What is your next bucket-list adventure? For professional opera singer and voice coach Awilda Verdejo, it was the 500 mile Camino de Santiago trek over the Pyrenees Mountains to Galicia in northwestern Spain. Awilda realized the trip of a lifetime involved getting herself physically and mentally prepared for the long arduous trek. To help her prepare for her epic adventure, Awilda contacted Sheri Goodwin of Transformational Journeys in Seattle. Awilda had been training on her own, walking the steep hills around the Queen Anne neighborhood and going to REI to get fitted for boots and a pack, but after hearing Sheri speak at the East West Bookshop, she decided to give Transformational Journeys a try. While preparing for a trek of a lifetime, the training you undergo makes all of the difference.
Sheri specializes in preparing women, of any age or physical conditioning level, to not only complete the trek they are planning, but to thrive along the way. Sheri says, “So many amazing and transformational experiences can happen on these treks, but you have to be in the right place physically and mentally to notice them.”
She highlights that the most important thing on a trek is your boots, but the next most important aspect is the preparation of your body and mind. In addition to the leg strength needed for long walks, Sheri also stresses good balance and agility to walk properly with a pack over rough terrain. Lastly Sheri says, “You need emotional strength for long journeys and being open to the new experiences that arise.”
Awilda said that, “After I heard her speak, I realized I knew nothing about being ready for my trip.”
For Rita Ireland, her trip to Nepal was a retirement gift to herself after 42 years of teaching. Rita grew-up an Iowa farm girl and remembers looking up at the airplanes flying overhead and dreaming about the plane’s exotic destinations. At 64-years-old, Rita considered herself still fit and not afraid to try new things. She wanted something to inspire her to remain healthy and to go someplace she had never been before.
Rita met Sheri at a seminar by Pam Perry of Grand Asian Journeys at the Savvy Traveler in Edmonds. She was, “a soulful, young fit person, I identified with her a lot,” said Rita. Another thing that caught Rita’s attention was that Sheri was not only a certified personal trainer and nutritionist, but had also gone on the exact same trek that Rita was planning.
Sheri’s trekking resume is impressive with journeys to Nepal, Peru, Egypt, Patagonia, the Camino de Santiago, Italy’s Dolomites and the Assisi to Rome pilgrimage to name just a few. Both Awilda and Rita agreed that it was important for them to train with someone who had actually done these treks and was not just another personal trainer. “Sheri is so humble and is a great listener. Her philosophy is to work from gentle power and not force. She is kind and her experience is so vast that she really knows what the body, spirit and mind need to be successful on these treks.” said Awilda.
Sheri has had clients throughout Washington and all the way down to California. She creates individualized programs for each of her clients that focus on their strengths and weakness. Rita had a bad knee, so Sheri helped her stabilize and strengthen it. Her programs focus on the skills needed for long treks— endurance, strength, balance and emotional stability. In addition to the individualized programs, she contacts her clients nearly every day with words of encouragement while fine-tuning their program based on progress.
Sheri also provides Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) sessions. Both Awilda and Rita used EFT to prepare for the stress of endurance walking. “EFT helped me slow down and let go of stress so I could more fully enjoy the moment,” said Rita.
Awilda said Sheri walked every step of the 500 mile trek with her (in spirit), “As I walked I met people who were in terrible pain and I thought if only they had a Sheri… she is my angel.” Awilda noticed that many people on the trek listened to music as a distraction while trekking the Camino. Awilda said “Sheri’s mental preparation was amazing, I was okay with my thoughts and followed the music of my soul.”
Sheri trained five of the 14 women that went with Rita to Nepal. “Here I am 64 and I’m with the youngsters of the group, women in their 20s and 30s, I wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for Sheri, it became a mantra… if it wasn’t for Sheri… we wouldn’t be doing this,” said Rita. “The trips can be fulfilling in ways you’d never imagine— blue skies, amazing mountains and new friends— but you don’t see them if you are out of breath,” cautions Rita.
It is a weekday morning and I meet Sheri at the Northgate Panera Bread for an interview before she speaks to a meet-up group for the Camino de Santiago trek. After the interview, I turn my attention to the significant crowd assembled around pulled together tables. The group is comprised of mostly women, mostly in the same age group as Rita. I ask Awilda and Rita if this demographic is typical for these adventures.
Awilda thought women were more drawn to these treks, “It is the way our brains are organized, men want to do concrete things that give them a purpose, doing El Camino is a fluid unfolding process, I wanted to walk with god, wanted to be safe, wanted to keep my heart open; women are more abstract, willing to explore the journey within the journey.”
Rita had a similar observation, “Many of the women were going through transitional times in life. My friends asked if I changed, I did a lot of journaling, a lot of reflection and thinking about what is important in life, a lot of times the experiences are so magical that you can’t fully know it at the time.”
Both report coming home and feeling different, noticing the excess in modern life and, with a renewed confidence, that they can do much more than they expected. Alwilda said she started to blog while on the trek, not for her fans or the followers of her music, but for her husband, so he would know who she was when she got home, the transformation was that great. “On the Camino I wore the same outfit every day for two months and was happy, when I got home I realized all that extra ballast just pulls us down, I felt so much freer and alive after my trek,” said Awilda.
Trek advice from the Sheri Goodwin of Transformational Journeys
1. Why do you think it is important for trekkers to get in shape before their trip?
A big reason is trip enjoyment, but also for injury prevention and to help ensure a successful completion of your adventure. I have witnessed trekkers who had to stop their trek because they were not physically prepared. When you are in shape you don’t have to focus so much on the body, but more on enjoying your trek, being in the moment, experiencing the amazing scenery… mountains, ancient sites and the people you meet along the way.
2. What are some of the unique challenges trekkers face on these trips?
Camino: Most varied terrain of the treks listed, crossing two mountain ranges, so ups and downs including wooded pathways and uneven rocky terrain. Lots of harder surfaces; pathways with packed solid ground, cobble stone streets, cement paths… and 500 miles of day after day trekking for 30 + days. This trip is physically and emotionally demanding.
Nepal: Lots of ups and downs, lots of stone steps, uneven trails, very little flat terrain. Altitude can be an issue and climbing over gates— need good balance.
Peru: Long climbs, lots of steep steps and altitude.
Patagonia: Lots of uneven surfaces, some obstacles along the path that require mobility and stability/balance to climb over or go under. Climbing up and down steep ladders and facing weather challenges— wind/rain/heat/snow.
3. You have taken these trips as well, how has that helped you create your training program?
I know the exact terrain my clients will be dealing with. I know if they need to work on climbing over or under obstacles, work on stair climbing, work on upper body strength if there is any ladder climbing or scrambling. I know the daily mileage and hours of hiking they will most likely do, so I am better able to create a training program that safely builds up hiking mileage to be able to do the distances they will experience on the trek, decreasing chances of injury along the way. I am able to take the “overwhelmed” feeling out of physical preparation as well as help clients pack, answer questions about where they will be staying along the way, food, water, etc. And since I have been there, my clients have me as a resource to answer most of their questions about the country they are traveling to.
The Journey within the Journey
These providers can help you prepare and plan your next great adventure:
Grand Asian Journeys
Savvy Traveler Seminars