¡Buen Camino!

Dear Friends,
It has taken three tries and nine years, but as of July 2012, I have finally walked the entire Way of Compostela from my former home in Leuven/Louvain, Belgium, to Santiago de Composela!
My first pilgrimage experience from the French frontier with Spain to Santiago itself took place in 2003. You can read the details of this first walk along the famous Camino across Spain in my book, To The Field of Stars: A Pilgrim's Journey to Santiago de Compostela, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (2008). (You can order it from the publisher, from Amazon.com, or from your local bookseller).
In the summer and early fall of 2007, I walked from Belgium most of the way across France, with the hope of at least making it to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port near the Spanish border, where I began the first pilgrimage. I didn't quite make it. A bad case of plantar fasciitis took me down in the Bordeaux village of Sainte-Ferme. I continued on to Santiago by train and bus, but the "defeat of my feet" and those last 175 miles or so that were left undone, gnawed at me over the ensuing five years. Happily, I was finally able to wrap up this grand pilgrimage with a third walk from Sainte-Ferme to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port this past summer (2012). It was a joy to have completed all 2,370 kilometers between Leuven and Santiago.
My adventures and misadventures, my thoughts and prayers of both the 2007 and 2012 pilgrimages have been shared in this blog. I will leave the blog and its archives open for some time to come; if you want to read bits and pieces of it, feel free, but remember that the beginning is at the bottom and the end is at the top.
My contact e-mail remains the same: kacodd@gmail.com; I am always happy to receive mail!
As the pilgrims in Spain greet one another, so I greet you, my reader: "Buen Camino!"
And as the people of France greet their pilgrims along the "Chemin", I also wish to you: "Courage!"

Grace and peace to you all!

Monday, July 16, 2012


Well, my friends it is Monday morning here in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, my "day after" completing, in three efforts, my grand pilgrimage from my former home in Leuven, Belgium, to Santiago Compostela. It has taken nine years, but with my arrival here yesterday afternoon about 3:45 pm, I had walked the last steps of that pilgrimage, some 2,500 or more kilometers all tolled. I ended where I began, at the "Porte de Espagne", the beginning of the extraordinary pass through the Pyrenees, and where my little book, "To The Field of Stars" begins.
It feels good, very good, to be finished, done, complete.
A great thank you to all who have supported me and pushed and pulled me along during this adventure, especially my great friends in Leuven, Gene and Caroline Foley. And to all the folks I have met along the Way, the fellow pilgrims and hospitaliers, I am so grateful to have passed through your hearts and your homes; your kindness and care for this pilgrim has made me a much better human being, Christian, priest, and pastor, (I hope! If it hasn't it will have been my own fault!).
Yesterday, I left our gite with the fellow pilgrims I had spent the evening before with (what fun we had singing Basque and French folk songs together after dinner!), and in the next little town arrived in time for Mass in the local church. I was welcomed to concelebrate by the pastor, but it was mostly prayed in Basque with a smattering of French. All the men sat in the loft while the women sat in the pees below. Their hymns and chanted prayers of the Mass were nevertheless beautiful with all kinds of harmonies happening between the two groups in spite of their separation in the church.
The walk from there on was fine; it was a cool morning with both clouds and sunshine throughout the day, and, of course, lovely green countryside to walk through.
When I got to Saint-Jean-la-Vieux, about 4 kms from the end, I stepped into the church there for a quiet and cool prayer. I got a little bit emotional and felt so grateful for having been given this gift of life, this opportunity to walk as a pilgrim, my family and friends and all whom I have met along the Way.
I returned to that way after a snack and, once more, before reaching the end, found another medieval church along the Way, Sainte-Madeleine. I stopped there as well for a few final prayers from the Way, and continued on to SJPP.
Finally, after a bit of a climb,I walked through the "Porte-de-Saint-Jacques", then into town, to the church for a final prayer of thanksgiving, then up to the Porte-de-Espagne, to end exactly where I had begun, (I took a picture of my feet standing in the spot!).
Then back to the pilgrim refuge where I had a reservation for the night, L'Esprit du Chemin", "The Spirit of the Way". I was warmly welcomed, ("Kevin! We've been waiting for you!").
The place is a real home for pilgrims, run by Dutch hospitaliers, all volunteers. They put into practice the virtue of hospitality simply but fully. Home-cooked dinner was served at 7 pm, and the 17 of us pilgrims, (from France, Ireland, Hungary, Denmark, among other places), were in bed by 10:30.
It felt strange this morning to be the only one in the group at breakfast not getting ready to walk (and conquer the Pyrenees!). But it also feels good to rest and take the morning as casually as I want.
At 1 pm, I will catch the train to Bayonne, then another to Bordeaux; tomorrow I fly back to Brussels, then to Spokane on the 20th.
So finally, this old pilgrim wishes you all a heartfelt "Bon Chemin, Buen Camino, Happy Trails…"
(And as the French add: "Courage!")

Saturday, July 14, 2012

From Ostabat: one day to go!

As of today, I am no longer on the "Voie de Vezelay", one of three routes through France to Compestela, which I have followed more than half-way across France. Having arrived at the second to last stop along the Way before it leaves France and enters Spain, I also have come to the place where all three of the French "voies" converge into one, the little village of Ostabat in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
Since my tendon scare the other night the anti-inflammatory treatments, the stretching, and most of all, the prayers of so many of you, have worked wonders. The legs seem pretty darn good now. One hard decision to make, but which was suggested to me strongly by Gabriela, my hospitalier in Sauveterre, and the Foleys, my good friends back in Leuven, was to walk without my heavy pack to take much of the stress off my already hard-working legs and feet. So the last two days, and probably tomorrow as well, I have sent my heavy friend on to the next place by a sort of backpack taxi service available here, while I walked on with just a light daypack. It has helped immensely. So tomorrow, Sunday, I will walk into St-Jean-Pied-de-Port and end this pilgrimage exactly where I began it nine years ago. I'll visit the church there to give thanks and spend the night in a private refuge run by some folks from the Netherlands.
This is Basque country now and it shows in the domestic architecture, (all homes are painted white with dark red trim), the highway signs, (now in both French and Euskadi), and the customs and culture of the locals.
A couple kilometers outside of Saint-Palais this morning I met up again with my old companion from Brazil, Luiz. We walked together the rest of the morning; today's walk took us up some very rugged trails to a very high place with a magnificent view to the mountains in the not so far distance. There is a lovely little chapel there so we dawdled, rested, snacked, and refilled our water bottles, (the Chapel of Soyarce). An grizzled old pilgrim came by from the other direction: he told us he had walked all the way around France, before heading to Compostela, and now is finally on his way back home; amazing! Another couple of day trekkers came by and we visited a bit with them, (along the Chemin everyone is a friend!). Then a couple of others, two men, one about my age, the other in his 30's. As it turns out, the elder of the two, Philippe, is also a priest and serves in Nazareth, Jesus' hometown. We had a great visit on that mountaintop (a mountaintop, by the way, good enough for some commandment giving, transfiguration, or an ascension, I'd say!)
Following that, on our way down from the mountaintop, we came across a very humble little 12th Century (I think) chapel in the midst of some old farm buildings, (Chapel of Harambeltz); inside was an extraordinary display of lovely and colorful reredos and imaget on all the walls. This chapel of St Nicholas had once been a place for pilgrims to be cared for on their way.
It has been a very good second-to-last days.
One day more, 21 kilometers more, a few great people more to meet, and one final prayer more…and I will be done.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Just look at those mountains!

For the second night in a row I have access to wifi so can write from the screen of my phone (so easy compared to writing from a French language keyboard!)
Today's trek from Sainte-Susanne to Sauveterre, (20 kms), was one filled with a number of very serious climbs and descents,almost all of them on wooded paths that were, after the recent rains, mostly slick and slippery mud. It wasn't so easy, but with the able assistance of my hiking poles, ("Click and Clack"), I got through it all without landing on my rear end.
The highlight of this "etape" was coming over a rise for my first view of the Pyrenees on the horizon: beautiful to behold and truly glorious in their blue majesty!
After a few hours of walking I began to feel the tendon in my lower right leg complain; tendons out here are always a matter of great concern. If they go bad on you they can stop you in your tracks. I've been doing my best along the way to care for them properly, but you just never know. The low ache came and went thought the morning…not bad, but concerning. I iced them upon settling in here, but tonight I can still feel it. Gentle stretches are next.
Speaking of arrivals, I had no plan for lodging tonight and this town has no public refuge for pilgrims. As I walked down a street just off of the main church square, heading for the Tourist Office, I noticed a sign for "hebergement pellerin"; great! I rang the bell and almost immediately the wide door opened to reveal the petite and lovely Gabriela, a British native who loves to care for pilgrims like myself. She welcomed me in and set me up in her pilgrim "gite" and this evening served me a great meal suitable for at least three pilgrims! This 70-something is a wonder and a marvel and a dynamo, she also just happens to have a garden out back, as well as an antique store, and is renovating the house here, much of it by herself. Would that I might be so energetic and vivacious as Gabriela!
Tomorrow will be an important day; I won't know if my self-treatments for my legs work or not until I am out on the road; it is a fairly short walk tomorrow which is good. I have less than 50 kms left; it would be a shame not to finish now or be in pain all the way, but as they say here: "que sera sera". And as I have to be reminded often enough: the real pilgrimage is not about maps, kilometers or geography; it is a matter of learning and loving along the way…

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I am holed up this Wednesday afternoon in a little "chambre d'hote", or B&B, near the village of Sainte-Suzanne, just 4 kms from the town of Orthez. Yesterday at almost the end of the day's walk, I left the Department of Landes and entered the final department of the journey, Pyranees Atlantique, another small milestone (are there such things as "milestones" in a land in which everything is measures metrically?).
I have been walking well, thanks in part to the cooler weather that has settled over much of western Europe. The skies are very heavy and both yesterday and today I was rained upon. I'll take the rain to the heat any day! My feet are in good shape, all blisters now well healed, and my tendons seem okay, but I continue to worry about one of them going bad on me before I can get this thing done. I'm taking it a day at a time, doing the stretches my brother, Bill, (the PT), taught me, and trying to drink as much water as I can hold, and so far so good. Avoiding long daily walks over 20 kms certainly helps.
My Brazilian friend, Luiz, took a video of me walking down the road today and showed me afterwards. I was horrified! I don't glide forward like the other pilgrims; I WADDLE like a top-heavy duck! Ill try to do better in the days left, but perhaps it is just too late for me to glide like the Europeans do!
I stopped in the Orthez tourist office this afternoon and came upon tourists; well, that wasn't so surprising, but these were two AMERICAN tourists, which is rather rare this far south in France. We had a fun chat for awhile, (sorry, ladies, I've forgotten your names already!), about the pilgrimage experience. They had both seen the movie, The Way, and have known about the Compostela pilgrimage. I told them my story in brief, but not so brief as to not get in a plug for my book. They were very happy to actually meet a "real pilgrim" and promised to read the book! It was a fun moment!
Likewise fun, yesterday while I was walking along, a car pulled over and the elderly Frenchman inside called me over just to great me and wish me well. He was very happy to meet an American pilgrim, such a rare breed out here. He gave me a copy of a poem for peace that he had written (sadly, I can only figure some of it out), and we both agreed to "pray for peace for America, peace for France, and peace for all the world!" he introduced himself as Serge, and when I told him my name was "Kevin", he laughed and smiled broadly and told me his grand-son is also Kevin. With a smile and a laugh, the angel, Serge, drove off. He made my day.
I have under 70 kms left, I think. I expect to arrive in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port on Sunday, if all goes well between now and then; maybe if I get a final burst of pilgrim fever, I might make it even on Saturday.
I continue to pray for family, friends, and parishioners as I walk and when I have the opportunity to rest in a church along the Way. Thanks for your prayers for me as I get in down this road.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

From Saint Sever

It has been a long while since I found wifi access so my apologies for the Blogger silence over the past days!
I am now in my 9th day on the road and making it a day of rest and restoration after a long week of walking about 155 kms. I took today off after a scare yesterday: leg pains that reminded me of the first stage of tendinitis, which can be a real pilgrim-stopper, I know from experience. I was almost ready last night to call it quits rather than risk the Big-T. Today, things feel better and I am hoping to continue on. I am in Saint Sever, a lovely town in the Department of Landes. I went to Mass in the Abbatial church both last night and this morning and the liturgies were wonderful, including a massive pipe organ accompanying a lively choir. The pastor had a very fine touch with everything he did; I really liked his manner and pastoral way. I introduced myself to him after Mass today and he was very happy to encourage me on my way.
The weather has been mixed: some days getting very hot and some days rainy and gray. I prefer the clear days in the morning when it is still fresh and cool, buy by the time it gets hot i am longing for the rain to cool me off.
The French folks who make all this possible are just wonderful to me and all pilgrims; we are really special to them and they will do anything and everything to care for us. I stayed with one lady a couple of nights ago who just retired and bought a house specifically on the Way do she could receive and care for pilgrims as they pass; I had the honor of being her first pilgrim to visit her new "refuge". In the village of Auros, I came across a group of teenagers enjoying a meal out the sidewalk; they called me over, served me a cool beer, and we got to know each other (two spoke English!) they found me on Facebook even as we were sitting around and a couple have befriended me already. So to the football (soccer) team of Auros and your supporters: MERCI BEAUCOUP!
If all stays reasonably well, I have 7 days left I walking. I now expect to arrive in St Jean Pied de Port on Sunday, a week from today. We'll see how the days go; most are sub 20 km days now with one exception (24 kms). Hopefully shorter days will help keep me healthy.
Thanks to all for your support and prayers for this old pilgrim just trying to walk as He walked…

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I have landed in Landes...

Many apologies for so few posts, but internet access has been surprisingly rare out here on the "chemin".
Now that I have use of a computer I have discovered hat keyboards here are very different from ours at home and it is quite tedious to write...so only a very brief post for now.
I am in my fourth day of walking and have finished as of today about 70 kilometers, about a third of the way.Todqy, about midway in my 20 km walk, I passed from the Garrone Deptartment of France (sort of like a state), into the Department of Landes...a flat and very sandy region. I have been walking reasonably well, though with a few ups and downs, including today, a very annoying blister (and a little bit painful!).
The great story of the French "Chemin" is the extraordinary welcome we pilgrims receive from the locals who unquestioningly welcome us into their homes, feed us, and support us in any way possible! They are really an inspiration to me and remind me just how important hospitality is, especially in the Church. These folks do not fear the stranger, but embrace him/her; would that we all could be so generous and trusting and kind!
Grace and peace to you all...and as the locals here say to the pilgrims as they pass: "Bon courage!"