Saddling up to ride the California Mission Walk – on an eBike

Cursed with a longtime camino addiction and Europe closed to Americans Theresa told me a few weeks ago, “You need a walk.” She was right. After a few months of being COVID-couped up I’m ready to hit the road. What better choice than to do a camino right in my backyard?

I’ve been hearing for a few years about the California Mission Walk, and a few months ago some wonderful folks in Santa Barbara wrote me and asked what it would take to do a guidebook on the journey. I’ve been working with them and advising them in their project, but in the back of my mind I’ve also been wondering just what the walk is like.

The bare facts are that this walk connects the 21 Franciscan missions established in the 18th c by Spanish missionaries on the California coast between San Diego on the south and Sonoma on the north. By my calculations the distance is 850 miles or about 50+ walking days. I’ll bike it instead so I can make better time, and after last year’s rides in Spain and Italy I’ve come to appreciate the flexibility that comes from having two wheels available for side trips and additional exploration. I’ll use my new Aventon Level e-bike, which already presents a few problems: ebike batteries aren’t allowed on airplanes or some ferries. So here’s the plan: I’ll take the train to the Bay Area, ride and SMART train it to Petaluma, then ride up to Sonoma for my beginning. I’ll then ride around 35-40 miles a day — a relaxed pace — and make it to San Diego in time to high-tail it back home on the train for a couple of important birthdays and an anniversary.

In addition to the exploration, this trip will be something of a homecoming, too. My great-grandparents walked from Mexico to Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1860, and my mother’s side of the family is sprinkled all around Southern California. My mom was born in San Diego and four of us five kids were born in SoCal, too. I attended kindergarten and first grade there, so while I’m in town I’ll ride by our old house, my grandmother’s house, my old schools, and the church where I was baptized.

There’s a strong Mission Walkers group, and I’ve already benefitted from contacts with people like Butch Briery, Steven Woody, Jill Ballard, and many, many others. They’re all super-friendly and eager to help. I’ll have a tent and sleeping bag with me, plus all the usual gear. Should be fun!

Translation of text: Sigeric’s Journey on the Via Francigena

One of the things I love about my writing work is getting to do research in ancient documents and scholarly articles. As I write the introduction to my Vol. 3 “Lucca to Rome” guidebook, I’ve been digging into the historical roots of this fascinating pilgrimage itinerary.

The manuscripts above come from an 11th c scribe who copied a text recording overnights on the 990 walk of Archbishop Sigeric of Canterbury from Rome to the English Channel. They also record the churches he visited in Rome, providing a rare list of what would interest an Anglo-Saxon prelate from among Rome’s 10+/- churches. Both lists are a fascinating and unique window into the world of pilgrimage from 1000 years ago.

Here’s the transliterated text of the above manuscript along with a translation below. All are thanks to Veronica Ortenberg and can be found in her article “Archbishop Siger’s journey to Rome in 990.”

Transliterated text:

Primitus ad limitem bead Petri apostoli, deinde ad sanctam Mariam scolam Anglorum, ad sanctum Laurentium in craticula, ad sanctum Valentinum in ponte Molui, ad sanctum [sic] Agnes, ad sanctum Laurentium foris murum, ad sanctum Sebastianum, ad sanctum Anastasium, ad sanctum Paulum, ad sanctum Bonefatium, ad sanctum [sic] Savinam, ad sanctam Mariam scolam grecam, ad sanctam Ceciliam, ad sanctum Crisogonum, ad sanctam Mariam transtyberi, ad sanctum Pancratium, deinde reversi sunt in domum. Mane ad sanctam Mariam rotundam, ad sanctos Apostolos, ad sanctus Iohannes [sic] in
Laterane; inde refecimus cum domini [sic] apostolico Iohanne, deinde ad Ierusalem, ad sanctam Mariam maiorem, ad sanctum Petrum ad uincula, ad sanctum Laurentium ubi corpus eius assatus [sic] fuit.

Iste sunt submansiones de Roma usque ad mare: I, urbs Roma; II, Iohannis VIIII; III, Bacane; IIII, Suteria; V, Furcari; VI, sancte Valentine; VII, sancte Flauiane; VIII, sancta Cristina; IX, aqua pendente; X, sancte Petir in pail; XI, Abricula; XII, sancte Quiric; XIII, Turreiner; XIIII, Arbia; XV, Seocine; XVI, Burgenove; XVII, ./Else; XVIII, sancte Martin in fosse; XIX, sancte Gemiane; XX, sancte Maria glan; XXI, sancte Petre currant; XXII, sancte Dionisii; XXIII, Arneblanca; XXIIII, Aqua nigra; XXV, Forcri; XXVI, Luca; XXVII, Campmaior; XXVIII, Luna; XXIX, sancte Stephane; XXX, Aguilla; XXXI, Puntremel; XXXII, sancte Benedicte; XXXIII, sancte Modesanne; XXXIIII, Philemangenur; XXXV, Mezane; XXXVI, sanctae domnine; XXXVII, Floricun; XXXVIII, Placentia; XXXIX, sancte Andrea; XL, sancte Cristine; XLI, Pamphica; XLII, Tremel; XLIII, Uercel; XLIIII, sancte Agath; XLV, Eueri; XLVI, Publei; XLVII, Agusta; XLVIII, Sancte remei; XiJX, Petrescastel; L, Ursiores; LI, sancte Maurici; LII, Burbulei; LIII, Uiuaec; LIIII, Losanna; LV, Urba; LVI, Antifern; LVII,Punterlin; LVIII, Nos; LIX, Bysiceon; LX Cuscei; LXI, Sefui; LXII, Grenant; LXIII, Oisma; LXIIII, Blsecuile; LXV, Bar; LXVI, Breone; LXVII, Domaniant; LXVIII, Funtaine; LXVIIII, Cadeluns; LXX, Rems; LXXI, Corbunei; LXXII, Mundloduin; LXXIII, Martinwzd; LXXIIII, Duin; LXXV, A6erats; LXXVI, Bruwsei; LXXVII, Teranburh; LXXVIII, Gisne; LXXX, Sumeran.

And here is Ortenberg’s translation:


Ortenberg’s map of Sigeric’s pilgrim churches in Rome

First in the light of blessed St Peter, apostle (St Peter’s Basilica); to Santa Maria at the Angolorum School (now Santo Spirito in Sassia); to San Lorenzo in Lucina; to San Valentino near Ponte Milvio; to San Lorenzo Outside the Walls; to San Sebastiano; to San Anastasio; to San Paolo (outside the walls); to San Bonifazio; to Santa Sabina; to Santa Maria at the Greek School; to Santa Cecilia; to San Crisogono; to Santa Maria Trastevere; to San Pancrazio; to Santa Maria Rotunda (Pantheon); to the Holy Apostles; to San Giovanni in Laterano; to Jerusalem (Santa Croce in Gerusalemme); to Santa Maria Maggiore; to Saint Peter in Vincoli; to San Lorenzo in Panisperna.

These are the submansions (stages or stations) from Rome to the Sea: I. City of Rome, II. San Giovanni in Nono (La Storta); III. Bacccano; IV. Sutri; V. Santa Maria de Forcassi; VI. San Valentino (Viterbo); VII. San Flavianus (Montefiascone); VIII. Santa Cristina (Bolsena); IX. Acquapendente; X. San Pietro on Paglia (near Radicofani); XI. Abricula (Briccole); XII. San Quirico (d’orcin); XIII. Torrenieri; XIV. Arbia (Ponte d’Arbia?); XV. Siena; XVI. Burgo Nuovo d’Isola; XVII. River Elsa (near Colle Val d’Elsa); XVIII. San Martino Fosci (near Monteriggioni); XIX. San Gimignano; XX. Santa Maria, Chianni; XXI. San Pietro Corzzano; XXII. San Genesia (San Miniato); XXIII. Arneblanca (near Fucecchio); XXIV. Aqua Nigra (near Cappannori); XXV. Porcari; XXVI. Lucca; XXVII. Camaiore; XXVIII. Luni; XXIX. San Stefano di Magra (Sarzana?); XXX. Aulla; XXXI. Pontremoli; XXXII. San Benedetto (Montelungo); XXXIII. San Moderannus (Berceto); XXXIV. Fornovo di Taro or Felegata; XXXV. Medesano; XXXVI. San Donnino (Fidenza); XXXVII. Fiorenzuola d’Arda; XXXVIII. Piacenza; XXXIX. Corte San Andrea; XL. Santa Cristina; XLI. Pavia; XLII. Tromello; XLIII. Vercelli; XLIV. Santhiá; XLV. Ivrea; XLVI. Publei (?); XLVII. Aosta; XLVIII. Saint-Remy; XLIX. Bourg-Saint-Pierre; L. Orsiéres; LI. Saint-Maurice; LII. Vervey or Vouvry; LIII. Vevey; LIV. Lausanne; LV. Orbe; LVI. Antifern (?); LVII. Pontarlier; LVIII. Nods; LVIX. Besançon; LX. Cussey; LXI. Seveux; LXII. Grenant; LXIII. St Geosmes; LXIV. Blessonville; LXV. Bar-sur-Aube; LXVI. Brienne; LXVII. Donnement; LVIII. Fontaine; LIX. Châlons sur Marne; LXX. Rheims; LXXI. Corbény; LXXII. Laon; LXIII. Martinwaeth (?); LXXIV. Doingt; LXXV. Arras; LXXVI. Bruay-en-Artois; LXXVII. Thérouanne; LXXVIII. Guisnes; LXXX, Sombre, near Wissant.


Ortenberg’s map of Sigeric’s stages from Rome to the Channel.