COLUMN – What’s your pilgrimage?

It’s five in the morning, at Zondereigen church, I start with six friends the longest walk of my life (at least speaking from my point of view). I go on a pilgrimage to Scherpenheuvel, more or less 55 kilometres from our starting point. It’s not that I’m religious, I’m not even baptised. I think I did it for the challenge, that I can say that I walked to Scherpenheuvel. It’s kind of a thing in Belgium to say something like that, I suppose, or for sure it is in the retirement houses.

My friends and I had already been considering the idea for a year but it had never became a real plan, until now. We did it without training or anything. This wasn’t maybe the best part of our plan, but we decided to go with the flow. We spread the word and gathered a group of walkers and a support vehicle.

And off we went, into the dark and foggy morning. The first twenty kilometres went great, but the sun was merciless. Who even decides that heatwaves still take place in September? When we just passed Kasterlee, I almost fainted. My shoes pinched my feet. With some grape sugar, I manage to walk to Geel where our support vehicle brings me my atlassen (work shoes). As I leave my good walking boots in the car, I can happily continue my trip.

While walking we cross the provincial borders of Antwerpen, Limburg and Vlaams Brabant © Lotte van den Hout

The support on the road from friends makes it more bearable, but the last ten kilometres whore the longest of my life. You think you’re getting close, because you already did 45 kilometres, but there is still two hours to go. As we soldier on, we’re laughing about making our own pilgrimage spot in Zondereigen, so we don’t have to walk as far ‘to cleanse our soul’.

When we finally arrive, the basilica is kind of disappointing. It’s not as big as I had expected. But as a reward, I did get my fries with beef stew at the end of the day, which I had been craving since six in the morning.

If you’re thinking about taking on a challenge, just go for it! Don’t spend too long thinking about it. The feeling when you finish, is indescribable. You (almost) forget all the struggles and tiredness when you arrive. The only problem is the muscle pain you can’t get rid of. I’ve to confess, I will never do it again, but I will find myself a new challenge!

Text: Lotte van den Hout
Photo: Bent Van Aeken via Unsplash