Friday, March 28, 2014

Finding our joy

Smile for the camera (best he could do)!
The days are passing quickly by as our departure for Le Puy draws ever closer (less than a month now). We have done all the usual preparation, but at a somewhat less frantic pace this time around. There just isn't the same sense of urgency that we felt on previous camino departures. The desire to return to the pilgrim community, and walk, remains very strong, but we seem willing to accept that we cannot control many things, and if some of those things don't work out the way we had hoped, so what. That should not cause us any distress. We have adopted the attitude that all will be well, regardless of any surprises, or inconveniences encountered. It's all good. That's our goal. Now we shall just have to wait and see how we do (please feel free to remind us at some point down the track if we start grumbling). Perhaps this change in attitude stems from a growing familiarity with pilgrimage, and its attendant challenges. In the past we certainly have had moments on the camino when missed expectations unfortunately crowded out our joy. But, we learned from those experiences, and hope not to repeat them again. Our joy is found simply in being present, and accepting the gift of this camino with open hearts and minds. So, regardless of miserable weather, wet and sore feet, bed bug bites, or whatever other host of potential ailments might beset us we are determined to remain thankful for the opportunity to shoulder our packs once again and set out (à pied) for Santiago. This is going to be a remarkable journey. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Just a quick sidebar to explain the picture. A few days ago, I was out walking along the Columbia River, and saw this bald eagle sitting rather low in a tree on the riverbank. These birds are not uncommon in this area, but they are not usually seen this close to urban areas. This one remained calm as a cucumber seemingly indifferent to the restive crowd that had gathered to admire him. I (fortunately) was part of the crowd.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Route of travel

John and Robin's 2014 Camino Route Map (click map to enlarge)
I put together a rough map of how Robin and I will be walking to Santiago. Starting in Le Puy we will walk to St. Jean Pied de Port, and then on to Roncesvalles via the Route Napoleon. We had to walk the Valcarlos route to Roncesvalles (due to winter weather concerns) on our two previous caminos, so this year we will try for the (more?) scenic route. Although, I must admit we have always enjoyed walking up the valley. Once we get to Roncesvalles then it will most likely be a return to St. Jean (bus or taxi), and then surface transportation to Irun, where we will start the Camino Norte. Our plan is to follow the Camino Norte until Sebrayu, and then veer off onto the Camino Primitivo. The Primitivo will take us to Melide on the Camino Frances, and then its just a couple of days on into Santiago. This camino is approximately 1600 kms, or 1,000 miles. We have time on our side (90 days Schengen visa requirements) and will not be setting any land speed records for this route. Our intention is to savor every step of the way (and there will plenty of them). We will be looking for good spots to lay over as our bodies or spirits require, and plan on taking occasional diversions as well. At this point side trips (in France) to Rocamadour and down through the Célé Valley are already scheduled. I am sure others will emerge once we get underway. This will be a fantastic camino. God willing we will see it through. Regardless of how it works out we plan on having a lot of fun simply trying.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Who knows where they come from

For the past couple of years I have been involved with American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC). I am now the Chapter Coordinator for the Portlandia (Portland, OR and SW Washington) Chapter. APOC is a wonderful organization that supports the dreams of pilgrims to be while providing financial support for camino infrastructure improvements in Spain. Please see the link above to read all about the extent to which this organization is committed to the health of the camino, and to those who wish to walk it. Member dues pay for it all. So, if you are so inclined, please visit their website ( and see how you can become a member. I personally have witnessed a stunning growth in the number of people responding to their individual calls to the camino. Our chapter has grown from just a bit over a dozen members to about 225 in just two years. They come from all walks of life and backgrounds, but find common ground both in their desire (some say burning desire) to walk the camino, and to share their passion with others bound for the camino. This is a great group of interesting folks. Somehow our lives have intersected for this purpose (perhaps others??) and we have have all benefited from it. So, if you feel the call to the camino, get involved with like minded people, nurture a bold vision of what you can do, and keep your camino dream alive until your time arrives (and it will). On behalf of the APOC Portlandia Chapter good luck, and buen camino to all. It is a journey you will surely remember.

Trying to gather the group during a chapter Sunday walk

Up through the Fort Vancouver Historical Reserve, Vancouver, WA

Debriefing at day's end

Some of the lucky one's who got a table

Friday, March 14, 2014

Getting our act together

Robin and I at Tidewater Cove, Columbia River
We have been casually watching our camino departure date move up on the calendar for many months now with a kind of detached indifference. It has just been too far away to get lathered up. But now it has dawned on us that will be leaving next month and so a flurry of camino related activity has  now descended on our household. Travel plans, researching and booking accommodations along the Le Puy route, watching the weather on the Aubrac plateau, fine tuning our gear selections, figuring out what we need to do to walk away from our home for 3 months are all competing for our time. While the Lenten season calls us to a quieter time our building excitement to set out on our longest camino yet, is palpable.

This trip has its unique challenges. We will have to carry clothes and gear to accommodate winter like weather early on and mid summer heat towards the middle and end. There will also be a lot of other people walking the Le Puy to St. Jean Pied de Port section competing for lodging. But it is all good. We have spent a lot of time trying to lighten our backpacks and have had some reasonable success.  The biggest game changer has been switching from our Aarn Peak Aspiration packs to the ZPacks Arc Blast 45, an almost 4 pound savings. Leaving my sleeping bag at home will also save me close to another 2 pounds. A more versatile and much lighter rain gear solution was found in the Montbell Versalite jacket and pants, rather than the Altus poncho. Robin and I will both be carrying Golite trekking umbrellas for rain and sun protection. I have also switched from my Salomon Quest 4D boots to Teva Kimtah's. They also have a wide toe box, fit well, and shave off another pound. My second shoes are New Balance Minimus trail shoes. These weigh 1 pound for size 13, and should be great once the weather heats up.

Maybe a bit too much black??
Robin and I have both been out in the local weather (lots of rain) and have been quite pleased with our selections. Our ZPacks Cuben fiber packs have not leaked (they are seam sealed) but we do have Granite Gear Uberlight EVent dry sacks for everything we are carrying, just in case. I am also going to carry and try out a rain kilt from ZPack. This seems like a great rain solution for warmer weather. The kilt keeps your shorts dry and the umbrella takes care of the upper part. It is quick to put on and take off, plus you are not roasting in a poncho or rain suit. My whole pack list is here. Robin's pack list is here. There will always be things we choose to carry that are beyond our basic needs. For me these are my camera and iPad. But, I must admit it is tantalizing to consider the weight savings if they stayed home. Maybe next time (but I doubt it).

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Return of the Prodigal Son

Return of the Prodigal Son-Rembrandt
Both Robin and I have been reading some interesting spiritual books as we prepare for our upcoming pilgrimage from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela next month. I still feel very connected to Thomas Merton, but of late I have become interested in the writings of  Henri Nouwen. Currently I am reading a book of his entitled, The Return of the Prodigal Son. While this is a very well known biblical parable Nouwen offers his readers a new and quite personal reflection on this story, and how it links to his own struggle to return to the Father "from a distant country." As I read this book I find myself examining my own struggles with the fragility of my faith, love of God, fleeing to a "distant country" and the subsequent long journey Home. What I have come to realize is that many of us are facing these same issues. We have lost track of God within us and have set out (left Home) to seek answers, and fulfillment in far away places. Perhaps His voice is just too faint to be heard over the noise of our daily lives. I know I frequently allow the commotion that attends my temporal pursuits to do that. It just seems I am conditioned to behave this way, despite the presence of a loving God in my life. But, the grace of the matter lies in the fact that God, like the father embracing his son in the painting, understands our flight, and patiently awaits our return as well.

So, Robin and I are off to the pilgrim road once again to embrace another part of our journey together. We will be leaving for France just after Easter, and plan to depart Le Puy on April 25th. We are ever thankful for the gift of each camino experience. They have always provided remarkable spiritual renewal and have positively shifted or displaced us from whatever misguided preconceptions we carried as excess baggage at the outset. We are eager to be underway again, and are hopeful that, as has happened in the past, sufficient moments of stillness and quietude will be found for us to hear the soft voice of the Father within us. Whenever we listen and respond to His voice, regardless of where we find ourselves, we find comfort that we are not lost; we are simply where we need to be.

Finally, less we should be lulled into thinking that the journey home to the Father is ever an easy quest, Henri Nouwen, an ordained priest, offers us, this reflection.

"It is the place within me where God has chosen to dwell. It is the place where I am held safe in the embrace of an all-loving Father who calls me by name and says, "You are my beloved son, on you my favor rests." It is the place where I can taste the joy and peace that are not of this world.

This place has always been there. I had always been aware of it as the source of grace. But I had not been able to enter it and truly live there. Jesus says, "Anyone who loves me will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home in him."...

But it has aways been very hard to experience the truth of these words. Yes, God dwells in my innermost being, but how could I accept Jesus' call: "Make your home in me as I make mine in you"? The invitation is clear and unambiguous. To make my home where God had made his, this is the great spiritual challenge. It seemed an impossible task." 

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen.

Peace be with you....