Thru Hiking Spain's El Camino Trail in Bedrock Sandals: Q&A with Zachary Bango


Bedrock Chief Experience Officer Naresh Kumar interviews Bedrock customer Zackary Bango about his recent completion of Spain's El Camino Thru hike in Bedrock Gabbros. Photos and words about Zach's experience below.

Describe this adventure - what was your plan and what did you want to accomplish?

I've always known that I'd do something grand after completing High School. I just had to do something before college, before life really, truly began. And, I have always had a calling for the outdoors–I'm an avid snow skier, Mt. biker, runner, CrossFitter, and Kiteboarder. So, I set out to find the perfect hike/adventure that would fulfill a specific set of needs: there needed to be people (internationally speaking), it needed to be a challenge, and it needed to be somewhere outside of the United States. So, after hearing about El Camino De Santiago via my aunt as well as through viewing the popular movie: The Way, I decided to set my sights on this cross–Atlantic, cross–country, adventure. Really, I had one goal in mind: to become a better expression of myself. So, I bought a ticket to Spain three months later–solo.

Why did you do it?

As stated before, I wanted to challenge myself by hiking longer distances than I ever have before, as well as to expose myself to an experience that would augment my personal being.

Why Bedrock?

Like many, I read the book Born to Run about two years ago. This inspired me to research the barefoot running sandal, and even buy a pair of Luna's about three years ago. But, I ran into some issues with these sandals while hiking the Rogue River Trail in Southern Oregon. I had just about given up on barefoot sandal long distance hiking when I ran into Elliot, a previous employee at Bedrock, rocking these awesome sandals. So, I decided to give them a shot. I ordered a pair of Gabbro's a week later, tried them out, liked them. And, two weeks later, boarded a plane to hike 600 miles across multifaceted Spain with the goal in mind to complete the entire journey in these sandals.

What was it like? (How far? How high? Weather? Remoteness? Describe it for those of us who weren’t there)

Different. Very, very different. The first day I hiked down through the Pyrenees and crossed the French–Spanish border, I ran into snow. Luckily, it was hard-pack so my Bedrocks did fine. But, 250 miles later, I hiked across the Spanish Meseta, a practically barren (besides wheat fields) stretch of low altitude desert that burned hot during the day, and cold at night. Finally, 500 miles after that first day, I ran into the weather-worn Galicia where it rains practically every day and the wind cuts like a knife. Until I reached the coast. In total: 600 miles. Highest I got was 4,500 ft. I experienced snow, incredible amounts of rain, and skin-blistering heat and wind. The Spanish countryside really is not that remote, one runs into a small village every 10 or so miles. But, that's what makes this trail special. You get to experience remoteness, as well as the insanely awesome experience of hiking on a 1000 year old trail that old pilgrim villages literally grew upon 800-900 years ago. But really, it's the people that make the Camino. You meet tons of new hikers on a daily basis. You make friends from practically every continent, that speak every language known to man. And, every single one of them are there for the exact same reason you are: to become better. No matter what "better" means to them.

Describe your typical day during your trek?

Wake up, find food (whether from my backpack or the local cafe if available), and hit the trail. I'd hike some days solo, some days with a group of friends. Usually would find a bar/cafe after the first 12-15 miles, and eat a Bocadillo (Spanish style sandwich) as well as enjoy a ice cold 1/2 liter of Spanish beer. Perfect fuel to continue the day. Finally, around 4/5 in the evening, I'd find a Albergue (A pilgrim's hostel, no more than a bathroom and some thrown together bunk-beds) to spend the night. I'd average around 20 miles per day, with some faster days breaching 30.

What do you do for a living?

I'm 18. So I'm enrolled at Oregon State University studying Biophysics at the moment. I'm also a part time Personal Trainer as well as a Physics, Chemistry, Spanish, and Calculus tutor for High School Students.

What did you do, give up, choose between, or change to make this adventure possible? 

I had to graduate early. Aka, work my ass off. There was no way in hell that I was going to attempt the trail during the summer months where the temperatures push 105+ on good days. Luckily, this trail is highly accessible for people because you can 'rough it', or hike in luxury. Some even choose to have their backpacks shipped on a daily basis to the hostel they're going to stay at. For me, I'm a practically broke college student–so I found the cheapest way to do things whenever possible. Really, the entire trail takes about 35 days to complete. So, If one has the free time and a budget of about $800 USD (plus airfare), it's pretty easy to complete the trail. Granted that they're prepared for the challenge of hiking 20-ish miles a day, for thirty days.

What was the most challenging part(s), and what kept you going?

I'm a pretty fit individual, so the physical part really wasn't a problem for me. But, putting one foot in front of the other for 8-9 hours a day can either be completely freeing, or a shackle connecting you to hell. It all depends on one's mindset. Though, hiking like that really shows you what you're made of, and who you are. I found it to be an enlightening experience. Though, I think others looked forward to reaching Santiago more than they appreciated what they did on a daily basis. Really, what kept me going was the fact that I was having an incredible time. I was in an incredible place–one that i plan to return to.

What did you learn?

First, I'll never, ever, wear boots again when hiking. After seeing some of the horrific blisters and injuries sustained by those that wore those foot-prisons, I cringe at the thought of it. I didn't develop a single blister on the Camino, thanks to my Bedrocks. But, the real lesson I learned was to feel.

What would you do differently, either in this adventure or future ones?

Not much. Didn't need that random water bladder. Oh, and I'd make sure to bring my girlfriend, Terra, so that we could've turned around and hiked back up to Germany (another 2000 miles).

What’s your favorite story(ies) from the adventure?

There was that one time where I was face-to-face with a wild boar (disputably the most dangerous animal in Spain).

Also, on the final day of the hike, right before I saw the Atlantic, it rained so hard (with wind breaching 40+ mph) that all my GoreTex gear got completely soaked through. I walked onto the beach dripping wet, both from tears and rain.

What do you want others to know that I haven’t asked?

Know your footwear. For sure. And don't forget the power of camaraderie. But, the true power of life comes from you, and what you hold inside.

What’s next for you?

The University, then Osteopathic School to become an Osteopathic Doctor. After that, I'm off to South America to practice medicine and study indigenous populations. But, I'm starting to plan a full PCT through hike in the next 5-10 years. As well as Kiteboarding, snow skiing, and just loving life. You guys will be hearing from me again for sure.

Your contacts? Email, Twitter, Instagram etc

Email: znzbango --at-- gmail

Instagram: zwizzle96

Feel free to contact me with questions! 

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