What does it take to leave behind the familiar and face the unknown, while following the path of countless intrepid travelers whose youthful and aged feet touched down over and over throughout the centuries?
Kurt Koontz was accustomed to adventure, since after retiring from a high powered sales position at age 36, he hopped on a bicycle and trekked throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. When he got ‘the call’ to make the pilgrimage on the El Camino de Santiago, or The Way of St. James (made popular by the 2012 film starring Martin Sheen, called The Way) in 2012, he eagerly took up the challenge. This nearly 500 mile route allowed him time to stretch comfort zones, physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally.
The inner journey seems to have been as formidable as the external, and likely just as rewarding. When he completed the walk, he documented it in his book entitled A Million Steps. The name came from his estimation that with his long stride, it took that many footfalls from end to end. Along the road, Kurt met fellow journeyers who became family of choice; some with whom he remains in contact. All touched his heart and remain with him for having enriched his experience.
Although I don’t feel called to place my size 8’s on the winding road from France to Spain, or Spain to France, whichever way you might choose, reading this book allowed me to travel along with Kurt as he shared his tale of love and loss. I found myself exhilarated and fatigued, laughing and crying, celebrating and grieving along with him. It’s that kind of book.
What fears or hesitation arose while you were walking?
During the first few days of the walk, uncertainty entered my head. I knew my physical body was capable of walking 500 miles but the roots of my fear questioned if I could enjoy the journey. Was my mind capable of cooperating with my body? By the third day of the pilgrimage I realized that like life, this trip had an end. This epiphany sent doubt to the sidelines and allowed me to savor every minute.
Was there a fear of death or of becoming injured or incapacitated?
Fear of death never entered my mind. Injury could have sent me to the sidelines, but it was never at the forefront of my mind. If it happened, I would have accepted it as a sign to slow down or exit the trail.
You are in recovery from addiction. How was that explored or healed as a result of your journey?
I am a very lucky man. I quit drinking two days before my father died from alcoholic hepatitis. Watching him shrivel in bed while turning a fluorescent shade of beeswax convinced me to never leave this planet under similar circumstances. The “luck” portion of this story is that I do not have any desire to consume alcohol, even if it was guaranteed to be without consequences. Many fellow alcoholics are not as fortunate and struggle each and every day with this ruthless intruder.
I did reminisce about my 20+ years spent in the haze zone. It seemed to be such a waste of time. Unlike love, hope, money, and opportunities, time is one thing that can never be recouped. I was also overcome with gratitude that drinking was in my past. I really feel that life re-began the day I stopped.
Was this a spiritual as well as physical journey for you?
Absolutely!! I believe we are all born with an inner glow. For me, this trip felt like a gigantic rheostat being twisted to unexpected brightness.
What deeper meaning to life did you glean from it?
All of the common themes of any spiritual awakening. These include learning to let go, living in the now, gratitude, divorcing worry, and abandoning attempts to control.
Who was the man that took those first steps and who was the man who returned?
This trip chipped away my rougher edges and cut me down to size. I returned as a much calmer version of myself. I no longer hurry to every moment in life and realize that the time between moments is life.
One of the lessons that arose for Kurt had to do with surrendering the what if’s in favor of what is. In his youth, he saw his future one way and never in a million years could he have imagined a million steps taking him so far afield and ultimately bringing himself home to the man in the mirror.
Photo credit: Kurt Koontz