The Journey of 1,000 Miles…
The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. ~ Lao Tzu
In May 2017, I set out on a journey to walk 1,000 miles from Le Puy, France, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Here are some of the highlights of that journey and how things turned out.
After a smooth flight, I spent three nights in Lyon, France to explore and allow my time zones to adjust.
I took a train and bus to get to Le Puy where I visited the Cathedral and got my credential. They offer a lovely evening gathering of pilgrims at Le Camino, near the Cathedral, with wine and beverages to help pilgrims connect and confirm plans for their Camino walk.
Mass at 7 am was the perfect send off. A group of near 100 pilgrims gathered in unison and received blessings on our journey. We selected prayers from previous pilgrims to carry and pray for and we left our own prayers for those that visit on a future day. They then opened up a door to begin our walk directly from the Cathedral…it is a memory I will hold close in my heart for some time to come.
I loved watching as Le Puy became a blur in the distance and new sights began to be the focus. Gradually the 100 pilgrims began to disperse as our own unique rhythms and goals took a different pace and trajectory.
Each day I walked between 7-27 kilometers to get to a new destination. Familiar faces begin to find their tribe. Blisters begin to say “slow down pilgrim, let go of visions you had and allow an inner rhythm to take hold.”
Beauty and challenge greet me daily. Kindness and flavorful foods kiss my lips. I love how the French linger over the morning meal vs rush to beat the crowds. About 10,000 people walk the Le Puy each year and most do so in spring and fall…the more moderate weather months.
I do not speak fluent French. I know about 50 words…so I listen a lot and observe. One can actually observe more fully when you are one step removed…such as with not speaking the language. I fall in love with lingering, real foods, walking…all a part of French culture. It reminds me of the groups I’ve started back home with Move More and Clean Eating Challenges to refocus our own habits to those that align with nature.
Each town is not far from the next…sort of like a loose woven fabric. When the path has two choices, pilgrims fair well to select the one which leads up. The Le Puy is harder than the Camino Frances. There is much more elevation gain and significantly more challenging terrain. My physical self is challenged. I sweat and at Bessuejouls I muster ever ounce of my being to get myself and my 20 pound pack up a VERY steep hill with slippery clay mud in my Birkenstocks! I did not fall off of the mountain. I reach the top and breathe a sigh of relief!
My blisters guide how far I will walk the next day. An occasional 7 km day is almost like not walking and allows me time to rest and enjoy the village in which I land for the evening. Friendships form thanks to Gigi who speaks French, English, German and some Spanish. I realize how language can join or separate us as I am learning more French.
Most of the time I do not book ahead and this works fine, until some three-day weekends occur, then one is best to have a place to land. Ascension and Pentecost happen to be three-day weekends.
I pause for a few days to tour with Gigi before she heads home. This allows me to see some of the world’s most beautiful places without the steep trails of the variant walk option. I can then carry on using the main path towards Santiago. As I look back these are some true highlights of my Camino. Thanks Gigi for suggesting them and allowing me to come along. A journey shared, is so much more vibrant!
Goodbyes are a part of any Camino and a part of life. Gigi and I part ways and wish each other well. I wonder who I will meet next…as most goodbyes make space for hellos to occur.
Rain comes and I enjoy its peaceful patter while stopping short to get some relief. Every place is closed (due to Pentecost), so I get a gite in Cajarc. That morning on the way to the toilette a dim light removes only some of the shadows as I think I am stepping on solid ground, I have one more big step to take…and I fall. It’s a fall I will live over many times. That one step out of near 200 miles that was not as planned. The one that would end my journey…at least for now.
A bad ankle sprain with doctor’s orders to not walk for three weeks and a deep cut to the hand led to my decision to return home. I am now recuperating and have made the decision to take a physical and mental sabbatical until my original return date (August 5th) to continue my “inner Camino.” This blog post is one step in that inner Camino journey.
But your loss brought you here
to walk under one name and to walk
under one name only, and to find the guise
under which all loss can live;
remember, you were given that name
every day along the way, remember,
you were greeted as such,
and treated as such,
and you needed no other name.
Other people seemed to know you
even before you gave up
being a shadow on the road
and came into the light,
even before you sat down,
broke bread and drank wine,
wiped the wind-tears from your eyes:
Pilgrim they called you
again and again.
Excerpt from ‘Camino’
In ‘Pilgrim: Poems by David Whyte’
Many Rivers Press © 2013