Interview with Pam Wehrman Sissons of Ticonderoga 360
ON HIS NEW BOOK TWO MILLION STEPS: BAND-AIDS, COCKTAILS, AND FINDING PEACE ALONG SPAIN’S CAMINO DE SANTIAGO
Pat Devaney is a native of Ticonderoga NY – a product of small-town America during what was arguably some of its finest hours. Gifted with a great childhood – idyllic by some standards – a beautiful family and a fulfilling career, a life changing event abruptly thrust him on a path to self discovery half a world away. Two Million Steps: BAND-AIDS, COCKTAILS, AND FINDING PEACE ALONG SPAIN’S CAMINO DE SANTIAGO is a memoir of his journey on foot along the 500-mile Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain, where the ancient journey tests his physical endurance, his faith, and challenges the limits of his spiritual muscle. An engaging and personable guy, Pat relays his experiences with depth, humor (laugh out loud humor, actually), and resolve.
Even for those who stifle a yawn at the idea of reading a memoir, give this first-time author a try. This is NOT a travel documentary, nor is it a reflection of self importance. Devaney’s book is written with humility and filled with unexpected examples of serendipity, godwinks, and destiny.
Recently we did an interview with Pat Devaney to ask him how how the experience changed his life, and why he chose to share his story.
MEET TICONDEROGA AUTHOR PAT DEVANEY
Q. For a first-time author of a memoir, you have achieved something many authors are never able to do: you have captured and shared your experience in a way that is not only personal but engaging, humorous, engrossing, and leaves the reader wanting more. Can you share a bit about the writing process?
A. There are many books written on this subject and most of them were the same old story with the same ending. When the decision was made to write the book, I felt the only way it could be good was to be different. I decided to mix it up and not only detail the steps taken, but to add as much humor and history that most other books leave out. Describing the stories that took place on the journey was easy, but I struggled with properly explaining the emotions involved. I worked on the story around my real estate business, so It took a long time for me to feel comfortable enough handing over to the publisher.
Q. In hindsight, what were your original expectations for this journey, both spiritual and physical? How was the reality different?
A. Spiritually, I knew changes were needed in my life. Something very powerful was calling me to do this. Prior to leaving, I could picture myself standing at the tomb of the Apostle St. James in Santiago Spain at the end of the journey. There was no doubt that walking the Way of St. James would make me a better person, and for the most part it did. Physically, the training lasted for months and when I left home, I was convinced that I was totally prepared. I wasn’t. I underestimated how difficult it would be. My strength continued to improve and by the time I reached Santiago, I felt I could have walked another thousand miles. The weight lost was also a bonus.
Q. The physical demands of this trip were enormous. Do you feel you were as prepared as you could have been, and what would you have done differently?
A. I knew this would be an incredible challenge physically, but I underestimated how challenging it would be. My training included daily walks of 3-5 miles during the week and 10-12 miles each day on the weekend around a busy work schedule. After Judy joined me on subsequent trips, she proved to me that the training is more than just walking. She focused her training in classrooms doing stretching, weight training, and yoga classes, and did less long-distance walking. This is a more balanced approach, and the next time I walk several hundred miles at a stretch, I will take her advice.
Q. The people you met on your trek included not only fellow travelers you met along the way and befriended, but also several one-time cameo appearances that moved you in a profound way. You talk about a few of these chance encounters as “guardian angels”. Do you believe they were also part of your spiritual journey?
A. Yes, they were a huge part. There is a saying on the trail “the Camino will provide”. Many stories were cut out of the book during the editing process that proves this. One day, I missed a trail marker and ended up in the wrong town in the middle of Basque country. I didn’t have a clue where I was and as I was walking by a small bodega, an elderly woman exits carrying her grocery bags. She knew I didn’t belong there and started speaking to me in Basque which I didn’t comprehend. She gave me her bags and had me carry them to her home. She then grabbed my arm and led me down a road sending me on my way back to the pilgrim path. Another time, I helped a woman put out a grass fire that had started in her lawn very close to her home. Things like this just kept happening to me, there was no doubt in my mind that the Camino did provide me with those opportunities.
Q. You relate experiences where you observe how hectic and frenetic the “real world” lifestyle appears when you observe it along the trail. Did this change the way you feel about – or practice – connecting with the people in your life when you returned home?
A. I work in a very fast paced environment. It’s always been clear to me that the Europeans don’t stress as much about their jobs as we do. They are much better about focusing on their family and personal life. Siestas are very important to them. As a pilgrim, I was able to step back and live that life for six weeks and it was really enjoyable. I walked through over 170 French, Spanish towns and cities. When passing through cities, you could see the effect on the drivers faces during the rush hour traffic. I may have been experiencing physical pain at the time, but not feeling the stress and panic they were going through. Since I returned, I have focused more on working smarter, than working harder and it’s definitely lowered my stress levels.
Q. You made a few good friends along your pilgrimage. Have you stayed connected with any of them?
Yes, I regularly keep in touch with fellow pilgrims from Canada, Scotland, England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Germany, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. In fact, we have tentative plans for a mini-reunion this summer in Scotland.
Q. How did people back home react to some of the funny, scary or powerful experiences and images you shared with them while you were traveling?
A. For the most part, I was doing Facebook updates along the way when Wifi was available. The folks back home had a lot to do with me arriving in Santiago at the end of the journey. I gained a lot of cheerleaders along the way and they kept me going on the down days when I didn’t think I could continue. It’s amazing how someone saying a kind word can give you that energy to push ahead.
Q. In the beginning of your book, you describe an event that left you feeling helpless and brought you to a place where you realized that although you were a good person, you needed to take your life back and become a better person. Did you reach that goal? How did this journey change you?
A. I did reach that goal. Many tears were shed along the way, some from physical pain but most from emotions. It was a serious reality check. As a culture, we put too much emphasis on material things. I lived very well for six weeks with twenty pounds of gear on my back. Since returning, I have given a lot of stuff away and will continue to do so. My new focus is on putting more emphasis on giving and helping others.
Q. Since your first trek, you have taken a few others as well, along with your wife and other family members. What is that like?
A. It’s been great to share this experience with others. I didn’t know if Judy would like it, but she loves it so much, she’s been back three times. For me, the experience is much different. For the most part, I travelled alone, and I could go for days without talking to someone if I wanted to. My last few guided trips have been shorter, and you don’t feel the spiritual side of things as much. It’s very rewarding introducing people to a different way of life and seeing the positive affects it has on them.
Q. Ok, so we have to ask! At the very end of the book, you relate an experience you had while taking a subsequent journey with your wife Judy. You were staying in Santiago, and actually say you were visited twice by a ghost. Could you elaborate?
A. I’m glad you left this one until the end. We may have lost some readers if it was the first question. I have always laughed off ghost stories, but now I’m a believer.
It was Judy’s first Camino. We started in northern Portugal in a town called Vallenca do Minho, founded by the Romans two thousand years ago. It’s on the Minho river separating Spain and Portugal. The town is inside an old fort that was built in the 13th century. Many battles have taken place over the years between the two countries in this area.
We were staying in a nice hotel in town with views over the fortress walls into Tui Spain. It was very hot, no a/c and we both slept on the sheets. At about 2:30 in the morning I felt someone grab my foot and shake it. I woke up and was convinced that it was Judy on her way to the bathroom. It wasn’t. I eventually fell back asleep laying on my left side when I heard something. I opened my eyes and saw a girl three feet away standing there staring at me. She was about four feet tall and wearing a dress and hat similar to what the Puritans wore when they arrived in America in the early 17th century. I got up and started reaching out to the girl and she slowly retreated and disappeared.
The night before I had warned my wife about waking too early. It’s now 3:30 in the morning and I’m packing my backpack. She wakes and questions my sanity, reminding me of my speech about a good night’s sleep and got up and started packing herself. I didn’t mention a word to her about what happened until we were five miles into our hike. I know it sounds kooky, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.