The Walk of Wisdom solo non-stop: pilgrimage on a bed of ice crystals

By Jan Fokke Oosterhof

Ever since its launch on June 21, 2015, it has been in my bucket book, the non-stop running of the Walk of Wisdom, a 136-kilometer pilgrimage route. A pilgrimage route based on my own city of Nijmegen, which is independent of specific religions and revolves around the wisdom of life. The route allows you to reflect on your life and your place in the bigger picture. Of course, I can only applaud this with my company name Existential Wonder and from the launch I feel a special connection with this initiative. My sense of connection is only strengthened when I have a cup of coffee with initiator Damiaan Messing near the start and finish location – the Stevenskerk.

He notes that he observes a search for meaning in society and that these kinds of pilgrimage routes are extremely popular. In 2017, almost 300,000 people will walk the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, fifteen times as many as ten years ago. Among them, 3,600 Dutch people and that number is also growing. The route takes you along rivers, hills, forests and old cultural landscapes around Nijmegen and connects beautiful areas such as the Ooijpolder, the N70 moraine, the Reichswald and the Hatertse Vennen. It is a walk of four to eight days that starts and finishes at the Stevenskerk in Nijmegen. In doing so, the route wants to convey that the road is more important than the goal and that you will eventually come back to where you started. For me, the fact that I’m walking around and not going anywhere at three o’clock in the morning in the cold releases a wavering sensation of ‘why did I do this again’.

A-religious tour around the church

Damien thinks the beauty of a pilgrimage is the search for yourself and temporarily shutting yourself off from the world and the daily worries. I tell Damien about my feeling that I would like to run this pilgrimage route, an a-religious tour around the church. He is enthusiastic and in the sun we deliberate about life, a beautiful meeting. Damiaan believes that everyone should be able to walk the route in their own way, some in a week and others in stages spread over several weekends. A few weeks later I read a report about the Walk of Wisdom in the Volkskrant entitled ‘The road to repentance for everyone’ in which Damiaan mentions my intention: ‘there is someone who wants to make the journey in one day running’.

When I speak to Damien again later, it turns out that he had reactions to that passage in the corner of ‘resistance’ and ‘disgust’. After all, according to many, the Walk of Wisdom is a journey of reflection. Damien asks how I feel about it. I tell him that I think one of the hallmarks of a pilgrimage is penance and therefore humility. I want to complete my journey and see the Stevenskerk looming in the distance, totally exhausted, humble.

Moreover, running is a way to clear your head so that thoughts can come and go. Wasn’t it Kierkegaard who said, “There’s no problem so big that I can’t run away from it.” In my case, running. It removes the noise and makes experiences and feelings pure. I’m not looking for an FKT (fastest known time) and I don’t have the ambition to create anything. This is apart from the fact that ‘big runners’ will laugh at this. A time is out of the question. It’s just going to be my longest (un)thoughtful workout.

In fact, I want to take my time for all the rituals that have arisen along the way: cleansing yourself in the Bison Bay, leaving a message in the Maria Chapel halfway, leaving a stone on the Kitty van der Wijze square and leaving a rag in the Fever Tree. I have no goal, I experience, I experience and reflect, I perform without gain. I run without haste; That’s my pilgrimage.

Read here the account in which reflections on mortality and physical exertion complement each other.