Saturday, October 28, 2017

Winter is Approaching - of course it is!

St Martin was a Roman soldier of the mid fourth century.  The son of a Roman soldier, he spent much of his life along the frontier between the civilized world and the barbarian world.  The Danube River marked most of the border. This is a great setup for another epic pilgrimage, isn't it?

The pilgrim route this winter begins at the mouth of the Danube River, where it empties into the Black Sea.  I plan to walk the length of the Danube, staying mostly on the former ‘barbarian’ side, through Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, and Austria to the source in Germany.  I might pop across the bridges a few times into Bulgaria. After reaching the source of the Danube in Germany,  I plan to continue along the German-French border through Luxembourg and back to France visiting important Gallic places and places specifically important to St Martin.  St Martin is one of the few saints shared enthusiastically in the modern Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox cultures. Sexy Roman soldier with the red cape who established several monasteries and then became a beloved bishop. Many of the famed Irish apostles-turned-saints studied at his monastery in Tours.

I'll be looking for cool places to stay, like old monasteries and small villages, maybe a castle or two. Within a fortnight of the November 1st start, I'll be in the area of an Orthodox monastery that houses the tomb of Vlad the Impaler... in all my years pilgriming, I don't think I've ever encountered an impaler before. I'll knock on that door for sure.

I wasn't able to get a visa to extend my time in Schengenland - not enough time, really, although it is do-able - so I'll have plenty of time to linger from Romania to Hungary - Christmas will likely be in Serbia; New Years in Croatia - but once I enter Hungary just after the new year, I'll be on a bit of a race to visit all of the places I'd like to go and get to Tours by Easter... April 1st, no foolin!

I admit to becoming increasingly poor at blogging over time, but I'll plead for understanding. These days, fewer people have computers in their homes, really, they have hand-held devices. It's pretty tedious to update a blog with two thumbs, especially on a keyboard in another language, much less alphabet. On top of that challenge, libraries are increasingly blocking email access from their public-use computers. Forgive me in advance. I'll make attempts when I get to parish or municipal offices, but it's very tempting to yammer with my hosts than to go off and update the blog. Still, I'll try. I'll make efforts to encourage people who take photos with me to send them into the blog as well, so even without a note, you'll see what fun pilgrimland is.

Happy winter!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Into the arms of humanity

Continuing along the spectacular Katy Trail, we occasionally fall in with day trippers and dog walkers and through-going cyclists. Connections are made, comparisons of notes, we see how small the world is. It's uncanny how few degrees of separation there are among us all.

My companion pilgrims have by now experienced for themselves the magic that appears every day in pilgrimland. They trust without expressing apprehension and events that can't be planned happen to our delight. Several churches where we've spent the night have been unarranged, yet have turned out to be delightful encounters.

After crossing the Missouri River, we left cutesy Rocheport, having slept in the historical United Methodist Church, with a list of potential churches that would work for us for the next night, but had no contact information, I went on ahead [oh, this is why the guys walk so much more than I do...I walk 3 or 4 hours a day, the guys walk 6 or 8, same distance, but the fellas take more time].

Using Google Maps as starting point, I strayed from the Katy to find Mt Celestial church that Google depicted as a suitable country church with a hall on the back but no phone number listed. Yeah..., no..., reality is, it's boarded up, danger signs, not at all acceptable for pilgrim hospitality.

Onward to the next closest church that had a phone number but no one ever answered.  I went, found no one, no phone number listed anywhere, time to find a neighbor, anyone with info about the church - could three pilgrims sleep in the hall. l spoke with some weekend workers on a water tower next to the historical cemetery, got a number of a local manager, called him, no idea of who to call about the church - he called back twice. He suggested another church a half mile away. I decided to walk there and to keep asking everyone I met. A jogger, a teenager out for a walk, a man walking his dog...no iinformation... here comes a man out for a walk. I explained, I asked, he knew nothing of that church but offered the church he attends on the other side of town "I can drive you and your friends there and bring you back in the morning". "Maybe, I'll take your number and see how it goes at the church at the next corner."

An hour later, my companions and I were with Jim-the-Methodist going to his church across town. The encounter was somehow predestined. The hospitality was fantastic, the reception in their community on a Sunday night, so open, so welcoming of strangers. They were enjoying youth night - jam session in the basement, a movie, nachos for dinner...20 middle and high schoolers with a handful of parent's:  pilgrims? what's a pilgrim? We three pilgrims sat at different tables telling tales of pilgrimland. An encounter that could not have been scheduled in advance. Angels nudged us together. Everyone benefited from the experience.

I credit my co-pilgrims for their trust. Someone once commented that what I do is like the childhood game - "do you trust me? fall back into my arms and I'll catch you" I do this every day as a pilgrim - fall back into the arms of humanity trusting that humanity will catch me, and they always do. This time, my pilgrim pals released the need to have a plan and locking elbows with me fell back together. Pilgrimland rocks. The Community United Methodist Church was our collective angel last night. Wonderful.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Halfway Day

Time flies when you're getting rained on.  As we finished the first stage of our journey - the farm-road section - the sunny breezy spring weather gave over to exceptionally heavy rain.  Pilgrim life...we walk in the rain.  We listen to reason when it comes to lightning blasting in an adjacent field. Farmers have been taking care of us.  We discovered in this fieldtest of ours that a key bridge is designed to let a river pass over it in heavy rain and the detour involves a long stretch on a narrow highway.  Listen to the locals. Wet weather adds 2 miles to our route.

After getting into Clinton on 81 miles of gravel farm roads, we stepped onto the Katy Trail, a perfectly surfaced bicycling and walking path, high and dry and rather direct.  It is a superb way to go, surprisingly easier on mind and foot, since no thinking is necessary beyond direction...keep heading east.

So quickly, it seems to me (but maybe not my companions who enjoy many more hours walking every day than I) we've just finished the second stage adding 77 miles to the first. This stage along the Katy Trail wends through the countryside and its old farmsteads and small towns, in some cases ghost towns.  The trail heads have very nice information panels and annotated old photos revealing the historical points cherished by the residents. Park benches add convenience for foot pilgrims.

There has been no hardship in finding accommodation within our design bracket of every 10 to 15 miles, averaging 13 miles - a half marathon - with a maximum of 16.  Seven nights we were hosted by the local Catholic church, although four of those nights we were accommodated in the homes of parishioners; five nights we were hosted by local Protestant churches; one night we slept in the local community hall, but only because it was easier for a local resident to confirm with other residents than with the church elders of the Protestant church.

We've now reached the Missouri River, the end of our second stage and a few miles short of the halfway point. From here to the destination, the Katy Trail travels right along the riverbank.  Our patron St Rose Philippine took the steamboat on the river back in the day. We'll walk downstream on the trail.

We've walked in high spirits 158 miles in 12 days and have 176 miles to go in the next 13 days.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Nice Time Walking in the Rain

Rolling thunder makes a nice soundtrack across the heartland.  The three of us began our pilgrimage from Mound City, Kansas on Monday and now on Saturday have reached Clinton, Missouri, 81 miles east: three days in breezy sunshine and two days in pouring rain.  Angus cattle watch us as we walk along the gravel roads, some horses, too; friendly pet dogs follow us. A graceful owl swooped by one afternoon, all sorts of other birds...even in the rain, it's a pleasant, peaceful walk.

We've been warmly received every night, and being a group of only three pilgrims, we've been invited into homes several nights - that means high comfort for pilgrims.  Third night out, a hamlet was happy to open the community center for us, being easier to facilitate than trying to get permission from the committee of elders who could authorize our using the community church. The liquor store rounds out the offerings of the place. The community center works well for pilgrims.

Another day also ended without a town in range, but an old Presbyterian church sitting in a field served us well. A vintage outhouse in the yard out back gave some authenticity to our tribute to St Rose Philippine. A neighbor provided some drinking and wash water, and added a cooking burner with a pot so we could cook a hot meal for a simple evening.  A few church members came by after our meal, expressing genuine  enthusiasm that their well maintained church with its long-standing member families could serve us so perfectly. Pilgrims are welcome.

We've walked by a parcel of high-grass prairie, seen the world's smallest tombstone, and passed through the 'baby chick capital of the world'. Pilgrimland rocks.