- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

ROCHESTER, N.H. (AP) - Each year thousands of people set out on long journeys in search solitude and a deeper understanding of themselves by hiking through some of the most beautiful and serene landscapes- The Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, or the Pacific Crest Trail through the Cascades and Sierra Nevada Mountains being two of the most popular. But a Rochester couple chose to find their inner selves on another continent, recently returning from the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage through the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain and France.

Dr. Michael Clark practiced chiropractic medicine out of his Charles Street office for nearly 30 years before he and his wife, Cheryl, chose to put their lives on hold and embark on a 500-mile walk that St. James took centuries ago to spread the word of the Last Supper.

“My viewpoint of this walk is I’ve never had the opportunity to do something like this before,” he told Foster’s back in July. “I’ve never taken longer than a 10 day vacation. It’s all about being in the moment, so it’s very spiritual for me…; to have something touch that inner part of you.”

Clark read about the pilgrimage years ago, and said it was easy to convince his wife to accompany him on an arduous trek that transverses several mountains ranges- some higher than the White Mountains. They arrived in Paris and started their journey on September 13 in St. Jean du Port, France.

The very first day was one Clark described as excruciating- a steady mountain climb with 90 degree heat, gale force winds, and steady rain. To add to the difficulty, he began to experience severe pain in his left hip.

“I had my right hip replaced in 2010, and now the other one was acting up,” he said. “The pain was un-godly, but I just pushed through it. My wife looked down at my leg at the end of the day and it was all black and blue.”

After spending a night in a small inn along the route, he woke up still in pain, but wanted to keep going.

“I said to Cheryl, ‘let’s just keep walking and see what we can do,’ and by the end of the day we walked 20 miles,” he said. “It took me about two weeks to feel like it wasn’t a certain weight on me anymore.”

Clark said he and his wife never had any doubts about finishing the entire journey, although some days tested their will.

“We were headed to O Cebreiro and we had walked about 17 miles when we came to what we thought was the town,” Clark said. “We thought ‘finally’ but we were told we had another 4 kilometers to go. It was the longest walk of our trip…; it just dragged on.”

After conquering the Pyrenees and arriving in Spain, Clark said the trek continued over mostly flat and more forgiving terrain. He and Cheryl stayed in hotels along the way that cost about 15 euros a night, the equivalent of $15 U.S.

The couple’s journey culminated in the Spanish town of Santiago de Compastela on October 14. After a month of walking, they treated themselves to sightseeing and staying in a few finer hotels before taking a ship back across the Atlantic, arriving just before Thanksgiving.

“My experience from this trip is essentially that we are all enlightened, and just life shrouds it,” Clark said. “I think I experienced enough of the moment and whatever we want to call it so the shroud is a little thinner now. You can’t help but be closer in touch with your spirit.”

Clark said Cheryl found the trip an excellent way to leave behind the stress and commotion of daily life.

“She enjoyed it wholeheartedly,” he said. “She’s been under the gun and under a lot of stress in her job as a cardiac nurse, so it was a good time to enjoy life without the distractions. She completely amazed me on this trip.”

Clark put his building up for sale before he left and still practices for the time being.

“The building is still on the market, and I still have an office where I see patients one day a week,” he said. “I feel like I have to maintain that contact for my patients. But I’ll make a transition at some point in time. I’m just riding the wave right now and hoping all things work together for the good.”

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Information from: Foster’s Daily Democrat, http://www.fosters.com

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