Some thoughts from Lois on a reluctant day off.
The guide book indicated that the 19km route to Verrez would be “another strenuous stage returning to the terraced hill-sides on the north and east flanks of the Aosta valley before descending to the broadening valley floor.” Unfortunately, this is where our interrupted training becomes relevant. While we have been walking 15 kms or more on relatively flat terrain in England and France, that same distance in the mountains requires a level of endurance I am still developing. (Paul, with his daily planks and push-ups, is fine!) I feel quite fit and strong for fifteen kilometres and then I suddenly crash. As today’s route is slightly longer, I did not want that to happen mid-hike. So, it was with reluctance that I saw Paul off on a brilliantly sunny morning, the snowy peaks revealed in all their majestic splendour. My job would be to transport myself and our bags to Verrés by taxi.
The frustration of not being able to hike this stage of the Via Francigena on such an exquisite day has me considering why I so want to do this walk, in whatever version I can. Herein are my musings.
Because this is an ancient pilgrimage route, there is much discussion among fellow “pilgrims” about purpose. For some, the notion of pilgrimage in a religious sense is appealing. Even for the non-religious, like me, as we walk the route, it is hard not to feel a connection with the many who have preceded us over centuries, perhaps in search of spiritual meaning. (The thought that anyone might assume a religious purpose on our part, however, prompted us to put a link on our blog to “Every child matters: National Day for Truth and Reconciliation”.)
A pilgrim, of course, does not have to have a spiritual purpose. As a York University site states,
‘Pilgrim’ and ‘pilgrimage’ are words that have carried a range of meanings over the centuries.
The English term ‘pilgrim’ originally comes from the Latin word peregrinus (per, through + ager, field, country, land), which means a foreigner, a stranger, someone on a journey, or a temporary resident. It can describe a traveller making a brief journey to a particular place or someone settling for a short or long period in a foreign land. Peregrinatio was the state of being or living abroad.
(The term “peregrinus” was used in the Bible to refer to one’s journey through life. From the 4th century, peregrinus took on a further sense within Christian thought, describing a traveller with a particular religious goal.)
For me, the earliest meaning resonates. The notion of being on a journey, ie, rather than being a tourist, captures for me something of the experience I am seeking. There is always the hope that travel in a foreign land might expand the mind and broaden the heart. A slow journey, on bicycle, or in this case, by foot, assists this goal, through the gradual accumulation of information and new perspectives.
The physical aspect of hiking this journey is critical. Having previously toured by bicycle, we are both keen to experience again the satisfaction of pushing our bodies, the delight of being outside for a good part of each day, the sense of accomplishment and feeling of well-being. And, of course, we have the pleasure of seeing new places, meeting new people, eating great food and finding some basic connection in awkward efforts to communicate in another language.
Yet, I am also aware of another, more personal, reason for wanting to be here just now. Since a diagnosis of Stage 3C ovarian cancer in 2020, I live daily with the knowledge that I may have a recurrence. While this knowledge does not make me feel morbid, it certainly underlines for me the need to live my life fully. And that, ultimately, is why I’m here. I want the feeling of being truly alive that this whole experience offers.