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July 5, 2011 > A mission to experience history

A mission to experience history

By William Marshak

A trio of adventurers are about to complete a journey tracing the footsteps of eighteenth and nineteenth century travelers in "Alta California" along the El Camino Real. Ron "Butch" Briery of Eagle Point, OR and Beppe Sala of Italy have walked every mile, part of a plan conceived in 2008 when they met while hiking in Santiago, Spain. Butch's wife, Sandy, joined the boys - Butch, age 65; Beppe, age 62 - for the first 200 miles beginning March 3, 2011 at San Diego de Alcala, then left to be with her grandchildren during Spring Break. She since rejoined the duo for the final portion of the journey scheduled to conclude at Mission San Francisco de Solano in Sonoma on Monday evening, April 25th.

For Sala, the trek is a spiritual experience similar to an earlier European pilgrimage he completed on Camino de Santiago also known as "The Way of St James." Next year Sala plans to embark on another pilgrimage from Rome to Jerusalem. Although Briery views the current journey in more of a historical context, both value slower travel as a way in which landscape and traveler can interact on a personal and elemental plane; as Sala puts it, "slower and without hurry."

Each day's hike of approximately 15-20 miles ended with shelter at a mission or camping somewhere in-between. Missions, constructed by the Spanish Franciscan Order, approximately 30 miles distant from one another, were constructed as a string of religious sanctuaries and fortifications within a day's horseback ride. El Camino Real (The Royal Road) was initially constructed in Las Californias to connect the missions, presidios and settlements along a route between Baja California Sur and Alta California.

While some mission personnel have greeted the hikers enthusiastically, others are marginally aware of their ambitious project. None, however, remember a similar journey in the recent past. It seems that time and progressive changes to the route have discouraged continuous passage although mapping options on the internet made planning each day's passage a bit easier. With little fanfare, Butch, Sandy and Bepe arrived at Mission San Jose de Guadalupe in Fremont, the eighteenth mission on their list, Wednesday, April 20. After a brief respite and tour of the site, they bid farewell as a group of visiting fourth grade students from St. Bede School in Hayward cheered them on.

Briery has been writing a guide so others can duplicate either all or part of the 21-mission expedition. He hopes to publish it soon "so others can do it too." Butch can be contacted at: rdbriery@yahoo.com

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