The roads we walked for almost 60 miles were definitely not flat, the tempo of walking was faster than my wimpy body could take, and the heat and humidity were killing every bit of joy I had tried to pre-imagine. On top of that the Polish yellers (staff who constantly tell you that you have to keep up, stay to the right, and fill the gaps) were driving me nuts and behaved like Soviet trainers of an Olympic team making us feel like we are going to a war, not for a spiritually rejuvenating exercise taken as voluntary penance. I just wanted to tell them: Chill. In a stoic and virtuous manner, of course.
Very shortly, after you start walking, literally after the first hour or so, you realize that everyone has to suck it up more than they expected, stop explaining themselves, start to go with the flow and forget your premeditated idea that you will have such deep conversations with fellow pilgrims, because a lot of times you will just try to breathe so you don't faint. Within the next few hours you realize that a bottle of water is enough for a shower, that one sandwich with butter and ham is better than Fogo De Chao on any super special day, that people in your tent now know what ticks you off on a daily basis, and that, generally, people are screwed up but immensely interesting and good indeed. Sooner or later, all realize that all is chaff and we are pilgrims. The tempo of this revelation is as speedy as the tempo of being exhausted after climbing hills for 30 minutes or so.
Homo viator is a concept of a pilgrim man. Plenty of literature (starting with Odyssey) and movies (the so called movies of the road) exist to illuminate the idea of progressive, redemptive, and surely adventurous journeys where the reached goal makes only sense because of the trip taken. The themes of heroic overcomings and becomings are perpetually served all around us in order to cheer us up or to awaken us from our comfortable slumber but the actual physical undertaking of walking with other unknown human beings for four days rip out all of the sentimentalism and take you from the imaginary lands of mists and dragons to the hot asphalted boring surfaces surrounded with landscapes infested with poison ivy and monstrous cicadas where sweat and short tempers as well as kindness and survival mode meet frequently, giving you that eschatological hope for the next stop where you drop your theologically understood body, take your shoes off, cut your blisters with a surgical knife, send someone to take a photo of whoever is around you and post the update on Facebook with the #humansofthepilgrimage, hoping that people will not de-friend you just because they are upset that you are trying to be holier than they are by posting uber-penitential reminders while they go on their 'Cruises for Jesus' or swimming with dolphins (this sentence was too long but I can't help it).
The existential immediate needs during the walking pilgrimage make you a simpler human being, and sooner (for those 40+) or later (for those under 30) you will have to fight to constrain yourself (if you are already a saint) or make a choice of laying it all down, leaving yourself bare and unaided, mainly authentic (Gr. authentikos - primary, original), which scares the heck out of many, especially people already established, with reputations or high positions, and afraid that their coping mechanisms, if they developed any, might be discovered. And once you cause a havoc for no reason other then you've had enough, you really wonder if others will still take you in, after seeing the huge, obnoxious, ugly, painful, repulsive, and boring you. Will they stay or will they move on to seek the new and edgy, interesting and captivating, shiny and mechanical. Will they be shocked and whisper behind you, or calmly look at your idiotic miscalculated reaction as a normal part of your becoming, knowing that Real can't be ugly.
Once you come close to the field of the real you, and there is no place to escape to your own opinionated, cushioned, individualized, and custom-made image that you have worked so hard on, you know that this is the communal moment. Ignoring your authentic and not yet holy you will not be enough, tolerating it will not be enough, accepting it will not be enough, only mad, boundless love poured out in various forms, will do. And that's what you cry out for anyway, so at the end of the day you can sit (while walking) offended and pout playing out a victim of other people's rudeness and insensitivity or you can deal with it. And that opens up rooms in your callous self that you hoped to forget about. Icebergs are being flipped upside down and the unknown is surfacing and melting in the merciless August sun.
To put oneself in a state of vulnerability is risky but necessary if we want to live in a community as the first Christians did. A walking pilgrimage is a perfect test of our readiness.