A Breathtaking Piece of Folly

In 1953, a 44-year-old woman set out to walk for peace. She left everything behind, even her name, calling herself “The Peace Pilgrim.” When she hit 25,000 miles in 1964, she stopped keeping track, but she kept going for many more years. She was walking in response to a spiritual awakening, and she’d taken a vow to “remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food.” A minimalist hiker, she carried only a pen, a comb, a toothbrush, and a map, trusting to those she met to supply what she needed, though she never asked for anything. Her pilgrimage ended with her death in 1981.

The Peace Pilgrim had a mission, one that people responded to (though sometimes the response wasn’t what you might expect. On at least one occasion, she ended up in jail on a vagrancy charge). But what about someone who just sets off without a mission? Would food, water, and shelter appear when needed? And wouldn’t it be a bit presumptuous to expect others to supply one’s needs?

On the home page of The Peacewalker Society, a group that existed to support another peace walker’s mission, is the quote, “Let go, trust and just take the first step. The path will unfold before you.”

Sounds to me like a recipe for death.

When I took my trip to hunt the wild poppy, I paid attention to the miles rolling past as if I were walking instead of driving, and that is when I realized the true foolhardiness of an epic walk. All I saw were miles and miles of windy, dusty, very hot roads with nothing to break the monotony. No water. No stores. No shade. It would have taken me many days of walking across that bleak landscape before I finally found what passes for an oasis in our modern world — a small shopping center with a convenience store, gas station, and fast food place.

That experience along with the reality of water tended to quash my idea of walking long distances.

And yet, and yet . . .

There the idea sits, like a toad in the back of my mind, waiting to leap at the first chance it gets. What would happen if I just took off? No heavy backpacks filled with water, food, and camping gear. No thoughts. No plans. Nothing but me and the next step.

Do I have the trust? Do I have the courage? And more importantly, do I have the mission? It’s that mission, I think, that keeps people going long after good sense tells them to stop. My life has always been about a quest for truth, and I imagine there would be much truth to be found on an epic adventure, but would truth be enough of a mission to fuel resolve?

O. Henry wrote, “The true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and greet unknown fate.”

Makes me wonder — does a true adventurer take along a computer of some sort? At the beginning, The Peace Pilgrim kept a journal, but it was stolen, so she just wrote her life in the wind. But me, being an inveterate blogger, would need to post my thoughts, experiences, and photos online. Seems foolish — doesn’t it? — but then the whole idea is folly.

Still, as Mrs. Brown said in National Velvet, “I, too, believe that everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly once in her life.”

Right now I still have responsibilities, but one day they will end. And then . . . perhaps it will be time for my own breathtaking piece of folly, whatever that might be


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

5 Responses to “A Breathtaking Piece of Folly”

  1. Kathy Says:

    Oh, this reminds me of a couple of books I read, “Walk Across America” and “Walk Across France” or something close to those titles. Anyway, the first one inspired me to try walking long-distances. I’d aspired to walk from my home (in the San Francisco Bay Area at that time) from San Bruno to San Jose, about 44 miles. I made it to Redwood City, which was 18 miles. It took me 6 hours and I got really sunburned and I was so exhausted, I never tried it again – lol!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Eighteen miles in one day? Yikes. No wonder you were exhausted. I could probably do ten in three different spurts with plenty of rest between each set, especially if I could change shoes. But eighteen? I’d never make it. Still, you tried. And hey! Maybe when I head out, I’ll be walking by your place and we can walk together for a few miles. I still like the idea of walking up the Pacific Coast.

  2. Preparing for My Next Adventure | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] are heavy! I tend to take as little as possible, probably way too little (though not as little as The Peace Pilgrim who carried only a pen, comb, map, toothbrush, and the clothes on her back). I’m not planning on […]

  3. Letting Go | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] trust and just take the first step. The pathway will unfold before you.” That advice comes from The Peace Pilgrim, a 44-year-old woman who set out to walk for peace carrying only a pen, a comb, a toothbrush, and a […]

  4. Living on the Wild Side | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] means — certainly not like winning the Grand National or swimming the English channel or even thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (as I had once hoped to do) — building a garage (or rather, having it built) is truly a folly […]

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