NASHVILLE, Tenn. (June 27, 2014) – A Corps employee recently engineered an adventure of Biblical proportions, a 490-mile pilgrimage of “El Camino de Santiago,” also known as the Camino Francés route, an ancient path that Christians worldwide retrace for spiritual renewal.
Barney Schulte, structural engineer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, took a Sabbatical from his job and trekked over hills and mountains, across plains, through villages and cities, finding shelter in hostels along the way. The Garmin he wore registered more than a million steps when his journey ended in Santiago, Spain June 6, nearly five weeks after crossing the Pyrenees Mountains from his departure point in St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France.
A lifelong Catholic, he said he was drawn to this particular pilgrimage because of its ancient history and connection to his faith. Schulte noted that the remains of St. James the Apostle is believed to be interred in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which he attended mass at the culmination of the pilgrimage route he walked called “Way of St. James,” which in Spanish is known as “El Camino de Santiago.”
Every step of the way he embraced the experience of seeing the many remarkable sights and landmarks, and also walking alongside others who were on the path for their own personal enjoyment.
“I loved the experience of meeting all the different people from all over the world and figuring out how the same we are in many ways, how open everyone was with sharing things about their lives and what their motivations were for walking,” Schulte said. “Some were really serious. Some were dealing a lot with their emotions. Others were more like me… having a great adventure. Walking with the same people, you may not see them for two days, and then you run into them again and it’s like seeing an old friend, even though you just met them.”
He said he first became interested in the Camino de Santiago about a decade ago when he read an article about Actor Martin Sheen walking part of it with his children. In recent years, Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez starred in a movie called “The Way,” which inspired Schulte to seriously look into making the pilgrimage himself.
“One thing led to another. I started really thinking about doing it,” Schulte said.
He shared the movie with his friends and family, which eventually led to a few friends and even his priest, Father Mark Beckman, joining in on the adventure.
“We walked anywhere from 12 to 20 miles every day. We would stay in little villages along the way in little places called Albergues (like a hostel),” Schulte explained.
During the trip, he transported a 20-pound backpack with just the basics, which included a rain suit, a light jacket, clothes, sandals, two water bottles, a guide book, prayer books, and an I-phone he used for taking pictures.
He also carried a little bit of pride for the missions he supports as a structural engineer in the Corps of Engineers back home. After walking by a series of 18th century aqueducts and canals in Fromista, Spain, which originally contained 50 locks that were used to transport crops throughout the region, Schulte talked with his companions about the locks the Corps maintains in the Nashville District and about his daily work.
“What I realized while walking is just how inspired I am by the civil engineering achievements of the past and how childlike I feel looking at these old bridges, cathedrals and canals, and how great it is to still have that feeling,” he said.
Schulte said he knew at age 10 he wanted to work in civil engineering, and to be inspired on this trip to still have that feeling was an unexpected bonus. Usually a quiet person, he said it was easy to open up and to share his life experiences with others.
“One of the things I shared a lot on the trip is the things that we do in the Corps, and what I realized is how proud I am of what the Corps does for the country somewhat quietly behind the scenes,” he said.
At the culmination of the walk, he entered into the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and attended Spanish and English speaking masses. He reflected on his travels, his faith and what the experience really meant to him.
“The scenery was just amazing at times. When you are out there you get really reflective and you’re not distracted by any other thoughts except walking and taking in what you are seeing or the conversations you are having, so everything is richer,” Schulte said. “You have 100-percent focus on the moment, so if you’re listening or talking to someone you really find it very easy to focus and listen and not get distracted. If you’re looking at the scenery you probably see things that are pretty that you maybe wouldn’t have noticed before. You just see the simplicity and beauty in everything.”
While going into the cities and cathedrals and ancient sites was great, he said he realized after a million steps that it is really about the whole journey, the relationships with people and the simplicity of the spiritual experience are what he relished the most.
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