I met a guy at a burner festival this summer. He’d pitched his tent next to ours, and invited my husband and I to share chicken patties and hot dogs one night around 1AM while we all sat watching psychadelic swirls on a huge white sheet hung in the forest nearby. It was a sublime moment, friendly and comfortable, and opened the door for us to really get to know each other (in between snack munching, that is).

This new friend, who we’ll call Walter, was about to fly to Spain at the end of the summer to participate in a pilgrimage called the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James. This pilgrimage route has been around since pre-medieval times, but was foremost used as a way for early Christians to visit the spot where the remains of St. James are supposedly buried. Modern times sees Christian and non-Christians alike taking this journey, with over 200,000 pilgrims in 2014 alone.

A pilgrim on the trail. [Photo Credit: www.hikingthecamino.com]

A pilgrim on the trail. [Photo Credit: www.hikingthecamino.com]

For my new friend in particular, making this pilgrimage is a way for him to grow not only spiritually but also physically. For years he has suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This is a way for him to be accountable for his movements and his activity, to get in touch with what is mental and what is physical in terms of pain and tiredness, and to take back his life in a new and improved way.

I have been watching updates of his travels over the past few weeks, as he winds deeper into northern Spain. All manner of physical, emotional and spiritual speed bumps greet him. And as I follow along his personal pilgrimage, thousands of miles and an ocean away, I realized that I, myself, am preparing for a pilgrimage of sorts.

Maybe you’ll recall that I started writing romance because of fan fiction. Specifically, Hanson fan fiction. At the tender age of 12, I began crafting my own silly stories involving me and Zac Hanson in our very own tumultuous, teenage relationship, battling difficulties such as dating an international celebrity, domestic tours, and jealousy about the new girl in the neighborhood.

This was a launch pad; my first fan fiction gave way to a second, which gave way to a third, which eventually gave way to my first non-Hanson novel at age 16, which is currently locked and bound in a chest in the deepest recesses of my childhood home, as it shall never see the light of day again.

Fan fiction, as is often the case, is the stomping ground of romance authors. It’s where we show up, take off our pants, and dive head first into the sandbox. It’s where new authors write whatever the fuck we feel like because it’s fan fiction, it’s pure inspiration, it’s plot lines doing a sexy tango with people you can look at and listen to. Unless it’s fan fiction based on fictional pieces…but back in MY day, all the fan fiction I read was about bands, or actors, etc. *grumble* These young hooligans and their fan fiction about fiction! 

I stopped writing fan fiction long ago. But every time Hanson comes into town to play a show, roughly every other year, I make it a point to go see them. And I prepare for this in a really particular way; most times, it’s very personal, very quiet, usually a day reserved just for me. I prefer to go to the shows alone, but this year I’ll be taking my husband for his first Hanson show, so he can see what a bunch of aged-up teeny-boppers look like.

Teeny boppers who STILL GET A LITTLE SCREAMY when the see pictures like this one!

Teeny boppers who STILL GET A LITTLE SCREAMY when the see pictures like this one! [Photo Credit: www.thecoastnews.com]

I haven’t bought their most recent album yet (I know, bad fan, bad! I’ll get on it, I swear). But I will shell out almost $100 to see the boys–well, men, now–that I basically grew up with, both on the television screen and inside the frothy imaginings of my mind. Because touching base with them, even though they don’t know who I am, and would very probably be really weirded out if they knew what I used to write about them, is really important to me. In a way, it’s touching base with myself. I am paying homage.

It is my pilgrimage. The Hanson concert is the Shrine of St. James, where I show up a weeping mess and toss roses and profess all my sins after kissing their feet. OK, doing that at the concert might get me kicked out…but this biannual pilgrimage is my way of professing thanks. These brothers sparked my imagination in such a way that I now have the honor to be where I am in life. They have given me a spectacular gift–one that has enriched my life in countless ways, and will continue to do so until the end of my time.

That’s the beauty of pilgrims. We’re all called to the road for different reasons. Maybe to prove something to ourselves. Maybe to make good with the deity-of-choice. Maybe to remember who we are, where we came from, and where we’re going.

I’ll be at the Hanson concert in Cleveland, OH in mid-October, if anyone else out there reading this is a fan and will show up too. Better still if I find other romance authors who shared the joy of late 90’s/early 2000’s fan fiction writing…pilgrims along the same path need to meet up from time to time to share a drink and rest our weary bones while Mmmbop! plays in the background.

Have you made a pilgrimage? Where did you go, and why was it important for you to do it? Do you have any plans to do the famous pilgrim routes throughout the world? Tell me about it below!