me feel more connected to the world,” she said. “That’s the beauty of walking 500 miles – somehow along the line, you will feel something change in you.”
Carnahan and her husband Matt are soon heading to Scotland for a 100-mile walk called the West Highland Way. A few friends from England she met while on the Camino are coming along. Until then, she will continue to walk her routes and log miles in Bayfield. “I do get grumpy if I don’t walk in a couple of days,” she said.