One step at a time

Wilson Redfield makes the most of his early graduation by walking 450 miles.

Wilson Redfield standing in front of his packing list. - Stacey Rupolo

Wilson Redfield chose to graduate Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School early so he could spend time traveling before he heads off to college; he was given early acceptance to St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md.

Wilson won’t be heading to the Bahamas or a tropical beach in Mexico. Instead he’s chosen to hike the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James. There are many different routes to follow; Wilson’s hike began at St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port in southwestern France, just across the Spanish border, in the foothills of the Pyrenees. He left the Vineyard on March 26 to make his way to Europe and begin his journey.

The Camino de Santiago is typically a religious pilgrimage, but Wilson said the hiking and visual beauty of the pilgrimage were what attracted him to the idea. “I knew I wanted to graduate early, and this sounded like a worthwhile thing to do,” Wilson, 18, told The Times before he left for Europe. He planned to spend a few days in Madrid with friends before he set off for the 40-day walk along the Camino de Santiago.

“It’s the oldest pilgrimage in the world,” he said.

Legend holds that the remains of St. James the Greater are buried at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and pilgrims have been following the same paths since the 9th century. Each pilgrim obtains a passport at the beginning of the journey, which is stamped at different sites along the way. At the end of the hike, Wilson will get a certificate of


A quick tour of the Redfield home in Vineyard Haven provides background for Wilson’s story. Walls are covered with framed maps, from a map of the celestial planisphere to a map of Africa, and it’s clear that Wilson’s parents, Christine and Kurt, have a love of travel. His family lived in Europe for six years while Wilson was elementary-school age. He’s using the same backpack on the trail his mother used when she was his age.

Wilson said he wasn’t worried about making the trip on his own, and his mother agreed. “If Wilson doesn’t get homesick, that means I’ve done my job well,” Christine said.

Before he left, Wilson said, “I’m going to do this trek and see these things, and hopefully meet some cool people on the way.”

Wilson sent word to The Times via a text to his mother on April 21: “As of today I’ve walked 288 miles. Tomorrow I’ll be in León, if you want to look at a map. The experience is something like I thought it would be, having read a lot about the walk. I’ve not had any real surprises or mishaps.

“I had expected the walking to be more social, but most people tend to simply put their heads down and walk. I’ve seen a lot of great landscapes. Spain is a beautiful country, and every town I go through, no matter how small, has an ancient church which is very well looked after by the local villagers.

“I’ve met several people, from all over America, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Germany, and Lithuania, to name just a few.”