Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter Pilgrimage - As Interpreted by Endurance Athletes

El Santuario de Chimayo
Dwell in Santa Fe or the northern Rio Grande Valley long enough and one will soon associate Holy Week and the coming of Spring with the Easter pilgrimage of the faithful to the holy Santuario de Chimayo. It's a lovely custom - serving as a marker of seasons, as a nod to our rich local culture and the old ways and a tight connection to the land around us, and as a personal affirmation of faith and re-birth.

For most that choose to undertake the pilgrimage, the trek to El Santuario begins just north of Pojoaque. From here the road to Chimayo is maybe 14 miles. The more adventurous (often those seeking a greater level of devotion or religious piety) will begin closer to Santa Fe, leaving Thursday evening and walking through the night. Some literally bare crosses that they've fashioned together for their journey. Though less common, solitary pilgrims can be seen earlier in the week making the journey north along I-25 from places as far south as Bernalillo. A remarkable image of humility and grace.

Early morning, along the ditches of the Rio Grande
East near Cochiti and Tetilla
Now these are long stretches to cross on foot. Which is really the point of it all I suppose, to stretch oneself and bend the mind to look within. When studying the longer routes though, much of it breaks down to just walking for miles along the shoulder of a trafficked highway. There is little here to inspire, and romantic images of the pilgrims of Santiago de Compostela are quickly retired.

But this is where a few big-mile guys from these parts approached the Santuario pilgrimage with a new vision. Why not run it? An all day trek from Santa Fe is then shortened to several hours. If it's viewed as a run, why not add a few miles so it can be run off-road? And the leap-of-logic coup de grace - if we're going to run from Santa Fe why not just run it all the way in from Albuquerque?

And that's what they did. Friends Espo and Houghton routed a course from the north valley of Albuquerque along the ditches and Indian Service Roads, up and over La Bajada and the path of the Camino Real, across the Caja del Rio, then east along the Rio Tesuque in Jacona and up the into the foothills of Nambe, finally turning north once more through the ghostly barrancas to the Santuario.

Marc framed by the Jemez skyline
Kris stands on the La Bajada cliff bands, Sandia skyline
I know all of this first-hand because I was asked to help pace them in from Nambe, at the very end of their twenty-two hour 92 mile pilgrimage. My aid wasn't pacing in a literal sense, but rather as mental company to ease the temptation for them to quit. Houghton had actually blown-up in the Caja and had to abandon at 70 miles. Friends met them near Jacona and helped guide Espo up to Nambe where we joined and ran through the night into Chimayo. It was midnight, a partial moon was lifting over the mountains, and as we moved along we passed walkers that had come out to make their journey after finishing a full day of work. We turned and entered the gate into the Santuario at 1:30am. It was stunningly beautiful, and remains so in memory three years later. Quite the experience. I think of it often this time of year and am very satisfied to have finally made a story of it.

The Nambe Barrancas and the last segment to El Santuario
random shot of Espo looking like a badass
Marc had no visible reaction when entering the Santuario. The guy was well past drained and had been for hours. He later told me he wasn't quite right for several weeks afterward, the experience perhaps etching itself permanently into his being. Houghton, distraught that he couldn't complete the pilgrimage with his friend, returned (from Albuquerque) the following day to walk out the remaining 22 miles of footsteps. And the ancient rewards of the pilgrim and the theme of the Easter season are replayed. And what was once aged and old...becomes new once again.

Related Posts:
   Espo's original run-report here
 - La Luz Trail Run Recap - 2013
 - Fair Chase, Antelope Hunting on Foot
 - Armijo Runs to an Olympic Trials Qualifier

View Santuario de Chimayo Pilgramage - NM in a larger map


  1. Just found this...a very inspiring story.

  2. Agreed, I thought this story was rad. 100mi adventure, add history and religion, bring friends, out your front door simplicity. That's brilliance.



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