Wednesday 12 June 2019

More Cheerful about Chartres

A doctor has poked my tick bite and made a cheerful prognosis, so I will not worry for now and meanwhile just put her prescribed cream on my rashy ankles. This means I am mentally free to write my LSN article about the actual Chartres Pilgrimage, not about the tick.

However, I will leave some extra baggage here because one of the best things I did for myself three years ago was write a blogpost of advice for people going on future Chartres Pilgrimages.

My caveat is that les Etrangers (foreigners) are NOT supposed to bring personal tents anymore. There is simply not enough space in the foreigners' section for those who rebel against sleeping in the communal tents, packed like pickled onions. If you cannot steel yourself to sleeping 2 inches away from people you've just met (women with women, men with men), then the Chartres Pilgrimage is not currently for you. (Perhaps in future there will be more space in the communal tents.)

Three Years On: Additional Advice 

1. There are ticks. Bring and apply insect repellant as soon as you reach the first park on the outskirts of Paris. Pack a super-light groundsheet as well as your sit-upon and shake it before putting it back on your bag. Every night take 5 minutes before you go to sleep every night of the pilgrimage to examine your body thoroughly with a flashlight. Bring tweezers as well as antiseptic wipes.

2. You have no time in the morning for coffee, so prepare.  Happily, I knew this and so made instant coffee-laced breakfast bars on Friday morning. Yes, I planned to literally rub coffee into my gums. I ate these coffee bars during the beginning of each day's march (6 AM) and at about coffee time (4 PM). No caffeine withdrawal: it was awesome.

3. There is bottled water at every campsite. I mention this because on Saturday, I carried a litre of water all afternoon so I was assured of cooling my feet in the evening. This was stupid, but for some reason I could not let go of that heavy bottle. When you are walking 20+ miles, every ounce of weight drags you down. On Sunday I did not make this mistake.

4. You can buy collapsible washtubs. Because large suitcases are really horrible to drag through Paris, Chartres and the campsites, I took a backpack this time. My ordinary washtub didn't fit, so I found a collapsible one online. It is totally worth the money and any trouble.

5. Assume that anything that can leak will leak. When I arrived at my Paris hotel room shortly before 11 PM (flight delayed 1.5 hours, couchemar), I discovered that my little bottle of liquid soap had emptied over everything in my first aid kit bag. I also discovered that my talcum powder had similarly opened itself in the side pocket of my backpack. After rinsing and drying everything of soap (I didn't mind the talcum powder that leaked onto my tent bag), I took the two flat packets of liquid soap conveniently offered by the hotel. I used these to wash my feet on Saturday and Sunday. I dealt with the rest of me with biodegradable wipes from the privacy of my clandestine tent. (I didn't discover it was banned until Saturday.)  Therefore:

6. Save and bring 2 hotel liquid soap sachets for your collapsible washtub.

7. Really, really ponder if you should bring a computer. I meant to write about the Pilgrimage on Tuesday morning, which was overly optimistic. You will be too tired on Tuesday to use your brain for anything much. You get max 6 hours of sleep a night every night of the Pilgrimage, and even if you get 8 or 9 on Monday night, you still will not be fully functioning. Therefore, it is best not to bring the computer, and to inform your workplace that you will not be checking in until Wednesday.

(My computer, by the way, was kindly driven to Chartres by a very busy French official, whom I wasted a great deal of time trying to find in Chartres, and who finally left it at my hotel.)

8. Never assume anyone French, even a young person, speaks English. As a matter of fact, I did not do so badly with my French, even though really it is appalling for a Canadian and someone who has five family members who are completely fluent in la belle langue. Were I to go on the Chartres Pentecost Pilgrimage again (which is not certain, as there is the 'communal tents only' issue), I would not only start practising walking long distances sometime during Lent, I would start doing some French review.  

9. If you decide to go last minute to the Chartres Pilgrimage, you will suffer more than if you decide in advance. "Only Christians would deliberately make themselves suffer," I thought in a somewhat exasperated fashion. "This is not a yoga retreat." If you'd rather suffer less than more, you need to prepare well in advance: practice walking long distances well in advance so you do less damage to yourself. The Knights of Malta first aiders (bless them!) refuse to treat blisters because EVERYBODY gets blisters. Another problem with signing up at the last minute is that there might not be enough room for your foreign self in the communal tent assigned to your chapter. The president of the Pilgrimage said, I think on Sunday before Mass, that the Pilgrimage was more and more difficult to plan every year, in part because of the huge increase in foreign pilgrims. Your humble correspondent won smiles from other women in our Chapter when I gave up my space in the communal tent, erected my illegal 2-man shelter, and said, "Good news, girls, you're getting a tent mate who is a lot thinner than me!"

This was a beautifully elegant Australian who decided to come almost at the last minute and walked for two days in flat leather sandals, a straight knee-length skirt and a very French-looking scarf around her head. On the third day I noticed she had trainers (runners) instead, and no wonder. At any rate, I admired her ability to look so amazing for two days of the Chartres Pilgrimage and I was proud to give her my place in the communal tent. That said, on Sunday night there was no longer any room in the communal tent, and she had to go and sleep in one of the North American tents.

10. When your feet are wet, contemplate the feet of the others around you. My interior life was not fabulous for the first two days of the Pilgrimage, but I made a breakthrough on Whitmonday. Part of this was meditating on the feet of those around me. Because I thought about how wet and painful their feet were, my feet bore me more easily. Also pain, like hunger, comes in waves when you are on a forced march. You just walk through it.

11. Always carry dry socks in your day bag. Not doing so is quite the rookie error.

12. Do not put your cute Chartres dinner outfit in your computer bag, if you bring your computer and a French official drives it to Chartres for you. Because my computer bag and I were not reunited until after 11 PM,  I went to dinner in the black long-sleeved T-shirt I used as my inner pyjamas and my now very dirty Indestructible Blue Denim Maxi-skirt of Feminine Traddery. I wished very much that I had just squished it into my main backpack, which was driven to campsite to campsite and then to Chartres by truck and left in a specific place.

13. 60€-70€ is about right for carrying-around money. I brought 50€. I left a 10€ tip at each hotel (Paris and Chartres) and spent 30€ on Monday supper. However, I did need a little extra for Tuesday, and so had to walk a bit to find a bank machine. A simple breakfast at Le Serpente (coffee, juice, croissant, bread, butter, jam) costs 9 €.

14. Don't let your sunglasses fall out of your pocket and pile your baggage/sleep on top of them or they will break.

15. The Pilgrimage now provides hand sanitiser, but either make sure you use one that does not dry out your cuticles, or put balm on them at night. My fingers are still sore, alas, and it seemed like an age before I could get home to my friendly bathroom jar of coconut oil. 

16. If you have a clandestine tent, make sure you dry it ASAP, which might be overnight in your Chartres hotel room (if you remember), but will probably be the night of your return home.

Now to write my piece for LSN.


  1. On wiki (I know I know) under the paragraph on antibiotics it says that it takes 36 hours for the tick to be engorged before the disease spreads to its own saliva and then on to you. That's for the deer tick now, I can't see anything for the European lads. I had facial palsy as a child, hospital said I must have been bitten out at the seaside, now I wonder was it one of those ticks. My folks thought I had a stroke. The palsy went away thank God. I hope you will be ok.

    You seem to have had a tougher time this time around on the pilgrimage, is that accurate? Thanks for all the details, looking forward to the article.


  2. Hi Sinéad! Yes and no. Mentally, I was a lot better prepared (until I found the tick and fluttered about whimpering until my 25-years-younger roommate took matters into her capable Polish hands). I told myself going in that this time it was not enough just to walk every mile; this time I had to improve spiritually and not embrace tent solitude like a grumpy bear. I had a really good Monday. I reaped some good spiritual fruit on Monday, I think. At any rate, I improved inwardly and actually thought about other peoples' pain.