Remember the last time you were sitting at a bar in the States and before you had finished your first drink one of the patrons came up to you, introduced himself, bought you and your wife a round, and then hauled the two of you over to a table full of his friends and family, making you the honored guests of the evening?… Yeah, me neither.

Of course, this is Scotland and not the States. Meet Garry Clifford, his oldest son, Sean, and their good friend John Curran. That is precisely what the three of them did. In less than 10 minutes they had Christine and me at their table and we became family. Garry’s wife Kathleen, Sean’s wife Julie, and John’s wife Carol were every bit as warm and friendly. We didn’t have the chance to buy our own drinks, let alone a round the rest of the night.

Garry and Kathleen have been in love with each other since they were 13. They have been blessed with 29 years of marriage, 5 sons, and a 2 year old granddaughter. Their sons are the best of friends with each other which Garry describes as the proudest gift that life has given him. He and Sean, who is his oldest son, are civil engineers and Harley Davidson enthusiasts. They share a dream of one day riding motorcycles together across the United States. Everyone at table loves the United States, frequently breaking into a chant of USA, USA, USA…

That is not to say that they aren’t saddened and bemused by the state of affairs in our country. Sean reflected that it is incredibly sad that this year it is more dangerous to be a high school student in America than in her military’s service.

Before we left on this journey I often remarked that I would consider these travels a success if just once we were approached overseas as strangers and made a part of someone’s universe of friends. My wish has been granted… in Scotland and with these very good people.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. We took a “hop on – hop off” bus tour of Glasgow. Many of the following images are from that tour through this remarkably beautiful city. We are now off for the Highlands!

After a 6 hour journey from Belfast by bus, ferry, and back on bus, we have arrived in Scotland. We will be in Glasgow for two nights and then proceed by train north into the West Highlands where we will spend at least 4 nights in Fort William. We have already been told that the great weather that is predicted for the next week is an anomaly. Seems we are taking sunshine with us wherever we go.

This has been a rare day where we have turned on the news. Another school shooting in the States. It is eye opening to watch the Europe news and commentary. The word “again” was repeated throughout the presentation, highlighting the disfunction of a system that is frozen to inaction by money and the power of the NRA lobby. It is not hyperbole to say that the United States is seen as a morally broken nation. “Click”, news turned off, but not the reality it reports on this side of the ocean.

Tonight is the 56th night that we have been away from home… we are entering week 9 of this journey. It would be disingenuous of me to solicit sympathy for the small fissures of homesickness that we have begun to experience. We continue to enjoy each day, but there are moments that cause us pause.

Each day brings questions about the quality of tonight’s mattress, shower, and room. When will the next laundry opportunity occur? Will our clothing make it through the next 34 days without falling apart? We have eaten restaurant food for 8 solid weeks. What will be our first home cooked meal? Most of all, we miss family. Our smart phones and tablets can ring up our children with no more difficulty than a local call within the States. However no matter how “smart” the device, it can’t bridge the temporal reality of a 6 or 7 hour time difference. I’m really not complaining, just presenting another side of this experience.

Peace Everyone. Pete

We bid farewell to Huw and Nina this morning. A lingering emptiness hovered over the rest of the day, tempered by the prospect of rejoining them for a November visit in Kansas City. Our friendship grew from their chance meeting with our youngest daughter 18 years ago in France. We were then “pen pals” for 5 year before meeting in person. We shared the excitement of London’s selection to host the 2012 Olympics and the following day we shared the horrors of being in the epicenter of 52 deaths at the hands of terrorists in London. They were present in Kansas City for the marriage of our son, Peter, and the college graduation of our daughter, Alexis. They have become an important part of the story of our family. Until we meet again…

It is Mother’s Day in the United States. Europe honors their Mothers at a different time of the year. I owe the gift of a happy childhood to 2 women, my mother and her mother. The 450 miles that separated my home from grandmother’s home in pre-interstate America meant that I only saw her once or twice a year. However, the quality of her presence was more important than the quantity of our time together. Her eyes and her smile radiated boundless love and pride in me. She died nearly 40 years ago but has been with me every day of my life.

My mother was the architect of my childhood. She held my hand in the best of times and she held me in the painful ones. She taught me how to grow into adulthood yet not outgrow childlike wonder that sparks the imagination and gives appreciation for the little things of life. Wishing her a happy day once each year seems so inadequate compared to the gift that she is to me every day of the year.

Christine has always been the star parent within our home. She raised our children to be the good parents that they are, and in the process taught me to be a better parent than I would otherwise have been. She continues as a source of great joy in the lives of our grandchildren.

Not all of us have had happy childhoods. Not all of us had good parents. Life is a lottery. Some of us pulled winning numbers and some of us did not. For the unlucky among us I hope that Mother’s Day can be a time to accept that there are things that can not be changed. That it is a day to find the courage to change the kind of person/parent that you are, and a day to find the wisdom to know the difference.

Peace Everyone. Pete

We are on the eve of our arrival in Santiago, 12 km away in the village of Teo. Our host is the Casa Parada Franco, a 400 year old farmstead and restaurant.

As in the last few nights, our “Camino” family has materialized. Tonight it includes our Canadian doppelgängers, Tom and Nancy, our Swiss friends Irene and Manuela, and a trio of men from Germany.

This Camino will end on day 14. Our past walk on the Way was 35 days long. Like flowers on the tundra, this Camino has managed to complete its life-cycle within the compressed time that the season has allowed. Nothing is missing.

I have found in Tom a kindred spirit who processes life in metaphors. I have been especially struck by one that he expressed yesterday. Tom reflected that each morning on the Camino he puts on the same backpack. Somedays it fits perfectly, yet on others it feels slightly unbalanced, a bit less than comfortable. Isn’t it the same with our jobs, relationships, life in general? Same backpack, job, family, life. Perhaps there is a lesson in learning that it is for us to adapt to the “backpacks of our lives”, and not expect them to adapt to us.

Tom is fond of looking at life each day in six words, not 5 not 7, but 6. As an example he shared, “Walking the Camino. I seek Tom”. Brilliant!

Pilgrimage is not the challenge of enduring discomfort and adversity. Rather, it is the challenge of learning to find release from the discomfort and adversity that has been confining one’s spirit.

My struggle is to let go. (6 words)

Peace Everyone. Pete

In prudent deference to the sunny and unseasonably hot weather (mid-80’s) I saw Christine off on a local bus to Ponte de Lima and walked the 18 km solo. It is a different experience for me, walking with her and solo… not better not worse, just different.

When we walk together, I talk, a lot. It’s stream of consciousness stuff, but having been married over 40 years means we often share the same “stream”. While it does qualify as a dialogue, I do most of the talking and she patiently listens, adding her valuable “2 cents” whenever she cares to.

As a solo walker I tend to turn inward and let the rhythm of my footfalls lull me into meditative contemplation. My feet have a destination, but my thoughts seem aimless. At times they are directed to the silly:

…Portugal like Spain is an eco conscious nation where the men’s toilet lights are frequently on motion timers… set for 30 year old bladders. Invariably I end up waving frantically with my “free hand” to re-trigger the lights back on! (Image thankfully omitted)

Then there are the more serious musings:

…What great nation in history has ever remained on the pinnacle of the world stage after surrendering to the siren song of xenophobia and isolationism?

We walk ever looking for the yellow arrows that give direction to the Camino. For the first couple of days this is intentional, but it becomes subconscious with the passage of time and distance. The active consideration of the markers returns to my attention when some inner voice says, “Hey, it’s been a while since you saw the last one.”

6 hours after Christine and I parted I near Ponte de Lima. We have communicated by text so I know that she has secured an upper room in an old Pensione that overlooks a town square that dates back to the time of the Romans. I see later that the room is timeworn but clean and comfortable. (I’m just timeworn, but a shower might put me on par with the room) S. Joan charges 35 euros (no breakfast) for the two of us.

I arrive in town, the mercury having gone north of 85 degrees F. Christine waits for me riverside at an outdoor cafe. Along with her smile she has bread, cheese, and a cold beer with my name on it.

Peace Everyone! Pete

PS. Christine has a well founded concern that our timetable to arrive in Santiago does not allow enough time to assure that she can walk the last 120 km. Therefore, we have transported ahead to Valenca at the northernmost point of the Camino before it enters Spain. This puts a day “in the bank” and gives us a safe margin of 9 days to cover the last 120 km.

We are again on land with a day in Tangier. This is our first visit to Africa. Morocco is the only country in Africa with shores on the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. We are a scant 20 minutes south of Spain by high speed Ferry, which service runs hourly.

This is a place where cultures have clashed for millennia, each leaving a cumulative footprint. The Berbers are considered the indigenous people. Invaders have included the Phoenicians approximately 3,500 years ago, followed by the Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, Portuguese, English, Spanish, and French. Morocco was a French colony during much of the 20th Century and most signage in Tangier is posted in Arabic and French.

We participated in a 3 hour guided walking tour of the Kasbah, formerly a walled fortress and now a bewildering maze of narrow winding walkways where multi-story buildings that date back hundreds of years seem to lean in on you from all sides. Most are residences in the upper levels, with the first floors presenting an array of shops themed for the needs of tourists and locals alike. Our tour included a visit to the Kasbah Museum, housed in the former palace that dates to the late 17th Century. Within the Kasbah is a Catholic Cathedral, a Jewish Synagog, and of course a number of Mosques, one of which dates to the 1200’s.

At the conclusion of the guided tour Christine and I continued wandering solo. We were seeking an authentic Moroccan restaurant frequented by locals rather than tourists. As we perused a map a young teenage boy approached us offering assistance. This was Anwar. He spoke excellent English and seemed nothing more than a Good Samaritan. He knew “just the place” and proceeded to lead us since he had “nothing else to do”. What we didn’t first perceive was that Anwar had made us his “thing to do”. We arrived at a fine restaurant after 30 minutes of following Anwar… who kept promising “its just ahead a little bit more”. It began to dawn on us that Anwar had designated himself as our hired guide, especially when he sat down to eat lunch with us!

The meal was wonderful, certainly authentic, and at 40 euros a bit pricey. We didn’t get tagged for Anwar’s meal, but we suspect that the restaurant comped it for him as he was responsible for bringing in paying customers (us). After lunch we did finally part ways, and I did “grease” Anwar’s palm.

I understand that his initial “help” is easily misunderstood. Our culture associates acts of kindness with the virtue of charity. Anwar has been raised to equate kindness with compensated service. Similarly, the vendors who incessantly approached us misconstrue our curiosity about an item or its price as a commitment to purchase, with only the final price to be agreed upon.

Where cultures clash, tempers may flair. It is not because someone was wrong and someone was right. It is just because each has failed to presume in favor of the best intentions of the other.

السلام الجميع (Alslam Aljmy… Peace Everyone!) Pete

Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Sadly, travel is not a universally effective cure for those maladies.

We were joined at table for dinner two nights ago by two couples. Like virtually everyone aboard, these folks were seasoned travelers. Christine and I seem a bit unique as we have traveled only one other cruise together and never with Viking. We have found that most people we have spoken with are cruise veterans and Viking “frequent fliers”.

In the course of enjoying our meal, conversation wandered across a broad range of topics. It was inevitable that travel experiences would be among them. One of the ladies began to speak derogatorily about “those Chinese”. She exercised no restraint in assigning a whole list of negative characteristics to over one billion souls, oblivious to the possibility that those characteristics might not apply to every person of Chinese descent. More disturbing was that many of the highly professional wait staff are oriental and one of these servers was tending another table immediately behind and within easy earshot of the lady.

Christine and I exchanged glances and using our spousal ESP, jointly began talking about one of our favorite topics, grandchildren.

Thankfully, we were successful in redirecting the conversation, or so we thought. When it came out that we had 10 grands and that the births included a set of twins and a set of quads, the gentleman from the other couple quipped, “Well, you folks are certainly doing your part to preserve the white race!”

Dinner was near its end, as was our association with those folks at table. I am usually one who does not want my silence to be misunderstood as an affirmation of something another person has said. Under the circumstances, I have concluded that silence and declining to further engage in conversation was the appropriate course.

I believe the evenings experience to be an aberration. Assemble 900 random people and the spectrum of beliefs and prejudices will be well represented. Our friendships are not random and so we tend to be surrounded by like minded acquaintances. It is worth remembering that our personal beliefs are like the ocean horizon, other beliefs do exist well beyond the range of our own, and are held as firmly by others as we hold to ours.

One a much lighter note:

The day included early morning exercises, breakfast in our room, a lecture on pirate history (really fascinating! Spain and a Portugal looted over 500 billion dollars of wealth from the indigenous people, that’s as measured in current dollars, the largest transfer of wealth to that point in history.), team trivial pursuit, and high tea. Music in the Atrium, then dinner tonight at 8, followed by a performance by tenor Lee Bradley.

Peace Everyone! Pete

My mind wanders to make the most curious connections during my daily exercise routine. The other day, while in the middle of stretching my gaze fell upon an ordinary electrical wall outlet…

The Old Testament legend of the Tower of Babel was penned more than 2,700 years ago. Before being reduced to writing it must have been passed down as an oral tradition by countless generations. As conventionally understood, the “Tower” myth explains the diversity of languages in the world, “Now the whole world had one language and one speech.” (Genesis 11:1) It also hints at God’s intention to keep humanity in its place, “Come let us go down there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:7). However, the most powerful and insightful part of the myth remains incredibly relevant today. Humanity, as one people, came together and decided to build a city and build “a tower whose top is in the Heavens”. God recognized the potential of humanity united, “…nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.” (Genesis 11:4-6)

The tribalism that has existed since the dawn of time remains unabated today. It is perhaps the only thing that stands in the way of universal prosperity, the defeat of hunger, the elimination of disease, and even space travel that extends humanities reach like a tower “whose top is in the Heavens”. Unfortunately, nations dedicate vast resources in a competition that focuses only upon the subjugation of other nations and the defense from such subjection. The common mentality is one that defines the world in terms of us vs. them, and not just on a nation level but in terms of race, religion, socioeconomic status, and political affiliation. We act contrary to our best interests as a species and contrary to the health of our shared planet. Even when our “tribe” sees that another “tribe” has developed a superior means of addressing a problem, there is resistance to the change simply because it is not “our way”. Some tribalism is benign: What side of the road folks drive upon; Inches or Centimeters; Dollars or Euros… Some tribalism is dysfunctional: Declarations of a “national language”, a “national religion”… And then there are the dangerous tribalisms: the arms race, homophobia, racism… Sadly, tolerance and acceptance are the solutions that defy implementation. They are what virtually all religions preach, but few actually practice.

Now about the electrical outlet that I spied during exercise: It dawned on me that as we prepare to travel abroad I needed to secure converters to “translate” my North America style plugs to those used in the United Kingdom and Europe. The mind does work in mysterious ways.

Peace Everyone. Pete

The “good old days” were not so good.

In the United States life expectancy around 1888 was less than 50 years, and infant mortality approached 200 deaths per 1000 births. That’s 1 in 5 children being buried by Mom and Dad before the age of 5. Death among children came primarily due to various infectious diseases such as diarrhea, diphtheria, scarlet fever and tuberculosis. (statistics from the Journal of Pediatric Research)

The impact of vaccinations and modern medicine has been significant. By 1990, life expectancy in the United States had increased 50% to 75 years. Infant mortality fell an astounding 97% to less than 7 children per 1000 births.

Some folks do not develop immunity as well as others when vaccinated. However, there is a “herd effect” that confers protection because those who are unvaccinated or who have less immunity from a vaccine are surrounded by those who have vaccine acquired immunity. As more members of the “herd” forego vaccines, the herd protection declines and threatens everyone. Infectious processes again have a fertile population to run rampant within.

The human tendency is to examine one’s current circumstances and surroundings and fail to understand that it has not always been the way it is now. Look at your children’s (or grandchildren’s) classrooms, soccer teams, gymnastics classes, playgrounds… and imagine that 1 in 5 of those bright precious faces were suddenly dead. It is modern medicine that has saved us from the face of a horror once common to our grandparents and great-grandparents. Paraphrasing an old TV show, let’s decline to follow the invitation of the anti-vaccine, anti-science folks to: “Return to those thrilling days of yesteryear…

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS: There is an outbreak of measles in the Kansas City area that has experts very concerned. This “childhood” disease killed over 2.5 million people worldwide in 1980. Vaccinations have reduced that number to less than 100,000 by 2014. It only takes an epidemic of blind ignorance to reverse that trend.  The following obituary was found tucked within my wife’s family bible.

Herr Obit

July 7, 2010: We are 12, but not Apostles, we are bicyclists. We are 4 more, but not a Mathew, Mark, Luke or a John, we are support drivers. For nearly 40 days, like apostles or disciples, all of us have been cast into a unique mobile community, a bicycling commune. We have over 60 more days ahead of us. We have sacrificed our comfort… sharing rooms with former strangers. We have sacrificed our privacy… the “ladies’/men’s room” is in the bushes on THAT side of the road. We have compromised our sleeping habits, and our eating habits. We share our physical aches, and our emotional ones. The forge of our condition has tempered us into “family”.

I have pondered the inevitable times that we would be called upon to bring “others” into our fold. Segment riders, people who wholeheartedly embrace our undertaking, but because of work, family, or other considerations, are unable to assume the obligations of our entire coast to coast journey. What a challenge to suddenly appear, bags and bicycle in hand, among 16 people who have evolved their common experiences into understandings that need no words. We read the shrug of a shoulder, the furl of a brow, the shuffle of a step, as a melody in another member’s day. Sometimes our emotions sing the same song, sometimes another, but almost always with harmony. We are a chorus. Enter the “stranger”, the unknown voice.

Tom, was a stranger. He arrived in time to join us for the long and challenging ride from Rawlins to Riverside, Wyoming. That day’s ride saw us persevere over rough and narrow roads, through thunderstorms and hail, with headwinds and crosswinds gusting to over 50 miles per hours. There was no time for small talk, and no polite social graces were exchanged. At the end of the day, no one was in the mood to “welcome” anything other than a hot shower, a cold beer, and a warm bed. That night, our accommodations consisted of rough-hewn log cabins, likely built in the early 20th century.

At 5:30 a.m. the next morning I reluctantly stuck my head out the warped doorway and through the shredded screen door. I was looking to see if there was some sign of another day of hell-weather. The sky was ambiguous, but the scent was not. My nostrils were assailed by the rich pungent aroma of fresh roasted coffee. There was real caffeine in the air. Not the thin hint of the tepid dark imitation that is served up by most drip machines, but coffee with the raven darkness of abused motor oil. Tom, like the Pied Piper, was calling all of us coffee loving “rats” out of our lairs with the melody of his brew. He stood upon the dew sodden grass, illuminated by the early hint of dawn with a large, old style pewter espresso coffee pot in hand. I and the other “customers” lined up at his bidding, cups in hand. The tribulations of the prior day were forgotten, and Tom was instantly “one of us”.

The next few days gave me pause to consider the genius of Tom’s foresight. It occurred to me that anyone entering into a social order has a limited number of options with regard to the established group. One may ignore the group, not rejected or rejecting, but never accepted either, a non-person. One may choose to identify oneself to the group by emphasizing the distinctions and differences that exist between the individual and the group. This is a recipe for non-acceptance. There is also the less malignant, but no more effective, “I am one of you, but what makes me unique from you is…”. Then there is the “coffee pot”. The foresight to think of the others, to strive to embrace what we have in common, what we share, what we understand.

In our cycling group, we are not lawyers, clergy, doctors, business persons, social workers, retirees… we are people, we are family. Among us we strive to be “we”, “us”, and “our”, never “them”, never “they”. This is how it should be in the human family. It makes it so much easier to help and be helped, to accept and be accepted. Coffee anyone?

Peace Everyone! Pete Schloss