Vox Peregrini Final Day into Dublin

The first day of every pilgrimage is filled with adrenaline. Hikers often start off with a pace they cannot sustain. The final day is similiar. To finish is to accomplish. So we imagine the end of pilgrimage. But pilgrimage is never finished. Vox is ready to start the end of walking. Imaginational paradox. Yet, there is sadness in a successful completion of the Way. The task will be done. The work will be over. And the community will come to an abrupt end.

The final day into Dublin is three miles up, three miles down, then three miles up, and three miles down again. Two 1200 foot ascents. Not easy. Especially at the end of a 100 mile hike. Our group started out too quickly on that first steep 500 yard climb. The first of many. Not enough rest at the top. A bad cocktail. Potentially producing a wicked hangover.

A mile and half into the hike, we met a very large brilliant white ball of fur. I'm not good with dog breeds. His feet were huge, he was strong and tall, like a husky. He was incredibly friendly. He greeted everyone with his inviting eyes and a lick. Unconditional love is so irresistible. Someone checked his tag. His name was Cado and he decided to follow us. Actually, he led us up the mountain. Clearly, he had been this way before. I had hoped he would get tired and turn around. At the half way point I feared he would follow us all the way to Dublin.

We stopped at a bridge for lunch. Hikers going in both directions of the Wicklow Way found the bridge a great place to rest. Without surprise, Mark and Roz met us there as well. A few of our group had left their lunch at the Knocree hostel. Mark carried them in his pack, knowing he would catch up with us.

As we ate, I was troubled by Cado's fate, I saw a young man, walking alone, down the hill ahead of us. He moved at a quick pace as he came down the hill. Something in me said this guy could help us with Cado. I stopped him and asked where he was headed. "Enniskerry." Perfect. I told him about Cado and asked if he could help us. He obliged. We offered him half a sandwich to entice Cado. The dog was hungry and the chap was a pro at baiting Cado with just a tidbit here and there. Off the two went for what we hoped was a lovely return home.

Meanwhile, Ian, the Vox videographer, set up his camera. He had been interviewing our pilgrims along the way. Now that Mark and Roz had become so dear to the group, Ian asked if they would mind answering a few questions on camera. He asked one question and they filled up twenty minutes of film about the power of walkabouts and Vox's influence on their Wicklow experience. I doubt Ian could have written a better script.

After a long break, the final ascent was difficult. Tired legs. Burning lungs. The thrill to finish. The sadness to leave this newly formed community of pilgrims. The climb to the top of Dublin Mountain was extremely slow. No one got too far ahead. In fact, for the first time we reached the top together. Lots of pictures. Some sat down to get a long look at Dublin Bay. There seemed a reluctance to head down the mountain. The end was just a few miles away.

We entered Marley Park together. Crossing the finish line one by one. Of course, to the applause of Mark and Roz.

Cathy, who has been our support team all along the trip, distributed Wicklow Way completion certificates. More pictures. Full pack pushups. Lots of hugs. Plenty of tears. Celebration.

While the walking may be completed, a pilgrimage is never over. For Vox Peregrini tomorrow and Friday the work continues at Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick's. Will their concerts simply be just another performance? Or will the pilgrimage appear in their voice?

-- The Rev. Dr. Gil Stafford Canon Theologian Episcopal Diocese of Arizona Assistant to the Rector, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Litchfield Park, AZ 2wisdomsway.com 4peregriniblogspot.com

"It is I who ask, was the pilgrimage I made to come to my own self, to learn that, in times like these, and for one like me, God will never be plain and not there, but dark rather, and inexplicable, as though God were in here?"

People need wild places.  Whether or not we think we do, we do.  We need to be able to taste grace and know again that we desire it.  We need to experience a landscape that is timeless, whose agenda moves at the pace of speciation and glaciers.  To be surrounded by a singing, mating, howling commotion of other species, all of which love their lives as much as we do ours, and none of which could possibly care less about us in our place.  It reminds us that our plans are small and somewhat absurd.        BARBARA KINGSOLVER, Small Wonder