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?

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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.

Preparing for My Next Adventure

I got an email from NRA’s Woman’s Programs, telling me about a planned wilderness escape. The attendees would learn to shoot smallbore rifle silhouette, scoped/tactical carbine, long range high power rifle, conventional and tactical pistol, historic firearms and shotgun (five-stand), and archery. Other activities included in the program are bow hunting, a mock hunt, and survival training.

campingAlthough I enjoyed the day I spent learning about gun safety and shooting various weapons at the local gun club (I thought someone who has killed as many people in books as I have should know how to shoot), I can’t imagine being steeped in gun culture for eight days. Nor am I certain I’d be willing to pay $1800 for the privilege. Still, the idea does tug at me, as do all things I’ve never done before. If nothing else, the shooting complex would be an interesting setting for a murder, and I could chalk up the week to research.

One thing in the invitation especially caught my attention: Whether you are a novice or a seasoned outdoor enthusiast, it’s an experience that will prepare you for your next adventure!

Do they know about the adventure I’m considering, walking up the Pacific coast? Oh, my, I sure hope I won’t need to know how to shoot for that expedition. Guns 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 walking for peace, exactly, but am aiming for a peaceful walk. Not only would a gun overload my pack, it would make me nervous, as if it were calling out to be used. (Can you feel my shudders?) So not the spirit of peace!

Still, I would take pepper spray or bear spray or some other sort of unfriendly creature spray, and I figure as long as I remember to point it away from me, that’s all the expertise I’d need.

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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.

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

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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.