Seward native Tim Hartman saw a movie called “The Way,” which led him on a month-long journey across Spain.
Hartmann spent 18 years of his life in Seward before the Army sent him to Germany.
“I was stationed in Germany from late 2001 to early 2010, and then half of the time I wasn’t there because I was in Iraq. That was like my home station,” Hartmann said.
He then moved back to the United States and lived in Lincoln for a bit. While in Lincoln, Hartmann saw the movie “The Way,” the story of a man who walked the Camino de Santiago in honor of his late son.
“It totally changes his life,” he said.
Hartmann said a lot of people who walk the way do it for religious reasons.
“Mine was kind of a mix of that, but I have a lot of post traumatic stress from 18 years in the army, so I was kind of seeking a way to deal with that,” he said. “I think it was a life-altering thing. I met a lot of parents that were carrying ashes of their children, I met children that were carrying ashes of their parents. Four or five different people I got to know really well. That was kind of just to bring their loved one along with them.”
Hartmann and his German wife currently live in Germany in a small village of about 3,000 people. Hartmann was going to school and decided to start training for the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of Saint James, by walking local trails.
“(It was a ) solid five months of planning and preparing. I was going to school full-time in Germany, so it was kind of my hobby. My wife would call it an obsession I think,” he said. “I was training for it, preparing for it. I did a lot of research. Every single thing I took with me I weighed, grams, ounces, everything. Made spreadsheets. Some people in my family thought I was crazy, others are like ‘oh that’s kind of cool.’”
On May 22 Hartmann started walking the route made famous by a Catholic saint named James.
The route spans the northern part of Spain and was first known as a pagan route before James’ walk.
“Over the centuries different people have guarded it and kept it and it kind of gains popularity, loses, gains,” he said.
There are many routes on the way, but they all end in Santiago de Compostela. Hartmann trained on the Jakobsweg in Germany. There is the Portuguese Way in Portugal, the Norte which goes along the northern boarder of Spain and the most popular Camino Frances or French Way, which is the route Hartmann took to Santiago de Compostela, where the cathedral in which St. James is buried is located.
Hartmann started his journey at Saint Jean Pied de Port in France. It took him 30 days to get to Santiago de Compostela.
Hartmann followed a popular guide book by a man named John Brierley who has walked the route many times.
“I think he hiked it in 1988 or ‘89 and every year since then he’s (got) an updated guide book, so this is one of the more popular guides. He breaks it up into 33 days,” he said.
As he went along Hartmann tore out pages of the guide to save weight in his pack.
“People I hiked with thought I was crazy, because my pack was half as heavy as theirs. But then you’re doing well over a million steps and I’m pretty beat up from years in the army,” Hartmann said.
Hartmann started his journey alone but found many people along the way, including a group he calls his “Camino family.”
“The group I kept running up with, we kind of had the same pace of hiking and then we also liked to avoid the usual stops in guide books,” Hartmann said. “Because that’s where there’s big crowds of people. So we would bypass that and stay in more of a small town that’s really relaxed.”
On the route, Hartmann explained, there were hostels called albergues, some of them nicer than others.
“Some of these places you pay as little as five euros, which is like $6, and some you didn’t pay anything ... it was donativos or donation,” he said. “Some of those were run down but very homey and relaxing and just a friendly atmosphere.”
Hartmann said some were big and housed 100 beds and others were people’s homes they opened up to strangers. Hartmann said he liked that atmosphere because he got to know people better.
On his way, Hartmann said he kept a log and tried to keep friends and family updated with daily Facebook posts.
“Some days there wasn’t coverage. I think there was even like a six-, seven-day gap where then I would share like 25 pictures, a video and kind of some stuff out of a small journal I had. People I met, where I started, where I ended up, significant things that happened that day,” Hartmann said.
There were markers along the way. He said different regions marked the route differently.
“The majority of the time you would follow the seashell or the light,” he said. “It just kind of varied by region. The seashell is the sign of St. James. It was his thing, I guess, sea life and about birth and rebirth. Most of the time you could find them and the last two decades or so they kind of modernized it, or made it more obvious for people.”
On his way, Hartmann met many people from different countries: Germany, Ireland, South Korea and Australia.
“Most people, aside from Americans or Australians, they come and they go for maybe a week and then they’ve got to go back to work,” Hartmann said. “They come back a year later pick up, do another week.
“Americans, we come so far to go to it, or Australians. They are like, ‘well I came all this way, I paid a lot of money, I’m going to do the whole thing.’”
Hartmann said he was determined from the beginning to complete the whole route. During his walk, Hartmann and some friends he met heard horror stories of a section called the meseta between the towns of León and Astorga.
“We’re like looking forward to it. All these people skipped it and we were loving it,” Hartmann said. “That was the section they referred to as the desert, but it’s just like Nebraska. So it was just like walking across the countryside in Nebraska for three or four days.”
He said walking in this area struck a chord with him.
“I didn’t count on how much parts of Spain would look just like Nebraska. For me it hit a string ‘cause I hadn’t been home in two years,” he said. “It was really beautiful.”
Hartmann said there were some times when he questioned why he was walking the route, but he would do it again in a heartbeat.
“Just like with anything, you’re like ‘why am I out here?’” Hartmann said. “But then you’re in the middle of Spain and you meet people with like-minded reasons for being there and you get to know them and it’s great.”
Once he reached Santiago de Compostela, he and a group of his “Camino family” decided to continue their journey on some smaller pagan routes.
“I decided I wanted to go to the ocean so that was another four days. So I think it was a total of 34 days walking. I spent a few days there before going back to Germany,” Hartmann said.
“Muxia and Fisterra, they’re the two pagan routes at the end. They mark differently and then it’s like the end of the end,” Hartmann said. “Fisterra was called the end of the earth, and that’s actually what that means in Latin. Even though that’s not even the end of Spain but back in the day, they called it the end of the Earth. So a lot of people will go there but they won’t go to Muxia.
“We did it even weirder. We went to Muxia first and then Fisterra because we wanted the end of the Earth to be the end of the journey.”
Hartmann said he would do it again, but next time he would lighten his pack even more.
Hartmann suggests those who want to do it join groups to get advice from others as well as watch videos of people documenting their journey.
“I’d say definitely talk to people who have done it and then ask yourself why you want to do it,” he said. “Because the people that you meet that were like ‘this seemed like a cool thing to do,’ but they weren’t super serious about it, they just kind of quit after the first three, four days. Or even the first day.”