© 2012; 2008 Connecting: Solo Travel Network & Brandon Wilson. Information.
NOTE: This article is reproduced here for inspirational value alone and will not normally be updated.
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Along the Templar Trail – Seven Million Steps for Peace

By Brandon Wilson

Sitting on the long, cramped flight to Zurich, I had plenty of time to retrace the steps that had brought me to what some might consider the threshold of madness.Along the Templar  Trail, by Brandon Wilson

In 1999, I was a hobbling "pilgrim" along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Although I'd rigorously trained in advance of the 500-mile trek, it only took one day on the trail before I sported oozing blisters on each foot.

Oddly enough, slowing down forced me to quiet my mind and body. As each step had to be carefully placed, this Zen-like walking unveiled a complex and tranquil world, as I learned that a pilgrimage was a way to rediscover my place in the natural scheme of things. It also forced me to confront my hopes, fears, relationships, and life choices.

Layers of insecurities peeled away in learning to trust intuition, to trust others, and to celebrate the small victories: finding water just when you were so hot you swore you couldn't walk another step. Having an "angel" on the trail surprise you with a welcome cup of coffee, a "buen camino" or thumbs-up sign of encouragement.

At an albergue (hostel) along the same trail, I met Émile along with four others who just happened to be on the same path, at the same time, and walking at the same pace. Eventually, after the others left the trail to return to their normal lives, Émile, an amiable Frenchman in his sixties, and I continued alone.

Oftentimes, Émile spoke of walking from his home to Jerusalem with his wife Sophie after she retired. I marveled at the idea and was intrigued by the prospect, but at 2,600 miles (4,184 kilometers) it seemed too formidable. Our parting one chilly morning in October was sad. Sharing a month- long pilgrimage forges an unforgettable bond between peregrinos.

In the ensuing years, "walking meditations" became my passion. I followed my sweet obsession on the world's historic trails, each time expecting to live a normal existence thereafter.

How About Walking to Jerusalem?

One day, out of the blue, an email from Émile set my mind reeling.

"Sophie is unable to make our long-planned walk to Jerusalem. Would you be interested in joining me?"

Émile suggested we follow the Danube Valley through Germany's Black Forest, then to Vienna Austria and Bratislava Slovakia to Budapest Hungary, then south through Serbia, Bulgaria, and across the vast plains of Turkey's Anatolia.

It was a path steeped in history. The route roughly coincided with the one followed in 1096 by Godfrey de Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine, and his forty thousand troops, during the First Crusades.

After fierce battles, Godfrey and his men reclaimed the Holy City in 1099. Nine knights who served with him became the first Poor Knights of Christ of the Temple of Solomon, or Knights Templar, created in 1118.

The route's southern portion, built in the 1st century AD, was once known as the Roman Via Militaris or Via Diagonalis, stretching 1,054 kilometers from Belgrade all the way to Constantinople (Istanbul).

Assuming we'd make it that far, then came the tricky part. Eventually, the route would lead us through Turkey to Syria into Jordan. Thanks to recent disastrous policies in Iraq and the Middle East, I could imagine our presence would be about as welcome as a pork barbecue at a mosque.

The possibility was both exhilarating and incredible, but what about logistics? Could I afford to go? Could my marriage withstand yet another spiritual marathon? Could my body survive a 3,500-mile trek at my age?

Trekking for Peace

Fate had given me an opportunity that would never present itself again. Here was a chance to give a personal pilgrimage a greater purpose. Following a route used over a thousand years for war, we could make this a trek for peace.

I had long admired the dedication of an American woman who called herself Peace Pilgrim (1908-1981). She had walked over 25,000 miles with only the clothes on her back and a simple message of peace.

To paraphrase Mark Twain: "Everybody talks about peace, but no one does anything about it." Well, here was my chance to really walk-the-talk. How could I not heed the call?


Along the Templar Trail: Seven Million Steps for Peace
"Simply one of the most remarkable adventure stories of our time, and one that proves that with the right combination of character and determination great things can be done, and the eyes of the world can be opened." ~ Richard Bangs, adventurer, author/host of the PBS television series Richard Bangs' Adventures With Purpose.

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