This is a diary of the Pilgrim on the way to Santiago that was undertaken as a charity cycling project from Slovakia to Spain for saving Pugin's Masterpiece for future generations - Shrine of St Augustine, Ramsgate, UK. (www.lulushutterbug.com/santiago)
Early in the morning on Monday 25th June, I am leaving to the airport to start a great adventure with my friends. At that moment I had no idea what God was planning with our Camino trip.
I came home very late that night. The moment I came, I started to be getting my bicycle ready for the trip. There was no time to be wasted by sleeping as we were leaving on 27th. I didn’t sleep whole night. My bike was ready at 4am in the morning and then I went for a walk with my dog. It doesn’t really sound as a good start of the day but even so that early morning was great. I had never heard such a great choir of the birds singing at that early morning. The whole nature was waking up, the air was a bit cooler and was getting deeply into my mind but I was enjoying that fascinating moment when there is no person (as everyone was enjoying their sleeping) to interrupt God’s work. Such a fulfilling morning where I could feel the touch of God’s hand.
Later on, I actually joined a club of sleeping beauties. I had about 4hours sleep and then I had to get last things for my bike because next morning, the exciting tour was starting.
Next morning about 5am I said goodbye to my doggie and to my mum and I was going to meet Zdenka in her home. Then her dad dropped us to Presov where was our starting point.
It was nice to see our parents to be so proud of us. After the mass we got blessing from St Francis community and left for the adventure.
First day we had planned to cycle about 95kms. The destination was near High Tatras where is a refugee centre for alcoholics, prostitutes, drug addicts, homeless, etc supervised by one priest that established this centre for all people that truly needed it. It sounds really rough to be sleeping in this sort of accommodation, however, I couldn’t believe what I saw there. Imagine those strong, hard men not even lifting a head up during the mass but getting on their knees before God and asking for the forgiveness of sins. Wow. It was so amazing to see it.
On the way to this place we met so many foreign tourists. They were talking to us because they saw our Santiago shells. They were photographing us, wishing good luck. We received so much support from them, and it was really refreshing. We arrived quite late. The sun was already gone. We cycled for 11 hours. It was really hot and we had to deal with so many hills and mountains. Honestly, it took us ages to win over these Slovakian mountains. Sometimes, it was much more easier to push the bike than to cycle. But we arrived there, exhausted and painful but we got there at the end.
Well, this it that great moment where my "different" story starts. This is the time when God's hand started to sharpen the pencil. And I was that pencil.
At that night, I didn’t sleep as well as I thought I would. For some reason, every time I moved, my knees really hurt. I didn’t pay too much attention to it as I was expecting some sores. Next morning when I woke up, I had a bit of pain in my knees but it wasn’t too worrying.
We started our second day. My knees stopped hurting and I was leading again as the day before. I think I am addicted to the leadership. It really is hard for me to not to lead or to be weaker that someone else. I couldn’t accept being last if I didn’t choose it. I was fighting over the first place for all the time when we cycled. I forgot that it wasn’t a competition but pilgrimage. My ego was manipulating with me. I am that sort of person, there is no one who can be better than I am. Even if they were, I would not let them to win. I would do anything to not to lose….
We were cycling towards High Tatras, Slovakia. My first 15kms went fine, I lead again. Then my knee started to be hurting but I could cycle. Then another knee added into it. In the matter of a few seconds, I was in terrible agony but I was still leading.
The tears already had covered my face but I didn’t want to show the weakness. Well, I was an experienced cyclist….was I? When the pain crossed its lines and I wasn’t able to accept it, I sent my friends ahead and took the last place where I was hiding my tears and dealing with pain on my own. (Last place - a symbol for me - "But many who are first will be last, and the last first." Mk, 10,31) I didn’t know what to do - I was so stuck as I couldn’t do anything. I was praying, arguing with God but he didn’t listen to me. I felt like he was totally ignoring me and I cried even more. Soon after my friends noticed that something isn’t right. They put the bandages on my knees, I took some painkillers but it didn’t work. I was so behind them and they had to be waiting for me all the time. I felt so useless and only slowing down everything. I had never cried so much before in my life and I had never suffered such pain in my life. We were heading to Poland, to avoid High Tatras, and then back to Slovakia - about 90kms ride. I knew I could’t do it on my own and I thought God wasn’t helping me at all. I was so crossed with myself and half of the time I was pushing the bike because it was easier and painless than cycling. However, this was taking ages. We got to Poland after 35kms quite late in the afternoon and I had to stop completely. I had enough of pain and I had run out of tears ( :-) ) and God still didn’t answer. Therefore, we stopped in the village Brzegi where a catholic priest took us into his hands and provided food, showers and exciting talks from his life. We also attended the mass and without knowing or advanced preparation, he called us up and asked in front of the people our reason for going to Santiago. We had no real answer. We knew, we were cycling for St Augustine, for friends, etc but why Santiago? Then the priest said to people that we had had so much to thank God for all his gifts and generosity that we are cycling to Santiago. Wow! This was actually true. And what was the best, in one of our aims of the tour, it was to encourage to people to good things in all sorts of ways. And we did, people were so impressed by us which probably gave them chance to think about similar ways to worship God.
The next day we left his parish. I left earlier so I could have more time to push my bicycle again. The hill that was in the village seemed to be almost touching the sky and never ending. It literally felt like climbing the mountain. It took me long time to push the bike to the end of the hills. The only time I sat on the bike on that day was when we were going downhill. I knew I couldn’t give it up that time because the plan was to get back to Slovakia where I could see the doctor about knees. It was another hard day for me. I tried to cycle sometimes but the pain was just over me. I was in tears again. I think this was the day when I started to be losing my faith.
I mean, a month before I left for the Santiago trip and I was still in the UK, so much happened in my life and with my faith. I stopped believing that God exists or that he cares or that he even listens to my prayers. I was blaming him for the fact that why can’t he say a word and let everything to be done? My friend in the UK is 24hours in the pain. I was praying to God to take away at least a bit of pain from her or at least to not give more. But no, he had to be giving more and more of pain and other problems to her life. I could not get it. I stopped praying because I knew he wouldn’t do what I wanted and he wouldn’t take the pain away. So I didn’t pray, I only argued with him because of this.
And then later on just 3weeks before the trip, I had so much of stress. In the house where I recently moved in, I was kicked out on the street for no real reason. Homeless, I really was a homeless. I had so much trouble to store my stuff somewhere, my friends were helping me at the ridiculous times and nothing went easy. When one problem was solved, another came up. Why couldn’t God make it easier for me those weeks before I left for the pilgrimage? Why not? I was so stressed out. I stopped caring about him but it wasn’t that serious. But then when my knees started to hurt, everything fell completely. I hated God. I was shouting at him in tears and asking him why was he taking my plan away from me? Why was he taking the cycling away from me, he knew I wanted to get to Santiago. He knew that this was the plan and it was a great plan. Why did he give me such pain, such struggle. Everything was perfect, planned greatly. But why such agony? I was shouting at him: “can you stop it?” But he didn’t reply. He went more deaf. No answer, only pain was my answer. My friends were saying to me to pray for my knees. I said, I wouldn’t because God wouldn’t listen to me and he wouldn’t even change it. That was actually true, but he wouldn’t for the reason that he had better plan with me. I realised that but later on.
So that day I was pushing the bike across Poland to Slovakia. Zdenka wanted to help me but I didn’t let her. She persuaded me. I was glad. I was so egoistic that I couldn’t even accept help when I truly needed it. How stupid! It was a long journey and then Roman's friend came to pick me up and took me straight to the hospital. What a fun. When I got in, they told me off like I was a little child and said to me to forget about any cycling to Spain. I couldn’t! I had to finish it! I cried again, I couldn’t accept it. It was too much, they were supposed to help me and not to be taking my dream and passion away. It was such a failure for me and it still feels like it. But then they said to me to relax for 2-3 days and to see how I felt. We could stay at Roman's friend E. E was really caring. She truly cared about us, she was driving us to the church and back even if it was 5 mins away to walk. I could walk but even so. It was amazing. We spent there 2 days.
After 2 days, I felt great without pain. I could jump, could walk on the stairs and I tried cycling, it was good enough. So we left E. I was glad I could cycle again. But not for long. Again after 12kms one of my knee became gently sore. I could deal with such pain. Later it became more sore. I cycled with one leg as I had those special shoes which gave more opportunities. However, another knee added to it. Great! After 15kms I could not cycle again. The same story came back - tears, arguing with God, pain and I was so depressed and miserable to my friends. I wanted to deal with it in my own and didn’t let them to help me. I struggled so much, and we started to plan my shoot off to Czech Republic by train just to get some extra days to relax my knees and to be able to carry on. Somehow through God's plan E picked me up. We were away about 35km and she herself suggested to pick me up. Tell me who would come for a strange person 35kms away leaving the job just to pick up a silly cyclist? I don’t know many people. I was so grateful she did. I had enough and wanted to go home and give it up and forget about everything. She took me to the hospital again and then dropped me to the train. I went to Prague and then from Prague by another train to Plzen. It was about 6 hours long journey on my own very late night with sore knees not able to help myself. I had a ticket for my bike only until Prague and then had to be buying another one. I had no idea where and I had not much time to be looking for it and pushing the bike, etc. I came to Prague at 3.45am. I was supposed to be coming to my old friend from Slovakia called J. She was expecting all the cyclists. But I came only. I had mentioned to her that I felt so stuck and I may not be able to get the train on time, etc... Dear friends, guess what happened. The same night at 1am she and her brother that is a priest arrived home from Roma. Her brother M was driving all the way from 10am on that day. Believe or not, they arrived at 1am and at 4am they were picking me up from the train station in Prague which was about 2 hours away! They hand't slept anough and they were taking care of me. How amazing this is! They accommodated me for a first week of the time I was waiting for my friends to catch me up in Czech Republic. And there, painful sharpening of the pencil finished and the new story of my life and of the trip starts. Now, sharp enough to be a pencil in God's hand he started to write something greater than you can imagine!
… to be continued...