Written in Kansas City, May 19, 2024.

In 2022, with only 18 days to my departure to walk the Portuguese Coastal route of the Camino de Santiago, my 3rd journey on the Camino, I mused in a post, “Is it an Adventure?” . I concluded that “Adventures are things typically out of the ordinary. They present aspects of risk, challenge, and uncertainty.” Adventures are defined by the abilities of the participant. A walk to the mailbox is hardly an adventure for most people, but the term certainly qualified in the context of my 100+ year old father-in-law, may he rest in peace.

Again, I find myself looking to the future with 18 days to departure for my 4th Camino and I am confronted with the same question. At 500+ miles this is a longer Camino, I will be gone 6 weeks, and I will be accompanied by and responsible for Britton, my 15-year-old grandson. In my mind each of those factors qualifies this as an “adventure”.

However, l am not a stranger to long trips in Spain, this will be my 4th journey on the Camino, and Britton is a kind, thoughtful and delightful companion. Yes, it will be an interpersonal “adventure” for both of us, but…

What makes the coming journey really an adventure is a difficulty that is of fairly recent origin. About 6 months ago I began experiencing discomfort and stiffness upon waking in the morning. It was across my lower back and radiated down my right leg. Tylenol, and 30 minutes of yoga/stretching and I was good for the day.

Unfortunately, the problem has persisted and increased to the point that a couple of weeks ago I sought out a chiropractor that accepted Medicare. A few adjustments coupled with therapeutic massage sessions have been helpful, but no cure.

Last week I visited an orthopedic surgeon and the University of Kansas Medical Center. “I wish you had given me more than 3 weeks!” was his initial remark. (You and me both!)

He and previously the Chiropractor gave me a list of descriptors to describe the pain. 8-9 on a scale of 10 upon rising out of bed… burning, aching, stabbing, throbbing… “Yep, that pretty much describes it.” says I. X-rays were ordered and the results not encouraging:

Severe degenerative disc disease with mild retrolisthesis at L5-S1. No instability between flexion and extension. Severe lower lumbar facet arthropathy.

The doctor recommended that I continue working with the Chiropractor and Massage Therapist, continue the stretching/yoga, and he prescribed a much stronger NSAID to replace the Ibuprofen and Tylenol that I had been using. He also prescribed a course of oral steroids to reduce inflammation. We are scheduled to meet again the morning after I return from Spain.

In the meantime, once I loosen up the pain is down to a “3” and manageable. Walking is actually good for this condition. Whether or not this much walking is “therapeutic” remains to be seen.

Yes, this will be an adventure. I may arrange periodic transport of my pack and perhaps resort to the occasional transport of my person. But it will definitely be an adventure in ways that I wish it were not.

Hell, aging is an adventure, and as I am learning not for the faint of heart.

Peace Everyone, and Buen Camino! Pete

Some of you are aware that I periodically assemble and print my posts into large format full color books. These are not for general distribution but are given to our children (and to our parents when they were alive) as a record of our post-retirement lives.

I am currently working on the 8th Volume, A “Speedbump” in Our Retirement Highway, We Pause to Face Mortality. When completed these 8 books will total over 1,500 pages. Whether or not appreciated during our life, I am more assured that they will be cherished when we are gone. Normally the “Foreword” to each volume is not shared publicly. However, I thought it appropriate to share this one:

Foreword to Volume 8

Dear Children, Grandchildren, and someday Great-Grandchildren.

At birth (actually a few months before birth), Fate assigns us a finite number of heartbeats. Rarely do we consider the “finite” in that statement as we blithely live our lives as if there will be no end. But the truth is that the number of heartbeats is ever in decline and will never be more than the beat that is occurring at this second.

About 35 years ago a routine annual physical and blood test revealed that I had a significant genetic condition that would end my life within 5 years. There was no cure.

Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross declared that there are 5 stages of grief and dying: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. I was not in denial as I accepted the diagnosis and started notifying family members and co-workers. However, my thoughts and actions were purely from my head and not my heart. The emotional fallout had not yet occurred.

I elected to get a second opinion and found that the University of Utah specialized in testing for the diagnosed condition. They forwarded testing vials and instructions and I arranged for the blood to be drawn through my doctor’s office.

The return of test results took about a month. It was a month that found me and Christine contemplating a more limited life going forward, with me suffering a steady decline in health, activity, ability, and ultimately an early death. There were discussions about life in family Schloss without me. Still, the discussions were largely “academic” and not at a gut emotional level, but they were moving in that direction.

Even with a perceived future that would not see me to age 50, the finiteness of life did not grip my soul. Oh, the results of the special blood test from the University of Utah established that the first test was a false positive. Life was still finite, but I again had license to pretend otherwise. So it goes.

Fast forward to 2023. The year began with the excitement of travel and shared experiences with Christine, family, and friends. The year ended in much the same way. However, between those highpoints there was a very deep and dark valley.

I voluntarily underwent surgery on June 2nd to treat a worsening life-long tremor. An electrode was implanted in my brain, connected to a device in my chest that would counter the erratic nerve impulses issuing from the thalamus on the left side of my brain. By all accounts the surgery went well and I was released from the hospital the following day.

On June 7th I suffered a sudden hemorrhage in the left hemisphere thalamus of my brain. I found myself immediately confronted with the inability to walk and talk as most people do. Unlike my response to the false diagnosis of 35 years past, on June 7th the horizon of my life had suddenly shrunk to “now”. The future was concealed by an impenetrable mist of the unknown. It was terrifying. Sleep often eluded me as I lay in bed feeling the walls and ceiling closing in on me. At times I felt the air being sucked out of the room. These were physical manifestations of the emotional shock I was enduring. Through it all Christine was a master of calm and understanding. She accepted me wholly as I was regardless of whether this was who I would now always be.

Unlike 35 years ago, the emotional impact I suffered in June, 2023 did not allow for any “what if” discussions. We were too consumed with the immediate confrontation of our mortality. “In sickness and in health… until death do us part” were no longer vague insubstantial promises that looked infinitely into the future, they were the definition of our “now”.

As you will see in these posts, there was a silver lining. The surgeon explained that a brain bleed is a rare complication of the surgery, but in her considerable experience it only occurs at or near the time of the operation, never 5 days post-surgery.

There was more. I not only recovered from the brain hemorrhage, but as the result of the brain bleed the activation of the DBS (Deep Brain Stimulation) controller has thus far proven unnecessary. The hemorrhage and its effect on that portion of my brain which is the source of my tremors has significantly reduced the shaking in my dominant hand. Again, this was unique to my neuro-surgeon’s experience. This was the beneficial result hoped for from implant surgery and activation of the DBS controller on June 2nd, just not in the way that anyone could have foreseen.

I now know the difference between confronting mortality with one’s head versus one’s heart. I also know the incalculable value of having a partner at my side who embraces without hesitation the words of our marriage vows. I pray that each of you have such good fortune and love in your life, lives counting down one heartbeat at a time…

Love, Your Dad, Grandpa, and perhaps someday Your Great Grandfather.



Dear Britton.

I am in Arkansas camping for the next three weeks. The first two weeks I am solo. Grandmother will be joining me for the last week. I hope to use this time to do some mountain hiking in preparation for what we will encounter in Spain. I also find that the solitary time puts me better in touch with my thoughts.

The view from Magazine Mountain, the highest point in Arkansas.

It occurred to me that I should try to reflect on our coming Camino as I might have when I was 15 years old. Perhaps then I can better anticipate your excitement… and more importantly, your anxieties.

The world of a 15-year-old consists almost entirely of school, friends, extracurricular activities, and family. The world of a 72-year-old is immensely broader.

The Camino is a walking meditation. During the periods of silence our thoughts are necessarily drawn in different directions. Mine will likely find focus on where I am and where I have been on life’s journey. You may find your thoughts drawn to where you are and what the future may hold for you.

It occurs to me that my 15-year-old self might have been concerned about what I would miss during the coming summer. No summer job, no time with friends, no time with my siblings, and of course, no time with mom. I recently heard this referred to as FOMO, the fear of missing out.

Switching to my 72-year-old brain I ask you to take what I say as a matter of faith: If you were to spend this summer in Kansas City it would be just another summer, hardly distinguishable from any other. However, our weeks together on the Camino de Santiago, hiking 525 miles across Spain, may forge indelible shared memories that we will both hold dear in our hearts for the rest of our lives.

Peace Britton. Love, Grandpa.


Dear Britton.

In a little more than 10 weeks we depart for France and Spain! There is plenty of time yet to fine tune your pack to less than 18 pounds. At 15 years old and in shape from football, wrestling, and now lacrosse, you may not need to train for the 525-mile hike, but I do. There is, however, an important task that you should start to consider:

At the highest point (4,940 feet) on the French Route of the Camino de Santiago is a house-sized pile of stones sprouting an overlarge telephone pole that is capped with a small iron cross. This is known as the Cruz de Ferro (the Iron Cross).

Tradition holds that pilgrims on the Camino carry a small stone along the journey and in prayerful meditation deposit the stone at the foot of this cross.

The stone represents one or more of the little burdens we unconsciously accumulate in life. These are not the big intentional obligations such as education, work, family, or finances, but the smaller ones that we gather without thought. Anger, resentment, envy, jealousy, to name just a few.

At 15 years old you have few of these weighing you down. At 72 years old, I have collected a truckload!

Just as we are called to be mindful of these hidden burdens while walking the Camino, so should we each seek a stone that resonates with us, a metaphor of those burdens which weigh down the spirit.

The stone should be small, barely noticeable in your pack, just like the troubles we unconsciously carry. But consider the emotional weight during our lives. There are over one million strides taken along the Camino. If the stone you select weighs only 2 ounces, then that insignificant weight carried each step of “The Way” represents over 125,000 pounds!

The stone should be attractive in a way that makes it not easy to abandon, even though it is just a rock. Similarly, we convince ourselves that we are justified in our anger, resentments, spite. It is a human failing, an uncomfortable acknowledgement, that we are responsible for our own feelings. Justified or not, we are not benefited by harboring these sentiments, yet it is difficult to let them go.

Good luck in your hunt for that special stone, and for the deeper search for the peace that comes from the release of the burdens that it represents.

Love, Grandpa.

PS. The prayerful meditation at the foot of the Cruz de Ferro often takes form in these words:

“Lord, may this stone, a symbol of my efforts on the Pilgrimage that I lay at the foot of the Savior’s cross, one day weigh the balance in favor of my good deeds when the deeds of my life are judged. Let it be so, Amen.”