Comments & Correspondence

Reports and profiles from Harbor Country Hikers’ members and friends.

Member Profile

Katha Kissman:
Tackling the Camino

Until she saw the Martin Sheen/Emilio Estevez film The Way in 2016, Hikers member Katha Kissman had never heard of the Camino de Santiago. A year later, she watched the film again, and decided, “I have to do this.”

The Camino de Santiago—just Camino for short—is a group of pilgrimage routes that lead to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, traditional home of the bones of St. James the Apostle. Pilgrims have been traveling the routes since the 10th century. The Camino Frances, the best-known and longest of the routes, begins in St. Jean Pied de Port in western France and runs 500 miles across northern Spain, and that’s the one Katha plans to walk.

A recently retired consultant to nonprofit groups, Katha has written several books on nonprofit management and has an impressive list of clients. But she is probably best-known in her native New Buffalo for her work with the New Buffalo Railroad Museum, of which she is a co-founder, secretary and treasurer.

Katha had originally planned to tackle the Camino in 2020, but Covid made that impossible. By 2021, Covid still made getting into Spain difficult. In 2022, Katha discovered she needed a hip replacement, and she had to postpone the pilgrimage yet another year. But 2023 is it. She’s flying to London August 23, then departing from St. Jean Pied de Port a week later.

While she waited for Covid restrictions to lift, Katha found a group of past and prospective Camino hikers called American Pilgrims on the Camino, which has a chapter in South Bend. The South Bend group hosted the national conference in 2021. Katha went and joined, and found the group a valuable source of information. More Camino content came from books, courses, You Tube videos and internet articles.

Not so long ago, walking the Camino meant uncertain sleeping arrangements and unpredictable meals. But the number of Camino travelers has exploded in recent decades: In 1985, just 690 pilgrims made their way to Santiago de Compostela. In 2022, the number was 437,507. With growth have come more conventional travel services. Katha has signed up with a tour operator called Follow the Camino, which arranges hotels along the way, meals, luggage transfers and emergency services.

Though not especially moved by the remains of St. James, Katha says she thinks there’s definitely a spiritual side to walking the Camino. “Being outdoors is always spiritual,” she comments, and notes that those who’ve made the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela find spirituality in the disconnect from everyday activities and a greater appreciation for things normally taken for granted.

Katha plans to make the journey in 37 days, an average of about thirteen-and-a-half miles per day. Once she reaches Santiago de Compostela, like many pilgrims she hopes to go the extra 45 miles to Cape Finisterre, land’s end, where Spain meets the ocean. And when she returns, she promises to share her journey with her fellow Harbor Country Hikers.

Health Benefits from Time in the Woods

Member Jill Truitt forwarded the attached article about Forest Bathing–a practice, with Japanese origins, of immersing oneself in the woods–and the health benfits associated with it. Just as you suspected, it’s good for you. To go to the article, click here.

Greetings from the Kellys in Costa Rica

World hikers Joe and Marian Kelly sent us this photo from a trek through the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica. Expecting rain? Bring a leaf.

The Art of Hiking

Ed Ravine, a Hikers member and local artist, bases his watercolor landscapes on the hikes he takes, often with the Harbor Country Hikers. You can usually find him, and his wife, Sue, at the front of the line, where he’s likely scouting out locations for future paintings. Featured above is a watercolor from a recent winter hike at Warren Dunes. Ed’s work is at Local Color Gallery in Union Pier, Mich.