Photo (c) Wynston Cooper 2014
The road North from Invercargill to Winton is wide, clear and well maintained. Large trucks burble past with their accompanying gust of cool, diesel tinged air every few minutes but the shoulders of the road are wide and it never feels dangerous. There are no towns or settlements in the 28 km between Invercargill and Winton, so there's no reason to break the journey. Starting at 8:00 am we walked steadily but not briskly, stopped by the roadside to make sandwiches, put our rain gear on briefly and took it off again, and we were in Winton by 2:00 pm.
This is prosperous country. The fences are straight and the pasture is lush, green and free of weeds. With the wide roads and the flat paddocks stretching off in every direction and the great empty sky it feels spacious. I quickly get into my own rhythms on a day like this. The road stretches straight so far ahead I can't see the next corner; there are very few rises or falls and when they come they are slight. The landscape is pleasant but unchanging. It is no use trying to anticipate what might lie ahead; the Rapid numbers on the letterboxes spell out the slowly decreasing number of kilometres to Winton, so I just put one foot after another, keep awareness of my breath, sometimes say the Jesus Prayer, and enjoy the long, unfolding present.
It's so far so good as far as our fitness goes. There are a few minor aches and pains, but nothing that needs worrying about. Despite the lessons of the Camino I have far too much gear with me, what with cycling clothes and a computer and a couple of bits and pieces I might need. When I have the opportunity I will rationalise and lighten up a bit.
We walked into leafy, well kept Winton and were greeted by a few members of the parish who accompanied us on the 1 km or so walk to the Church. After a cup of tea in the Church hall John and I were taken to a beautiful, large, modern farmhouse a few km out of Winton where we settled into the guest wing just as the rain began to fall. Well, to be more accurate, tumble, cascade, persist. We have a pot luck tea tonight at which we will share our experience of the Gospel and we will begin the 28 km walk to Dipton at 9:00 am. The rain is forecast to continue into Wednesday so it might be damp. Never mind. Walking for a month in Otago and Southland is guaranteed to involve rain at some stage and we are prepared.
This evening a large group gathered to share food. I spoke about a particular and peculiar coincidence that had once happened to me, and of how many of us have these markers of a larger intelligence active in our lives. Afterward two people told me, one with tears in his eyes, of profound happenings in their lives which had convinced them of the reality of a spiritual domain and of God's active presence. The hunger for spirituality and the knowledge of the divine is far more widespread than the creaking structures of our church allow us to believe.