It’s the kind of smile that, if you stare at it too long, you find your own mouth forming into a grin. She walked up to me outside of Little Amps to shake my hand. Throughout our chat, her high energy and infectious smile never seemed to fade. Even within the first few minutes, I could tell she was never one to slow down.
Perhaps that’s what made putting her life on hold to walk 500 miles through El Camino de Santiago trail so astonishing.
Pawelski’s first book, “One Woman’s Camino: Each Step the Promise of a New Beginning,” tells her account of coming out of her corporate job to walk one of Spain’s famous trails. Through her journey, she comes in contact with a variety of characters, reconnects with her faith and reflects on what she really wants out of life.
“What began as what I thought was a mother-daughter journey really became clear that this was my camino, and that it was an opportunity for reflection and for introspection amid today’s world of distraction,” she said.
Pawelski went from working for a congressman and former President George H.W. Bush in Washington, D.C., back to Pennsylvania for Hershey’s corporate company, for Giant Food and for the local advertising and marketing agency, PPO&S, with little to no breaks in between. Then, in 2015, something hit her. She knew she needed a change.
While Pawelski was having her awakening, her daughter, Juliet, was planning a trip to Spain. With a jolt of courage, Pawelski asked, “Can I come too?” and, to her surprise, Juliet said, “Yes.”
It took Pawelski and Juliet 35 days to walk 500 miles through El Camino. The 1,000-year-old pilgrimage is arranged into different towns that travelers can explore and pass through.
Each night, they stayed in a dormitory-style hostel, woke up early, put on their headlamps and walked until about 2 p.m., before the Spanish sun became unbearable.
Throughout their journey, they became familiar with other travelers, some even becoming close friends outside of the path, and got to hear what brought them to the Camino.
“Some of them were walking and grieving,” she said. “Some of them were walking to remember, and others were walking to forget. But everyone was walking and sort of sorting through life’s big questions.”
Each chapter in “One Woman’s Camino” is broken down by theme such as “Simplicity,” “Truth,” and “Balance,” and then follows Pawelski’s journey as she finds the meaning of those words along the Camino.
Not every moment was beautiful. There were times that she and Juliet barked at each other during the journey. On her birthday, she reflected on how lost she felt and wondered if she made the right choice to leave her job. There were times she doubted her endurance and felt homesick. But she persisted.
“One of the greatest takeaways was this hanging on to the mindfulness and how hard it is,” she said. “You sort things out and have this much more serene perspective on things. And then you get home and you drive in traffic again and you plug back into a busy world.”
Throughout her time on El Camino, Pawelski kept journal entries and blog posts that she eventually tied together to create, “One Woman’s Camino.”
The book has already received praise on Amazon’s reviews and was featured on ABC27. Readers are even sharing their pictures with the book (and a glass of wine) during their own adventures and vacations.
“Don’t wait,” she told me after I shared my own desire to plan a Camino trip. “What are you so afraid of? As far as we know, we only get to go around life once. So, you might as well do it your way and be who you want to be.”
Photos: Tracy Pawelski along El Camino (top) and signing books at Midtown Cinema in Harrisburg.