Suddenly it has hit me. In 48 hours I won’t be in Kansas anymore (well, Lincolnshire). I will be en route to the start of the longest walk of my life. It has been strange having A-level and GCSE results days go past, seeing how my classes have done but knowing that I won’t be back in the classroom in a few weeks. Instead, all is new and a little unnerving… but incredibly exciting as well. Some recent experiences and thoughts, from the practical to the contemplative.
What am I taking with me?
To be honest, more than many peregrinos (Spanish for pilgrim) because I am planning on quite a bit of sleeping out under the stars. I’ve still got the pack in at a reasonable and very comfortable weight. The list of kit for anyone interested:
- Osprey Exos 48l bag
- Outdoor Research Helium Bivy
- Thermarest Neo Air Mattress
- Sea To Summit Spark II S/bag
- Medical Stuff: ibuprofen (vitamin “I”) / plasters and stuff I personally need such as catheters / alcohol wipes / spare antibiotics
- Cleaning stuff: Lush solid shampoo / household soap / toothpaste + travel brush (no deodorant… run other pilgrims, run!)
- Clothes: not much – 3 x lightweight walking t-shirts / lightweight fleece / underwear / socks / zip off trousers / sun hat
- Z-Packs Cuban Fibre Poncho (amazingly lightweight – can be used as groundsheet)
- Electronics: iPad mini / Kindle / Sony compact camera / iPod nano (mostly for pedometer) + accompanying power leads / convertor for Europe.
- Cooking: Solo Stove small pan / meth burner / matches / ultralight frying pan / homemade seasoning / coffee / plastic mug, plate and spork
- Medium size Trek Towel
- Notebook and a few pens
- Prescription Sunglasses / Case + actual glasses (contact lenses for emergency breakage)
- Money Body Pouch Thing – Passport / Cash / Insurance details / Credencial (pilgrim’s passport)
- Water 2 Go filter bottle
- Spare waterproof bags for grocery shop + wash bag
I think that’s about it. I could certainly trim it down (kindle AND an iPad?) but have tried to get the balance between the kit I think will enhance the journey and the whole lightweight philosophy. I guess I can always post stuff home if not being used.
How has the physical preparation been?
Wonderful – five months of subtle discovery. I don’t think I have quite got myself in peak condition due to a few bouts of illness, but a few 25-30km treks have been done in under 6 hours recently with no blisters or excessive physical strain. Since working with the element earth in a more intensive and focussed way, I have been exploring the many incredible footpaths of South Lincolnshire / Rutland, and I cannot overstate the many gifts this process has brought me: a greater sense of place; noticing the seasonal changes in now familiar locations; stronger connections with Awen, and outright “spiritual experiences” on a couple of occasions. Whether that is a flow of chemicals to the brain, or something other, it has been received with gratitude.
So, why am I walking more than 500 miles this September?
I wonder how many times this will be discussed on the pilgrimage trail with others? A few years ago I travelled to the Amazon rainforest to partake in a series of ceremonies within a Shamanic tradition. I have realised that the reason I am headed for Spain is similar to the reason I headed for South America. Both that journey and my upcoming one have seemed akin to a “threshing floor” – it is time to take stock of life, let go of baggage. Through stripping everything back for a time from the complexities of modern living I think that we can and should attempt to connect to the present moment and recognise what is serving us and what is not. I am also always on the lookout for experiences that might put you in the way of beauty and can engage with questions that lie beyond all of the distractions and fluff so prevalent in our culture (for example, see the BBC in its glory for a spectacular showcase of what I mean).
In truth, I have no idea what will happen, how it will be, if I will finish it and what effects the experience will have. Like anything that I look back on in my life and recognise as having been worthwhile, it feels risky.
Why a Christian pilgrimage route for a Neo-Pagan bard like yourself?
Actually, historically the route across Northern Spain was made by Pagans within the Roman Empire long before the legend of St James became the lure of this trail. They travelled to Finisterre (the end of the world) on the Western coastline of Galicia, which is where I intend to finish my outer walk. There are sites along the way that I wish to visit – from the woods near Pamplona that hid covens in the 16th Century, to the rock formations in Galicia which were – apparently – Druid temples millennia ago. But I also look forward to seeing the Christian heritage along the way and meeting may people of all different faiths (and non) who are drawn to walk this path. One thing I have been bad at since “going Druid” is talking openly about it to others. I hope that I can get used to doing so amongst others who are likely to be walking their own spiritual path.
What will I miss? Is there a compromise?
Of course – taking a road seems to logically mean not taking another one. In approximate order of what I’m going to miss the most:
- My wife – without doubt, I would choose to travel with my best friend at all times if I could. As much as I would love to dispense with electronic technology all together, I think Face Time will frequently be used and appreciated! I already can’t wait for her to come out and meet me.
- My cat – sad or what! particularly when I’m fairly sure she won’t notice I’m gone.
- Hot water dispensed by convenient taps in house – I could probably extend this to many home comforts, but this is the one that I think will be most missed.
- Seeing my garden and the Welland Valley change throughout September – since walking a Druid path I have been awakened to charting changes across the wheel of the year. Having begun at Samhain, this will be the “missing month” until next year.
- Parts of my job – whilst I could rant on about the downsides of being a teacher in 2016, there is so much that I love as well. Starting out with new classes and welcoming back your Y11s/Y13s was always so enjoyable… still, maybe a cold San Miguel at the end of a beautiful day’s walking next Thursday will convince me that it’s not so bad after all!
Two more sleeps (naps excluded) and a few final arrangements to make and it is – I hope – Buen Camino! I hope to update the blog not too frequently, but certainly before the end.