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.