Should I be like Martin Sheen for a year?

Remember “The Way,” the half-hokey, half-wonderful film about the Camino? The closing scene has Martin Sheen, having conquered the Camino, striding sunburnt and righteous on another unspecified pilgrimage. Well, an easy notion for me at the age of 60 was to dedicate a Big Year to what I called Long Walks, and what I saw as long walks was pilgrimage-style epics. Perhaps, I imagined, I’d do five or six of the classic global pilgrimages in Europe, Japan, and United Kingdom. I’d experience being away from home half the year, trudging maybe close to 4,000 kilometers.

I’m not so sure now. I still love the very idea of hypnotic trudges on well-worn routes but several factors mitigate against trying this. First, my better half undoubtedly would only join me for a portion of such an obsessive quest, and I’m at the age I’d prefer not to be apart too long. Second, this kind of Big Year chews up time from writing (although I’ve toyed with the idea of hiking early mornings and writing in the afternoons). And third, and this is most important, what would be the point? Always, that’s the question to ask: what’s the point?

Long hikes naturally fit into the domain of religious pilgrimages and I’m a rabid atheist. Does this detract from or add to the appeal of such trips? So . . . during this hike (itself a piligrimage route), I’ll dive into Phil Cousineau’s “The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred” ( This is defiantly not “my kinda book,” so let’s have a go at it anyway.

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