homepage logo

Whole new world; Hollis woman writes book about 38-day hike in Spain

By Staff | Dec 26, 2016

After Brian Fersch returned from a seven-month, 2,200-mile hike through the Appalachian Mountains – an experience that his wife, Theresa, says made him a better person – he encouraged her to "do something amazing" herself.

She did – and now happily shares her experience with others.

Fersch, of Hollis, has published a book, "Sunrise in Spain," and gives talks about the 38 days she spent hiking the Camino de Santiago across Spain.

Her hike, nearly 500 miles long, brought her to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain.

"It was an absolutely amazing, life-changing experience," Theresa Fersch said. "Many people have tried to explain it, and you just can’t."

The pilgrimage routes of the Camino are popular not only with hikers, but also with cyclists and people on organized tours. More than 200,000 pilgrims are drawn to the course annually. Many people follow the routes for spiritual reasons.

As Fersch journeyed the Camino in May and June 2015, she was joined by strangers who became friends. The people she bonded with – she calls them her "Camino family" – included hikers from Germany, Tennessee, New Zealand, Netherlands, Canada and South Africa.

"It’s very organic how it happens," said Fersch, who typically walked 12-18 miles a day. "You run into people all day long. You run into them and talk to them. Everyone’s walking at a different pace. Some people you just click with.

"The Camino is an extremely loving and supportive and compassionate community of people. People come from all over the world, and the people who hike the Camino are interested in meeting people from all over. They’re always very welcoming, very receptive to other cultures."

Fersch saw remarkable sights, including the old arch stone bridge at Hospital de Orbigo, quaint towns, wheat field and vineyards, Roman architecture and churches, and a Templar castle in the city of Ponferrada.

Despite the wonderful sights and the meaningful friendships she made, the
journey – which included several days hotter than 100 degrees – wasn’t without its mental and physical challenges.

"It’s extremely difficult on your body when you first start hiking," said Fersch, who commutes two hours a day to work eight to 10 hours as a systems engineer in Massachusetts. "When you first start hiking, your body doesn’t understand what you’re doing, doesn’t like what you’re doing, and it resists every way it can. You get blisters, you get bum knees, everything aches, everything hurts."

On a trip she embarked on by herself, in a country where she didn’t know the language, Fersch felt anxiety about whether she would find a bed to sleep in each night. But the biggest mental hurdle to overcome was the fear that she wouldn’t be able to complete the journey.

"Or that you just can’t go on," said Fersch, who didn’t consider herself to be adventurous before making the trip. "Your mind gives out much faster than your body does, so you spend much of your time trying to keep yourself motivated so you can continue your hike."

Fersch, wearing running shoes and carrying few clothes and items, including a guide book, stayed at pilgrim hostels along the Camino, known as albergues, to sleep and shower.

She blogged on her cellphone, journaling and reflecting about each day. The blogs served as the foundation of her 321-page book, her personal account of the trip, which includes many photos of her journey.

She blogged about her trip’s physical and mental challenges, her experiences on the trail and with her fellow hikers, and what she learned about herself.

"The Camino really does have three parts to it – one for the body, one for the mind and one for the soul," she wrote as her journey was coming to an end. "I’ve feel I’ve now experienced all three phases completely."

Fersch, who took a sabbatical from work to travel through Spain, and was joined by Brian on the last 100 miles of her journey, shot video and took about 1,000 photos with her cellphone.

"You do not come back from a trip like this the same person," she said. "Your perception of the world is different, your ideals are different."

In addition to her book, which is available digitally and in print, Fersch created a 22-minute online video featuring many of the images she brought back.

"The Camino is a truly extraordinary experience," Fersch said. "It allows people to live life the way it was meant to be lived. It’s so full of love and compassion, positive energy. You can’t attain that any other way. You can’t find that anywhere else in the world that I know of."

Since her trip, she has given talks in New Hampshire, including one at the Hollis Social Library, and in Maine, Massachusetts and Virginia.

Fersch said her presentations have inspired several people to do the hike, including a Hollis woman who fell in love with a hiking partner from Germany and plans to marry him.

"I hope it will inspire them to reach outside of their comfort zone," Fersch said of the audiences who attend her talks. "I want them to reach beyond any physical horizon to find out what they’re truly capable of. That would be my dream for everyone – for them to do something amazing for themselves."


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *