Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Plans for a Summer Pilgrimage

I enjoyed my walk to Mexico City last winter immensely - as I have enjoyed all of my winter pilgrimages. But why should I have all the fun? I want to emphasize the practicality and feasibility of this North American pilgrimage for others to follow. Certainly and without hesitation, I encourage anyone who is motivated to make a great pilgrimage in North America to use this same route, either by foot in three months or by bicycle in one month. Get out there! Be not afraid!

Perhaps more attractive would be a shorter pilgrimage from Denver to Chimayo in New Mexico. I strongly encourage this route for the masses. Fellow pilgrims and future pilgrims, anyone who has thoughts of walking the Camino in Spain, why not consider this route in the US? The history of Chimayo as a pilgrim destination doesn't quite reach back into the depths of time that Santiago de Compostela does, but it still has many centuries attached to its lure and with a host of unique cultural elements in stunning landscapes and quite unspoiled wilderness. Contemplate a 350-mile/550-kilometer walk in the mountains.

I see that three stages exist for something like this to become established: explorer, pioneers, colonists. I made the exploration of the route last winter, so that stage can be checked off the list - I demonstrated that it can be done and I know a beautiful and accessible route. I've drafted a written plan for the next stage. Next summer after I return from Jerusalem, I will gather a group of 16 'pioneers' whom I will lead on the route. In Spain, pilgrim groups find refuge in established pilgrim houses. These don't (yet) exist in the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico, so the plan for the pioneers is to bring the essentials of a pilgrim house with us - water, cots, hot showers, a laundry facility and a kitchen. Together with a small group, I'm working through the logistics necessary to make the journey of the pioneers a success. We're targeting the pioneer journey for next August (2012).

The product of the pioneers' experience will be a guide that will disseminate the route to other pilgrims and groups of pilgrims who wish to walk from as far north as Denver to Chimayo. It's a rugged route indeed, with many mountain passes to cross, and with many thousands of feet of elevation gained and lost - oh so beautiful. For Camino grads, the distance is roughly equivalent to Burgas to Santiago de Compostela. The plan is sketched at the moment for 18 days of 20 miles/31 kms. Five or six days of relatively flat terrain and the balance mountainous. The pioneers will be of diverse ages and physical abilities so that we can be better able to provide guidance for future groups.

It's difficult to predict now if the evolution of the colonist stage will become viable - that would be the construction of permanent pilgrim houses. It could be well into the future, I think, but if there's interest and need, it will happen organically. For the moment, I want only to plant the seed. Will the route from Denver to Chimayo become el Camino del Norte? Will other routes be explored - across Arizona, Utah, Texas, and Kansas? Pilgrims ho!

I've set up a poll at the top of the blog page to get a sense of some feedback. Please feel free to comment. Thanks!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pilgrimage Coming Soon

Realizing that I won't be able to walk to Santiago de Compostela from Denver until the Atlantic Ocean either freezes or dries up, I've gone ahead and bought a plane ticket. The next winter pilgrimage is imminent. I'll begin to walk under the wings of St Michael the Archangel, the 29th of September. Depending on a myriad of unpredictable factors, I should be strolling into Jerusalem sometime in late spring. -ish.

Ticket in hand, boots are now on feet, too - heavy leather guide boots with the beefiest soles I could find, and I looked carefully and dutifully for months. I have no endorsements or product sponsorship, but for anyone else searching for boots ready to go the distance, I'll share that the selected boots are Italian-made Scarpa SL M3. I ordered my normal size of 38 but they were too small; the 39s that just arrived fit very comfortably. I'm hoping that the soles will get me through the three mountain ranges I'll cross in Spain and then through the Atlas Mountains of northern Morocco and Algeria. The soles of the three other boots I've gone through - Raichle, Meindl, and Zamberlan - all similar heavy leather guide boots, each lasted 'only' 1,200 miles/2,000 kms. I'm now hoping that these new ones will get me at least to Algiers, 2,500 kms, but more hopefully to Annaba (Hippo) where I'm thinking about spending (western) Christmas at 3,000 kms. After that, my soles are in the hands of fate. I'll be sure to report on their condition frequently, since footwear is paramount to any distance walker.

I'm rushing through my days reading about the diverse and fascinating histories of the all the areas I'll walk through, going through shifting checklists of equipment repairs and the gathering of odds and ends, learning enough Arabic to make a suitable cheat sheet, and interminably studying maps. I'll come up with a picture of my route soon and post it for all to follow. In general: Santiago de Compostela, Avila, Toledo, Cordoba, crossing the Straits of Gibraltar at Algeciras to Ceutas (a speck of Spain relic in Morocco), onward and eastward along the Mediterranean coast more or less along an old Roman Road through countless ancient cities, some thriving, some in ruins...Algiers, Tunis, lots of historical places in Libya (let's hope I can get through the border, sometime in mid January-ish), Alexandria, the monastery of St Anthony, across the Red Sea to the monastery of St Catherine below Mount Sinai, and then to wherever I'm able to walk in Israel. Long, sure, but fascinating, too. And it all begins in 4 weeks from today. :D !!