In October 2016, Jay Goering and a friend undertook a pilgrimage from Lisbon, Portugal to Santiago, Spain. The pilgrimage is one of many traditional routes through Europe to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, or Cathedral of St. James in Spain, where tradition holds the apostle James was buried.
MOUNDRIDGE — Jay Goering of Moundridge is now a modern-day pilgrim.
In October 2016, Goering and a friend undertook a pilgrimage from Lisbon, Portugal to Santiago, Spain. The pilgrimage is one of many traditional routes through Europe to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, or Cathedral of St. James in Spain, where tradition holds the apostle James was buried.
"These pilgrimages are usually associated with a miracle of some kind," Goering said. "In this case, tradition says James preached in Spain for a time, but was martyred when he returned to Jerusalem. They wanted to bury him in Spain."
The tradition continues that while James' body was en route to Spain, the ship carrying his remains sunk. However, the apostle's body later washed ashore covered in seashells, and was later buried in modern-day Santiago.
"My friend had done the second half, from Porto, Portugal to Santiago, and he wanted to do the first half," Goering said during a presentation Tuesday at Pine Village in Moundridge. "I said, well, I'm retired now, so maybe I could do something like that."
The complete pilgrimage from Lisbon to Santiago is around 340 miles.
Goering and his friend intended to complete the first 140 miles, and did so in 17 days.
Goering, an avid outdoorsman, said at first, he saw the pilgrimage as just another walk.
"When we started, I didn't see it as a pilgrimage, more like just another exercise kind of thing," he said. "Along the way, though, it took on a spiritual significance."
Pilgrims must walk the entire distance carrying their belongings on their backs. As such, Goering and his companions traveled light, with only two sets of clothing, a light sleeping bag and spare undergarments and socks — plenty of socks.
"One thing you learn fast is it's very important to take care of your feet," he said. "Whenever you stop, you take off your socks and shoes and let them cool down so you don't get blisters. You also rub them with vaseline, put on a nylon-type sock, and then your cotton or wool socks."
Sturdy shoes are the footwear of choice on the trail, but when resting, sandals and flip-flops are preferred, as they also help prevent blisters. Another trick involves putting feminine hygiene pads in the bottom of shoes to keep feet dry.
"Once I got over the embarrassment of going into a store to buy them, it worked well," Goering laughed.
Though traveling light, there were plenty of places along the way to get a good meal and a night's sleep. Each pilgrim received a credential when they started, which Goering said acts as a passport and can also grant discounts at hostels and hotels along the way.
"As you travel, you get different stamps at all the places you stop, as a way of proving you completed the pilgrimage," he said.
The path took Goering from open countrysides to narrow city streets. He also met people along the way, including fellow pilgrims who joined his group on the trek.
"There was one young woman we met who was Catholic and had only heard of a few other Christian sects," he said. "It was interesting to tell her about Mennonites, and just how many other sects there are."
Goering and his party traveled for 10 straight days before taking a three-day break to wait for a friend. During this break, Goering visited castles and cathedrals. For him, it was a turning point as much as a chance to recuperate.
"It was a lot easier to walk after that," he said. "When I started, it was more of a mental thing, just constant walking, but after that, that's when it started to have some spiritual significance for me."
Accommodations each night were found at albergues, or hostels, or sometimes a hotel. Goering said with his credential, he was able to get lodging for between $10 and $15 per night.
"Sometimes the greatest part of the day was arriving at those albergues, because it meant you didn't have to walk for the rest of the day," he said with a laugh.
One night was spent in a rented home, and another in extra rooms at a firehouse. In every case, accommodations were dormitory-style, with men and women sharing the space.
Though Goering would carry small snacks on the trail, most food was purchased near the living quarters for the night, though eating at restaurants was a rarity.
"In Portugal, restaurants will serve lunch, and then close until 7 or 8 at night," he said. "We'd often arrive at 5 and want to be in bed by 8, so we ate a lot in little cafes that are more like convenience stores."
Goering said another oddity was beverages, since water costs $1 per liter, while wine costs 60 cents per liter.
"Fortunately or unfortunately, we did drink some wine along the way," he said.
Rest breaks along the trail had to be taken as they came along, with travelers sometimes resting for a moment on piles of plastic irrigation tubes.
"You just rest wherever there's a place to rest," he said with a laugh.
Because they were traveling after the end of the harvest, they were free to take leftover produce from fields.
"For me, it gave a new appreciation of the Bible verse that says the disciples started to pick heads of grain while traveling through the fields," he said.
It was also interesting for him to hear the variety of languages people in Portugal spoke.
"You'd find all these people who spoke all these different languages, and I can barely speak one, so I felt slightly ignorant," he laughed.
After 17 days, the group arrived in Porto. Some of his fellow pilgrims continued on to Santiago, and sent him pictures of the rest of the journey so he could celebrate the pilgrimage with them.
But for Goering, Porto was the end of the journey. He took a train back to Lisbon — covering in hours a trip that took him over two weeks on foot — to catch his airplane home.
"It was very interesting, though quite grueling," he said. "There's times on the trail you think you never want to do this again, but when you get home and look at the experience, you think maybe you will do it again."
Contact Josh Arnett by email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @MacSentinel.