For the last 11 years Michelle Cole has celebrated her birthday by going for a walk in the mountains. But that’s going to change this year.
Following a cancer diagnosis in 2015, the Revelstoke native will be travelling all the way across Europe. Her major mode of transportation is going to be her own two feet.
“I lost my voice for six months after a backcountry camping trip and was later diagnosed with cancer,” says Cole. “Once I got on the other side of that, I decided it was time to celebrate my life.”
The former teacher says her trip is more than twenty years in the making, and has already been transformative.
Cole has gotten a passport for the first time, stopped eating wheat or meat, and in addition to training for what she calls a pilgrimage, regularly practices yoga.
She says being diagnosed with cancer was one of the best things that ever happened to her, and that her trip is part of a four-part healing pilgrimage.
“I think of this as a four-part pilgrimage,” says Cole. “There is connecting with the land, and the energy of the land in Europe. Connecting with my personal history, and also with intergenerational trauma. And then there is connecting with myself. Which is incredibly healing.”
Cole will not just be headed to Europe with a network of trails in mind, but with a slew of place names where her ancestors have previously lived.
For at least 15 years she’s been collecting those names and building a 15-generation genealogy.
Cole’s trip will start on her birthday.
She’ll leave Revelstoke and arrive in France via Vienna from Kelowna.
Once she lands in Europe, the Revelstoke native will work her way toward Spain and Portugal.
The former teacher intends to walk 800km through France before starting on the El Camino in Spain, (a world renowned trail regularly travelled by pilgrims also known as the Way of St. James in Europe) and work her way toward the Portuguese border.
From the Iberian Peninsula Cole will make her way to England where she plans to meet both of her daughters in Scotland to celebrate the winter solstice and new year.
“That will be my vacation from my vacation,” says Cole.
After she says goodbye to her daughters, Cole intends to make her way to Northern Italy and walk towards Sicily.
Cole grew up in the Slocan Valley and has basically lived outside her whole life.
The thought of roughing it for a year or more in Europe doesn’t phase her.
Instead she says she is looking forward to healing herself by walking with her ancestors’ spirits.
You can follow her journey, which will take at least a year, on Facebook.