Searching for a Cause

When I mentioned to a hiker friend that I am thinking of walking up the coast from San Diego to Seattle, she suggested that I walk for a cause because if you have a cause, people are more willing to help supply food, water, a shower or even transportation if you need it, and they might even get others to help.

It’s a great suggestion. The Peace Pilgrim walked for peace. 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.” Her pilgrimage began in 1953 when she was 44 and ended with her death in 1981. 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. (She was also the first woman reported the have thru-walked the Appalachian Trail, which she did in preparation for her pilgrimage.)

Following her example or following their own spiritual wakening, others have walked for peace. Some women have walked for women’s freedom since so many women (perhaps rightfully) are afraid to travel, hike, or camp on their own. These women causewant to show that it is possible to claim one’s freedom and follow one’s adventurous heart. And then there are short walks/runs to raise money and awareness for all sorts of causes and organizations.

My friend suggested I walk for widows or the grief-stricken. Widow Walker. Grief Walker. Or . . . whatever. Her other suggestion, which actually is a fun idea, is to hang a small portable chalkboard on my pack, and change my “cause” as I felt like it.

Having a cause would give people a personal stake in my quest, but I wonder if it’s a bit of a cheat. If the idea of the cause came first, then the walk would be because of the cause. If the idea of the walk came first, as it did, then the cause would be because of the walk.

Still, I would need some sort of support group because I want to walk, not hike, which means no heavy backpacks, no bulky gear, no great stores of food and water. I do understand the need for taking more than The Peace Pilgrim’s sparse kit because I do not want to walk to certain death, but I simply do not want to take everything on a hiker’s “must” list. Of course, if I hike along the coast, there would be plenty of towns or beaches to get provisions and find a motel (and a computer!) for the night if necessary, but there will also be long stretches of wilderness, and in one case, a fifty-mile stretch of highway-shoulder walking.

Grandma Gatewood, like The Peace Pilgrim, was a minimalist hiker, the first woman to solo thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Although she hiked the Trail three times, beginning when she was 67, she had no special gear. She wore Keds sneakers and took only an army blanket, a raincoat, and a plastic shower curtain which she carried in a homemade bag slung over one shoulder. My kind of hiker! Nor did she have a cause — at least not one that I can find. She simply thought it would be a nice lark. Sounds like my kind of hiker.

My true cause is a soul quest, a mystical journey, a response to a barely heard question deep inside — “Is this all there is to my life here on Earth?” I would like to find a deeper connection to both myself and the world, maybe even to go through some sort of spiritual transformation. I originally planned my journey as a car trip, which is still on my list of possibilities, but walking might give me more of the mysticism I am looking for. (Feet on the ground trumps feet on the accelerator pedal any time.)

So, here’s my question. Do I need a cause? And if so, what should that cause 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.

My Own True Grit

I started watching True Grit today, but had to stop because I couldn’t see the screen for all the tears. My deceased life mate/soul mate and I lived not far from Ridgeway where True Grit (1969) was filmed, and the scenery in the movie made me homesick, not just for the Rockies, which formed the backdrop of my life, but for him. As the movie played, I could almost hear his voice telling me about the filming of the movie, and I could almost feel the soft cool air of Colorado wafting through the open window.

Sometimes I have the urge to settle near there again when my responsibilities to my father end. The air would feel familiar. The light would be soothing to my eyes. The mountains would offer comfort and perhaps protection from harsh winds. But then what? I’d be alone with the mountains, and mountains, no matter how welcome or familiar, can’t offer companionship. Without my mate, I’d still feel lonely, still feel as if I were homeless, because he, of course, was my home.

In Figuring Out Where to Go From Here, I realized I didn’t have to settle anywhere, but could live on the go, writing as I went. It will be possible, at least for a while, especially if I can get some sort of crowd funding. And perhaps I will discover home within myself or even discover that the journey itself is home.

I haveMt. Lambornn’t been writing about this journey lately because my 96-year-old father is doing exceptionally well, so much so that it seems foolish to talk about my future since I might not be free of responsibilities for a long time. Besides, I don’t want my father or anyone else to think I am hurrying him off this earth. If the universe is unfolding as it should, then my soul quest (or at least the road trip part of the quest) will happen when the universe and I am ready.

Still, it is nice to know what I’m going to do when the time comes — put my stuff in storage and head out on my journey, broadening both my internal and external horizons. Since I want to live by whim, to relearn spontaneity and perhaps find serendipity, there really isn’t a lot of preparation for me to do in the meantime except to continue to get rid of that which is unnecessary so I can hit the road unencumbered by superfluous possessions, outdated issues, and useless notions. Eventually, I will need to prepare various giveaways and promotional materials, perhaps even a marketing plan, for visiting bookstores along the way, but now is not the time for planning but for dreaming.

The beauty of such a quest as the one I’m dreaming of is that if I am particularly homesick for areas where we lived, I could go and stay there for a while, recharge my soul’s batteries, and then continue on when wit, whim, and my own true grit dictated.


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+