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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Guest-blogger L. Peat O'Neil: 5 + Links on Walking and Literature

Goethe advised, "Plunge into the the thick of life." It might not be so poetic, but certainly, one could walk into the thick of life. Walk, run, swim, climb, sail-- what travel writing is all about is not only the adventure itself, but bringing to it the sharp awareness that one needs to later shape a narrative to share with others (which leads to the sometimes thrilling, sometimes soul-chilling adventure of publishing...) I met travel writer L. Peat O'Neil at a Washington DC Women's National Book Association-sponsored event in the Rosslyn, Virginia Olsson's Book Store, where I read from my memoir and she read from hers. I've been a big fan ever since, and in my travel writing workshops, I always avidly recommend her book, what should be every travel writer's Bible, Travel Writing: See the World, Sell the Story. Over to you, Peat!
Some day soon, if the yoga and creative visualization work, and I finish necessary edits, Pyrenees Pilgrimage will be available through The book is about my solo walk across France from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean through the Pyrenees. A walk in the woods, French style.

Hah! Not so simple as that. I trudged and climbed, sweat and drank, following the French paths that feed into the Camino de Santiago de Compostello. I was walking away from Santiago and met several people on the trail near St. Jean Pied du Port who were headed to Spain. I even turned down an invitation to join a jolly group headed to the traditional pilgrimage destination. No, I was walking to the Mediterranean Sea.

An iconoclast, I like to look backwards to find out what’s ahead. On this journey, I visited landmarks, churches, chateaus and sites that illustrate the spiritual and political history of the region. I dug into ruins, sat in caves, scrambled up crumbling hillsides and meditated next to crosses honoring Resistance fighters shot dead by Nazis. A pleasure seeking pilgrim, I sampled local cheese, bread, meat and wine. I picked apples and cooked preserves. When my feet hurt, I rested and painted watercolors which lured the curious who sometimes became new friends. Lodgings ranged from bunks in mountain lodges to refurbished 17th century mansions. I stayed in schoolhouses converted to hostels and, when I arrived at the deserted seaside in October, I slept soundly in a room over a sports bar. Each walking day was different, but the repetitive rhythm of walking hundreds of kilometers alone hones a person’s spirit.

When opportunity presented, I conversed with the people of the region, learning much about animal husbandry, crops, the wars-- centuries of wars, legends, saints and ghosts. I attended an organ music festival and played the piano in a cellist’s home, slipped in a mountain stream and was patched up by an orthopedic surgeon who told me he had fixed similar broken wrists for Tour de France cyclists. I attended a Basque wedding reception and a funeral in Corbieres wine country.

I walked 40 days and 685 kilometers. I walked alone, wind and wildlife for company. One evening near St. Paul du Fenouillet, caught out after sundown, I witnessed boars wrestling with their tusks in the dusk. On the high plateaus east of Col de Mehatché, I stared up at circling Lammergeier and Griffon vultures soaring on thermals. One afternoon I carried a dead white owl found in my path to its final resting place.

The book should be out this fall on Amazon as an e-book.
Read an excerpt from Pyrenees Pilgrimage. And click here for travel information on the Pyrenees.

5 + links to aspects of walking and literature:

Interview with Rebecca Solnit, on Boston WBUR radio.
She’s the author of Wanderlust, a literary history of human perambulation. I devoured this book before starting my walk across France.

Kipnotes on Walking
Bibliography of narratives about walking journeys-– mostly literary, some how-to guides.

The Power Walk That Charges Your Phone
Here comes our future. A generator that harvests wattage from humans while they walk-- enough power to charge cell phones.

Run the Planet: Race Walking in Mexico
Race Walking in Mexico offers links to coaching and information sites for
walkers and runners.

Peace Pilgrim
Peace Pilgrim walked around the North American continent as a messenger of simplicity and peace.

My blog about walking.

Walk On!
--- L. Peat O'Neil

--->For the archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here.