From the Santa Barbara mission our little expedition still had another 35 miles to walk, to reach our final destination of this journey in Ventura, California. The words to the song Ventura Highway by “America” now resonates within me as our group takes in the full view of the Pacific Ocean. In 1972, the song by America came out, and if you were born then, you would be 49 years old now. Possibly about the median age for this group of around forty or fifty pilgrims.
“Cause the free wind is blowin’ through your hair
And the days surround you daylight there
Seasons crying no despair
Alligator lizards in the air
In the air”
The lyrics are a bit of a stretch for this patch of ground that we now walk on – the Ventura Highway is only on a sign. “We took that coast road. Call it what you want, Highway One, Highway 101, Pacific CoastHighway, California missions road or trail.” The Camino Real or the Kings road is the name of any road that the king paid for.
I now begin to feel the full weight of my back pack on my back. Last nights sleep on a hard packed school field did not help this body either. The sunny Mediterranean type weather works its magic on me, while taking its toll on some of the other pilgrims. Yet, as I look ahead or behind me there are several older and fuller body types that should not be moving this fast or efficiently. Yet they still do! These people are in great camino walking shape. A nine year old named Daniel is on a bicycle, he is wearing a red vest and helmet and continues to pedal the entire route. He is a great help with any road traffic. Another pilgrim, just a few years older than him is carrying the banner of Serra in a most professional way.
Earlier, a six year old girl, his sister with a braided ponytail walks behind her brother. He trails a bandanna on his belt for her to grab and hold when she needs the occasional support. Glad to know we have the aged and the youths on our side as we continue moving down the coast as one, everyone following the Serra banner. So long as its colors remain, and there is but one man left to carry the banner on its road to future glory, we shall all prosper from this pilgrimage. During the Middle Ages, the Camino in Spain was responsible for the largest movement of people in Europe: millions of people, both the rich and the poor, made their way to Santiago de Compostela, to attend a pilgrim mass. That is also our goal.
For those not familiar, the Spanish missions in the Americas were Catholic missions established by the Spanish Empire during the 16th to the 19th centuries in the period of the Spanish colonization of the Americas. The main goal of the California missions was to convert its Native Americans into devoted Christians and subsequently Spanish citizens.
And not just in California; these missions were scattered throughout the entirety of the Spanish colonies, which extended from Mexico all the way to the southwestern portions of the current-day United States to Argentina and as far away as present day Chile.
Today, if you think it’s hard walking this road imagine walking it back in 1769 with Father Serra (at age 59) and coming up through Baja Mexico for about 250 miles across the Viscaino desert. A party of thirty men, including Serra and twelve soldiers managed to move 200 head of cattle, 163 mules and some horses. Their provisions included some dried meat, grain, flour, cornmeal, and biscuits.
Today our little expedition travels with support vehicles pulling between them five porta potties. Every adult is wearing the latest in foot and backpack technology. Everyone in the group is probably college educated with lots of world travels and experience included. The children in the group are the most well behaved and content that we have witnessed. A credit to their parents and upbringing.
Who is this Junipero Serra you might ask? Serra was the one ultimately responsible for establishing the 21 California mission system because there were rumors that the Russians were starting to make a move on the part today we consider Northern California.
The chain of events began when King Charles II of Spain ordered José de Gálvez, the Governor in New Spain, to send people to start two colonies in Alta California. The settlements were to be near the harbors of San Diego and Monterey. The Spanish government needed to make it clear to anyone that Spain owned all of California. This is how Spain dealt with this indigenous peoples already on this land. Several hundred years later a new country called America got a second chance to do it better.
Everyone near me is on a mission “literally “ to recreate walking on the path of Junipero Serra. We passed through cities, desert terrain and oak savanna on this June 24/25 weekend, once we even camped on a school field. From a high hill our Christian advance scouts carrying the Junipero Serra banner now view the Pacific Ocean in the distance.
“On June 25th, we now come upon a large RV camping spot. Over 100 years ago this very spot would’ve likely held an Indian village. All the campers appear healthy, robust and friendly, most wanting to know who the heck Serra was and why were we walking? He was born in 1713 and lived to be seventy one years old. He explored California from 1769 to 1784.
Today the history of Spanish colonialism, Catholicism, and the birth of California cannot be properly told without including Serra and the Spanish mission system. The entire group now had less than 15 miles to go. Pressing southbound, we stayed close to the ocean.
There’s all kinds of people always “doing history,” and they ask all kinds of questions depending on the facts that come to light. But, we all have to keep in mind that historical events all look quite different from different vantage points and time periods.
First annual St Junipero Serra Pilgrimage. A special thank you to the Camino Walkers, Greg Wood and a group of volunteers who made this all possible.