Backpacking at 66

These days I have been thinking of my daughter, Laura’s, backpacking trip to Europe the summer after she graduated from the Perpich Arts High School. I had never done that type of a trip even though I finished high school in 1968, which was when such a trip was the thing to do. I thought of Laura as very brave, which she was, and very determined. She and friend Rachel graduated and off they went. I felt I was living vicariously through her, as I would never have that opportunity in my lifetime. Well, my goodness, never say never. Who knew at 66 I would be heading off with a backpack for Europe?

Like that nervous teen heading out into something unknown, not sure the full extent of the challenge and all that lies ahead. I am also remembering the long distance calls from a phone from anywhere, like “Mom, we’ve been robbed. Send money.” She was way more out of touch than I will ever be with a cell phone, Di’s I pad, and the relative instantaneous communication with photos, Facebook, I message, and face time, to name a few.

A big difference in our trips is my need for comfort. I don’t think Laura and Rachel gave that one much thought. Their planning took a few weeks, while mine has taken months.

I am very grateful for this opportunity and in no small part to Leo, with all his support in many many ways. It might have been easier at 18 but I am not the same person. I love that I get to take a more conscious me on this journey, laugh with my sister who is celebrating 70 years as we head out into trouble not remembering in which pocket we put what, gasping then remembering. Watching out for each other as we attempt to make one full brain between us.

As I lie in bed at night enjoying the comfort of my bed and feeling gratitude for home and clothes and car and on and on, I wonder now why am I doing this? And I know that this is just all part of the isness of my life. It is all part of the flow.


Dreaming of Backpacks

Night dreams swirl one after the other of backpacks and moving them, yes there is more than one, from place to place, room to room. Daily there have been things to assess, to add or subtract. I must be working hard on this at a deeper level.

I am happy to report I am done! The pack is closed. No more decisions. It is exciting to have so few choices. I opted for a backpack and a hip pack for the front for water and all the little stuff I need handy during the day. I am at 1 pair of pants, 1 capris, 1skirt, 2 t shirts, 1 wool under layer, 3 pair of socks, 2 panties, 2 bras, 1 fleece, 1 rain jacket, 1 rain pants, 1 hat, 1 buff, 1 leggings, 1 walking shoes, 1 pair sandals, journal, pen. The rest is sleeping bag, bug sheet, toiletries/medical and such. Not a lot of decisions day to day regarding stuff when on the Way.


As preparation for the walk, we are encouraged to create an intention, I have decided to center my personal intention on the transition in my life from employed as a Grief Counselor for Hospice to unemployed, retired, receiving Social Security/Medicare and no income, no defined service work, more space in my life. That will be in a little over a year from now and I contemplate the loss of clients who grieve and my role in their lives. I hold curiosity for the opening of life in a new way, excitement for change, feeling ready for a shift, and trusting I will be guided to continue to live in ways that are meaningful and giving of self. I feel gratitude for the journey of the past 66 years that have led me to the work that I do and the use of my full self in my work. In this contemplation, I also walk for those who are not able to work, to earn a decent wage, who struggle day to day in work that does not challenge nor use their gifts, talents, and intelligence, and those who work hard and still find it hard to put food on the table.

Whatever the intention, may the Way be open, gentle, loving and kind and touched with surprise.

“When someone seeks,” said Siddhartha, “then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”
― Hermann HesseSiddhartha

Now, I must continue to practice walking; it is all practice.




Learning to walk/Learning to Pack

Walk, walk, walk…Step, step, step…Breathe, breathe, breathe…Di and I got a taste of this in our practice walks a couple of weekends ago. We hiked 7 ½ miles on Friday, 7 Saturday with full packs and 4 Sunday with full packs. Since then I have had regular 5-mile walks and a 10-mile.

Di and I learned many things in our practice: weight of the pack, deciding on what is most important, footwear decisions, the weight of each item and determining its usefulness, minimizing toiletries and on my part, trying to eliminate as many ounces of items as I am able. My goal was a 15lb pack on my back plus the weight of two water bottles. Saturday I walked with 20 lbs. Sunday I dropped down to closer to 16 lbs. On the 10 mile I realized I was back up to 22 lbs. Water weighs in at 3 lbs. I am much happier with the lighter weight. I am trying to be ruthless. On the other hand, if it is too much, many people get the pack transported.

I bought my rain gear last spring when REI had their big sale. I have come to learn that I do not want to carry around 28 ounces of rain jacket and pants. So I am now down to 14 ounces. Research, return, and purchase the lighter weight items. This is the joy of shopping REI, easy returns.

I am very pleased with our ability to do the walks that we did but by Sunday afternoon and three days in a row, I was exhausted. I wondered, how am I going to do this? But, I awoke Monday and I could have gone again. After the 10 mile, I was again exhausted but a shower and rest helped. I think what is going to carry us is the energy of the stream, the Way, all the pilgrims going in the same direction with the expectation of the destination, Santiago de Compostela. The beauty of group energy, it lifts and strengthens. Also, the day to day building of stamina.

It is hard to believe on Tuesday of next week we will be in Madrid, Spain, the first stop on our journey. We fly in then catch a train to Leon where we will get our pilgrim passport and shell (the symbol of the Camino that pilgrims carry on their packs) and spend our first night at a Benedictine Monastery, Albergue Santa María de Carbajal.


We will be identifiable as pilgrims with all wishing us, “Buen Camino.”

Stirring the Spirit and the Body

I have been looking at a number of poems and reflections regarding a journey, something to bring with me to read and reflect upon. I had decided also to bring a small book of reflections by Meister Eckhart but decided he will travel by Nook app on my phone. What I have settled on for brevity and lightness of weight are these following three poems/reflections, which touch my heart and, I believe, will sustain me on the journey.




As you set out for Ithaka

hope your road is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery.

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,

angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:

you’ll never find things like that on your way

as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,

as long as a rare excitement

stirs your spirit and your body

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,

wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them

unless you bring them along inside your soul,

unless your soul sets them up in front of you.


Hope your road is a long one.

May there be many summer mornings when,

with what pleasure, what joy,

you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;

may you stop at Phoenician trading stations

to buy fine things,

mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

sensual perfume of every kind—

as many sensual perfumes as you can;

and may you visit many Egyptian cities

to learn and go on learning from their scholars.


Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you’re destined for.

But don’t hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years,

so you’re old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,

not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her you wouldn’t have set out.

She has nothing left to give you now.


And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.


The Journey

By David Whyte

Above the mountains

the geese turn into

the light again


painting their

black silhouette

on an open sky.


Sometimes everything

has to be

inscribed across

the heavens


so you can find

the one line

already written

inside you.


Sometimes it takes

a great sky

to find that


first, bright

and indescribable

wedge of freedom

in your own heart.


Sometimes with

the bones of the black

sticks when the fire

has gone out


someone has written

something new

in the ashes

of your life.


You are not leaving

You are arriving.



 “None of your knowledge, your reading, your connections will be of any use here: two legs suffice, and big eyes to see with. Walk alone, across mountains or through forests. You are nobody to the hills or the thick boughs heavy with greenery. You are no longer a role, or a status, not even an individual, but a body, a body that feels sharp stones on the paths, the caress of long grass and the freshness of the wind. When you walk, the world has neither present nor future; nothing but the cycle of mornings and evenings. Always the same thing to do all day; walk. But the walker who marvels while walking (the blue of the rocks in a July evening light, the silvery green of olive leaves at noon, the violet morning hills) has no past, no plans, no experience. He has within him the eternal child. While walking I am but a simple gaze.

_Frederic Gros, A Philosophy of Walking



Why I am walking the Camino

Why am I walking El Camino de Santiago, The Way? My simple joking answer is, “my sister told me to,” which in some ways is true enough. Di has been much more driven to do this trip and did not have any doubt about going. Reading the cousins blog along the Way in 2014, Di was enamored with the journey and saw the adventure and was captured by the sheer courage of doing this trip. I, on the other hand, had my eyes popping with reading about their long tiring days, falls that were near risks, the cold and the rain, and I was exhausted. Sitting in my house in the chill of October, I thought, I am glad it is not me.

But here I am on Sept 6, 2017 and I am leaving for El Camino in a little less than a week. Despite the concerns for being too hot when I walk and too cold when I sleep and too much to carry, and too far to walk, I am going, It truly does beg the question, Why?

Walking El Camino has become something other than a pilgrimage for many who begin. Some do it for the exercise, biking or walking it for the adventure, curiosity, and because it is there. Others enter from a religious Catholicism and walk it with prayer, reflection, and the heart of a pilgrim. Some walk from a spiritual perspective or with the deep history along The Way that has held many faiths, pagan, Christian, Muslim, to name a few. Some walk for a personal problem, a cleansing and renewal, to be forever changed.

While I believe that I bring some awareness as to why I am walking at this time, there will be more to unfold during and after that will cause me to reflect, that is why I went! But for now, I am aware of my family history. I have said many times that Catholicism is as deep as my DNA. It is steeped in family history with the angels, saints, the rosary, the Pope, priest and nuns, the Latin Mass, mystery and ritual. My family heritage is heavily French Canadian beginning in Canada in the 1600’s with the marriage of the daughter of a Huron chief and a French fur trapper. The Jesuits had Christianized the Huron village before it was destroyed and the survivors fled. Going back further we have Celts, Normandy, and even Ashkenazi Jew. We will be walking the path entitled The French Way that runs 790 km or 500 miles from St. Jean Pied de Port in France through the Pyrenees Mountains to Santiago de Compostela. We are starting in Leon for about 200 mile walk of the French Way. So, I walk partly because of family history and connection, religious heritage, and life transitions. I am currently not practicing Catholic weekly rituals but I don’t believe one ever leaves something that is so deeply embedded in their being and family as being raised Catholic. I walk with my sister and cousin to represent that family history. I walk as I am transitioning in employment. I walk as I feel I have reached a threshold age. I walk to meet other pilgrims on the Way from around the world. I bring with me a spiritual nature that guides my days and nights.

I am a woman who meditates daily, who’s life has been deeply affected and healed by a Hindu holy woman and saint, who sought a Master’s Degree in Theology and Spirituality at a Catholic University which healed and helped me to understand my religious past, who feels guided by angels, saints, spirit guides, Holy Spirit as well as teachings from Masters from various traditions. Who feels connected to and taught daily by the Buddhist text, the Dhammapada. I bring all of this with me on The Way as I do in daily life and pray for all of us on our journeys wherever they happen on this rotating earth. There is no longer a question of “why.” The response is, “I am.”

About El Camino

El Camino de Santiago has a long history pre St. James the Apostle. According to the camino “Bible” A Pilgrims Guide to the Camino de Santiago by John Brierley, “The earliest human remains ever discovered in Europe are to be found on a small hill directly on the camino”, dated over 900,000 years B.C. during the Pleistocene Age. Traveling through the Paleolithic period brings rock art in cave dwellings described as the “Sistine Chapel” of this period. Then the Megalithic period brings “mega stone structures aligned to the winter solstice sun,” the best being around the camino in Galicia. The Early Celtic period brought fortified villages mainly around Galicia with remains still seen in the countryside. The early Roman period brought Roman occupation. “Brutus fought his way to the end of the world finisterrae, a place of immense spiritual significance at that time.” Our journey on the camino will end at Santiago with a bus ride to the coast at Finisterre.

Legend has it that St. James preached in Galicia and Finisterre but that his mission met with limited success and he returned to Jerusalem. “Following his martyrdom, St James disciples brought his body back” in order to be buried at Finisterrae. Many centuries of religious wars were fought in this area. Today, statistics show that Spain, “until recently seen as a deeply religious society, has now just less than 20% population actually practicing Catholicism.” Yet, the numbers who venture into the Camino de Santiago as pilgrims from around the world “has risen tenfold in a decade.”

Of special note for me is the presence of the Knights Templar dedicated to the protection of the pilgrim, and with their mystery tradition became ”a corner stone in this ‘hidden’ heritage of the camino”.  As their influence became a threat to the Papacy, their Grand Master and many of the Knights Templar were arrested and put to death. With this loss of life was also loss of the esoteric knowledge, which is now preserved and honored as a fraternal order affiliated with Freemasonry. My son Brian has chosen the path of a Freemason in his spiritual quest and structure for education and service. He is not a member of the Templar order, but has filled the role of Lodge Master at his Masonic lodge in Minneapolis and continues to be involved in various charitable ways.  I will think of Brian when I reach the highest peak on the whole Camino at Alto Altar Mayor 4,920 ft. where the Knights Templar protected the Pilgrims, as the descent is a challenge.

It is all very humbling and gives me pause to be walking an area of earth with such a history of Crusades, warring, and the constant struggle between faiths. One of the first bits I will acquire when I arrive in Leon is a pilgrim passport. This passport will be stamped at every stop along my way until I reach Santiago and the Praza Obradoiro Cathedral and receive my final stamp and certificate for walking the camino. The certificate is given to those who walk at least a hundred miles. I will be walking about 200 miles from Leon. We will then attend a pilgrim mass in the Cathedral and hopefully be witness to the Botafumeiro (incense burner) swung high from the rafters by the monks.

To receive my certificate, I will be asked, “Why did you walk?” That is tomorrow’s reflection.

For a lovely short clip on the Camino and the swinging of the Botafumeiro watch on YouTube:

The shape of my heart: Redemption on the Camino de Santiago: