Consider… the Walk of Wisdom: the last part (report by pilgrim Simone Venderbosch, part 3 of 4)


Text & images: Simone Venderbosch

I walked the Walk of Wisdom in the hot summer of 2018. The summer in which the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) issued code orange and advised everyone not to go outside. It was precisely this summer that I walked my first real pilgrimage, my first multi-day trip. So it’s not surprising that halfway through the trip, the intense heat and fatigue started to take their toll. After the highlight at the Emmaus Monastery, I experienced the lowest point of my walk for the next five days, but also the release of completing my journey. Days in which I fight with both the elements and myself and saving angels came my way.

After a difficult eighth day, I arrive at my destination. Surprisingly, the campsite turns out to be an oasis of happy people. What a gift after this day! The owners think along with me about dinner. “Wait a minute. Do you like soup? I’ll see what we have left.” Ten minutes later she returns with zucchini soup and a tray full of vegetables from her own garden, a can of tuna and prunes. Soup and lettuce, my favorite food. How can all this happen? This goodness is almost too overwhelming.

Walking homing pigeon

After a good night’s sleep, the owner offers me coffee. In the sun, I break down my tent and then gratefully plop down on her seat. She has really delicious coffee. A nice conversation follows, three cups of coffee long. I’m so comfortable and we chat so much that I almost forget I’m going for a walk today. I have to say hello to the people of my next campsite. And yesterday I sent her greetings from the lady of Terrazul. Nice to be a homing pigeon. I shake hands with everyone on the field and continue walking. By that time it’s already half past eleven…

A difficult stretch

Strangely enough, all those nice people around me reinforce my lonely feeling. I’m in for a difficult stretch. Along the way, I often stop to pull myself together. In addition, I try to draw strength from my environment and stay in the here and now. I pass a thinking bench, a shadow in the shape of a heart, the reeds wave at me and the leaves stroke my arms comfortingly. To no avail.

Sitting on a fallen tree in the woods, I am no longer in control of my emotions. The gadflies sting me and an acorn falls on my head, and I let it wash over me. I try to smile when I see the worried looks of passers-by. Ideally, I would like to dissolve into nothingness now. I don’t want to go any further and I don’t want to go back. It’s getting so dark inside me. The only one with me now is myself. I am my own demon and my own comfort. As a result, I am the only one who can get me out of this now. So I blow my nose, pick myself up and get up from the tree trunk to continue my journey.

Behind the clouds…

At the local trout pond lick into my wounds. I take a painkiller against the sore muscle in my shoulder and put a tuft of wool in my sock where a new blister is in the making. While I’m enjoying a delicious fresh trout, I watch the clouds go by. A dark cloud is passing over. I smile at the symbolism. But behind that, it’s blue. You see, it will pass. Ever…

The next part is really tormenting. I break several times and the kilometers seem to creep by. When the campsite is in sight, I promptly take a wrong turn. The campsite is located against the forest and is almost completely in the shade. I say hello as agreed, after which the owners lend me a chair. Then I have a chat with the neighbors, arrange a hammer and the Wi-Fi code, charge the phone, wrap my broken tent pole with leukoplast and take a nice shower. After this, I can finally plop down, relieved that my day is over.

Everything’s rancid

The tenth day I take a rest day. I do some laundry and take a look at myself and my stuff. My double blister is torn and looks rancid. Just like everything is rancid by now. And I don’t like rancid. But you get used to it. Rancid towels full of sweat and sand I now just use again. In the meantime, you can also make a spicy broth from my backpack. I sleep with my head on my bag of underwear. In the meantime, the lath printed balls and lukewarm vegetables in recycled crumpled plastic bags can no longer bother me. I take care of my blisters, finish my last provisions and get new energy.

Camping in a junkyard?

After this rest day, I’m getting ready for the last stages. The 11th day is another hot day. When I finally arrive at my destination, I can sink through the ground. Behind a corrugated iron shed, where you would expect to find a junkyard, is my campsite. “Ah no, no no no”, it crosses my mind. “Not this! Not now!” The owner shows me where I can pitch my tent. There is no one there. Exhausted, I sit down under a canopy, where it is even more oppressive. I don’t want to be here.

Fatigue sets in

I dub what to do and look online for an alternative. There actually appears to be a B&B 1 minute away. Relieved, I sign out with the campsite owner and walk to the B&B. A nice place with very nice people, who offer me a pancake, as well as a fresh, neat room. I enjoy the luxury and eagerly use everything. Yet I notice that my energy is really starting to run out now. I’m tired and clumsy. For example, I let the coffee maker overflow, after which I need half a roll of toilet paper to get everything clean. Then I mess up the whole thing while eating noodles, smash a cup while standing at the front door with full arms, hit my head on the bathroom door, drain my water bag on the floor and scatter dirt from the campsite everywhere. Owww, sorry folks. But oh, how wonderfully I slept in that divine bed!

The final stage

The last day I quickly pick up the route again. The sun is shining, the wind is blowing lightly and I’m back on the dike. Starting the day every morning with such a wonderful feeling of freedom; What ultimate happiness! From the dike to the floodplains. Along the water it is nice and cool, and the ships that pass by complete the holiday-like feeling. What peace and what silence! I enjoy this so much.

At the water, I take off my backpack and walk onto the wave breaker. At the end, I sit down quietly with a clay tablet in my hand. I got this one earlier on the trip when I participated in a fire ceremony. I pause for a moment to reflect on the wish I wrote on it. After this, I give him one last kiss and throw him into the water. Something beautiful went out into the world again. Hopefully, the wish will end up with someone who needs it.

Then follows another piece of dike and then I start to wobble. Nijmegen looms large. I’m overheated, overtired, and I keep crying because the end is in sight. While people sit relaxed on their towels along the Waal and I hear all kinds of cheerful children’s voices, the last kilometers are really hard for me. I need to ventilate for a while and on a metal staircase under the bridge, I talk to my phone. Strangely enough, making the video has a healing effect.

Discharging emotions

And then I’m in Nijmegen. The city stinks and is crowded. What a transition, I’m not used to this anymore. One last flight of stairs and I’m in the Stevenskerk. Exhausted, I drop into a pew and cry with long strokes, ignoring all the anonymous tourists who walk in a circle around me. A different man than at the start unsubscribes me. He hurriedly completes the formalities and not much later I am outside bewildered. All alone, dirty, hot, tired and with a stamp in my book. I sit down on a bench and cry secretly in my towel.

And then an older woman arrives. She also works in the church. The following conversation unfolds:

“Did you make it?”

“yes, huhuhuuu”

“Oh, have you had a drink yet?”

“No, not yet”

“Ah, Arie (?) is also so busy. Just wait a minute. Take a look at my bag”

She walks away and comes back a little later with a cold glass of water and strokes my cheek. That gesture is so tender and there come the tears again. Sorry, it’s the discharge ma’am.


Not much later, my husband is there too. He takes my sobs for granted and he takes cold drinks out of his bag. I take off my shoes and now see why my feet hurt so much. I don’t feel like a terrace. The hustle and bustle is coming at me. I’m still too busy with myself. We walk quietly to the car, where I gratefully get into the air conditioning. Not much later I see the Waal beaches flash by through the car window, the people sitting relaxed on their towels, the bridge and other landmarks, where I felt I was just now. And I realize it’s done now. Goodbye Nijmegen, bye-bye sun, bye-bye nature, bye-bye magic, bye-bye walk. All that remains for me now is gratitude, immeasurable gratitude!

The physical journey is over, but as Damiaan Messing (pioneer of the Walk of Wisdom) describes in the ‘Little Guide for the Modern Pilgrim’, step 5 now follows. This is “the time to look back and reflect on your journey.” And believe me, two years later I still think back with nostalgia to this journey and what it has brought me. Later, I participate in a return day of pilgrims from the Walk of Walk of Wisdom in the monastery and I write a poem about my experiences. And my last steps haven’t been taken yet, the hunger for hiking isn’t over yet!

My name is Simone Venderbosch. I love walking, on my own. I only walk marked routes and preferably those with a booklet. Hours, days, weekends or weeks. With or without a tent. Surrender, trust, freedom, peace, stillness, nature and the elements are central to me while walking. My stories describe the experiences I have, my fumbling, the difficult, embarrassing and euphoric moments. Contemplative one moment, with a grain of salt the next. Just the way I am.

Read the first part of the series of four here.

Read the second part of the series of four here.