“Challenges Help You Grow” by Jess Pienta

Nov 22, 2022 | Adam Trufant

It’s still surreal for me to think about what the past 4 months have been. Five days after I finished working at Family Camp this past summer, I was in the air flying to Europe. You could say that was a whirlwind for sure. 

After I finished working as Head of Wilderness, I shortly began a new journey – walking the Camino De Santiago. For those of you that do not know, the Camino is a pilgrimage across the Northern part of Spain leading to the shrine of Saint James in Santiago De Compostela. The most common way is the Frances, or French Route which consists of hiking in different terrains such as the mountains, deserts, and for me, near the coast and beaches of Western Spain. I would sleep in albergues, which are hostels for pilgrims, and usually eat the menú del día (menu of the day), community dinners provided by the albergues, or at cafés along the route. 

I started my Camino in Lourdes, France and ended in Fisterra, Spain. I walked over 700 miles in 44 days. Yes, I was ready to be done with walking by the end of it. Yes, I had eaten enough tortillas (Spanish omelets) to last me a lifetime. While the trip itself was so beautiful, it wasn’t really about getting to the end that was important for me. It was about the journey. It was being able to look at myself from day 1 and to be able to look at myself again on day 44 and to see how all the challenges along the way helped me to grow and shaped me into a better person. Since I decided I wanted to disconnect from everything and soak up the moment as much as possible, I did not have access to the internet or my phone much. That means I could not look up directions or contact people at my fingertips. This forced me to figure things out the old-fashioned way. I looked at many maps, constantly asked the locals in my broken Spanish where the supermarket was, and wandered around in the wrong direction many times. 

These were not the only challenges I encountered. Other challenges included wild horses, water supply, cold showers, finding food on Sundays, and homesickness as a 22-year-old. There were times that were difficult, but those were the times I had to look at the bigger picture of things to see this more as an opportunity than a setback. Genuinely, challenges like this are so attractive to me because I see them as ways of growing. 

Camp and the Camino are intertwined in my mind. Maybe because I did them back to back, maybe because there are life lessons found in both. In the two places, you are put in situations where you are challenged. Working at Camp this past summer, I come back summer after summer because camp is a challenge in the most beautiful ways. Whether it’s a homesick child, an upset tummy on a 3-day hike in the backcountry, or helping feed close to 200 people on Sunday Pizza nights, there is always something to challenge me. These challenges were not easy, but they were also not impossible. What I’ve learned about myself after every summer I’ve worked at camp is that I’ve grown so much as a person. I’m constantly being stretched in new ways that make room for growth. This is the same about the Camino. The challenges that I’ve encountered have helped me grow as a person. Camp and the Camino are similar in that they are both safe environments to be out of your comfort zone and to be challenged in new ways. 

To wrap it up, both Camp and the Camino have been huge blessings in my life. There were many points on the Camino where I found myself pulling lessons or practical skills from Camp. I am beyond blessed for this opportunity and for the people at camp that have supported me in this endeavor. It’s been a gift.

Hasta Luego, Buen Camino!

Jessica Pienta

(Left to Right):

The last day of hiking in Fisterra, Spain! You literally cannot walk anymore. 0,000 Km

The first day on the trail, with Lourdes in the background.

Somewhere on the trail, this was one of my two outfit that I hiked in. 

***ckc sponsor me hahahah
The meseta, which is the flat desert plains of Spain. 

I woke up early to see the sunrise some days and it did not disappoint. Beautiful mountain range as you get closer to Santiago!
Leon, Spain. Spent one night touring around the city.
My camino family I arrived in Santiago with! They were from all over- Ireland, England, Poland, New Zealand. They were so fun to be with!
Helping set up or clean up with the community meal was part of the Camino way. Pictured here, I am in my natural habitat- washing dishes!