Retired Master Corporal Dave Brydon’s more than 30-day journey along the El Camino de Santiago changed his life forever. Inspired by the results of that life-altering walk, Brydon has made it his mission to take soldiers diagnosed with an Operational Stress Injury (OSI) to walk the journey and in turn also change their lives.
The El Camino de Santiago is an 800 km journey starting from the Pyrenees in France into northern Spain. Deemed to be a spiritual odyssey, close to 250 pilgrims make the walk every year.
“You don’t know where you’ll stop and where you’ll stay. You get up in the morning and you walk until you’re tired and then you’ll stay at an Albergue, a pilgrims hospital like a dorm room, and then the next day you do it again,” said Brydon.
Brydon made his first journey several years ago to serve as a proxy for his wife. His wife, also a retired military personnel, was diagnosed with MS but had always dreamt of walking along the Camino. Brydon decided to travel to Spain and send his wife daily letters so she could see it through his eyes. He recalls that he didn’t expect anything of it.
“What I found was that it had a huge impact on me. In 2014, I thought I would go back and experience for myself only, not write all the time. I really just wanted to focus on me,” said Brydon.
Not long after his second walk of the Camino, Brydon proposed the idea of taking soldiers to walk the Camino to Maj-Gen. Fenton, Col. of the Royal Canadian Regiment, who was looking for a way to help soldiers who had returned from Afghanistan with various ailments.
“Once I realized the value for myself and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) it became a tool in my belt that was just unbelievable. You just find this inner peace. What’s great is the tools you learn on the Camino you can take back home,” acknowledged Brydon.
Since then, the veteran has been working with the RCR Association to get the Royal Camino-Supporting Soldiers program off the ground. Many soldiers have contacted Brydon, showing interest. He plans to take a group of ten next April for a 35-day journey.
He decided last September to go back to the Camino with the sole purpose of figuring out logistics.
“We don’t know what kind of conditions they’ll be in, the soldiers. So, I thought okay I’ll walk it. And we figure that based on 20 km per day it would take 34 days to walk it comfortably,” added Brydon.
The only thing left now is funding. To take ten people to Spain next year it will cost close to $50,000, or $5,000 per person. Currently, funding sits at just over $12,000. Some organizations have pledged amounts, like Soldier On, who will contribute $1,000 towards equipment of any soldier with PTSD.
Brydon is reaching out to various companies and travel agencies to acquire funding, it has proven difficult, however, Brydon says he will continue working on gathering funding before next year’s journey.
On his many expeditions’s along the Camino, Brydon has met soldiers from around the world, with all sorts of physical and mental injuries, proving to him that the journey can work for Canadian soldiers as well.
“It’s an absolutely brilliant experience. The idea with the Camino is taking as little as possible with you as you can. It’s about getting rid of all material things you have. So, you just put a backpack on your back what you carry and what you’re wearing is all you have for the next month and few days. As you walk, you learn to exist with very little. It’s an inward journey.,” said Brydon.