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Hello and welcome to my blog formerly called Gypsy-K. Please note that I am only updating this blog while I am walking from Rome to Jerusalem from September 2015. My online home and permanent blog is at www.kymwilson.com.au. You can also sign up for pilgrim postcards and newsletters here. Thank you for being here and supporting my journey. With love and courage, Kym xx

Friday, 30 August 2013

To be a pilgrim

Today is my last day in London for a few months.  Tomorrow, I take the bus down to Canterbury, the starting point of my pilgrimage.  I planned to spend my last day in stillness, stretched out beneath the trees in Greenwich Park, basking in the sunshine but grey clouds have shrouded the sun and whisper rain.

Over the last few weeks, I have been reading books and contemplating what it means to be a pilgrim. Although I have explained this journey to many people as "walking from Canterbury to Rome," and indeed I will be making my way between these two cities by foot. It is not just a walk.  Nor is it something that I am doing as a personal challenge merely for the achievement of it.

This journey is a pilgrimage. It is a symbolic journey and one that I feel a deep calling to undertake and to undertake alone. I am learning about this archetypal energy, the process and what it means to be a pilgrim.  I have set my intentions for this journey but  the deeper meaning is still unfolding and I may not fully understand until well after it has ended.

Marianne Williamson wrote, "It is is our light not our darkness that most frightens us."  For me, it is my own depth and that depth being seen by others that most frightens me. Whilst I am also afraid of shallow living. For many years I have been living deep and although I express it through my writing I have hidden the extent of my depth in my outward life.  As I am about to embark on this pilgrimage I feel compelled to acknowledge this depth to myself and to declare who I really am.  I am a seeker and I am a pilgrim.

Whilst my own understanding of my pilgrimage comes together, I share with you the words of others who I feel reflect and explain aspects of what my pilgrimage means to me:

"Some go on pilgrimage seeking meaning; some are looking for their heart's desires; others want to heal; and still others hope to find a more authentic home. A pilgrimage is more than a standard trip or journey.  While some embark on pilgrimages with a sense of adventure, it is not a journey intended for relaxation.  It almost always begins with a sense of call or a deep yearning on the part of the pilgrim, sometimes with great urgency, to go forth.  Often the pilgrim is called to undertake physical travel, although for some the pilgrimage is about travelling inward on a "journey of the heart," so to speak.  While some do undertake their journeys in groups, the focus of most of the narratives is on the individual." - Dr Sheryl A Kujawa-Holbrook

"That which you are looking for may be calling you to seek.  Seek patiently and you will find" - traditional advice of the Muses

"Pilgrims are poets who create by taking journeys" -  Richard R. Niebuhr

"For many women, going on a sacred journey means getting back in touch with what is sacred in the earth" - Joan Marler, dancer and mythologist

"A pilgrim is a wanderer with a purpose" - Peace Pilgrim

"The search for God is a very intimate enterprise.  It is at the core of every longing in the human heart" - Joan Chittister

"The person who is gripped by an archetypal symbol feels as through in contact with some mysterious and irresistible power or overwhelming compulsion, highly charged, luminous , life changing.  The pilgrimage experience is one of those human experiences that continue to be manifested.  Varying very likely with each individual, it is still found, in some sense, meaningful and often has overtones of a "religious" experience" - Jean Dably Clift (psychotherapist) and Wallace B. Clift (theologian).

"Sacred sites exude a sense of "presence" where God, the gods, or the beauty of nature dwell" - Dr Sheryl A Kujawa-Holbrook


If you would like to support me on my pilgrimage, then please support my causeCairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.  Any donation, big or small, is much appreciated and will go directly to helping rehabilitate sick and injured turtles.

http://www.mycause.com.au/page/saveourseaturtlesaverylongwalkfromcanterbuytorome


Thursday, 29 August 2013

Waiting without waiting

I am sitting in Greenwich Park, beneath blue skies that are slowly streaking white. The sun is warming the bare skin on my back. The wind rustles the leaf laden trees echoing around the park in nature's own mexican wave. Lovers picnic. Families stroll. A lean and muscular Italian youth shows off his six-pack as he practices his soccer skills. Two pesky terriers stalk three ravens scavenging the grass for food. Beyond the Maritime museum buildings, the muddy Thames winds past O2 Arena and into the city, or away from it, whichever way its currents flow. Me; I sit on the grass in stillness and I write; pausing frequently to look up and witness this English summer activity.

The last four days have been spent catching up with my friend, Viv. We have walked 16 kilometres along the Thames trail. Strolled past Ian McKellen's home and visited his pub. We ate pizza and drank wine at Dickens Inn. Road-tripped down south to visit the very quaint sea-side port of Hamble-le-Rice where we lit a candle, sang Happy Birthday to my mum and ate a deliciously pink cup cake in memory of her. We drove along country roads lined by trees in their heavy green dresses, boughs arched together honouring our arrival. Today Viv has left to complete a course and for the next few days I have empty slates of time to fill any way I choose.

In 3 days, I will catch the bus to Canterbury. In 4 days, my pilgrimage will commence. Although I am here in London following the plans I pre-laid, it feels as if I am dreaming and that it's not really all about to happen. This surreal feeling is not unfamiliar; it has been present every time in those moments and days just before I start living one of my dreams.

I am as physically and mentally prepared as I can be. I have everything I think I need. I have booked the bus to Canterbury. I have organised accommodation for the first few nights so I can ease into my Pilgrim life. Once I leave Dover, I will be winging it; setting each day's walking goals as I go and finding accommodation when I arrive. I have trained my body as much as it is going to be trained to condition it to long distance walking whilst carrying 13 kilos on my back. I have the guide books. I have downloaded my offline maps and traced the trail feeling the enormity of the path ahead.

Now is the time to come inward and centre. Now my spirit takes over whatever is left to prepare. I have returned to those practices that make me feel present and whole. Meditation. Writing my morning pages. Sitting and lying on the earth, breathing her in. Listening to music that inspires and expands my soul.  

I am waiting without waiting.  Easing into each moment and allowing this current to take me to the beginning of trail and the way that will unfold.


Today's office view from Greenwich Park...
 

Basking in the sunshine, connecting to the earth....

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

My cause - Saving Our Sea Turtles

A turtle changed my life. On the second dive of my Open Water Scuba Diving course, I saw a turtle. A small, hawksbill turtle, gliding effortlessly through the water plane just metres ahead of me.  She looked into my eyes and I into hers and what passed between us I can only describe as love and ancient wisdom. I was hooked. I wanted to see more turtles so all of my holidays were planned around diving  

When my career hit what appeared to be a dead-end, I decided to take a sabbatical to re-evaluate what I wanted to do with my life. I went to Thailand where I completed my Rescue Diver, Divemaster and Open Water Instructor courses. I saw loads of turtles and sharks and manta rays and other cool marine creatures. I met an Italian who I followed to Italy which is where I first discovered and walked a section of the Via Francigena.  When I finished, with tendonitis in my feet and two badly bruised toe nails that fell off months later, I knew I wanted to walk the whole trail one day.  And that time is now.

So I am about to embark on a 2,000 killometre partly because of that small hawksbill turtle that called me to wake up and see a different world than the city, work-focussed, indoor life I had been living.  My travels and my diving have opened my eyes up not only to the beauty and wonder of this world but to the perils it now faces. By spending so much time in the sea I have seen the direct and negative impact humans are having; oil spills, fishing nets, rubbish, so much rubbish and the impact of over-fishing, cyanide and dynamite fishing on reefs and fish population. 

Nearly all species of sea turtles are endangered. Humans have over exploited them, slaughtering them for their meat, skin, shells and eggs. We have destroyed their habitat. We catch them in our fishing nets. They eat the rubbish we carelessly discard into our seas and they die slow and painful deaths. The change in our climate is resulting in fewer male hatchlings so there are less males to breed.

We want to turn away from what is happening because its too horrible and heart-breaking to believe and the problem is so big we don't know what we can to do to help solve it. But we have to try. 

In gratitude of that one small turtle that opened my eyes to the wonders of our ocean and our world and lead me on this journey in the first place, I want to give something back. 

I am raising funds for the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, a small grassroots non-profit organisation run by volunteers working hard to save our sea turtles. Donations made to the Rehabilitation Centre go directly to the care of the turtles and building a new rehabilitation centre http://www.saveourseaturtles.com.au/

You can make donations via my My Cause page: http://www.mycause.com.au/page/saveourseaturtlesaverylongwalkfromcanterbuytorome

If you are unable to support financially then there are some other simple ways you can help our turtles:
1. Dispose of your rubbish thoughtfully. Our seas really are swimming with plastic bags and bottles amongst other things.
2. Say no to plastic bags. Use reusable shopping bags. Keep a reusable one in the car. If it’s only a few items carry them or stuff them in your handbag or go home and get your reusable bag.
3. Say no to plastic bottles. Carry a BPA-free reusable bottle with you. Better for your health and better for the environment.
4. Buy canned fish (eg tuna, salmon), fresh and frozen seafood sourced from sustainable fisheries using non-destructive fishing methods. For some useful guides see http://www.sustainableseafood.org.au/Sustainable-Seafood-Guide-Australia.asp?active_page_id=695 and http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/en/what-we-do/oceans/Take-action/canned-tuna-guide/
5. To help the environment in general, become a conscious consumer. Ask yourself where does it come from? How was it made? What is in it? Do I really need it?

And of course you can support me by cheering me on; leave comments on my blog or send me emails or messages via Facebook. 

I will walk alone but no journey is really undertaken alone.  Your support will be the river that carries me on.





Friday, 16 August 2013

The weight of the Devil

I stand on the scales with the Devil on my pack. After some quick math deducting my Devil-less body weight I determine that it weighs 12.5 kilos.

12.5 kilos!

If this were a normal holiday, I would be proud of how light I had packed for once. I like having choice of clothes to wear and will happily pack up to the airline checked luggage allowance if I can fit it into my normal travelling backpack that has wheels and has mostly been dragged behind me and only a handful of times carried on my back. This time 12.5 kilos is too heavy. Not by airline standards but because the Devil has no wheels and will be carried on my back for 2,000 kilometres.

Other pilgrims have suggested that it is best to carry no more than 10% of your body weight. That would be 6 kilos.  But with a tent and sleeping bag to carry as emergency accommodation this seems impossible for me. 10 kilos seems more realistic for smeone camping and obviously, I am way over that extended limit.

I pull everything out of the bag and start packing again asking myself if it is essential that I take each item with me. I cull the self-inflating light three quarter sleeping mat, self-inflating pillow and sleeping bag liner. These would be useful if I can't find accommodation and am forced to camp out but not essential. I can use clothes as a pillow and a liner under my bag.

I pack everything back into the bag and stand on the scales once more. 11.5 kilos. Lighter but not light enough.

I pull everything out and repeat the process. I even weigh items on the kitchen scales so I know exactly how much each item weighs.

I'd love to get rid of my one man hiking tent. Weighing in at 1.7 kilos that would instantly solve my weight issue but I know that in parts of France it may be difficult to find accommodation and the idea of sleeping beneath the stars as romantic as it sounds does not appeal to me as a solo female traveller in a foreign country. 

I could leave out the synthetic fill jacket. It weighs 370 grams and I have other layers for warmth except sometimes they are not enough.  After a long hike, I am often chilled to my core even in mild weather. I can take it and potentially not use it and maybe give it away or I can leave it behind and find that I really need it which could mean a few days of being cold until I can find somewhere I can buy another layer.

The iPad mini and keyboard case could be considered a luxury by some but to me they are essential. The iPad contains my guide book and maps and enables me to write as I go and I won't give up my writing.

The camera.  Also non-negotiable.  I cannot not take photos wherever I go even when I walk around Melbourne. I have already compromised and left the DSLR at home. The Canon G11 comes with me.

The extra pants and a cardigan along with a few cosmetics so I can feel and look like a non-hiker at the end of the day. They only weigh 500 grams. Only. 500 grams is a lot and they are a luxury I could survive without but I refuse to let them go just now.

A journal comes with me wherever I go. Morning pages. Small stones. Poems, thoughts, ideas that just need to be written down quickly. I weigh my journal on the kitchen scales. It felt so very light in my hands but actually weighs 300 grams. My alternative journal is 80 grams lighter. It finds it way into my backpack instead. It's not much but if I can save 80 grams on 10 items then that's almost a kilo less weight and brings me so much closer to my 10 kilo goal.

Toiletries.  Everything is small. Shower gel. Toothpaste. Shampoo. Conditioner. Facial cleanser. Moisturiser.  Okay the scrub could go but its not even 30 grams. I quickly forget my 10 x 80 grams weight reduction goal. Instead, I ditch the two small travel containers filled with my favourite individual shampoo and conditioner and replace them, reluctantly, with a two-in-one.

I stand back on the scales with the Devil. 11.4 kilos. This round of elimination only reduced the Devil by 100 grams.

11.4 kilos.

It doesn't sound like a lot but on my back it feels like a lot.

As I lay in bed last night, waiting for sleep to take me quietly into the dark silence, the issue of weight weighed on my mind. The original pilgrims did not take much with them. They wore a stiff cloak and a wide-brimmed hat. They carried a staff and small purse. They received lodging and food at monasteries along the way. 

So why do I feel the need to take so much with me? 

Fear and doubt.

I am scared of being uncomfortable and of not having enough. And I am not trusting that what I need will find its way to me when I need it.  So I am holding onto all of these things and taking them with me when ultimately it is their weight that will be the real cause of my discomfort. 

Knowing this, can I let more things go?

Not yet. 2,000 kilometres might change all of that.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Introducing...The Devil

This morning, I took The Devil for a walk around the Tan, the Botanical Gardens here in Melbourne.  Yes, you read correctly...The Devil.  The Red Beasts and I took The Devil for a walk around the Tan.

Before you become too alarmed...this, here on my back, is The Devil.


Here's a closer look...


This 40 litre bag will carry everything I need for the next few months as I walk an estimated 2,083 kilometres along the Via Francigena trail from Canterbury to Rome. I am still finalising my packing list...this can be translated as I'm trying to figure out exactly how much I can fit in the bag and carry without breaking my back. I'll share the packing list once it is finalised.

A few weeks ago when I was deciding to walk this pilgrimage trail, I stumbled across and read a book called "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed. Back in the mid-1990's at only age 22, in the wake of her mother's death, her marriage breakdown and recovering from her heroin addiction, Cheryl decided on an impulse to walk the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave desert through California and Washington to Oregon state. Her journey took her some 1100 miles through the wilderness.  She walked it alone.

Cheryl was an inexperienced hiker and whilst she researched and planned what she needed to take with her as well as the supplies she would need to send ahead to collect at various stops along the way, she severely over-packed her backpack. Everyone she met along the way who felt the weight of her backpack was completely surprised by its weight and the fact that she had managed to carry it as far as she had.

Cheryl nick-named her backpack, Monster.

Cheryl's journey was incredible and a life-changing experience for her. There are many things in her own story that make her feel like a kindred; the impulse to walk and to walk alone, being an inexperienced hiker, a classic over-packer and the overwhelming and lingering grief I have felt from losing my own mother when I was age 20.

So, in honour, of Cheryl, I have chosen a nick-name for my backpack. The Devil.

On my first practice packing of The Devil, I estimated that it weighed 10 kilograms without any water. Add 3 litres of water in my camel pack and that adds another 3 kilograms. That's 13 kilos I have to carry on my back for 2,000 kilometres. I should add here that all the forums recommend carrying no more than 10% of your body weight which means I should be aiming for around 6 kilos. But with the bag, a tent, sleeping bag and mat to carry already weighing a combined 4.1 kilos that's just impossible for me.

The Devil's official christening was a 16 kilometre walk in Healesville with my friend, Kate. In one of its heaviest-feeling moments I called it Satan but the name felt a little too evil for a Christian pilgrimage trail. We tried a few different names on for size and The Devil just seemed to stick.

At times, but not always, it feels like a devil weighing heavily against my back, causing discomfort and testing my tenacity and resolve especially uphill. Fortunately, the more I carry it, the easier it gets and the lighter The Devil feels. Over the course of the coming weeks and kilometres, I expect I shall become completely at peace with this devil on my back.  If I don't, it's going to be a very long and wicked journey.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Packing to surrender

There are only 17 days until I fly to London.  26 days until I start walking the Via Francigena.  I have started preparing to pack my belongings and put them into storage once more.  For me, this is a two stage process.  

The first, is going through everything and asking myself if I really need to keep it. Will I use it again or has it served its purpose and is it time to let it go and pass on to someone else who will benefit more?
The second part is to pack what I am keeping into boxes, bag, suitcases, backpacks and finally move it into its final storage place.

The first time I did this in April 2009 was a deeply emotional experience. I cried. A lot. Packing up my life was an acceptance of the decision I had made, to leave the life that I knew and move into the unknown, to live in a way I had never known possible. I was clinging, with my heart, my mind, my body, to a life that I knew but was slowly learning I didn't want anymore.

I was scared of what lay before me in the great unknown. I was scared that there would be nothing left of my old life. Scared that I would never return. Scared that I would. Scared that nothing would have changed but scared that everything would.

I packed and cried, packed and cried, and by the time everything was packed and ready to move into storage, I was at peace with my decision and ready to leave it all behind and see what would be there when I finally returned.

This time, the experience of packing is not quite as emotionally charged but it is still emotional. As I go through each item that I own, I feel overwhelmed by how many things I have. They feel heavy and burdensome when I want to feel light and free. I experience conflict between wanting the comfort of things and familiarity around me when I return and wanting to let it all go. And I experience sadness as I pack, knowing that I am leaving this house where I have lived for the past 18 months and will not return, leaving people I love and this city that I no longer resent but am also starting to love. 

Just when I feel like my life is finally coming together, that I have discovered contentment, I have heard the call to leave it all behind, to walk this trail, alone. It is a call I cannot not answer.

I love fiercely, wrapping my heart around that which is near and dear to me.  Packing is peeling back the fingers of this love, allowing it all to rest gently on the palm of my hand, to leave it be knowing I can love it from wherever I am in the world.  

Packing is the final surrender, letting go of this life and allowing this new current to take me to where I am going but don't fully understand. Knowing I must trust this call, this journey, this surrender to allow new experiences into my life and trusting that what remains when and if I return will be exactly what I need.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

These boots were made for walking


These very red Zamberalan Crosser goretex boots will be my two best friends over the coming months, my only constant companions and direct support as I walk from Canterbury to Rome along the Via Francigena trail.

For my Tuscan walk, I purchased a pair of trail runners without much thought and without seeking advice or assistance. My only requirements were that they were mostly black, my preferred colour for sports shoes, and that they were inexpensive as I would only be wearing them for a week after which time they would probably be discarded as they would not be required for the rest of my travel plans. I found a pair of Asics trail runners that met both of these requirements.  However, when deciding to buy them, I neglected the most important aspects; comfort and fit.  I put them on my feet.  Took a few steps around the store and decided they would do the job.  I took them home and packed them in my bag without even breaking them.  Not once did I wear them before I left to go to Italy to walk 120 kilometres. Not once.

I realised the scale of my ignorance and poor decision making on the first day of that walk.  Walking off road through hilly countryside is not the same as walking around the flat plains of the city. Your feet and knees are under all sorts of movement and strain not experienced on flat, concrete or bitumen covered ground.  Walking off-road in shoes that are not broken in and are at least half a size too small is just agony.  I killed my feet in the first ten kilometres of that walk.  The nail bed on my right big toe was swollen and inflamed for the whole 120 kilometres.  By the end of my walk, I couldn't even put my shoes on. My nail went black as the did the nail on my right little pinky toe.  A few months later, they fell off but not before I snagged them on socks and clothing that ripped the healthy sections bit by bit, ever so painfully, from their nail bed.

I learned a valuable lesson. This time, after making the decision to walk the trail, the first thing I did, even before booking my flights, was start looking for appropriate footwear because at that stage I knew I would have only ten weeks to break them in. I started reading forums trying to find out what type of footwear would be best for this walk and to try and learn something about hiking shoes because I knew nothing and I'm not sure how much I really know now except this....that everyone has their own opinion about hiking shoes and at the end of the day you just need to go and try on shoes and find the ones that feel right for you; and make sure your toes don't hit the ends when going downhill ie buy one or two sizes larger which will also allow for your foot to swell and spread, which it will because walking 2000 kilometres is not the kindest thing one can do to their feet.

With the assistance of a very patient and understanding shop assistant (I highly recommend Richard and the whole crew @ Mountain Designs in Richmond), I tried on almost the whole range of hiking shoes several times, spending hours in the store. I finally decided upon a pair of Zamberlan Zenith hiking shoes which I chose based on fit and not for their grey colour but when I got them home and wore them around the house the placement of the seam on the tongue pressed against a sensitive part on top of my feet making them ache and go numb.  I took them back and got a larger size thinking that might help.  Same problem.  So I went back again and tried on more shoes but this time I tried on boots deciding that some ankle support might actually help my ageing knees not ache painfully when I walk uphill and downl.  

I tried on several boots.  However, my choice was limited.  As a female with a US size 10 foot needing boots at least one and a half to two sizes bigger than my normal size so that my toes don't hit the end when I walk downhill, my choice was instantly limited.  Keen Targhee were the most comfortable boot I tried on cradling my foot like a baby and leaving me sighing blissfully with each step I took but they didn't come in a large enough size for my big feet not to hit the ends going downhill. Salomon were the best looking coming in the pre-requisite black but were nowhere near my size. The mens versions were just too wide for my foot. I could feel my heels slipping with each step which meant only one possible outcome...blisters. And then there were all the others that were either too chunky or just too ugly in various shades and combinations of brown. I know brown shoes will hide the dust and mud and that hiking shoes are about function not fitness but if I'm going to live in the same shoes for three months I'd really just prefer something a little less ugly or at least plain black.

Finally, I tried on the Red Beasts. They were the only ones I hadn't tried on and it was love at first fit. I bought them, took them home and wore them around the house. I tried to convince myself they were fine but something wasn't right. My right foot was perfectly happy but something kept pressing into and rubbing against my left ankle. I took them off and inspected them to discover a fault in the seam where the tongue joined the shoe. I took them back but they were the last pair in my size. And so I started the whole trying on process again. But nothing felt right. I really wanted the Red Beasts to be okay so much that I started contemplating if I could get a shoe repairer to fix them.  In the end, Richard was able to track down another pair in Hobart and had them sent over for me as well as another pair from Perth to make sure that one of them would be okay.  

When I swapped them over, I took them home and wore them around the house for a couple of days wanting to be really sure that these really were the ones before I started breaking them in. I wasn't 100% convinced but after all the hours spent trying on and researching shoes I concluded that they were as good as I was going to be able to get. Sometimes we need to bide our time until the absolute right thing comes along. Other times, we have to make the most of what we've got knowing that perfect doesn't always exist.

So far the Red Beasts and I have walked around 80 kilometres together. We have walked uphill and downhill, on road and off-road.  We have even forded a stream and they kept the water out and my feet perfectly dry.  We've not seen a single blister together (although good merino socks and Injinji toe socks are partially to thank and highly recommended for that). My feet start aching after 12 kilometres but I put that down to conditioning, just  getting used to walking long distances rather than any fault of the boots. 

Over the last week, my feet are starting to ache and niggle even when I'm resting, leaving me to wonder if I really can make it all the way to Rome. I can't be sure but I won't know unless I try. Whilst the Red Beasts will help to get me there ultimately it will be the strength of my desire and tenacity that will carry me through.

Fording the stream in my Zamberlan Crosser GTX boots near Healesville.