Leaving

What do you say after your bags are packed, money is transferred for two months of bills, the boarding passes are printed, and you have tomorrow’s clothes in a neatly-folded pile waiting to be worn before the sun is up?

What does it mean to shed a house-worth of stuff, two jobs, countless names and roles, so that everything left fits into a fifteen-pound pack?

Honestly, the only thing I can think is that it’s a little bit like what death must be like. A final parting wave and then—nothing. No roles. No to-dos. No more appointments. And perhaps, the same promise of unending joy. Don’t we all eventually run out of time? This feels like a practice run.

When you go, those who are left get a chance to say how much you were loved, how much you gave, and what a difference you made while you were here. I leave in less than twelve hours, but for weeks  I’ve heard things like, “You’re so inspiring!” and “We’re going to miss you.” and “May you be blessed on this journey and find everything you’re seeking.” and “I love you.” Something about my departure is inspiring loved ones to pause and say the heartfelt things we don’t usually. Me too.

Why do I wait? Why do we hold back? I want to remember this poignancy every day: Speak from the heart. Tell the truth. Take the risk.

In the end, there’s nothing left but love. None of the stuff matters.

Here’s what I know: the spaciousness of the days ahead call to me. The friends I’ve yet to meet are out there already walking towards Santiago. The Holy Door is open, waiting for me to walk through and receive mercy. And after, there will be only weeks of days of walking in reflection, in joy, and in occasional confusion as I find my way in reverse.

And when the walking is done, I will have a home to come to, a devoted wife (who, by the way, will update my blog with excerpts from my emails home), and many loves and interests and good work to do. I’m excited to finally see and understand down to my bones that the pilgrimage truly doesn’t end. Only the venue changes.

Think of me in your prayers, and I will do the same. Until next time.

Buen camino, y’all.

 

The two girls I admire most

Though I’m not exactly the black sheep of my family, I’ve certainly not followed the path they might have imagined for me. I don’t have kids. I’m the token rainbow-flag waver. I didn’t follow a typical upward career path. Instead, I juggle self-employment and find ways to travel and explore the world–both outer and inner. Sometimes it seems as if it’s my job to carry on the adventuring gene while everyone else in my clan does the right and responsible things.

When my brother had kids, I was kind of baffled about how to be an aunt. Over the years, I’ve made time to get to know these two amazing young women on their own terms. L is practical, wickedly funny, and a master negotiator. O is smart, vividly imaginative, and an old soul. They’re so different, and I love them so much–even though we only see each other every summer.

Last December, I gave the girls a Christmas present. It was one of three hints leading up to an activity we’re doing together this fall. Although they have no idea what this activity is (their current guess is Mars), the USPS has bridged the 3000-mile distance between us, allowing me to send bizarre and hilarious hints to their doorstep. They’re smart kids, so they’re overthinking my clues. No matter. It’s the connection that really counts between us.

So I couldn’t have been more surprised today when they returned the connection to me. In mail came a fat envelope that said “Buen Camino,” full of inspirational quotes, scallop shell confetti, hand-made keychains, and a real scallop with love notes written on it to carry in my pocket.

20160423_162309

I don’t even have words. Just speechless tears of gratitude.

How amazing to be loved right back. For my seeking to be understood, even just a little, by these two young women I admire so much.

To think–I was so worried I might feel lonely on this return trip. Now I know two Camino angels who will be along for the journey.

(Two and a half days!!!)

Blessed are you, pilgrim

All of us stand in a line under the eaves of this outdoor pavilion—some wearing backpacks, others excited expressions—anticipating our imminent departure on pilgrimage.

We face a row of smiling pilgrims holding laminated sheets of paper.

Blessed are you, pilgrim, if you find that the Camino opens your eyes to the unseen.

Kind faces and clear voices read these benedictions aloud for all to hear.

Blessed are you, pilgrim, if your backpack empties of things, as your heart doesn’t know how to fit so many emotions.

Blessed are you, pilgrim, if you discover that a step backwards to help another is more valuable than a hundred forward without awareness of those at your side.

Blessed are you, pilgrim, when you have no words to give thanks for all the wonders in every nook of the Camino.

Blessed are you, pilgrim, if you search for the truth and make of your Camino a life, and of your life a Camino. 

Blessed are you, pilgrim, because you have discovered that the true Camino begins at its end.

Here, in the middle of a Portland park, we call to the Divine who is always in our midst and bless each other. This is holy ground. Every step is. Nancy grins at me.

And, then a woman presents the box of scallop shells tied with red cords.

One by one, our host calls our names. I step forward.

Jennifer, receive this scallop shell, the badge of the pilgrim, that all may recognize you as a pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela.

I accept the shell and shake his hand. My eyes mist.

BUEN CAMINO!

The whole company cheers, and I grin and fight tears. This. This moment means everything. I’ve been commissioned, blessed, and sent. Now the only thing to do is walk.

(Eight days to go!)

Walking, talking, and icing on my Camino cake

Seventeen days!

This week, Carol (my first Camino angel back in 2012) came down from Portland for a walk and catch-up visit. Together, we did 10.7 miles around north Salem and explored a whole agricultural area where I’d never been before!

I confess, I was fine up to about six miles and then started getting crabby, sore, and tired. Thank goodness for interesting, chatty friends whose natural energy keeps me going. ❤

IMG_0036

And! News!

Finally! All the details have been hashed out so I can share with you some exciting Camino developments!

Back in December, I mentioned that it was very, very likely I would be joined by Muriel—the sage and funny French librarian I met on my first Camino—for the last part of my Camino.

Now it’s confirmed and I’m squee-cited! PLUS, an additional exciting thing has developed.

Marisela, the city-savvy girl from Bogotá I met on my very first day in Saint Jean Pied de Port, is flying to Europe from Colombia to meet us! NO WAY! Yes, way!!

Peregrina reunion

The three of us will reunite in Pamplona and then take our time crossing back over the Pyrenees together. Muriel and Marisela (plus Katrin, another peregrina) were a little Camino family in 2013. After weeks of walking solo this year, I can only imagine how wonderful it will be to see these two beautiful, beloved faces again after three years apart.

Marisela and I are especially excited to cross the Pyrenees via the higher, Napoleon route since it was closed due to snow the day we left SJPP. The Valcarlos route was lovely, but we’re eager to see the shrine to Mary and have the whole experience.

Best of all, we already have a confirmed reservation at Orisson (the only place to stay on top of the hill), and two days at Beilari, where Marisela and I first met.

As if I needed more reasons to be excited, I already know this peregrina reunion will be the icing on my Camino cake!

Also!

Right out of thin air, I’ve got two Camino speaking gigs on the calendar for fall!

In October, I’ve been invited by the Las Vegas REI to give a presentation about my Camino experiences and meet up with their newly-hatched APOC group. I’m also invited to give a Camino talk at Salem Summit Company this September in Salem, OR.

Group events like these are one one my vary favorite things to do. When the dates are firmed up, I’ll be sure to post them here. I’m super jazzed!

Now, if I could just find enough time to walk daily. It’s coming up SO fast!

What’s in my shopping bag for the Camino

Certainty

Scallop shells are showing up in unexpected places. Everything is clicking. And then another song came tonight as I was putting away the dinner dishes.

Kyrie eleison down the road that I must travel
Kyrie eleison through the darkness of the night
Kyrie eleison where I’m going will you follow
Kyrie eleison on a highway in the light

This song by Mr. Mister was popular when I was in middle school, but I haven’t thought about it much since then. (That’s how I know it’s one of those messenger songs.)

Lord, have mercy on this road that I must travel.

Give it a listen. Yes, the band is 80’s electronica, but the chorus harmonies nail it. A plea, a prayer, a belief in the sacredness of walking your path. A wind reaches in to where we cannot hide and sets us on the road.

Packing my bags (almost)

That song came after a day of running errands to get my last bits of gear. Although I’m mostly reusing everything that went to Spain the last time, thanks to Amazon and several local businesses, I’m literally ready to pack my bag.

Here’s my haul:

Camino gear purchases

Here’s a full list of items (feel free to ask about them in the comments):

  • shoe inserts for arch support
  • a fleece neck gaiter which triples as a night-time mask and daytime hat
  • probiotic that doesn’t need refrigeration
  • hair ties
  • sunblock with no bad nasties in it
  • Mack’s ear plugs — I’m bringing these in addition to my trusty Hearoes
  • a compass/thermometer (my other one broke)
  • plastic S-hooks for keeping clothes dry in the shower
  • copy of my eyeglass prescription
  • two pair of lightweight Injinji toe socks
  • a new water bottle
  • zip quart bags
  • spray-on waterproofing for my sun hat
  • my new Camino guidebook
  • brand-new blank journal (AKA my camera, address book, planner, and journey-memory recorder)
  • a fanny pack

This is literally all the extra gear I needed. Next week I’ll be packing up my bag and test driving it for weight.

While I was out, I also got a short haircut that will be easy to take care of in Spain.

2016-04-01 16.06.02

Feeling groovy

Despite gaining all these items, I’m happy to report that I’ve lost sixteen pounds since I bought my tickets last fall. Though I haven’t measured, I’ve lost a lot in inches. Some of my clothes are looking a little baggy. I feel terrific. If I eat wheat, however, I feel terrible–my knee aches for days after. So I’ll keep avoiding it and loving this new skin I’m in.

TWENTY FIVE DAYS TO GO!! SQUEEE!!

The weirdness of walking a backwards Camino

Everyone’s a comic.

“How are you going to see behind you as you walk?” (does a backwards-walking demonstration)

“Yeah, you’re going to wear a rear-view mirror on your hat, right?”

“You need one of those backup beepers like trucks have.”

Guffaw, guffaw. Yes, you’re hilarious.

Even if it’s getting a little old, I still remember my astonishment when an east-bound pilgrim approached me in 2013. I stood stock still to gape at her, bouche bée. She looked tired and weary, uttering only “Camino?” with raised eyebrows. I pointed the way, and she passed us with a nod.

I wanted to ask her. “You’re walking backwards?” Despite it being so obvious. “Why?!”

She got me thinking. I mean, isn’t Santiago the destination? Isn’t getting there the whole point? As if walking 500 miles wasn’t hard enough, why on earth would anyone willingly turn around and walk back?

My incredulity at encountering that brave Frenchwoman and the myriad jokes of my friends makes me think about the word backward. It’s a mild insult that implies slow, behind the times, and incorrect. Bass-ack-wards, my family says playfully.

It’s curious. If backwards is bad, is the past not valuable? Do we think what’s behind us is less important? It would seem if we’ve already “been there—done that,” the only way to live is to move forward. We have science and technology to thank for that inclination, but perhaps there’s also a cost.

Now that I’ll the one on the receiving end of stares and incredulous questions (and, according to another reverse pilgrim, the refrain “You’re going the wrong way!”), I’m rather excited! There I’ll be, causing countless pilgrims to question the point of walking to Santiago. Or even the point of striving at all. What if it’s all part a larger journey? What if where you are is perfect? Wouldn’t that be great!

That’s partly why I decided to make little question cards to give to pilgrims I meet. (Not everyone, of course. I can’t handle the pack weight!) I made a hundred or so with questions on them and quotes that make people think.

What is calling you?

I anticipate feeling so grateful for good directions, for meaningful connection, for inclusion in Camino families, I just wanted a little something to say thank you.

Making these cards was so fun and satisfying, I decided to make sets of them for friends and clients (here’s info if you want some too). And although my intention isn’t to make people think differently about doing things backwards, maybe the practice of being reflective can heal a tiny bit of what is happening in our world. Or explore the value of our past. In my small way, maybe I can use this pilgrimage to give back and contribute, not just walk. This feels really good to me.

So, as I’ve already said, I’m getting excited about this journey. I wonder who I’m going to meet. So many possibilities lie ahead of me—and perhaps behind me, too!

Flight screwups and glorious training hikes!

Getting to the Camino

This morning, I sat down to confirm all my Camino transportation details and discovered a mistake in my flight schedule. My mistake.

My original plan was to:

  1. fly to Dublin on a red-eye
  2. fly to Santiago the same day
  3. stay in town that night to rest up
  4. then take a bus to Finisterre in the morning

Well! Precise scheduling details like this are not my strong suit. I transposed a date on my spreadsheet and gummed up this tidy little plan.

So now I will:

  1. fly to Dublin overnight on that same red-eye
  2. stay in Dublin that night at a hotel
  3. Take my flight to Santiago the next day
  4. and hope to catch an evening a bus to Finisterre or Cee

Even though the tidiness is gone (and a degree of uncertainty and the need for hope inserted), it’s not that big a deal. My ego is just a tad bruised. I want to spend as little time getting there so I can be there.

In other news!

Training Hike #8

Distance: 7.2 mi
Elevation gain/loss: 1000 ft.
Pack weight: 10lbs

Martha is a new Camino friend I met back in December when I attended the Portland APOC Christmas potluck. She met me at Silver Falls State Park for a hike despite mud, rain, and wind. It’s a beautiful place in any kind of weather!

2016-03-13 12.30.56

We hiked for several hours and even with the steep elevation gain and loss, my knees didn’t hurt or swell at all! Woohoo!

We had Camino-quality conversations too. My favorite part about walking is the freedom and spaciousness to discuss whatever topics come to mind, to listen, to share deeply from the heart. I want to remember that conversations like these aren’t just a Camino thing. They come from making a choice to show up authentically and vulnerably with others anywhere.

Training Hike #9

Distance: 8.2 mi
Elevation gain/loss: 1240 ft.
Pack weight: 12lbs

Then! Last weekend, I got to stay with my friend Nancy. You remember her, right? She is my right-hand training buddy and Camino soul sister who walked the Way last fall.

2016-03-19 14.19.27

When Nancy was preparing and training last year, I was living vicariously (and a little enviously) through her. Now that I’m getting ready, she confesses to the same.

Jen and Nancy

We agreed to do a hard hike and chose Cascade Head on the Oregon coast. I love this hike. In terms of geology, it’s a lot like Finisterre—a tall, narrow landmass that juts out into the ocean—only with more trees. The elevation gain is 1,200 feet up and back down again. And the views? Stunning.

Cascade Head

Except when you ascend into the clouds.

2016-03-19 11.57.20

2016-03-19 13.10.49

2016-03-19 13.09.00

At the top, we met a tall, hip-looking woman and talked together for a few moments. Then she disappeared into the mist.

Nancy and I had decided to be clever by leaving one car at a different trailhead so we could walk just one way, Camino-like. What we didn’t plan for was the scary trail closure sign (threatening a $5000 fine and 6 months in jail) that met us as we proceeded into the woods toward my car.

We agonized, really. We’re both first-born big sisters and good girls with a strong sense of responsibility.

“We should probably go back the way we came,” Nancy said.

“But I really want to have our adventure!” I whined.

“Me too!”

We scrutinized the sign: TRAIL CLOSED TO ALL FOOT, BIKE, AND MOTOR TRAFFIC. When I’d parked my car, a similar sign specified only a single trail to avoid. I’d thought we were in the clear. Now doubt set in.

“I know this is to protect a fragile butterfly species,” I said. “I guess we should do the right thing.”

“Yeah. We should.”

On the way back down the hill, the tall lady passed us.

“Where did you go after we talked with you?” I asked.

“Oh, I walked down the road a way.”

“Did you see the sign?” Nancy asked.

“Oh, yeah. I didn’t think it applied to me,” she said pragmatically. She was right. It was only the side trail we needed to avoid.

Nancy burst out laughing, “The two good little Catholic girls followed the rules.”

“And this Jewish girl ignored them!” We all laughed.

For me, the lesson is to not make decisions from a place of fear. Choose because of love, because of passion, because of joy. Don’t step on butterflies, of course, but don’t diminish your truth and your calling out of fear.

There’s a big difference between fear and actual danger.

Getting ready!

These two hikes really tested my body and allowed me to discover what it’s capable of doing despite the diagnosis. I’ve felt a little sore, but my knees felt terrific. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

I’m getting really, really, REALLY excited for Spain.