My Failed Attempt at a Pilgrimage



Phase I: The Idea

Last Friday I attempted to walk the 27 miles from my house to El Santuario de Chimayo, a site where thousands of pilgrims journey to every year for its healing dirt. Every year around Easter, I would see the masses trudging to Chimayo by foot as I would drive by on the way to my family’s ranch in Southern Colorado. It was a pilgrimage I always wanted to go on, but for some reason never did.

In December, when I was making my goals for 2014 one of the first ones that made its way onto my list was to go on the pilgrimage to El Santuario. I was fully prepared to make a legitimate plan that would pave my way northward and planned on immediately putting a request in for the day off, but life “got in the way.” I neglected to take Good Friday off to walk the route. I accidentally made plans with a friend to make cupcakes on my alternate day. I didn’t even drive the route in my car to see what roads I would need to take. As the date crept up on me it simply looked like it wasn’t going to happen.

Then, the morning of April 18, I figured… you know, you might as well just try it. Who knows when you’re going to get another chance to go? Sure you can go next year but who knows what you’ll decide to do then.

I realized though that I wasn’t being fair with myself. I was having what Gay Hendricks would describe as an upper limit problem and  was making up excuses for myself why I couldn’t go. I was engaging in my own form of self-sabotage.

Everything is a choice. I was just choosing not to go. Why? It wasn’t safe to walk at night, I should do it next year when I had more time to plan for it, I would be tired, etc. etc. And last Friday I just kept flip-flopping back and forth between all the reasons I should go and all the reasons I shouldn’t go. Finally when the work day was done and my supervisor released me and my fellow employees early, I chose to go.

I went home and packed up a neon-green backpack with all of the things I would need: snacks (I never forget snacks), a headlamp, a roll of toilet paper, Paulo Coelho’s “The Pilgrimage,” A Bible that was given to me by my grandmother that my grandfather had given to her, sunglasses, glasses, a contact lens case, a phone, and a sheet of paper with directions. Oh yes, and of course an extra pair of socks and a few sweatshirts for layering. So after packing and eating to energize myself for my journey I set out.

Phase II: Walking Alone

Within the first few minutes I was already lost.

The directions I had were wrong so I turned around and ended up walking the way I would typically drive to get there. I set out meandering through sidewalks and eventually found myself coursing through the bit of land between Santa Fe’s National Cemetery and the highway north. Aw shit, should I turn back now or should I try this.? I kept going as thoughts kept crossing my mind about how I was going to regret this later, but you know, once I made it onto the highway and turned my extra awareness on, I felt safe and knew it was going to be okay.

For the first part of my journey, I walked alone. Within the first couple of miles, I saw a herd of deer at the edge of the cemetery. This was the first time I have ever seen deer in Santa Fe. As I progressed, my spirit was lifted and I was pumped to keep walking. I knew I was going to make it. I called my sister ecstatic that I had decided to set out on this journey. I was simply taking everything in, praying a rosary for the world, noticing how large road signs for turn offs really are, and contemplating the descansos created from love on the roadsides.

As the sun faded into darkness I took a turnoff towards Tesuque and noticed a couple of other groups walking the route. I kept walking and as it grew darker and darker I realized that I was alone. The group in front of me and the group behind me must have stopped when it started raining (yes, it rained). Eventually, the rain ceased and I found myself close to the highway again. My feet were in need of a rest so I sat beneath a bus stand next to a box of “water for walkers” and rested. Within a few moments the group that was behind me earlier appeared.

Phase III: The Group

“Oh my god, we had been praying to God that we would find you!” One of the girls said. I guess I had disappeared in the darkness too. I figured the safest thing to do at this point would be to join up with their group.

“Would it be okay if I joined your group?” I asked. They said that of course it would be, so we sat for a few more moments before setting out again. At this point it was 9pm. The sky was still clouded from the rain that had fallen. We commenced our journey northward from Tesuque to Pojoaque listening to ranchera music (did I mention that my group was a 4 high schoolers from Mexico?), watching out for cars, and chatting about life.

When we finally made it to the gas station that I had thought was just around the corner (it is when you’re driving) we rested. I realized that my feet had gigantic blisters on them and releasing them from the confines of two-layers of socks felt amazing. Shit, I felt exhausted. It was at that point that begin questioning myself. It was at that point that I wondered if I could actually walk the full 27 miles. After a few minutes and a few failed calls and texts to my sleeping husband, our group proceeded. It wasn’t even 10pm at this point. We kept walking and close to midnight a middle-aged man came running up to us a bit frazzled.

“This is such a blessing. I saw you walking in the light and thought it must be a sign! I saw a dead cat on the highway and I think it might be mine. Can I use your light to see if it is? I’m not trying to be weird or anything.” So I shone my headlamp and the dude jumped over the wall and… “Ugh, I don’t think it’s my cat. Its paws look a little too big. But I’ve heard that that happens if they die. They only way I can really tell is if I check its teeth.”

Verdict: the cat wasn’t his.

Phase IV: Quitting

At this point I could see Buffalo Thunder, one of the major casinos, in sight. It was nearly midnight and I needed to determine whether I should continue 14 more miles through the night with my knees crying for me to stop or if I should try and find a ride home. I called my husband one more time- he was asleep. Finally I ended up getting in touch with a friend from work who lives somewhat close by and she said she’d be able to take me home. Hallelujah!

Honestly, I could have kept walking. I was fully present and awake, the blisters were scarcely bothering me, I just didn’t account for my knee complications. I’ve had problems with my knees in the past but didn’t realize how bad they still were until I had already walked 14 miles. Physically, I didn’t know how safe it would be to continue. So I chose to stop. I’d already had an eventful experience, I tried the walk last-minute, I got pretty far, but I knew it was time to quit.

Ambling into the casino, I cracked up as I saw ladies in their short shorts and stilettos as I hobbled in, my headlamp still around my neck, my hair disheveled, and I collapsed onto a coach waiting for my friend to arrive.


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