365 days: an anniversary and a countdown

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.
— John Muir
Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, Rome.

Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, Rome.

365 days ago,  I arrived in Canterbury to take my first steps along the Via Francigena to Rome, unsure of what lay ahead and if I would be able to make it to Rome within the 90-day visa period but knowing I had to try.

Every morning for 77 day I got up, stiff and crippled by pain until my body relaxed, then packed and set off in wonder of the unknown world to find my way to the next town.

I knew what I was doing - walking to Rome, but it still felt surreal. In some ways it was as simple as taking step after step, day after day, until eventually I found myself in Rome.

That’s life isn’t it? We get up each day and do the best we can and then one day we arrive at the end of our lives.

When I first thought of really, actually going and walking the route alone, I had a lot of fearful thoughts giving me every reason why I shouldn’t go: I had never walked a pilgrimage trail before. I wasn’t a hiker. I hadn’t planned on doing it now. It was just a dream in a maybe never physically actually doing it kind of way. I hadn’t saved for it. My savings would have to drop way below my comfort level to fund it. I had no idea what I was doing.

I noticed all these fearful thoughts, acknowledged they were there, that I was scared but I tuned into my body and into my heart to listen to what it wanted to do. My heart wanted adventure. It wanted to go on a very long walk.

And so I did. It is the most challenging and extraordinary thing I have ever done in my life of which I have no regrets only rich memories and gratitude. Even now, 12 months later, it still feels surreal that I really walked all that way.

For 75 days I walked on my own then 10 days out of Rome, I met three pilgrims on the same night in a tiny town in Italy called Ponte d’Arbia. I went on to walk into Rome with two of them, Peter and Paulius, my own personal Apostles.

It was Peter and Paulius who introduced me to my next adventure. As we walked together, they told me they were planning to walk from Rome to Jerusalem. Although I arrived into Rome exhausted and sick with a bad flu, I knew in my heart that I wanted to keep walking, that I wanted to walk from Rome to Jerusalem too.

Sometimes we have to take the first step to know what the next step after that will be. There are people who seem to have grand visions of their lives, in that that they seem to know where they want to arrive at. I'm not like that. It's not that my visions aren't grand it's just that they are organic - they grow and expand with each experience in my life. I would never have dreamed of walking from Rome to Jerusalem if I hadn't discovered and walked Via Francigena first.

Sometimes we have dreams that are as fleeting as our thoughts – they are nice ideas but they don’t stick. This is not a fleeting dream. This one has stuck and wants to be lived.

All going well, 365 days from now, on the 1st September 2015, I will take my first steps from Rome towards Jerusalem.

Different pilgrimage paths to Jerusalem courtesy of www.jerusalemway.org

Unlike Via Francigena, there is no guidebook detailing the paths and roads to walk nor is there a list of places I can stay. I will walk through Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Israel, mostly countries I am unfamiliar with. There is a possibility Peter will join me for part of the journey but otherwise I will walk alone. 

I have no idea if I can make it all the way. From what I have been able to ascertain so far, there will be some days I will have to walk more than 50 kilometres. There will be sections of desert. I’m not sure I will even be able to get a boat from Cyprus to Haifa, my planned entry point into Israel to bypass Syria. I’m not sure how “safe” I will be as a lone woman walking through these countries alone. In some ways, I don’t really know what I am doing or why.

But for all the uncertainty, I know this:

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

On Via Francigena, I only encountered people who wanted to help me.

Everything has always worked out okay, often better than okay in ways I never could have imagined.

When I listen and act upon the call of my heart, the reasons for that call always unfold.

I am more excited than I am scared.

Once upon a time, I worked so hard to keep my life safe and certain and practical. I created a life based on what I thought I should do and what I thought would make me happy. I thought stepping into the unknown would result in a life of loneliness and misery.

I discovered that my heart revels in adventure and the unknown.

It is in adventure and the unknown that I have experienced the most growth and wonder.

It is in the unknown that I came to know my true self and the great spirit of this world.

I'd love to know what you wouldn't hesitate to do if you knew you would succeed?  Where is fear and uncertainty holding you back?  Let me know in the comments below or send me an email or a message using my contact form.

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