Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Albuquerque, Part 2: In Which the Pilgrim Learns How Not To Make a Pilgrimage

When taking a 60 mile walk along a highway, here's a couple questions to consider:

1) Are there plenty of rest stops? On my trip, I had a bunch of sandwiches and a water bottle. This was May; it was hot and dry, and not the biggest water bottle, but it seemed like the sort of thing that would last me long enough to get from gas station to gas stations.

Thing was, once you're out of Albuquerque proper, there really are no gas stations.  There would be these exits for different Indian reservations, mostly, and as I approached I'd look in the direction of the exit, and there'd be nothing there but more road ribboning off miles into the empty distance (which is classic Indian reservation, actually).  

2) What's the terrain like?  I'm from Chicago. We assume everything is flat. And, in the case of highway 25 between Albu. and Santa Fe, we are wrong. There are some mighty flat pieces, but Santa Fe is actually 1700 feet higher than Albuquerque.  Which means you're going to encounter some hills, in fact some big windy hills that will make your feet a little bit angry and your energy wane. 

3) Is this really going to deepen your relationship to God? I had this grand notion that in leaving my friends and walking along a major highway, sucking in fuel exhaust for 60 miles, I would grow closer to God. I know why I thought that -- nature has always been a great doorway into the spiritual for me, and on highway 25 the long, dramatic Sandia Mountains lay along the roadside.

But walking along a highway, it turns out, is not the same as sitting still in a quiet place and gazing upon something amazing and blessed. In fact, the whole highway context really seems to depreciate one's quotient of wonder.  So does the reality of walking.)

Suffice it to say, after about 5 hours and 14 miles, my sandwiches were eaten, my water bottle was empty and I was starting to feel a little lightheaded (whether from the heat or the tailpipe flatulence was anyone's guess).  It was time to cut my losses.

So I threw away my silly walking stick, stuck my thumb out and hitched a ride the remaining 40 miles to Santa Fe as the sun was setting.  I endeavored to spend the night under a bridge near a little creek that runs through Santa Fe, and was quite pleased with myself for "roughing it" until I heard a slithering sound and saw that I had large banana slugs for company. Then I made my way quickly out of there and got shelter with the Franciscans at Santa Fe's St. Francis cathedral.

A few days later I was back in Albuquerque, having been picked up in Santa Fe by the pastor from down there. He drove me home with the sort of quiet concern that a dad has after watching his son blow the big game.  It's not that he's disappointed, it's that he feels badly for you, and worries about what you must be thinking.

When we were invited to do this pilgrimage, we were told it was about putting ourselves in God's hands. What we were not told is that the end result might be not only a new level of trust, but a whole lot more humility.

It was not the nicest of surprises.

On Monday: Albuquerque Pilgrimage, Part 3, in which the pilgrim, still embarrassed 20 years later,  leaps ahead to the present and we learn why the heck he's remembering this story now.  

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