Buen Camino: Le Moyne alum’s journey from hiker to pilgrim

Olivia Poust, Editor-in-Chief

Le Moyne College prides itself on taking its students anywhere and everywhere, and 1977 alum Kenneth Strange is living proof. Attending Le Moyne as a Modern Languages major with a History minor was only the first step in Strange’s life toward exploring all that the world has to offer.

He has an insatiable lust for exploration and discovery ingrained in his identity. “It’s like a narcotic…” explains Strange, “I get restless if I’m not traveling or seeing something new.” From his semester abroad in Madrid his junior year of college, to teaching English to the Saudi Arabian princes just two years after graduating, to working in Senegal with the organization Save the Children, to being based in Costa Rica and later El Salvador with the US Agency for International Development, to living in Mexico City for two years doing work with the German company Siemens, his life has been a constant adventure.

It only seemed natural to take on the Camino de Santiago – a 500-mile trail popular among Catholic pilgrims beginning in Saint-Jean-Pied-de Port, France and ending in Galicia, Spain at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. With his wife Aurora, Strange hiked the Camino from May to June of 2018: 500 miles in 31 days.

Being such a difficult journey, the Camino came with numerous challenges and hardships, beginning very early on. Strange suffers from arthritis in one knee and tendinitis in the other, which resulted in pain a mere 12 miles or so into the trip. After initially worrying he would have to give up, Strange persevered and continued on to finish the pilgrimage, and his experiences prove he made the right decision.

What stood out the most to Strange were the relationships he forged along the way. “Friendships, because they’re transitory, become so intense,” he said. One interaction that was particularly memorable was with a blind couple he and his wife met. Using directional apps and apps specifically made for the blind, the couple was able to do the hike without their blindness being a handicap to them.

A moment that was incredibly special to Strange was when they arrived in a small Spanish village, which looked like paradise to him, and the blind man, Russell, turned to him and asked, “Ken, what do you see?” Strange states, “That was very moving when he asked me that, and I realized I had taken my sight for granted all these years.”

For Strange, this trip was not just a hike, which is what he initially expected, but rather a journey. “It was transformational, in the sense that when I came into the Camino, it was all about me – my bucket list, a notch in my belt of travels, more outdoors – all about me,” he explains. “But when I finished the Camino, after 500 miles when you get to the Cathedral, you’re not a hiker anymore, you’re a pilgrim, and you’ve helped other pilgrims along the way. You’re basically serving them, and I didn’t care about me anymore. It was about them.”

Being a pilgrim on the Camino had such an impact on Strange’s life, he wrote and published a book entitled It’s Your Camino: One Couple’s 500-mile Pilgrimage Across Spain, which was released in July 2019.

Strange’s friend, actor Martin Sheen, who starred in a film centered around the Camino, The Way, encouraged him to go on the pilgrimage and later provided a blurb for the book, writing “…told with grace and humor, a husband and wife who share a common vision and a deep quest for meaning embark on a demanding pilgrimage that reveals an abundance of courage and grace soaring up and flowing out from all the extraordinary people and places they encounter…” This blurb meant a great deal to Strange, as Sheen is so closely linked to the Camino personally and professionally.

Now focused on marketing his book, which can be purchased on Amazon, Strange is looking forward to seeing what his experience with the Camino will lead to in the future. As he put it, “The pilgrimage, it’s a historic, it’s a social, it’s a cultural phenomenon.” It is anything but an ordinary hike.