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Your journey is your own: Day 2

Updated: Mar 11, 2020

Wildwood Conservation Area to Perth-Oxford Rd., near Line 113: 16k

This is the third instalment about my walk on the Avon Trail, a 113-kilometre trail that starts in St. Mary’s and ends in Conestogo, Ontario. Dedicated to Connor.

The day is one of those beautiful cool, sunny autumn days, when the sunlight shimmers on bronzed maple leaves just brightly enough to seemingly warm the air. The dew lies white on the grass, and mist rises from the ground, ready to be burned off by the sun.

It’s a Saturday in early October, and I have done that thing we teach our children never to do – get in a vehicle with a stranger. A friend e-introduced me to my walking companion for the day, Sue, who had walked the Camino just over a year ago. I hadn’t met her, but we’d emailed a few times, and her husband, Skip, had been “voluntold” to drop us off for our hike that day, and pick us up at the end of it. Sue is a wealth of information, and she offered me tips for my Camino walk during our 16-kilometre hike from Wildwood conservation area to Perth-Oxford Road.

Things I learned from Sue:

  1. Take denture cleaner to clean your water bottles;

  2. Make sure you have enough toilet paper and baggies to take care of your excrement along the way;

  3. Carry some wipes or hand sanitizer to maintain hygiene;

  4. Go to a Camino 101 session: they’re held twice a year, and you can pick up your Camino badges, shell, and also learn about Camino culture and etiquette;

  5. Use walking sticks to keep the blood flow more even in your arms as you walk long distances; these also provide balance in unstable footings;

  6. Get lots of clips and clip onto your daypack the things to which you always need access; for me, that’s my lip chap, hand lotion, glasses and sunglasses;

  7. Go with a company that transports your luggage from aubergue to aubergue; they’ll book your hotels and include two meals. It alleviates the stress of trying to book yourself in somewhere before you even start walking for the day.

  8. Always keep your documents with you;

  9. Don’t end at the Cathedral de Santiago on Saturday – it’s incredibly touristy and busy and you’ll wait hours in line just to get inside to finish your pilgrim’s journey;

  10. Go to Finisterre and Muxio, even if you take the bus.

And one more, perhaps the most important one:

11. Your journey is your own.

Sue told me these things as we walked this beautiful, forested trail. Unlike the first section I’d done, there was hardly any road walking at all. Moving among the trees and water, through a forest dappled with sunlight, was just what my soul needed. The trail follows the long Wildwood Reservoir nearly from tip to tip, passes by an old quarry where rock was harvested to build the dam and follows a gurgling creek.

I saw two white-tailed deer on the run, a couple wild turkeys, and several wooly caterpillars, indicating varying predictions for winter. Deep in a forest, we dodged a raccoon in broad daylight – once he spied us, he headed straight for us on the trail. No amount of yelling or stick-throwing deterred him; we quickly decided he might be rabid, and made a quick detour to circumvent the creature. Turns out he just wanted to stick to the trail, but we took no chances anyways. He toddled on his way, and we toddled on ours.

There were a couple places where we got lost – the trail continued through a corn field, but the corn hadn’t been cut to indicate the way. There was a fair bit of tromping in the wrong direction – the marker for the trail was located at the corner of a field and a woodlot, with no indication of where to go next. Straight ahead was a field of tall corn, and to the left, the corn had been sown right up to the woodlot, so no trail existed there, either. Two dead ends. We went left when we should have gone straight. I tripped over cornstalks that had been trampled by deer, and fought to remove the plethora of burrs that stuck to me. After walking the length of the field, hands in front of our faces to prevent cuts from the sharp leaves, we reached another dead end. We reversed back to the marker and considered our options. After another short trip through the sharp cornstalks, we found the next marker.

Always trust your instincts; if it doesn’t feel like you’re going in the right direction, you’re probably not.

Despite the perfect weather and beautiful landscape, I walked with a heavy heart. The week previous, we had received word from England that a close family member – a child of 12 – had succumbed to the cancer that he had fought for a year. The funeral was scheduled for Monday. He occupied my mind all weekend.

Your journey is your own. But you are not alone.

Connor and his family walked their own long, hard Camino this past year. There were sunny days, but there were also many more days where the illness consumed their lives in ways too painful to bear. Once the journey started, there was little rest or respite. Supported by their faith and their faithful friends and family, each round of treatment brought a round of hope that the tests would reveal improvement, or even cure.

Their journey is their own. But they were not alone.

Any difficult journey can be improved when you travel with friends. I can’t even pretend to know what this journey – their journey – was like for them. What I know is gratefully gleaned from the private Facebook page they set up for updates on his treatment. I do know they had many, many friends and family close by to help carry the weight.

Things I learned from Connor and his family:

  1. There are good things that come into your life when you most need it: football stars from your favourite team; pitch-side tickets to watch your team play a match; a friend arriving with a meal; cousins who hang out to pass the time in the hospital; a ride on a boat;

  2. Though the time may be short and full of pain, it’s possible to give your child his best life;

  3. That which does not break us makes us stronger;

  4. It’s okay to cry;

  5. Faith doesn’t make the journey easier, but it does help keep your footing.

I find myself imagining if this were my child. And empathizing not just with them, but also with their eldest son. I imagine him feeling lost, overshadowed by his brother’s illness. I imagine they feel – a sense of helplessness, moments of joy taken when they come, a loss of control and possibly of faith, and finally, deep, deep grief.

Their journey is their own. But they are not alone.

Godspeed, Connor. Your gentle footprints on our lives have left us with many stories.

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