Saturday, November 20, 2010

Background (or why on earth anyone would walk 200 miles in 2 weeks if they didn't have to)

Tour St. Jacques, Paris

One of the best books I’ve ever read is Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. The first Follett book I had tried to read bordered on pornographic and Pillars is over a thousand pages, so it was kind of a miracle when I finished it – and loved it – over ten years ago. Up until recently when I reread it, I remembered that it was a story about cathedral building (and builders) back in the 12th century and the intrigues of the church and nobles, and it ended with the murder of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

For some reason, one small part of the story in particular – no more than about five pages of the thousand – caught my attention and made enough of an impression that I remembered it all these years. (Highly unusual for me – I usually have forgotten not only the details but even the general plot of a book within a month after I finish reading it.) This was the story of Lady Aliena’s following Jack the Builder to Paris, only to find that he’s left on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in the northwest of Spain. So with her newborn, she sets out on horseback to find him there.

The pilgrimage Jack took was the Way of St. James, or Camino de Santiago. For a thousand years, Christians have trekked from all over Europe (and these days, from all over the world) to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of St. James the Greater are kept (or so legend would have you believe). Back in the old days, this pilgrimage was as important for Christians to make as the pilgrimage to Jerusalem was. Supposedly, it was established and promoted by the Cluniac order as a means to expand the influence of Christianity; the French kings used it to build their political and economic power in Spain as well. The route was protected by the Knights Templar and the Order of Santiago; monasteries, churches, and towns sprang up along the route to provide for the pilgrims’ spiritual and physical needs. There’s a whole chapter in James Michener’s Iberia about the Camino and his (second) trip to Santiago in 1966. Other people he lists as having done the pilgrimage were:

• Charlemagne
• Louis VII of France
• St. Francis of Assisi
• James III of Scotland and England
• Pope John XXIII (before he became the pope, that is)

What does this have to do with Pat and Kathie? you ask. In 2008, Kath, Joan, Hisako, Tetsu, and I walked all 84 miles of the Hadrian’s Wall trail in northern England. Last year, I was working on our Magnet project so I very reluctantly and sadly had to turn down Kathie’s invitation to hike the Western Highlands of Scotland with her, Kathleen, Sally, and Jan. So when Kathie suggested earlier this year that we do at least part of the 500-mile Camino in Spain, I was – as usual – nervous that I couldn’t get physically ready for such a hike, but curious enough about the pilgrimage that she didn’t have to twist my arm too hard to get me to go along.

In her usual way, Kathie set about lining up other walkers to go with us and making arrangements. Of course, she booked hotels and bag transfer through Macs Adventures again. For my part, I didn’t really start to prepare for the hike ‘til July. (Typical!) Our other sister, Janie, walked the bridge, Folly Beach, or Citadel Mall with me most evenings – right up until the day her evil gallbladder sent her to the ER. For the couple weeks between then and the start of the trip, I slacked off. What’s the worst that can happen, I asked myself. When it comes right down to it, all ya gotta do is keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’ll get through it like I always do, I thought.

September 17th finally arrived and a gallbladder-free Janie drove me to the airport then wished me good luck as we parted. I had been instructed by Kathie that I was NOT to check a bag so I had what I thought I would need for a 3 week trip, including 3 days in Paris and 14 days on the trail, packed in a carryon and a lumbar pack. Riding in two water bottles nestled in the pockets on each side of the lumbar pack I carried as a handbag were 5 pounds of peanut M&Ms that I had rationed out into 22 baggies – one for each day. I can only imagine what the airport security peeps thought when they saw that. (At least they didn’t have to hunt through my bags looking for mysterious white powder like they did in Kathie’s. What was that, Kath? Hydralite, did you say? LOL!)

In Atlanta, I met up with Kathie and Kathleen for the flight to Paris. If you’ve read the last few posts here, you know that we had a great time there. On Monday morning, we went back by the Tour St. Jacques before going to the Louvre. (It had been closed the evening we stopped by the first time.)

Pilgrim Statue at the base of the Tour St. Jacques

It was at this place that pilgrims from all over Europe met in the old days to start the 900 mile journey to Santiago de Compostela. So here we picked up buckeyes from the grass under the buckeye trees, and touched the monument for good luck on the pilgrimage.

On Tuesday evening, we arrived at the trailhead in the town of St. Jean Pied de Port in the Pyrenees Mountains. Here we visited the pilgrim office for guidance, got a bite to eat in a Basque café, and roamed along the top of the old city wall in the dark. The next morning, we set off on our incredible adventure.


Katharine said...

And we lived on those 5 lbs. of M & M's, thank god for those M & M's.

Pat said...

Like One-a-Days, only 3 a day.

Anonymous said...

Three a day? Three M&Ms a day? Whew.

Pat said...

It was tough, 'cause I could've eaten 20 a day but the Ks shamed me out of it - not intentionally, of course, but just because they were so well behaved!

Les said...

I am in the middle of Pillars right now, and read this post carefully to make sure you were not going to give away anything too critical to the story.

I have been intrigued for some time by this pilgrimage, especially by the fact that it has continued for so long. So I am enjoying your account of it, thank you.

Pat said...

Oops, Les - sorry about that Becket comment! You'll still enjoy it, though.

Sometime when you have time and are up to a LOT of walking, you might want to consider doing a portion of the walk. I would do it again, now that I know how to prepare for it properly! (I wonder if that's why so many people do it multiple times - just to get it right finally. Plus it's a great way to get in shape!)