I guess, by definition, serendipity strikes when we least expect it. For me, it was meeting Butch Briery of the California Mission Walkers at the 2016 Mission Foundation conference. “You mean people walk from mission to mission?” I blurted. Who knew! For the rest of the conference, the idea kept percolating. I found myself pondering more than listening to some speakers. I love to walk; my family already thinks I’m nuts with my passion for mission history. This chance meeting was a match made in heaven! And, they have modern mules – cars—to carry our gear. I was in!
Seven months later, having worked up to 12 mile walks, I joined leaders Butch and Steven, along with 20 other pilgrims at Mission San Diego de Alcalá to begin our Camino to Mission San Juan Capistrano. With my handy-dandy Fitbit knockoff, I kept track of every inch I walked.
As with the original El Camino Real, it wasn’t a straight shot up the freeway to the next mission. Father Serra took side excursions to the various rancherias, restaurants, and shower facilities. Those last two might be more modern interpretations, but nonetheless my Camino totaled 110.89 miles.
I started out not knowing anyone, and ended with many Camino friends. Getting to know people, sharing life stories, and hearing about the Santiago Caminos in Spain, were the best parts of the day. There’s not much road in Southern California that resembles the original King’s Highway, but knowing that missionaries, soldiers, and Native Americans traveled throughout the state without paved roads, manicured trails, special shoes, and all the other modern conveniences we take for granted, was a constant wonder to me. Each day I felt more and more connected to their passion and determination.
On our last day, walking up the river trail to San Juan Capistrano, I kept hearing what fellow pilgrim, Dawn, told me earlier in the week: “No matter what your reason is for going on a Camino, it changes you. It’s spiritual and you will come back with a different perspective.” I smiled at that truth, completely completely understanding what she had said.