Glovertown couple have tackled the world’s most challenging trails

Danette Dooley
Published on January 22, 2016

Phil Riggs of Glovertown may be suffering from Santiago Syndrome.

The diagnosis isn’t found in a medical book. Rather, the term was coined to describe outdoor enthusiasts’ addiction to hiking the Caminos – a network of trails through Spain, Portugal and France.

“When you’ve hiked the Camino as I have, the trail gets a grip on your soul and it never lets go… Once you go, you’ve got to go back,” Riggs said.

Riggs and his wife Lyla have hiked the Camino trails four times – in the three different countries.

In a letter published in the January, 2016, issue of Reader’s Digest, Riggs writes that in 2003 he and his wife were teaching in Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, when an article he read in the magazine piqued his interest.

The story was about an 800-kilometre Camino trek across northern Spain.

For hundreds of years, he wrote, monks and other pilgrims journeyed to the City of Santiago.

During the 20th century, the trail — or Camino — became a popular hiking destination.

The Reader’s Digest 2003 article inspired the couple to begin hiking the Caminos.

After they retired from teaching they set out for the Camino in Spain in Sept. 2007.

Since that time they have completed more than 1,500 kilometres on various Camino trails (800 kilometres in Spain, 350 kilometres in France and 350 kilometres in Portugal).

“You never know which direction your life may take as the result of reading an interesting article in Reader’s Digest,” Riggs wrote.

A passionate nature lover and outdoor adventurist, Riggs has hiked along the various trails in this province and throughout North America - from Alaska to Hawaii and many points in between.

Riggs recently published a book “Hiking the Spanish, Portuguese and French Caminos” detailing his experiences.

Information posted on notes that the book is first and foremost about the relationships that he developed along the trails and the heart warming experiences (both sad and humorous) shared by hikers along the way.

The book includes legends and stories that have grown up around different villages over the many years of pilgrimage.

Outdoor enthusiasts can also learn from Riggs’ book what they should take on their first pilgrimage.

Riggs’ backpack weighed about 20 lbs while his wife’s weighed about 15 lbs.

“When you’re hiking you can only take about three different kinds of clothing and it has to be light (weight). And you have to wash your clothes every day or every second day.”

Riggs said the most challenging Camino hike was likely over the Pyrenees in France.

“That was two days of strenuous hiking. And France itself is very mountainous.”

There were also some strenuous treks in Portugal and Spain, he said.

Riggs said it was a great experience staying at hostels specifically run for those hiking the Caminos.

Known in Spanish as Albergues the hostels provide a bed and access to kitchen facilities.

“You could have Germans cooking a certain meal, Italians cooking another one, Spanish people – you’d have all kinds of different languages being spoken and the smell of the different foods. You’re meeting people there, which makes it so much more than an actual hike along the trails,” he said.

There are also opportunities to visit historic sites and enjoy various festivals along the journey, he said.

Riggs is in good company when it comes to writing books about the Caminos.

American movie star Shirley MacLaine wrote about her pilgrimage in “The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit.”

“The Pilgrimage” is Brazilian writer Paula Coehlo’s captivating account of his hike along the road to Santiago. Coehlo is the author of the international bestselling novel “The Alchemist.”

People hike the Caminos for many reasons. Riggs said his Camino pilgrimages were more spiritual than religious.

“It’s not just the fact that you are walking. They are meditative hikes as well… and we met people along the trail who had lost a loved one. Someone had suggested to them that they go on a pilgrimage and go hike the Camino.”

The Camino pilgrimage in Spain brought Riggs and his wife to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where it’s believed the remains of the Apostle St. James are held in a silver casket.

“There’s an incense burner in there that’s so large it takes seven people to swing it back and forth. It was quite the experience.”

The couple’s most recent Camino trek was in the fall of 2014.

Although they have hiked the Caminos four times, it’s likely that they’ll quench their thirst for the trails again in the not too distant future.

“All of the routes in Europe lead into Santiago. We are thinking that this fall we may go on a northern route, going through Spain. It’s not the most popular route but it’s one we’d like to do,” he said.

Riggs’ book is available through, at The Travel Bug and The Outfitters in St. John’s and at The Bookworm in Gander.