Walking “The Way”

If my friends were to vote as to my mental state, they would unanimously declare me deranged. Perhaps “deranged” is too strong a word. My friends are more circumspect and charitable. More likely they would suggest that given the endless winter, I have become addled.

The Way of Saint James

The Way of Saint James

Come October, I will walk El Camino de Santiago. From Paris, I will take the train south. My destination is St-Jean-Pied-de-Port where I will have a good sleep, pick up my pilgrim passport, and climb the Pyrenees into Spain. It is unfortunate that the first day will be my most arduous. I’m OK with walking; climbing is entirely a different matter. Climbing (backpacked like a beast of burden) will be a serious test. Will I make it? Will I keep my sense of humor?

pilgrimThe ‘Way of St James’ is a thousand-year-old pilgrim route through northern Spain that leaves Roncesvalles and heads west  to Pamplona, Burgos, and Leon. The pilgrimage ends at St. James’ shrine in Santiago de Compostela. Not content to walk 500 miles, I have agreed to walk on to Finisterre, a site of particular interest. (During the American Revolution, Congress sent John Adams on a mission to obtain funds from the French. His leaking ship put in at Finisterre. From that point on the Atlantic Ocean, Adams and his two sons travelled The Way of Saint James in reverse.)

Having never seen me in church, you may well wonder why I would devote five weeks to walking. I am, after all, not much of a hair-shirt person. Nor do the remains of St. James hold any allure. Will I be serving penance? I don’t think so.

Unlike the pilgrims of the Middle Ages, on arrival, I do not expect forgiveness of my sins. My sins are mine til death do we part. They may haunt me, but living with them makes me more tolerant of others’ short-comings.

1568 woodcut

1568 woodcut

The Church of yore was more exacting. I quote from the Codex Calixtinus,  an illuminated manuscript which served as a pilgrims’ advisory in the 12th Century “It [the pilgrimage] takes us away from luscious foods, it makes gluttonous fatness vanish, it restrains voluptuousness, constrains the appetites of the flesh which attack the soul, cleanses the spirit, leads us to contemplation, humbles the haughty, raises up the lowly, loves poverty.

I will walk for any number of reasons. First and foremost, what better way to celebrate my 70th birthday? A second reason would be my getting fit prior to the journey. Reasons three, four, and five would include meeting fellow pilgrims, soaking up the landscape, and visiting sites of historical interest. Undoubtedly I will have ample opportunity to practice my Spanish, sample the local cuisine, and drink the local wines.

The Spanish make a distinction between tourists and pilgrims. It is no surprise that pilgrims are more highly though of. Tourists receive their certificate of completion written in Spanish; Pilgrims are awarded their certificate in Latin. How cool is that!

Needless to say, I want my “Compostela’ written in Latin. Forget all those temporal reasons for walking. I can do better. I can be more spiritual. I look forward to having the time for introspection. I expect I’ll review my life choices. I will certainly ask myself what I am doing with the rest of my life. I will probably reflect on ‘unfinished business.’ I would hope to be a better person at journey’s end.

Taking care of the soulis like walking on thin ice

Taking care of the soul
is like walking on thin ice

We are advised to leave our toys at home to increase the probability of living a more reflective life. I can leave the watch. I can leave the phone. But I don’t think that I can leave my camera. The theory behind leaving the camera is that I should be immersed in the totality of the experience, not focused on bits and pieces. I see their point, but surely I need to look at more than the path beneath my feet.

The training begins. Every book I’ve read reminds the reader to take needle and thread to treat blisters. Directions involve threading the needle, soaking the needle and the thread in antiseptic, running the needle through the blister and leaving the thread within the wound.

Am I inspired to train? You bet.

If you haven’t watched The Way with Martin Sheen and Emelio Estevez, you might like it. You can stream the movie on Netflix. Briefly, Sheen and his son are estranged.  On the first day of his walking The Way, the son dies crossing the Pyrenees. Hoping to understand/reconnect with his son, Sheen walks The Way himself – depositing the son’s ashes as he goes.


Writers’ Prompts:

  • Write about a trip that you took or a trip you would like to take. Where did you go? What did you do? Were you the same person at the end of the journey as you were at the beginning?
  • Reflect on a spiritual journey you may have taken.
  • Write a fictional piece in which a talkative, social person goes on a spiritual retreat that involves one week’s silence.

About timeout2

I have lived 100 lives. I write essays, short stories, poetry, grocery lists and notes to myself. If I am ever lost, look for a paper trail, but be careful not to trip over any books that lie scattered here and there. I am a reader. I am a reader in awe of writers. When I don't live in Westcliffe, Colorado, I live in London where I am a long-time member of Word-for-Word - Crouch End.
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9 Responses to Walking “The Way”

  1. Karen says:

    How I would love to do that walk. I dream of walking from peak to peak in the Swiss Alps but being a pilgrim? The word fills my soul. But I would go without the camera, as I’m married to a photographer and have experienced too many moments of amazement separated from him by the lens. He wants to record the experience while I want to live it. I wish he’d lived it with me.

    • timeout2 says:

      I have lots of walks I would like to do. After walking The Way, I would like to walk along Hardian’s Wall… and then there is the Great Wall of China. How sad that during our working years when we are most physically fit that we are too busy to walk, and afer our working years we are less able.

  2. Doris, what a good idea; good luck! I am looking forward to your report when you have returned. I can hardly wait. Helga

    • timeout2 says:

      You know me… big on plans bust less successful on follow-through. The more people I tell, the less probability of my punking-out. I guess another reason for preparing for the trip is to prove to myself that I can see something through to the conclusion

      • Yes, Doris, I thought I know you, but I have never known that you don’t see things through to the conclusion. Maybe you haven’t told me? The technique of telling many people and then not doing it I know as well. It shows that we are too frightened of our momentous tasks and looking for encouragement. Well, you have mine. I think it is a great idea. My recommendation is that you should not read so many books about walking tours but instead training yourself for the 20 miles daily walking. How many 20 miles long walks have you done during the last four weeks? See to it that you have enough sleep every night now; make yourself really healthy and fit before your walk. Drink as little alcohol as sociably possible, always eat good food, and so on. Also I recommend that you leave your camera at home as well as your journal. I know, I said I cannot wait for your report but I meant just that what you remember afterwords, more how you felt, how it was physically and mentally for you; the experience as such. Surely you won’t look down on your pass all the time without your camera, you sound as if you are not able to see things with your naked eye anymore. What do you think about the following?: Going without your camera and without your journal might teach you to let go; there is no need to conserve and hold on to everything; your body will remember and every day is a new adventure even if we staid at home. The last bit, I think, I told myself. Such a pilgrimage would be so good for me; unfortunately I am not physically fit. I will do something about it and not tell anyone. Doris, go on, do it!

  3. Shirley MacLaine wrote an interesting book on her pilgrimage. I read it long ago – can’t remember the name. Sounds like a big undertaking. I wish you luck. I, too, am pursuing some of my dreams, although not so adventurous. I’ve gone back to college and studying things I’m interested in like: music, writing, etc. I too leave a paper trail!! Great to finally get on your blog!

  4. Judy says:

    Admiration abounds! I recommend foot salve along with the needle and thread. Also, I can’t imagine you walking, observing, and pondering without your ability to capture your experiences via pen and camera. Your goal of celebrating your 70th birthday along with meeting people and soaking up the sites almost require you to make note of what you experience. I do like what Helga said about your body remembering (it’s sounds to lovely), but I don’t think it is an either / or situation. Surely you can do both. Immerse yourself in a camera-less day; what would that be like?
    Full disclosure – I can’t wait to live vicariously through your experience! 🙂

    • timeout2 says:

      Yes, muscle memory is a great aid. I walked uphill (up Hermit Road) last Friday after an hour of Zumba. It was a long five miles with the wind off the mountains and in my face. The good news is that the walk went well. If I continue with Zumba and up my mileage in small increments… if I start wearing a backpack and little by little start adding weight to the pack… I may be fit before October. That’s a lot of “ifs.” As for taking a camera, I must. The camera has become an extension of my hand. For me, having the camera is less about having the pictures in-hand but more about seeing. Is Alex ice fishing this winter? When Mark returns, we should go out to Lake DeWeese – the boys can fish and we can walk the perimeter – followed by dinner – something hearty and warming.

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