True to my wish to control life, I approached my third retirement with a laundry list of things I wanted to do in 2012 and 2013. This year’s travel includes the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Disney World (all done—check those blocks!); and trips to Williamsburg, Shenandoah National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park (May-June), Michigan and Mackinac Island (August). Then for 2013 I had gently persuaded Sandy (she might say “cajoled”) into traveling from Texas to Alaska on what I imagined would be the ultimate road trip, the “Alcan Highway.”
When I was in college, some of my classmates from Alaska would catch a bus to Seattle when school was over for the year. They would go to luxury vehicle dealerships and contract to drive new Cadillacs, Lincolns and Chryslers to Anchorage or Fairbanks. It was much cheaper for the buyer to have the car driven up than to have it shipped in those days. The following September, they would regale us with their adventures of taping thick cardboard panels onto the rocker panels to protect the cars from the gravel kicked up on the road. They described how they were able to drive all “night” without headlights because of the long days. I longed to have that adventure, seeing all the bears, moose and other wild things along the way.
That trip is not going to happen—at least not in 2013. Instead we will switch from being tourists to being travelers. There’s an odd feeling I sometimes get when driving a long distance. Our cars are as comfortable as sitting at home on sofa; and we are just as isolated from the passing countryside as we would be watching a travelogue on TV.
So what will we be doing for travel? About a year from today, we will fly from Houston to Paris. The next day we will take a train to the Bayonne/Biarritz area. After a day of adjusting to the time zone change, we will travel by train to St. Jean Pied-de-Port. The next day we will go through the Porte D’Espagne on the SW side of town and start our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on foot.
We are walking one of the great pilgrim paths of the world, El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the Way of St. James. It is a 500-mile journey along a path traveled by Charlemagne, St. Francis of Assisi, Napoleon, John XXIII (when he was still called Roncalli), and millions of other pilgrims. We plan to walk the journey in about 37 or 38 days. (That’s 15 miles per walking day and several days for rest.)
That’s the reason for this blog, to describe the journey, our preparation for it and the things we learn about ourselves and our lives along the way. If you do a search on Amazon.com, you will find about 1500 books about El Camino de Santiago. So I’m not trying to write a travel guide or how-to book. What draws me is the inner journey, how the ground itself is a metaphor for life: steep climbs, steep descents, cold and rain, heat and dust, long and lonely stretches through the flatlands, refreshing mountain spring water and no water at all. Then, after we achieve that which we seek—in this case the supposed location of the remains of the Apostle, James the Greater—there is a short pilgrimage to Finisterre (the end of the world) on the Atlantic coast.
You are probably thinking, “Are you nuts? You’re fat and lame, not to mention that you will be 69 years’ old when you start out.” Believe me, I thought about, and still think about those things too. But I will be 69 if I sit on my butt all year, so that’s just a number. Since responding to this inner calling (I can’t even claim it as my decision), I’ve lost 1.5 bowling balls. That’s twenty-four pounds, but it’s such a better image when I imagine carrying around extra bowling balls all day long. Sandy and I are walking 3 to 6+ miles 5 or 6 days of the week. The physical part of this journey is simple, measurable work. What I will focus on in my writing is the inner journey.
It was very helpful for me to re-learn the other day that the word travel comes from the word, travail.
So, off we go.