'Camino San Luis Obispo'—recreating a pilgrimage here at home

May 30, 2020

A San Luis Obispo woman was about to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime spiritual journey, traveling to Italy and walking 500 miles in 29 days along a historic pilgrim route. But when the coronavirus squashed those plans, Stephanie Teaford thought of an innovative pilgrimage here at home.

For centuries, hikers from around the world have set out on Italy's St. Francis’ Way, a Catholic pilgrim route following an ancient road leading from Florence to Rome through Tuscany, Umbria and Assisi.

San Luis Obispo resident Stephanie Teaford was ready for the physical and mental challenge of making the trek when COVID-19 forced Italy to close its borders.

“I realized I couldn’t go to Italy, but I thought to myself—if it’s an internal journey, something that you’re undertaking, a transformation within yourself—there is no reason I couldn’t still do that, and do that in our own community,” Teaford said.

So Teaford embarked on a quest from home, leaving her front door each morning for 15-to-20 mile excursions around San Luis Obispo. The goal— the peace and mental clarity she hoped for in Italy.

“That’s what I tried to recreate in this walk that I decided to do which I’m calling the Camino San Luis Obispo,” Teaford said.

Stephanie Teaford on her homemade camino version of the camino.
Credit Stephanie Teaford

As she walked, she refrained from texting and calls—turned off the podcasts and music, listening instead to nearly empty streets, the stores closed.

“So it’s just being totally open to the sounds I was hearing, and what I was seeing,” Teaford said. “You kind of get in a zone where you don’t even notice the time passing. Sometimes I would think did an hour pass, has three hours passed?”

During a time when many people can’t connect, Teaford did stop and talk to people she’d encounter along the way from a socially-safe distance—workers, homeowners, people without a home sleeping on the streets and in the creek beds.

“It really puts a lot of thoughts in your mind...a lot of thoughts about equality, about privilege, and a lot of thoughts about how life can be easy for some people and not easy at all for other people and struggles they have,” Teaford said.

As time passed, Stephanie says her body paid a price: she developed blisters and ended the days with aches and pains, like she may have on the Way of St. Francis itself. But she trudged on.

“A camino is really a metaphor for life—you recognize that there is going to be hardship and you just have to walk through it, get through it because sometimes you just have no choice,” Teaford said.

Though it wasn’t the trek on the ancient paths of Italy she’d planned, Teaford said it was clarifying, an experience she recommends. And she hasn’t given up on Italy, and plans to set out on St Francis’ Way when travel is a bit safer.