An unexpected pilgrimage

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Walking through Italy

Earlier this year I was travelling alone in Europe when I randomly ran into a woman in Cinque Terre whom I’d met briefly at a travel writers’ conference in New York. Masha from An Unlikely Pilgrim is spending a year doing pilgrimages around the world, and when we caught up for wine she was part way into a three month walk along the Via Francigena, from Canterbury all the way to Rome. (Yes, she’s seriously badass.)

We were a few glasses into a bottle of wine when she said, “Hey, why don’t you come walk with me for a few days?”

It seemed like a crazy idea to head into the wilderness with an almost-stranger, especially given that I had no hiking gear with me and nowhere to store my rolling suitcase. But it was odd—serendipitous, even—because during the months prior to meeting up with her, I had this peculiar idea in the back of my mind that I’d end up doing a long walk somewhere in Europe. Every day in Paris, I hiked to the top of Sacré-Cœur to get fit. In Spain I walked everywhere instead of taking public transport. My muscles were growing strong, but what for? I didn’t know.

And then Masha arrived into my life just as my calendar cleared and I was questioning what to do with my last three weeks in Europe.

So of course I said “Yes” to two days hiking with Masha.

I packed a small backpack, left everything else at the Milan train station, and set off into the Italian countryside with her.

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Walking in Italy

Two days became three.

Three days became five.

I wanted to hike and hike and not stop, but on the fifth day I became crippled with tendonitis due to walking for five days in flimsy street shoes.

We stopped in a stunning town called Piacenza and I spent five days resting. Masha fetched me food and frozen peas, and stalled her pilgrimage to look after me. I bought sturdy shoes and a bunch of hiking gear, and I put all of my energy into getting better. But the foot was not healing as fast as I wanted it to. Masha was on a deadline to get to Rome and she had to move on.

I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to stop walking. So I bought a bike and rolled alongside her…

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Three days later my foot was okay to walk on, and I abandoned the bike at the bottom of a steep hill in Tuscany. We went on for another ten days.

Two days with a stranger became three weeks with a soul mate.

Masha and Torre DeRoche

There are a lot more stories in that journey which I don’t have time to tell you now, but I have some exciting news…

I’ve joined her again for another pilgrimage, but this time in India!

We’re going to follow in the footsteps of Gandhi on his Salt March—a non violent protest he carried out with 78 others in 1930. We set out tomorrow from Ahmedabad for twenty five days of walking, beginning from Gandhi’s ashram, and we’re both so terrified and so excited that I can’t even begin to explain the roller coaster of emotions we’re currently riding on. We really have no idea what to expect, but this is India after all.

On our first day outside of the hotel to the Taj Mahal, we were ripped off, leered at, pushed and shoved and kissed and pinched, and a ten year old boy caressed me on the bottom with both his hands. We saw monkeys making love, an elephant carrying cargo on a highway, painted livestock, a guy getting beaten on the side of the freeway, and several instances of non-ironic bellbottom business slacks paired with connoisseur moustaches.

Our rickshaw almost crashed when a hatchback swooped across thick traffic to make a cheeky turn, I was hit in the leg by a car pulling out of a parking spot, and our taxi driver started nodding off at 120km an hour when we still had three hours of driving ahead. At the end of the day, our nails and noses were encrusted with black and my lungs feel like they’ve been chain smoking. Beauty and filth, exhilaration and horror, all in the course of a day. It was thrilling.

I have no idea what the next twenty five days of walking are going to be like, but I know it won’t be boring. It’s surely going to be an adventure of a lifetime.

I may not be blogging here, but I will be posting on Instagram and Facebook, so stay tuned for updates!

Torre DeRoche is the author of two travel memoirs, Love with a Chance of Drowning (2013) and The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World (due out September 2017). She has written for The Atlantic, The Guardian Travel, The Sydney Morning Herald, Emirates, and two Lonely Planet anthologies.

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  • janice stringer November 26, 2014, 5:38 pm

    What a wonderful experience. I look forward to seeing the photos!

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  • Ashley November 26, 2014, 5:47 pm

    What an awesome adventure in Italy! And I’m sure your time in India will be absolutely unforgettable. It’s crazy adventures like these that open your eyes and make you feel whole and alive. I can’t wait to read more about your time in India. Have fun!

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  • Magda November 26, 2014, 6:04 pm

    I’ve done a few pilgrimages before, all who have impacted my life greatly (in a positive way). Good luck!

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  • Sarah Somewhere November 26, 2014, 6:06 pm

    Oh wow. I am so freaking excited for you girls (and a tad jealous). I researched a little about the salt march before the rickshaw run, as we were going to pass through some of the places, but India happened and I couldn’t do anything except hang on for dear life. I have loved following your adventures via Masha, and wish you both the most amazing adventure.

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  • Tahira November 26, 2014, 9:08 pm

    I’m new to your bog (and your book – just downloaded it onto my Kindle) and the little I have read so far, of the blog, is already starting to spark up the “girl crush” compartment! I love the ‘come what may…’ philosophy on life, and I look forward to following along and seeing what India has in store for you girls! Cheers to both of you!

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  • Katie November 27, 2014, 12:01 am

    How exciting and terrifying! You will definitely have some stories to tell after this trip :)

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  • Tracy November 27, 2014, 2:52 am

    Hello? YOU are seriously a badass. All the best in India to the 2 of you badass mofo’s. x

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  • Toni - Reclaiming Your Future November 27, 2014, 8:14 am

    I literally have no other word for this Torre but ‘wow’!!!! I can’t wait to read all about it when you’re able to tell us :)

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  • Emily November 27, 2014, 8:55 pm

    I love your description of your sole day in India – it is a perfect description of EVERYTHING that goes on, from the beautiful to the chaotic to the intense. Best of luck!

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  • Anne November 28, 2014, 12:39 am

    What an incredible story! I love your determination and attitude in Italy to keep going.

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  • Charlie November 29, 2014, 7:39 pm

    Wow, that’s an incredible experience. It’s amazing where life can take you when you just go with the flow of things. I can’t imagine walking that far in India, that’s definitely going to be a trip full of stories!

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  • Carina December 1, 2014, 3:30 pm

    I’ve read your book, and i love your disregard for your fears and your courage to take such leaps of faiths :)
    You’re such an inspiration.
    I hope you have a wonderful journey!

    X, Carina
    Running White Horses

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  • Alana - Paper Planes December 1, 2014, 9:46 pm

    This is incredible – have a wonderful time! (And I loved your description of your first day in India…sounds about right)

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  • Mrs. GoodLife December 18, 2014, 7:18 am

    Hi Torre,
    I have been reading your blog for a while now, but never left a comment. Just wanted to say that I love your writing- it’s engaging and funny and the suspense you weave in each post keeps me coming back again and again.

    Reply
  • Fine Stay Slovenia December 21, 2014, 9:51 am

    What an incredible adventure and lovely photo collection to match.

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  • Patricia Sands December 23, 2014, 10:42 pm

    I’m loving the choices you are making, Torre! If there really is reincarnation, I want to come back and be like you! Check it out while you are in India, please. Happy trails and keep us all posted.

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  • Rana Singh December 30, 2014, 9:33 am

    Amazing article and great pics. Loved it .
    Thanx for sharing and Happy New Year.

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  • Erin January 6, 2015, 6:07 pm

    Wow! What a wonderful way to make a new friend. I look forward to following your journey.

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  • Paige Sferrazza January 26, 2015, 3:23 pm

    Hey! I’m a big fan of your blog – you’ve inspired me to travel more and see the world! Although I’m still in college, I’ve started a travel-based blog of my own and I was wondering if you could possibly read this post and provide me with some feedback? Thanks so much! https://paigesferrazza.wordpress.com/2015/01/18/that-challenge-question/

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  • Carmel January 28, 2015, 2:21 pm

    How lovely that you trusted your instincts to gain a new friend. We too often ignore signs towards the next step and end up missing out. I’ll be looking forward to the photos on instagram!

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  • Octavia January 28, 2015, 7:34 pm

    I think this is wonderful! This is what i want to do when I get older. I am going to explore the amazing world we live in. There is so much to be seen and so much wisdom to gain! Hope your foot is doing even better than is was and I hope you have and amazing time in India!

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  • Sofia January 29, 2015, 1:46 am

    That’s an incredible story; meeting your friend/soul mate on the road, sharing an amazing adventure together from Europe to India. I’m looking forward to more great stories and photos, of course! Have a safe trip!

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  • Vanshika Dutta February 2, 2015, 5:37 am

    “Hi Torre,
    Am really sorry about the things you had to endure on this trip of yours to India. We have numerous other places that you would love and it is pretty peaceful as well as stunning. Why don’t you try places like Drass which is a serene valley or Magnetic Hill located near Leh! They are stunning yet very different as they are pretty unique, hope you get time to visit them! Have a safe journey!”

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  • Michelle @ The Restless Reporter February 4, 2015, 2:06 pm

    I really want to read more about your travels, I love changing your mind and route on the road!

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  • Penelope February 7, 2015, 4:40 am

    A most unexpected adventure … hope you enjoyed as much as I think you did!

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  • All Graduates | Brochure Translation Service February 9, 2015, 5:58 am

    What a truly wonderful experience! The best trips are often the ones that are not planned. You get to experience every single thing without worrying about what was forgotten or anything like that. Great photos, too. Looking forward to the next travel story!

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  • Elesha February 13, 2015, 9:41 pm

    Hi Torre! I have just finished reading Love with a Chance of Drowning. I’m currently backpacking solo around Central America and brought the book to keep me company on any solo restuarant trips (in the absence of any hot European backpackers ;) I absolutely loved the book! I almost shed a tear into my scrambled eggs and Gallo pinto the this morning when I read the part where you left Amazing Grace and Ivan. Thank you for sharing your fabulous journey with the world! Elesha

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  • Christian P February 27, 2015, 8:17 am

    Your adventure in Italy and India are indeed very inspiring for newbie adventurist like me. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience Torre.

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  • kristin | W [H] A T C H February 28, 2015, 2:08 pm

    oh my goodness, i can’t wait to hear about your walk in india. best wishes for an extraordinary journey.

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  • Jane M March 2, 2015, 8:43 pm

    Such a great illustration of how saying “yes” can lead you to the most unexpected places. I’m looking forward to hearing more about India.

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  • Crystal | The Poor Explorer March 24, 2015, 12:08 pm

    I just met your blog today. And you are AWESOME! Keep it up cause I’ll be following along. India is insane. It changes you in ways you won’t realise until you’re back in a comfortable place with a steamy cup of coffee… Enjoy!

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  • Darshik Mehta April 16, 2015, 5:56 am

    Torree!!!
    That’s toooo much adventure amidst the many up’s and down’s during your travel, but I envy you… most of these pictures (almost everything) are either bathed in sunlight or have the rays bestowing nature’s wishes from the right- hand corner. Your spontaneity with words and the expression conveyed through them is so fantastic that got me dreaming: – about you walking endlessly through wine fields and hiking hills with wind blowing in your hair! (loved the bike!)

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  • Hannah @GettingStamped June 6, 2015, 3:07 am

    What an amusing way to go out of your comfort zones! Sounds terrifying but definitely so brave of you! :)

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  • Ronny June 29, 2015, 3:54 pm

    Hope the India pilgrimage went well!

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  • Jhon Lingkon July 12, 2015, 7:58 pm

    Those photos were great, seems like you hade passed great time

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  • Don July 13, 2015, 2:37 am

    Europe is the best! We’ve been there two years ago and it was a blast! We started with Eastern Europe, traveling with TravelAllRussia then went to Western Europe. I look at the photos every now and then, best summer!

    Reply
  • Erika (Erika's Travels) July 16, 2015, 7:16 pm

    What a great story! That’s what I love about travel…it never ends up like you thought it would, but there are always great stories to tell and great friends to be made.

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  • Siddharth Kaushik July 23, 2015, 5:05 am

    Dear Torre DeRoche,
    We often assume that pilgrimages are boring but your blog shows how life changing these trips can be. We not only get to learn about a new culture and religion when we go on pilgrimages but also learn to respect them. I loved the way you have written this blog.

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  • mark gariega July 27, 2015, 10:17 am

    wow nice

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  • Lisa September 25, 2015, 10:39 am

    I enjoy reading your post! The photos looks so nice and gorgeous! Guess you having fun time there! What a great experience you had. Thanks for sharing your great experience and nice photo with us here

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  • KandC December 13, 2015, 4:15 am

    The pictures are truly phenomenal. Thank you so much for sharing :)

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  • Traveler December 26, 2015, 5:06 pm

    beautiful photos.)

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  • Maxine January 12, 2016, 11:45 pm

    Amazing and heartwarming read. It is in our travels that we find our true selves and realize that there is more to life than what we know about. Looking forward to more of your stories.

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  • Vedic Walks, India March 4, 2016, 5:48 am

    Hello Torre! We can’t thank you enough especially because after your ‘Salt walk’ with us in India, we have been receiving hundreds of questions from wanderers from different parts of the world about this quest! We had another group of 5 spiritual enthusiasts from Spain who took our Salt walk in Gujrat! Thank you for the opportunity – Team VedicWalks, India

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  • Jhon jaka August 3, 2016, 7:25 am

    Nice trip

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  • NFL Snapback Hats November 16, 2016, 2:13 am

    It’s crazy adventures like these that open your eyes and make you feel whole and alive.

    Reply