Some people celebrate their 60th birthday with a cake and a family party.
But independent dealer Guy Strohmeier instead went on a month-long hike from the French Pyrenees to northwestern Spain to mark his six decades.
Strohmeier, owner of Guy Strohmeier’s Auto Center in Lakeport, Calif., couldn’t figure out what to do for his milestone birthday. Then his wife Sandy watched a movie called “The Way,” about a father who takes a pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in honor of his son.
The trail, also known as the Way of St. James, was a route of pilgrimage going back to the Middle Ages that people took to visit the shrine of the Apostle James at the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.
His wife told him about the movie when he returned from auction and made him watch it.
“She said, here’s what you need to do,’” Strohmeier said. “’Why don’t you call (their son) Daniel and see if he wants to go?’”
Daniel Strohmeier had just recently left the military and was attending school in New York. He accompanied his father for 15 days of the 33-day hike.
“I did the rest by myself and all the other people along the way,” Stroheimer said.
He started an April 24 and finished on May 25 and took three days off in between to rest.
It wasn’t a spiritual journey as much as a vacation and time with his son, Strohmeier said.
He started at the Pyrenees in France at a place called St. Jean Pied de Port, which hundreds of people use as their starting point each day.
Strohmeier is not a regular hiker. Before this trek, the longest he had ever hiked was 10 miles.
But on this trip, he averaged about 18 and-a-half miles a day.
“I carried the backpack the whole way,” Strohmeier said. “I carried a change of clothes, a light sleeping bag, rain gear if needed and a pair of flip-flops to relax.”
The trip brought other challenges, including a painful sprained ankle and a pair of kidney stones.
Fellow travelers helped each other out during the journey.
“People would share blister packs and I would share some ibuprofen or someone would share some kinetic tape for my ankle,” Strohmeier said. “The saying is, ‘the Camino provides.’”
Travelers who want to sleep in a tent can do that, but along the way there are numerous towns with hostels and albergues (shelters) to stay.
“You pay so much and stay the night,” Strohmeier said. “You might stay in a hostel with 10 people or you might stay in one with 100 people.”
A typical day on the Camino was about $12 for the hostel, $12 for food and maybe $6 for drinks, Strohmeier said.
One of the things that made the trip so special was the people he met along the way.
“You meet people of every country, every nation and every language,” he said. “You might walk alongside someone for a couple of days and then see them five days later or eight days later. You might have dinner with them and ask them how the day went.”
He walked with the young and old. He walked for two weeks with one family from Leon, Spain, who’s children were 3, 5, 7 and 11 years old. The oldest person he saw was an 84-year-old man who was traveling the route for the third time.
He also got a potential sale along the way.
“I met a guy who is going to be flying to the U.S. to buy a car from me because he wants a particular car,” Strohmeier said.
“But I have a dozen new close friends.”
Strohmeier admitted it was very emotional when he completed his 550-mile journey.
“When you get to the end, there are literally hundreds of people who are also coming in, finishing (their travels),” he said. “So it’s emotional, tearful and joyful.”
There’s a place where you take a rock and drop it off at the foot of a cross, as people lay their burdens and prayers down, he said.
The traditional endpoint is Santiago de Compostela, but there is an extended route travelers can take.
“If you walk three more days, you can get to Finisterre, which is what they call ‘the end of the world,’” Strohmeier said. “I stopped at Santiago de Compostela. I figure I’ll take my wife back to hike those three days.”
Strohmeier has lots of memories as he took about 700 pictures along the way.
“And it was a great way to lose 14 pounds,” he said.