An Enumclaw woman who suffered debilitating, life-threatening injuries when a tree fell on her car five years ago has embarked on her second pilgrimage along the European Camino de Santiago since then – this time for a 500-mile odyssey.
Three years ago, Becky Rush-Peet completed her first 62-mile, week-and-a-half pilgrimage along the network of Catholic pilgrimage routes. Now she’s hitting the road once more, this time for a two-month journey along the route that will likely take about two months.
Before she left on Sept. 11, Rush-Peet admitted she was nervous. She plans to walk around nine to 12 miles per day, and said she’s “keeping her fingers crossed” that she’ll be able to finish the route at all.
But that she’s even attempting the journey is a measure of how far she’s come.
On Dec. 23, 2015, Rush-Peet was driving home with her two daughters and another passenger when a tree more than 4 feet in diameter fell on the hood of their car, inflicting numerous injuries on her and her passengers.
Rush-Peet suffered 19 broken bones, spent two weeks in the ICU, spent another week at the Harborview burn unit due to all the skin grafts she needed, then spent three months in skilled nursing and physical therapy.
As a family practice doctor herself, Rush-Peet said she was amazed to be alive.
Along the way, regular life went on. In the nursing home, Rush-Peet would wheel herself to an electric keyboard to help her youngest daughter prepare for her audition for concert choir.
When she first got home, Rush-Peet could pace up and down the porch. It was about all she had energy for. Her body was pouring thousands of calories a day into repairing the muscle tissue and bones devastated by the accident. More operations and surgeries followed to fix bones, scar tissue, and especially her right arm, in which a skin graft failed and became infected. Along the way, the physical and occupational therapy continued.
It was “bit by bit by bit by bit,” Rush-Peet said. Though she’s made huge strides, not everything came back.
Rush-Peet, who “used to be” right-handed, can barely control her right wrist, and she’s had to learn to do many things like with her left hand. Still, that’s not bad for a limb Rush-Peet was told was hanging by a strip of muscle after the accident. (She has no memory of what happened after the tree fell.)
“My husband, the night of the accident, was told to expect that I would need to get this hand amputated. I’m so happy that I have a hand, even though the wrist is as functional as a two- by-four. So that’s a blessing. … I mean, I’m alive. Even that simple fact was not a given.”
Trailing up her left arm is a tattoo of a Douglas Fir, the same type of tree as fell on her five years ago.
A month after coming home, Rush-Peet saw the movie “The Way,” in which Martin Sheen plays a father who walks the Camino de Santiago after his son’s death. She decided to do the same and declared her first Camino walk to be one of gratitude for surviving.
Her 2018 route with her husband James was the shortest distance required to complete an official pilgrimage, Rush-Peet said. They walked about six or seven miles a day and finished in a week and a half.
The path brings pilgrims from all over the world, with many Catholics making their way to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in northwestern Spain. Others, like Rush-Peet, walk it for sightseeing, spiritual or philosophical reasons.
Dirt and sand in some places, rocky or pavement in others, the network of trails winds through parts of Spain and France. Tiny villages dot the trail every few kilometers, offering coffee, food, wine and rest to travelers.
Last time, Rush-Peet’s schedule looked like this: Up at sunrise, then about an hour walk to the next village for breakfast, such as a Spanish omelet or toast with tomato paste. Then another couple of hours of walking to the next village for a cup of coffee. A few more hours of walking before finishing in the afternoon at a hostel, where you shower, wash your socks and underwear, and take some time to journal, talk with other pilgrims or explore the town.
Rush-Peet and her husband met a family, carrying a six-month old, who also had a four-year-old walking along a 124-mile journey. They met a pair of French bicyclists who seemed intent on making sure Rush-Peet knew they were nothing more than friends. A priest from Alabama, who brought three college students and their youth leader to the pilgrimage, realized he was too out of shape after his first day on the path. So he would take a taxi to the next hostel, along with the other young men’s backpacks, to keep up.
Looking back, Rush-Peet said, the journey helped her accept that it was OK to retire as a physician. It’s given her time to travel, spend with family, and practice hobbies like music, quilting and gardening.
“Up until that point, I was still working real hard in rehab to try to get back to work,” she said. “And it wasn’t happening. And I think the Camino taught me that it’s OK not to go back to work. There are other things on this planet that I can do, that I can offer to my fellow people, without having to do them in a role as a physician.”
Rush-Peet set off the second weekend of September to Spain, where she met with a London friend she made online who is starting from the same village as her.
She’s fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and heading to a country which demands proof of full vaccination against the coronavirus from U.S. tourists. That, along with the inherently socially-distanced nature of an outdoor pilgrimage, has Rush-Peet feeling ready to handle the potential risk of traveling. (Three-quarters of Spaniards are fully vaccinated.)
From pilgrimage #1 to #2, the challenge – and Rush-Peet herself – have both become stronger.
Rush-Peet could hardly manage a five mile hike two years ago, and this summer, she’s regularly handled hikes twice as long, even volunteering at Sunrise on Mount Rainier.
“Hopefully, I’m a whole level above what I was a couple of years ago,” Rush-Peet said. “I’m stronger, I’m more fit, I’ve got better endurance, but I’m also asking my body to do a whole lot more than the last time around.”
To follow along Becky’s journey, visit: https://www.facebook.com/beckyandjenniferfriends