Waverly pilgrim revisits ‘09 trek
Published: January 20, 2013
When Waverly resident Sean Michael O’Dwyer prepared to travel the Appalachian Trail from Florida to Canada in 2009, a journey chronicled in his book “A Voice in the Wilderness,” he began by listing his fears about the trek.
O’Dwyer, a well-seasoned traveler by that point, recalled why hiking the trail was a daunting prospect. The journey, he said, involved “thousands of miles through tough topography,” with obstacles including poisonous plants, menacingly large animals, increasingly unpredictable weather conditions and disease-carrying insects and arachnids, particularly the deer tick, which he claims is even more threatening than the bull moose and bears he encountered during his travels.
“Lyme disease terrifies the bejeezus out of me,” he told a crowd that recently gathered to hear him speak and read passages from his book at the Sayre Public Library. These days, O’Dwyer has traveled close to home, speaking at libraries and other gathering places about his many pilgrimages.
Ultimately, he said, his biggest fear proved to be himself.
“Above all,” he wrote, “I am afraid of failure.”
O’Dwyer, who also goes by “The Pilgrim of St. James,” has traveled across much of the Earth, mainly on foot. O’Dwyer has claimed to circle the earth by foot and also by rail.
He’s hiked around the entirety of Ireland and has twice taken the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage through Europe, also known as “The Way of St. James,” from which he took his nickname. That route, he said, leads to a cathedral in northwestern Spain where the remains of St. James are said to have been buried.
His travels have also taken him to Russia, Italy and China, where he was able to walk a section of the Great Wall, he said.
And he looks the part of a rugged adventurer, known for frequently carrying his hickory walking stick as he speaks about his adventures in a thick Irish accent he developed while living in the country.
The 2009 trip, which O’Dwyer said comprised about 3,000 miles, took him several months, although he said someone in good physical condition could complete it in about three. O’Dwyer took several detours on his trip, he said.
He learned a few things along the way, he said. Firstly, “be prepared to do without,” he said. “A heavy pack will kill you.”
A pilgrim only needs three things for his entire trip, from the first step to the last: “a good hat on your head, a good stick in your hand and a good song in your heart,” O’Dwyer said before singing “Kelly the Boy From Killane,” a traditional Irish ballad about the 1798 rebellion.
He didn’t sing the fourth verse, he said, because “we lose in that verse.”
Hiking the trail, O’Dwyer said, also proved to be “too strenuous to keep a journal every day,” something he’s done on previous trips.
O’Dwyer also narrowly avoided two encounters with a mother black bear and cubs while on the trail, but learned his initial fear of bears was unwarranted.
“Black bears are the most sensitive, sensible creatures in the forest.”
While pilgrimage has its costs and challenges, it also has its rewards, O’Dwyer said. In fact, he said he plans another journey soon, in the reverse direction he traveled in 2009. He plans to begin in Canada, end in Florida and choose a path other than the Appalachian Trail, which “is not really a ‘through’ trail,” he said.
He’ll carry the most important lesson he learned from that trip with him on his journey, he said.
“Now I can preach, ‘Be not afraid’.”
Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: email@example.com.