How Slow Can I Go?

The Way of Saint Francis, Assisi to Rome, italy

When we traveled as a family, my husband and I wanted to take our children to all the big attractions. We wanted them to “see all the sights” that travel had to offer.

We had busy days and full itineraries.

Rome, and a distant view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

When visiting Paris, we climbed the Eiffel Tower. We walked across the Tower Bridge in London. We saw Lenin’s Tomb in the heart of the Kremlin and we strolled through New York’s Central Park. We sat on the seats of the Coliseum in Rome, and we climbed the Washington Monument in Washington DC. 

But, as it is with age, things have changed.

The 900 year old remains of the courtyard of the church where Pope Innocent gave St. Francis his blessing.

The 900 year old remains of the courtyard of the church where Pope Innocent gave St. Francis his blessing.

It isn’t that I am no longer interested in sightseeing, it is just that I want to see other sights. I am finding that I am attracted to the areas less traveled, the less popular sights, the slower scenes. 

I don’t like waiting in line, and I like not being on a schedule. I am not interested in the latest “it” place to be and I don’t have a “Bucket List.” I can’t stand crowds, and I have no patience for large groups of tourists. As for fast food, well, that is what they serve in hell. 

When we last visited Rome, we visited the famous Piazza Navona.

When we last visited Rome, we visited the famous Piazza Navona.

Our Airbnb kitchen in Rieti. More vino please1

Our Airbnb kitchen in Rieti. More vino please1

While trekking The Way of Saint Francis, from Assisi to Rome, I asked myself, “when I travel, how slow can I go?” 

How can I savor every moment? 

Take one step at a time…

Take one step at a time…

It doesn’t get much slower than walking from destination to destination. Everything in-between, every move becomes part of the destination.  Every step is the journey. With every step you are simultaneously arriving at and leaving from your destination. With every step you are gaining and loosing your journey. 

Stop to enjoy the coffee, and the cup.

Stop to enjoy the coffee, and the cup.

Slow food and slow travel are under-rated. I am rewarded more by the less I spend. I do travel on a budget and I seek low cost lodging. I find no value in high-end travel, see-all tours, luxury accommodations, or itineraries crammed full of sight seeing destinations and Instagram bragging moments. 

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Sitting in the shade of a 800+ year old beach tree that was said to have been visited by Saint Francis.

Sitting in the shade of a 800+ year old beach tree that was said to have been visited by Saint Francis.

Again, I find myself attempting to appreciate the “here and now.” “Don’t take anything for granted, because it will soon be over.” See the details in common everyday items. Hear more of the sounds in the environment. Feel the ground crunch beneath my feet. Taste every bite. Enjoy every drink. Live every moment and be thankful for the time and experience. 

A hill town church’s contemporary mural.

A hill town church’s contemporary mural.

Simplicity, immediacy, and gratitude. 

Night falls upon Arrone, Italy.

Night falls upon Arrone, Italy.

A working pay phone.

A working pay phone.

Assisi to Spello, Trevi, Spoleto, Ceseli, Arrone, Piediluco, Poggio Bustone, Rieti, Poggio San Lorenzo, Ponticelli, Monterotondo, Monte Sacro, and Roma. 

The yellow and blue trail marker showing us the way.

The yellow and blue trail marker showing us the way.

As I look back at the list of places we visited, it is staggering. But that is nothing compared to the experience of moving through the “spaces in-between.”

Now when I travel, “how slow can I go?”

The answer is “not slow enough.”

We made it from Assisi to the Vatican with everything in our backpack.

We made it from Assisi to the Vatican with everything in our backpack.

My stamped Pilgrim’s Credential.

My stamped Pilgrim’s Credential.

I wish I Could Remember

The Way of Saint Francis, Assisi to Rieti, Italy

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I am halfway through our trek along The Way of Saint Francis. We have hiked about 11 miles a day and we are six days to Roma. 

I wish I could remember everything on this adventure.

I wish I could remember every church.

I wish I could remember every church.

I wish I could remember every flower.

I wish I could remember every flower.

I wish I could remember every mountain hill town.

I wish I could remember every mountain hill town.

I wish I could remember every door.

I wish I could remember every door.

I wish I could remember every field and pasture.

I wish I could remember every field and pasture.

I wish I could remember every tree.

I wish I could remember every tree.

I wish I could remember every corner, every street, every steep hillside, cobblestone, oak-covered road, every distant hill town, overgrown path, trail marker, water fountain, road sign, brick wall, barking dog, lamp post, tile roof, stream, olive grove,  shuttered window, and trail sign. 

But I can't remember it all.

I wish I could remember every spritz.

I wish I could remember every spritz.

I wish I could remember every hand made pasta, every roast pork, pecorino cheese, Panzanella, primi, segundi, white wine, red wine, amaro, and gelato I ate.

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I wish I could remember every sunrise…

I wish I could remember every sunrise…

And sunset.

And sunset.

I wish I could remember everything.

But I cannot.

What I can remember is that every day is special.

If I am in Italy, or at home in Washington, every day is beautiful and I can enjoy it and live in the moment. I am thankful for so many things that I may, or may not remember.

“Thank you brother sun and sister moon.”

Thank you Saint Francis for your love and gratitude for all things.

The Tau signature of Saint Francis.

The Tau signature of Saint Francis.

I will remember to always travel with love and gratitude.

I will remember to always travel with love and gratitude.

A Pilgrim's Plan

Preparing for The Way of Saint Francis, Assisi to Rome, Italy

Florence, Italy from my pervious visit in 2016.

Florence, Italy from my pervious visit in 2016.

I have a confession to make. (Not a big one, but an admission no less.)

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In my 33 year career with the Forest Service, I went on exactly one backpacking trip. It was the first year I worked for the Klamath National Forest, and we went for an overnight weekend trip in the Marble Mountain Wilderness.

That was the only time I have carried all my things on my back.

So when my skilled and knowledgable travel partner (a.k.a. husband, Keith) suggested hiking the Camino de Santiago, in Spain, my reply was “maybe you could do it, and I’ll meet you afterward.” 

But, as we discussed it further, the idea began to grow on me. “Why not?” If I ever want to hike with a pack on my back, I better get it done A.S.A.P. I’m not getting any younger.

Alas, the Camino has become very popular. Thousands hike it every year. It has become one of the famous (infamously popular) ‘bucket list’ items. “So let’s do this the Whelan on Walkabout way. Let’s take the road less traveled.” 

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Hence, we are NOT hiking the Camino de Santiago.  

We are going to hike The Way of Saint Francis, from Assisi, Italy to Rome. It is another, less famous pilgrimage trail, it isn’t as crowded, it isn’t as popular, and best of all, it is in Italy! I have been to Italy three times and I love it; the food, the people, the fashion, the scenery, the history, and the art.

The Tuscany landscape, from my previous travels to Italy.

The Tuscany landscape, from my previous travels to Italy.

Food, amazing food, is a reason to travel to Italy.

Food, amazing food, is a reason to travel to Italy.

I’m Not Getting Any Younger

I am very aware that I am aging. I know I can’t just strap a backpack onto my back and survive two weeks of hiking 10 miles a day across the Italian countryside. I need to prepare, train, study, workout, gather my wits, and plan. 

For the last three month’s I have been preparing my body, mind, and spirit. Here’s how I’ve been getting ready for a pilgrim’s hike of a lifetime. 

Mind

First comes the intellect, the knowledge of what can be done.

My knowledgable and skilled master travel planning partner (a.k.a.husband, Keith) and I don’t normally take tours. We are ‘self catering’ meaning that we make all of our own plans, book our own lodging arrangements and figure things out for ourselves.

We found a guidebook that gave day by day instructions and mapped out a route we could follow. We read about Saint Francis and his journey and checked weather, geography, travel advise and travel blogs. We booked Airbnbs, and hotel rooms through Bookings.com. We aren't camping, we are traveling by credit card.

The book that started it all. “We can do this!” With complete instructions, included.

The book that started it all. “We can do this!” With complete instructions, included.

When it all goes on your back, it must be important, and light.

When it all goes on your back, it must be important, and light.

No camera or laptop this trip. A portable keyboard, and my new iPhone X, is all the technology I will be taking.

No camera or laptop this trip. A portable keyboard, and my new iPhone X, is all the technology I will be taking.

I bought a new iPhone X to replace my travel camera, and I loaded it with the apps I need to track our finances, communicate with family, follow friends, and blog. One of my favorite apps is Map Guru which is an interactive GPS. It can locate me, show me the route, and give directions, but unlike Google Maps, the course doesn't change and I load the map and route coordinates. I can navigate with and without internet connectivity.

Trips sometimes start simple enough…

Trips sometimes start simple enough…

Then quickly become more complicated.

Then quickly become more complicated.

Body

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In the movie "The Way," Martin Sheen picks up the backpack and ashes of his late son and spontaneously strikes out on the Camino de Santiago. There is no way I could physically hike and carry everything for six weeks on my back without additional physical training and preparation. 

Months before this trip, I started daily fitness workouts. I attend one-hour yoga practices three times a week with Yogi Ronny at Firefly Yoga, and I made a significant effort to regularly to walk or hike six to ten miles a day, every day. I did take rest days, but I tried to make sure I didn't miss more than one day of exercise. 

We made city hikes in town and elevation climbs in Rainier National Park. I hurt and healed my hip, and then my knee, and an insect bit me, which induced an alarming allergic reaction. 

Early on during training, I learned to practice self-care for my feet, skin, ankles, hips, hair, and lips. I'm still not very good at recognizing when too much, is too much, so I don't over-exhaust myself. 

I'm still no athlete, but I'm much stronger now. 

Spirit

Here’s the thing. I’ve never done this before and it’s scary.

One of the Burning Man principles I love is “Radical Self Reliance.” I like being self-dependent. But, throw in some uncertainty of walking in a countryside I don’t know, where they speak Italian, and I don’t. This isn’t my “comfort zone.”

My fear is real.

I know that the reason why some people don’t travel is because they are afraid. But, in a strange way, that is the reason I want to do this trip. I welcome the opportunity to jump out of my comfort zone, into the unknown, and land someplace I haven’t been before.

I love my life in Olympia, but I’m also living for a life in The World.

”You don't choose a life, you live it”

I’m not a Catholic, and I even declare that “I’m not a spiritual person,” but that doesn’t mean I’m not a seeker. I value the journey. "Not all those who wander are lost", a line from the poem "All that is gold does not glitter", written by J. R. R. Tolkien for The Lord of the Rings speaks true to me.

Honestly, I don’t know what I will say when I am asked “Why are you on pilgrimage?”

What I do know is that I’ll be singing Cat Stevens along the way.

Well I left my happy home
To see what I could find out
I left my folk and friends
With the aim to clear my mind out

Well I hit the rowdy road
And many kinds I met there
And many stories told me on the way to get there

So on and on I go, the seconds tick the time out
So much left to know, and I'm on the road to find out

I have my Pilgrim’s Credential ready to be stamped along the route (inside view.)

I have my Pilgrim’s Credential ready to be stamped along the route (inside view.)

So, follow me on Facebook and Instagram. I'll be posting along the way. Also, I hope soon to have a new Whelan on Walkabout blog sharing my photos and my backpacking insights. See you soon. Love you!

Cover of my Pilgrim’s Credential.

Cover of my Pilgrim’s Credential.

Never Look the Monkey in the Eye

Udawattakele Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka

I am home now, but this is one of my backlog blogs from my trip to Sri Lanka.

I was so excited. 

While in Kandy, Sri Lanka, we had the whole day to hike in the Udawattakele Forest Reserve.

The Divisional Forest Office of the Forest Department. It is painted green!

The Divisional Forest Office of the Forest Department. It is painted green!

The jungle forest floor was fascinating and I knew just what I was going to call my blog, “Seeds, Leaves, and Pods.” It would feature the unique plant parts I discovered on the ground in the Udawattakele Forest Reserve, Kandy, Sri Lanka.

“Seeds, Leaves, and Pods.”

“Seeds, Leaves, and Pods.”

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Our permit to enter the forest.

Our permit to enter the forest.

My brave and knowledgable travel partner (a.k.a. my husband Keith) and I were hiking a side trail. He was looking up for birds, and I was looking down for seeds and interesting leaves. He had gotten ahead of me when I noticed a monkey sitting beside the trail. 

Cool trail signs. I like the little pointing hands.

Cool trail signs. I like the little pointing hands.

Because this wasn’t the first monkey I saw in Sri Lanka, I didn’t think much of it. It was kinda cool because they were digging through the same forest floor that I was photographing. 

“Why not take a photo of the monkey digging through the leaves, seeds and pods?”  So I pointed my camera at one of the monkeys, and waited for it to do something I could include in my blog.

Not cool monkey.

Not cool monkey.

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I soon saw there was the second monkey in the treetops. And the third monkey to my left, and still another monkey ahead of me. We had walked right under a troop of a dozen monkeys. 

What happened next is still a bit fuzzy.

I looked up from my camera. Two monkeys were screaming and showing their sharp teeth. Their eyes were big. They were not running away. They were shrieking and howling at me. They were coming at me!

Instinctively, I pulled up my right foot and kicked one.  “I can’t believe I kicked a monkey,” I gasped. “It was close enough that I kicked it.” 

They retreated. Looking down and away, I marched up to meet my husband further up the trial. 

“Now we have to walk back, and the monkeys may still be along the trail,” Keith assured me, “we can do this. Stay with me.” So we stuck close together.

We marched along the trail and almost made it to the main road, when two monkeys started screaming and running at Keith. 

They were now charging my mature, skilled, and intelligent, husband!

He slipped, fell on his butt, and scrambled to grab a large stick. 

I took off my floppy white hat and held it over my head, hoping it would make me look big. Keith gave me a stick. I tried to appear large and scary as I looked down and firmly walked away. 

The other monkeys we saw in Sri Lanka were clearly accustomed to living with people and did not find us a threat. That was not the story of in Udawattakele Forest Reserve. 

Cool Seeds.

Cool Seeds.

Only after we were out of the forest did I remember something about monkeys from my early visits to the zoo. “Don’t stare at the monkeys or look them in the eyes. If you do, they will become agitated. They see it as an act of aggression.” 

It would have really complicated our trip if either one of us was bitten by a monkey. One photo is not worth a visit to a foreign hospital. 

When photographing any wildlife, always keep alert and keep your distance. They are wild. They are not your friend, and you don’t know what they will do.

And “never look the monkey in the eye.”

Leaves, seeds and pods.

Leaves, seeds and pods.