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'Driven by the next step'

Lake Oswego Rotarian Skip Barnhart is walking 500 miles on the famed Camino de Santiago to raise money and awareness for PolioPlus

SUBMITTED PHOTO - While traveling the Camino de Santiago, Lake Oswego Rotary Club member Skip Barnhart drank in the countryside, enjoying sights such as this outdoor sculpture of travelers.A 70-year-old Lake Oswego Rotary Club member is trekking 500 miles across Europe on the historic Camino de Santiago trail to raise money for PolioPlus and awareness about a disease that’s still claiming lives.

Skip Barnhart plans to end his 32-day journey on Saturday, a walk he began in France but that mostly wended through Spain.

“I am meeting very interesting people spanning the age spectrum, from every continent and walk of life,” Barnhart wrote in a Sept. 25 email from the trail to friends and family. “We all seem to be driven by the next step, looking forward, rarely back. There is a pervasive spirit and daily sense of triumph.”

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Skip Barnhart of Lake Oswego and his son, Jamie, walked together for a large chunk of Barnhart's trip across Spain.For decades, Rotarians such as Barnhart have been performing acts of philanthropy to vanquish polio, and their efforts appear to be working. Today, the disease has nearly been eradicated, with active polio cases now reported in only a few countries.

PolioPlus, the organization Barnhart is supporting, is the fundraising arm of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a collaboration of the World Health Organization, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Poliomyelitis, a highly contagious virus, can render limbs useless and can kill if it settles into the brain stem. It can still be found in Pakistan, Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria and the Ukraine, and it has had a profound effect on Barnhart.

“The disfigurement and the deaths of these kids,” he told The Review in April, “just shocks the conscience.”

He timed his trek to end in early October, just a few weeks before World Polio Day ceremonies are held on Oct. 24. It’s an effort that hasn’t gone unnoticed at home.SUBMITTED PHOTO - Ancient holy places brighten the Camino de Santiago.

“It’s pretty impressive for Skip to walk 500 miles along the Camino de Santiago to raise money for Rotary’s cause to stamp out the polio virus,” says Robert LeChevallier, the Lake Oswego Rotary Club’s president-elect.

Barnhart says he has experienced great beauty, but he’s also discovered that doing good works isn’t always easy.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Skip Barnhart is walking 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient network of trails that pilgrims took to visit the burial site of St. James in the city of Santiago de Compostela. Its a well-worn path, and much of it is paved.“Today was spent bucking a headwind that was quite cold,” he wrote in a Sept. 16 email. “The rain (today) proved there is nothing waterproof about waterproof. I might as well have wrapped myself in a cotton bed sheet!”

Temperatures also have soared to 95 degrees during his pilgrimage.

The Camino, with a name that translates to “the Way of St. James,” has for 1,200 years been a network of trails for pilgrims of all faiths — a spiritual journey to the tomb of St. James in the city of Santiago de Compostela in Northwest Spain. The destination for most who walk the trail is appropriately called Camino de Finisterre. It’s by the Atlantic Ocean.

“In Roman days, it was considered the end of the world, so that’s why it’s called Finisterre — literally, ‘end of the world,’” Barnhart told The Review. “Can’t go any further West.”

Though many pilgrims, or peregrinos in Spanish, begin their route at their own doorstep — often in Spain, France or Portugal — Barnhart stepped onto the path at what many people consider the true beginning: St. Jean Pied de Port, a city in the foothills of the French Pyrenees mountain range.

Barnhart traversed about 17 miles a day on average after training throughout the Portland metro area to get ready. Yet even for a healthy, seasoned wayfarer, it has been a long, long trip.

“You have to be sort of disciplined,” he wrote. “I do have a couple of rest days planned.”

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Along the way, Skip Barnhart saw ancient churches and old customs in quiet agricultural areas or cities. Barnhart, who is chairman of the Lake Oswego club’s Rotary Foundation committee, navigated the trail with the support of two poles and a pair of lightweight Merrell boots that he expects will be well worn by the end of the trail

“Who knows? I may even burn my boots,” Barnhart says.

Hopefully, Camino de Santiago has been merciful on his toes. The terrain is mostly flat, with gentle rises. Youth hostels, churches and bed and breakfasts offer low-cost places for travelers to stay along the way, so there’s no need to carry a tent and sleeping bag.

“The Camino de Santiago is a progression of ‘eat, walk, drink, reflect, sleep,’ and do it again,” Barnhart explained in a Sept. 11 email.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - The Camino de Santiago offers modern and rural sights.Barnhart’s son Jamie, who is an attorney for the World Health Organization in Geneva, joined his father for about half of the adventure. Barnhart is completing the final 287 miles of his trip on his own.

However far he goes, though, he certainly has friends through Rotary. A Lake Oswego Rotary Club Facebook post says members have generously donated in support of Barnhart’s fundraising effort.

Adds the Facebook post, “We’re really proud of you, Skip!!!”

By Jillian Daley
503-636-1281, ext. 109
email: jdaley@lakeoswegoreview.com
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