3. Where did this journey take you? Tell us about your experiences in the various countries that you walked through.
Our odyssey began in Dijon, France where we followed pathways along ancient canals. Once in southern Germany, we connected with the Donau Radweg, or bicycle path, and followed the Danube River through Germany, Austria and Slovakia into Budapest. From there we headed south along more bike paths and country roads to Serbia where we connected with what was once the old Roman road or Via Militaris. Throughout, I found it especially ironic that our path of peace would follow a trail used primarily for war. How fitting!
Improvisation was our constant companion. Since we were re-blazing a thousand year old trail, everything was uncertain. Who knew where we’d find a place to sleep or eat along the way? That was part of the adventure. We traveled simply and without a tent, hoping to stay in monasteries or simple hostels along the way. We budgeted $30 a day total per person to keep within the modern pilgrim’s budget. I carried only a fifteen-pound pack, so I didn’t have to make too many wardrobe decisions, and again found refuge in simplicity.
Time and again we were helped by “angels,” complete strangers who offered us food when we were hungry, water when we were thirsty, and often a place to sleep when we could walk no farther. Again, I was reminded how similar we all are, regardless of nationality or culture. We all have comparable needs, hopes and dreams.
The Templar Trail is dotted with remnants from past Roman and Greek eras.
Image © Brandon Wilson
4. Politics also interfered on this trip. How did the political events of 2006 affect you on your pilgrimage?
Ah, politics always have a way of disrupting life. Arriving in Belgrade, we learned that Israel had just bombed the Beirut airport in retaliation for Hezbollah strikes. Back home, there was talk of World War III. Would we be able to continue? If so, would we have to change our route? Again, keep in mind, part of my reason for attempting the long journey (the equivalent of walking from New York to Los Angeles) was to establish a trail others might follow, hopefully without facing bullets in the process.
We decided to continue through Serbia and Bulgaria and then weigh our options once we reached Istanbul. However, more unforeseen events would happen over the next month, including an attempted attack on the US Embassy in Damascus, shootings of travelers in Amman, and an Ebola-like virus in Turkey—not to mention the 90-degree temperatures we faced each day between villages.
Needless to say, I didn’t die en route and eventually reached Jerusalem, but not without incident. I’ve chronicled our entire journey, all the ups and downs, the “angels” and characters in my new book, Along the Templar Trail: Seven Million Steps for Peace. It includes stages, distances, maps, photos and a gear list for others who might follow in our footsteps.
Jerusalem is a holy city filled with strife and, some say, living on borrowed time.
Image © Brandon Wilson
5. You have done extensive traveling in the last 20 years. How have you restructured your life to become a full-time pilgrim, explorer and photographer? What do you do in between trips?
Repair my feet? No, it’s important for everyone to find their passion in life. Too many people live what Henry David Thoreau called, “lives of quiet desperation.” We trade our lives, our souls, for possessions to bring us happiness. Maybe there is that illusion of pleasure for a while, but it never lasts. I believe most people in our society would relish the idea of having more time with their families, their friends, to develop other interests, to explore the world. We can provide a world of excuses, but ultimately it comes down to individual choice. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t have it all.
My life has been a series of trade-outs. But isn’t everyone’s? I’ve followed career paths less traveled to give me the freedom to walk world paths less traveled. When I return to my so-called normal life, I write articles and make appearances to share my experiences with others. I’ve written three travel adventure books and have collaborated on several others. As you might imagine, I take photographs on each journey and now have thousands of shots that I hope to release as books in the future. Even I’m trying to find the time!
Turkish boy off to his circumcision ceremony (not smiling for long).
Image © Brandon Wilson