Saturday, March 31, 2012

Day 634 - A walk with a purpose.

Back: Karin, Susan, Gerda, Lillian
Front: Me, Sonja
Sometimes you can know somebody for a lifetime, but yet somehow you always avoid being alone in a room with them. You just know that after you've talked about the weather, how the year has flown by since Christmas and how the kids have grown, there won't be much left to say. For whatever reason - conversation simply never flows and you never invite each other for a quick coffee to catch up.

And then you meet someone who makes you laugh until the tears run down your face. You feel as if you've known each other for a lifetime yet you're not even sure of last names yet. The women in the photograph here with me all fall in this second category.

I feel like I have been blessed with another group of soul sisters - each one of them.

Last week we all met for tea and cake at the home of Sonja, the amazing blonde seated next to me here. Sonja's home and garden is filled with colour - just like the person she is. A hostess who makes you feel like you can kick off your shoes and relax in her home. While you enjoy the company gathered around her table you notice that your favourite music is playing in the background. She has taken note of your love of a specific genre and she's made sure that she has created an atmosphere that is a treat to all your senses!

As we laughed and chatted away on this beautiful day it was hard to believe that Sonja's life is being impacted by an illness that most people haven't even heard of. Sonja suffers from Multiple System Atrophy, also known as MSA.

Just as I knew absolutely nothing about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage two years ago, my knowledge of MSA, prior to me meeting Sonja in October last year, was just about zero.

In a nutshell, MSA is degenerative neurological disease. I quote from a MSA Internet site: '...symptoms reflect the loss of nerve cells in several different areas in the brain and spinal cord that control the autonomic nervous system and coordinate muscle movements. '

A nasty house guest then. And one that arrived without an invitation. We won't be playing background music to match his mood. Instead, I read quotations such as this one on the website that Sonja and her friend Karin have created to raise awareness of the disease:

"Adventure isn’t hanging on a rope off the side of a mountain. Adventure is an attitude that we must apply to the day to day obstacles of life – facing new challenges, seizing new opportunities, testing our resources against the unknown and in the process, discovering our own unique potential.” Johan Amatt

Needless to say, when Sonja asked me if I would dedicate my pilgrimage to Santiago to her cause, which is to raise awareness of MSA, I agreed immediately.

The purpose of our get-together last week was thus not only to visit, but also to decide exactly how we would use the journey in Spain to further the cause. Susan and Gerda, pictured above, are also undertaking their first camino and they will be walking from Burgos round about the 16th of June. We are hoping to meet up - what a special day that will be!

Karin and Sonja will be working on a laminated logo with a photograph of Sonja on for us to attach to our backpacks. We will each take a few cards with their website details on and of course we will be armed with knowledge in order to have educated conversations about MSA with people we engage with whilst walking in Spain.

Last but not least, the miles we walk will be logged with an awareness group - they are hoping to log enough miles to round the globe - all part of the awareness effort. My hiking buddie, Eddie, who will be walking with me, also immediately agreed to join in, so his miles will also be added to our total count.

Sonja may not be walking the Camino but I will be leaving my brand new DVD copy of 'The Way' with her when I leave so that she can 'follow' the route from the comfort of her home. Thank you Karin for that brilliant suggestion!

I cannot begin to tell you what it's like to be in Sonja's shoes right now but I would like to direct you to the blog that Karin has created and that the two of them keep going. Following Sonja's journey in this way has touched me so deeply - I cannot stay uninvolved. I urge you to spare a moment or two to read their blog - who knows, you or someone you know could make a difference in some way!

This is the link to their blog:

I have posted a link to a specific post as this honest, sincere piece really tells the story in a way that only a true, loyal friend can. It is current and for me even more touching, as the brave woman that I spent a morning with this week continues to smile the most sincere smile - Sonja, I salute you!

My journey in Spain has been given a new purpose. Join me if you wish and lets somehow, each one of us in our own little place in this world, attempt to make a difference. The more people know about this illness, the easier it can be diagnosed and hopefully the more intense the research efforts to find a cure will become.

So if you are planning to walk the Camino Frances in June or July and you see someone walking in front of you with a small laminated version of this photograph of Sonja attached to their backpack - stop and say hallo - we'd love to meet you!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Day 625 - Why blog?

As it's twenty one days since I had something to say on my little blog, I asked myself today - why do I actually blog?

For the last couple of days I've been trying to decide what the topic of this (inevitable) post would be. For the life of me, I couldn't make a decision. So I decided to start at the beginning.

I always start a post with a picture. If possible, I like to use something that I took myself. Why? Because these are my ramblings and it seems right to colour it with my own stuff. (Let's be honest here, sometimes I quite like what I took and if I don't publish it, nobody else will...)

So that left me with the first choice that I had to make. Which pic to choose today? As I scrolled down the thousands if Picasa masterpieces I have saved, this one jumped (ok, not quite at 120km per hour, but you get it...) at me.

This is exactly how I feel at the moment. Like a snail. No real energy and all I can think of is what that backpack I'm going to carry on my back for 30-odd days is going to be filled with. And how much it's going to weigh. If I'm to believe what all the camino fundis have to say, it should weigh no more than 10% of my body weight.

Seeing that this has become somewhat of a tell-all place, I'll let you know that that means my backpack should weigh no more that 6,1kg. I feel that for the first time after my pregnancies many moons ago, I have a valid reason to eat as much chocolate as I want before June. The heavier I am, the more I can pack in my backpack - not so?

The little snail is also looking down at the ground - not too sure which way to go, it seems. Well, I've been looking down at my two feet - the two most precious parts of my body as far as the camino goes, as they have to carry me for almost 800km...It seems rather obvious then that whatever I wish to tie them up in every morning has to be really well chosen - the shoes have to be perfect!

I can't afford to have blisters, my feet have to be able to breathe, they have to remain dry and most of all, they have to be supported properly. That's all easy to say but have you looked at the choices out there?? And even more daunting - have you ever had to listen to the advise of dozens of people - all totally convinced that they have the correct answers??

I have walked the streets, visited the shoe shops, tried on hundreds of makes and sizes - with my 1000 mile socks - and still I can't decide what to buy. And I'm running out of time. Those babies need to be walked in by the time these two feet hit the tarmac in France.

Let's focus on the question again. Why do I blog?

After writing all of the above I think I actually have an answer. When I write about the issues that I need to address, it starts making sense to me and I seem to become focused. It's when I stop writing and start stressing about it I become like the snail. The only difference between him and me is that he can curl up in his backpack and go to sleep - me, if I don't get going, the only place I'm going to curl up in, is the el Spanish feet first-aid clinics...

I went to look up the Internet definitions for 'blogging' and really loved this one:

'Something to do when you're unemployed.'

I guess if the shoe fits - I probably should wear it!   

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Day 604 - Let the sun guide you...

My absolute favourite line from this video -
'My soul is on a quest and I am drawn to walk this trail...'