Thursday, June 21, 2018
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20161123 Hikes-Trail ChuckProesel 003Dr. Charles “Chuck” Proesel DDS, a master dentist from Gridley, Ill., who spends his winters at Bentsen Grove RV Park in Mission, has just completed walking the trail of St. Francis of Assisi, the same trail walked during Biblical times, to the location where St. James the Apostle’s bones are located.

Proesel started his career as dentist assigned to the USS Coral Sea, CVA-43 in the early 1970s while the Vietnam War was raging on land. He spent two years doing routine dental work while the senior dentist took the trauma cases that were brought to the ship.

Afterwards, he returned home to Illinois where he worked his way up to Master Dentist, of which there are only 2000, of the 160,000 dentists practicing in the U.S. today.

He was active in the American Dental Association (ADA) at the state and national levels during his career and served 15 years on Illinois’ Review Committee and on the Illinois State Charitable Foundation. He was a member of the House of Delegates for Illinois’ state dental association.

At the national level he participated in ADA meetings that made policies on issues such as how much fluoride was safe for children to have in their treatments.

But now that he has almost retired, he has turned his attention to other interests.

The interest in making the walk was sparked when he took a Cursillo or a mini course in Christianity. The concept had its beginning after World War II as a way to get veterans of WWII back in church. While it started in the Catholic Church it has also been used by Lutherans and Methodists who call it “The Walk to Emmaus.”

During his Crusillo, Proesel learned about the walk Camino de Santiago, the trail taken by St. Francis of Assisi to Santiago de Compostela, Spain where today the bones of St. James are held in a gold box inside the cathedral.

St. Francis started his journey in Italy but many pilgrims start in St. Jean Pied de Port, France where Proesel started. The trail from that location is called Camino de Santiago. He found that some of the Europeans he met on the trip walked across Europe as well.

Proesel said those who make the walk are granted an indulgence from the Catholic Church. Indulgences help people get out of purgatory and into heaven quicker he explained.

The walk was 788 kilometers (490 miles) long and took him five and a half weeks to complete. The terrain varied from rough, requiring him to climb several of the Pyrenees Mountains, to gentler trails leading through a number of villages.

Proesel found the first day crossing one of the mountains was the most grueling. He had to climb from 400 feet above sea level to about 5000 feet above sea level and then go back down to 700 feet above sea level. It was a 28-kilometer hike (about 17.4 miles) that took one day.

“There are areas where the path is rocky and watching your step is crucial,” said Proesel.

“There is a movie called ‘The Way’ I saw during my Crusillo starring Martin Sheen and directed by Emilio Estevez where Emilio, who plays the son, is killed on the first day of the walk because that is the most treacherous part of Camino De Santiago,” added Chuck.

“The weather is often foggy and it can snow. It snowed a bit the morning I left but it wore off quickly. But that is not always the case. Recently a couple from France got lost due to heavy fog on the trail and were lost on the mountain for five days before finding their way out,” he added.

“That was by far the toughest part of the walk. I was so tired I only walked three hours before stopping the next day. The good thing about the walk is that each pilgrim can walk at his or her own pace. There are many villages along the route that have hostels where pilgrims spend the nights. Bunks are provided and meals can be purchased at the hostel or in the cafés along the route.

Some days the route took him along green hills with mountains in the background. Other days he walked along the paths that cattle, sheep and goats used going to mountain pastures. There were vineyards and farm fields along the route to see. And there were many villages along the way to sightsee or eat lunch. One day he passed a sculpture garden where an artist was displaying his works. In one village he saw a woman with a horse drinking from the fountain in the center of the square. The water coming out of the top was pure enough for humans to drink while the horse enjoyed the water that accumulated at the bottom of the fountain.

Another day he came to a cave where a couple gave water and food for donations instead of asking a specific price for the items. There was no charge for to those who had no money. Another time he met a group of seven Spanish men who had known each other since elementary school who were hiking the trail together, singing as they traveled. He had a fellow pilgrim take his picture at a statue of a pilgrim located along the trail.

There is a special iron cross called Cruz de Ferro located at one point on the trail where pilgrims take rocks from where they live and add them to the pile already at the bottom of the cross. The mound around the cross is about 30 feet high now.

Before he left, one of Proesel’s patients who knew he was going, called him and asked if he would take something special with him to leave on the cross. A friend of hers had a son named Andrew, who made the walk four years ago and found it to be very meaningful. Andrew died in January of a brain tumor. His mother wanted Chuck to take a medal with Andrew’s name on it and put in on the cross. Chuck wore the medal around his neck until he arrived at the cross. Then a fellow pilgrim used Chuck’s telephone and recorded him climbing the mound and hanging the medal on the cross so Andrew’s mother could see it.

Chuck often ate lunch in small restaurants and if calamari was on the menu, he ordered it because it is one of his favorite foods. He carried a backpack with his clothes, a sleeping bag in case the hostel had no linens, first aid supplies, two bottles of water and snacks to eat along the way. He took pictures with the camera on his phone.

He took most of his meals in the hostels where three course meals were served starting with soup followed by rice or pasta and a stew.

One of the best things Proesel found about walking the trail was the chance to meet people from all over the world. He traveled alone since his wife was unable to make the trip. He met a couple from Vancouver and walked with them the last three weeks. Along the way me met pilgrims who made the trip three or four times. He even met a man who had walked the trail over 60 times and was writing a book about his experiences.

He showed a picture of people around a dining table at one of the hostels and said they were from Vancouver, Germany, Italy, Denver, Salt Lake City and Steamboat Springs.

At the end of the pilgrimage Proesel had a lot of satisfaction at having completed it. He never felt threatened in any way along the trail, and felt there was a spiritual presence along the trail caring for the pilgrims. Chuck celebrated his 70th birthday on the trail and was proud that at his age he was able to complete the entire distance of around 490 miles. It was a very meaningful experience for him.

He finished his pilgrimage on October 25 and by October 29, he was back in Illinois and headed toward his winter home at Bentsen Grove RV Park in Mission with plenty of adventures to share with his winter friends.

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