Peregrino: the word seems to me, when adrift without context, to be a likely candidate for a brand of beer, a word that marketers might like because it sounds as if it has a slightly foreign air — that lifting ō at the end — and might be easily pronounced in many languages. Per-i-grin-o: it flows musically off my lips. But it is not its lyrical sound that first drew me to it.
Athletic and adventurous are not words that spring quickly to mind as good descriptors of me. Yet, in ’85 or ’86, when visiting recently transplanted friends in the Smokeys, we began discussing the Appalachian Trail. We even spent part of an afternoon walking on a nearby portion of it. I was intrigued by the idea of a long hike. But, practicalities — then in my mid-20’s, and throughout the last two decades — have always prevented me from doing anything more than daydream or live vicariously through stories told by those who have undertaken such treks. Still, the dream of a long hike, the processing of placing one foot in front of the other for mile after mile, day after day, until a distant destination was reached, did not disappear.
About a year ago, at a board meeting, we were trying to determine a next meeting date. When a specific date was mentioned, one member said “I may not be available. My wife is going to be gone for a month, so I have some child care issues.” I heard someone quickly ask if his wife was going on a pilgrimage. There was a quick confirmation that she would be walking the Camino de Santiago. I don’t remember much else about that meeting. I was immediately taken by the idea and could not wait to leave so that I could go find out more about this journey. The seed was planted.
The Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James or The French Way, is an ancient pilgrimage route that begins in France and continues across northern Spain to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. In the medieval era, pilgrims travelled from throughout Europe, beginning in their home villages, to the cathedral where, according to legend, the bones of the Apostle James are buried. Although some modern-day pilgrims choose to walk a shorter trek, the common starting point of The French Way is in St. Jean Pied de Port, near the French-Spanish border, crossing the Pyrenees where Charlemagne did, at the Roncevaux Pass. (If you studied French in school and read Le Chason de Roland, this is the location of the epic battle memorialized in that work.) From there, The Way continues westward for about 500 miles to Santiago. Some pilgrims continue on to Finisterre, the western most point in Spain. Finisterre was also considered a holy place in the Middle Ages. The Codex Calixtinus, considered to be the first tourist guide, was written about this route around 1140.
The route has remained unchanged, although most of the pilgrims — peregrinos — no longer walk for religious reasons. I am planning to walk beginning in late August or early September. I no longer have the constraints of children to care for — my son graduates from college in two weeks and will be off to begin his adult life shortly thereafter — nor do I have the constraints of a full-time job. Without these concerns and with plenty of time, now seems like an ideal time to begin walking.
I look forward to seeing a part of the world that is unknown to me. I welcome the long hours of solitude accompanying a rhythmic pace forward along the trail. I anticipate meeting others from all parts of the world and figuring out how to communicate despite language barriers. (I know no Spanish!) I want to embrace the idea of a very physical goal — 500 miles! — and experience the satisfaction of having completed such an undertaking. I want this to be both a closing chapter on my years raising a child mostly single-handedly and a beginning chapter to whatever it is that comes next in my life. I’ll have a lot of steps to think through what that might be as I journey along The Way.
This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is P. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.