‘Laugh­ing ladies’ beat El Camino


A 780-kilo­me­tre tramp is no walk in the park but Louise Hood and Claire Bry­ers prove any­thing is pos­si­ble.

The bub­bly Toko­roa lo­cals in their 60s took on the fa­mous El Camino de Santiago trail in Spain.

It was there they tramped through some treach­er­ous ter­rain and idyl­lic coun­try­side.

The best friends had never at­tempted any­thing like it and as an asth­matic, it was par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing for Hood.

They were in­spired by the 2010 movie The Way, a story of a fa­ther, played by Martin Sheen, who trav­elled over­seas to re­cover the body of his es­tranged son who died while trav­el­ling the El Camino and de­cided to take the pil­grim­age him­self.

‘‘For us, that meant some­thing . . . Louise and I are quite spir­i­tual peo­ple,’’ Bry­ers said.

Along the walk they com­mem­o­rated a friend with a clay peb­ble they left on the track.

Their first stint con­sisted of an 8km trip up their first of three moun­tains. To make mat­ters worse, there was a storm brew­ing and the moun­tain was sub­merged in fog.

‘‘You couldn’t see far . . . You could hear cow bells on both sides and there were steep drops . . . I thought ‘oh my god, what have we done’.’’

A train­ing sched­ule started over a year be­fore­hand and con­sisted of up to 12km walks almost ev­ery day. A trek over the Ton­gariro Cross­ing was their fi­nal test.

‘‘We reckon if we could do that, we could do any­thing,’’ Hood said.

It was eight days into the trip and in a lit­tle bar called Jakue that ex­haus­tion hit them.

‘‘We were in the bar and we were hav­ing a drink,’’ Hood said.

‘‘[I said] if Martin Sheen came in now, I’d stab him.’’

A joke, of course, but those lit­tle jokes are what got th­ese ‘‘ schoolkids’’ through.

What would most prob­a­bly split some peo­ple apart has only made them stronger, Bry­ers said.

The pair said they were even named ‘‘the laugh­ing New Zealand ladies’’.

‘‘It’s only be­cause we were con­stantly laugh­ing, snort­ing and car­ry­ing on,’’ Hood said.

Their 45-day jour­ney was spread over an av­er­age of 15km per day with some try­ing times.

How­ever, they had pre­pared for an emo­tional roller­coaster.

‘‘We promised each other we would be hon­est and think about what we say to each other ... I re­ally be­lieve that if you have a friend, you share the best of your­self,’’ Hood said.

And though their main goal was to make it back in one piece, there was al­ways time to ap­pre­ci­ate their sur­round­ings.

‘‘Ev­ery now and again we had to turn around and re­mind our­selves how far we had come.’’

MIS­SION AC­COM­PLISHED: Claire Bry­ers, left, and Louise Hood set out to do the 800-kilo­me­tre El Camino de Santiago walk in Spain and came back smil­ing.

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