Book explores students’ journey on medieval pilgrimage route

Roanoke College students walk into the village of Santa Catalina de Somoza during their first days of backpacking the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain.

Roanoke College students walk into the village of Santa Catalina de Somoza during their first days of backpacking the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain.

SALEM, Va.-Allison Gray walked with a fractured foot. Megan Drohan overcame distaste for the outdoors. Jessica Hickam Roffe found meaning and confidence.

These former Roanoke College students and at least three others battled blisters, injuries and exhaustion to forge a path that Spanish pilgrims once took long before them. They hiked the varied terrain of the Camino de Santiago, a medieval pilgrimage route of Christian significance that stretches nearly 500 miles across northern Spain. Pilgrims believed that the remains of Saint James were buried in Santiago de Compostela, the ending point of the trek.

Some students walked about 300 miles of the path during Roanoke College May term classes, while others explored the route individually. Roanoke College Spanish professor Dr. Lynn Talbot gathered reflections from 20 modern-day hikers of this historic route for her book published in March, "Following the Yellow Arrow."

For more than a year, Talbot and her son and co-editor, Andrew Talbot Squires, who have hiked the Camino together three times, collected and edited essays by Roanoke College alumni and students from other colleges. Talbot sought to capture perspectives of the Camino journey from hikers who were 25 years old or younger. Of the many written accounts of this famous route, there are few by young adult travelers, Talbot said.

Talbot was a graduate student studying in Madrid the first time that she set foot on the Camino de Santiago in 1974. That was before yellow arrows guided travelers, and Talbot's small class at the time were the only hikers on the route. Now, large numbers of walkers traverse the Camino each year and in particular, one of its popular paths that begins in France.

Talbot described life on the Camino as one that "is reduced to the utter basics. You walk, you eat, you sleep."

"For me, walking the Camino is a realization that you don't need all of that stuff," she said.

For some former Roanoke College students, the Camino trek strengthened their resolve. Gray, a 2003 graduate who returned to the Camino on her own after first taking the route with a college May term class, endured the pain of a fractured foot and tendonitis to finish the final leg of the journey in the early morning and watch the sun rise over the city of Santiago de Compostela.

Roffe, also a 2003 graduate of Roanoke College, wrote that at times now when she doubts her steps in life, she remembers her drive to finish the Camino course and it gives her confidence. She ends her essay with a wish that yellow arrows could guide her life's direction.

"Now the decisions are all up to me," Roffe wrote. "Or maybe the signs just aren't as clear. They require a lot more soul searching, a little more faith and a lot more praying."

"Following the Yellow Arrow," published by WingSpanPress, is available for sale at www.amazon.com.

Roanoke College, a classic liberal arts college in Salem, Virginia, combines firsthand learning with valuable personal connections in a beautiful, undergraduate setting. Roanoke is one of just seven percent of colleges nationwide with a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and most prestigious honor society. The Princeton Review lists Roanoke as one of the "Best 376 Colleges" in its 2012 guidebook, which includes the top nine percent of colleges, and U.S. News & World Report ranks Roanoke the number seven "Up-and-coming National Liberal Arts College."

Released: June 29, 2011
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