WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — When you walk long distances with a heavy pack on your back in the middle of summer, lots of thoughts crowd your head, not all of them printable, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
You might wonder why you’ve chosen such a burdensome undertaking when you could be sitting at the beach with a popsicle-stained tongue or worry that the latest bone, joint or toenail ache could progress into something unmanageable.
But if you stay on the trail long enough, something else happens. Mental clouds part. The crush of the world reaches arm’s length.
“When there’s nothing to distract you,” Lindsay Thompson said, “a lot of times you get big breakthroughs in life.”
Thompson, 25, set out to document the stories behind the breakthroughs last year while hiking El Camino de Santiago, which is commonly known as the Camino. It’s a 500-mile trail that cuts across the top of Spain, ending in Santiago de Compostelo, where St. James is believed to be buried.
For hundreds of years, pilgrims from around the world have walked the Camino, in search of spiritual growth and a deeper sense of self. Many pilgrims carry with them a stone taken from their home and lay it atop a pile about three-fourths into the journey, a gesture meant to symbolize the release of a burden that has been weighing them down.
Thompson had long been fascinated with the Camino and the stories of those pilgrims and sensed it would make a great first project after graduating from UNC School of the Arts’ film program in 2011.
“I thought it sounded kind of crazy for my first project, to walk 500 miles in a foreign country,” Thompson said.
As she was debating whether to take the plunge, Thompson noticed signs for Camino Bakery, a new bakery that was about to open on Fourth Street. The bakery also uses a scallop shell as its symbol, the trail marker used on the Camino trail.
“To see that randomly show up seemed like a sign to move forward with the film,” Thompson said.
The end product is “Travel Light,” a full-length documentary that is in post-production. Thompson, who later worked at the bakery, hopes to have the film finished by early fall with the goal of getting it on the festival circuit in 2015.
Until then, photographs from her experience on the Camino are on display until the end of this month at — where else? — Camino Bakery. The sale of photographs and postcards from that exhibit will go toward the film’s costs.
Thompson and a small film crew spent 37 days on the Camino, beginning by crossing over the Pyrenees, the rugged mountain chain the borders Spain and France.
The Camino is no wooded trail. It meanders through villages and fields and along highways in busy towns, with hostels and bunkhouses set aside for pilgrims.
At times, Thompson said, she might as well have been walking along Silas Creek Parkway. One section reminded her of walking through the middle of South Carolina, with fewer trees.
“People do the trail for a lot of different reasons,” Thompson said. “Not everyone is on a spiritual quest. But often, people are in a transition point in their lives. They may have graduated from college, lost their job. People are finding answers for their next step.”
Thompson and her crew tread lightly with the pilgrims, making connections before probing them for their stories.
“We didn’t have set expectations going in. We just wanted to live life and see what we could find,” she said.
The film focuses on three main characters including a French woman who used to be a professional clown looking for a new direction in life and an American who has struggled with substance abuse in the past and now runs an orphanage in Thailand.
Over the course of walking the trail, which can be crowded in the summer, pilgrims begin to bond, sharing bits of their lives, joined by the common goal for spiritual enlightenment.
“The Camino has become this place where people are more open with each other than they may be in everyday life,” Thompson said. “Maybe it’s because you’re moving slowly or from different corners of the world. It’s very normal on the Camino for people to ask, ‘Where are you from? Why are you walking?’ It might be days later when you ask, ‘Oh, what is your name?’”
The film’s title, “Travel Light,” symbolizes the goal of every backpacker but also the metaphorical release of weight that many pilgrims experience at the journey’s end.
Thompson joked that her burden was making the film.
“This was a test to see if I could live life with a camera and find honesty and truth and a compelling story,” she said.
For more information about the film, visit www.travelightfilm.com.