Disconnecting to Reconnect – Our Search for More with Less

–Life begins at the end of your comfort zone

There I sat, thinking: What now? What’s next? Where do we go from here? Would I disappoint her? More on that later.

Everyone seemed to focus on writing about, talking about, and dreaming about achieving that elusive “work/life balance.” Although their reasoning seemed to consistently recommend the benefits of achieving this balance, we knew it rarely happened, and even more rarely did such balance last. No matter how well-intentioned they were, everyone appeared to fall short.

But not us! After years of “kicking the can down the road,” the time had finally come.

We were going to disconnect from our everyday life so we could reconnect with each other and the world around us.

We were going to do it not just for us, but for friends and family who might be inspired to follow our walk-the-talk lead someday.

So began our journey to discover “more with less”

My wife and I didn’t know that our quest would ultimately result in an actual walk down the infamous Camino de Santiago (known in English as the Way of Saint James.) The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage route that leads to Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of Saint James (Santiago) were discovered in the ninth century. The route has become popular in recent years. Many people find the exertion of walking for weeks—and being disconnected from modern devices for all that time—immensely liberating. Some see it as a spiritual path or a retreat for their spiritual growth.

We decided to walk the last 205 miles of the Camino de Santiago— starting in Leon, Spain and traveling to the city of Santiago de Compostela— in our search for something more.

An allegory for life itself, the Camino is a long and winding road that one must travel one step at a time.

The genesis for this adventure had been dinner with a long-lost friend in Phoenix (a side trip during a cross-country drive) who told us about the movie The Way, which inspired him to plan a trip to Spain to scatter the ashes of his recently deceased son. By carrying the ashes along the infamous Camino de Santiago and spilling them into the North Atlantic Ocean, he would honor his son and give emotional closure to his grief.

Call it karma. Call it a coincidence. The next evening upon arriving in San Francisco, my wife and I happened upon the movie showing nearby our hotel (enjoying it immensely) and were inspired to add the trip to our own “disconnect bucket list.” Four years later, our inspiration became a reality.

On an overcast and windy day, our pilgrimage started in the village of Valverde de la Virgen, just outside of Leon. As we took our first steps on the trail, we experienced a little of the storied camaraderie that exists among travelers. The friendly locals wished us “Buen Camino,” the traditional greeting for pilgrims that translates to “good path” or “good road.”

Our beginning walking pace was brisk as we followed the yellow arrows that guide pilgrims along the route. It surprised us how quickly became accustomed to spotting these arrows, wherever they turned up. Some are up high on posts and some are on the street. They’re painted on walls, and some even appear bending around corners!

The walk kept us engaged. Sometimes we passed by others, and sometimes they passed us. Everyone we met was friendly, and we often heard the customary “Buen Camino.” We quickly realized how important it is to walk at your own pace and make the trip your own.

Although we had prepared for our journey with a small supply of food and water, each little town along the way had a cafe or restaurant offering snacks and drinks. We decided to stop halfway through the day at Villandangos del Paramo, where we could take the advice of many who have gone before us: to rest, eat, and remove our boots for a while. As my boots came off, I was quite surprised to discover a few small blisters on my feet, although I’d felt no real discomfort during our morning walk. We both were proud of how well we had planned this aspect of the trip. Not only did we purchase the ideal walking boots, as recommended by the experts, but we had slowly and steadily broken those boots in over the course of many walks during the year as we trained for our journey. Nevertheless, we also carried a package of adhesive bandages, just in case. Now we simply covered each blister carefully, to ensure comfort for the remainder of the day’s trek.

After the brief respite, off we went again, covering another eight miles of majestic beauty and boundless serenity. As we trekked up and down the hills and valleys, we were astonished by breathtaking views of nature at its very best, a world uncompromised by man or machine. As our trek continued, I was surprised to feel burning sensations on the bottoms of both my feet, as if they were being pinched with each step I took. But we soldiered on, unwilling to be deterred by a blister or two.

Our final stop for the day was Hospital de Orbigo. According to legend, in 1434, a knight challenged other knights to cross the bridge there and break three lances against him, all to impress a lady. Thankfully, we were not required to deal with any lances. We arrived at our lodging around 3:30 p.m., delighted to have an opportunity to rest for the evening. We anticipated a much longer journey—twenty-seven-plus miles—the next day.


Dennis Pitocco
Dennis Pitocco
DENNIS is the Founder & Chief ReImaginator of 360° Nation, encompassing a wide range of multimedia enterprises, including BizCatalyst 360° —the award-winning global media digest; 360° Nation Studios —dedicated to reaching across the world in an effort to capture, produce, and deliver positive, uplifting messages via blockbuster global events, and; GoodWorks 360° —a pro-bono consulting foundation focused entirely on providing mission-critical advisory services to nonprofits worldwide. Collaborating with his Chief Inspiration Officer (and wife), Ali, everything they do is "for-good" vs. "for profit". Their mission over the past decade-plus has been to rediscover humanity at its best, influencing and showcasing it every step of the way. Together, they do their very best to figure out what the world is trying to be —then using all their resources to help it to be better every day in every way. They understand and embrace the notion that it’s not about me or you; it’s about caring for the people we serve and more responsibly stewarding the precious resources in our care. And they believe it’s about showing up, being present, and intentionally giving our invaluable gifts of time, talent, and treasure "for good". Dennis is a contributing author to these Best-Selling Books ♦ Chaos to Clarity: Sacred Stories of Transformational ChangeJourney Well, You Are More Than EnoughThe Four-Fold Formula For All Things Wellness: True Stories of the Heart, Spirit, Mind, and Body Voices of Strength Win the Wellness W.A.R. We Are Responsible

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    • Thanks for taking the time to read more of our “backstory”, Charlotte. In the midst of the adversity, we discovered the real meaning of perseverance, resilience, and indeed, we discovered so much more about each other. So our quest to disconnect to reconnect was a much more meaningful journey, despite the challenges …

  1. Dennis, this story completely captured my heart. Thank you very much for sharing your experience with us, and putting out such an excellent reminder to be present, step beyond the comfort zone, and live. This journey seems to have had a profound effect on you. It would have done the same for me.
    I’m sure Dee is proud and smiling – and that she was with you and your wife each step of the way. Your story, in some ways, reminds me of my mom. She passed away six years ago, however, the year before she had a leg amputation. She was 81 at the time. Many thought she’d never walk again and that a prosthetic was out of the question. But she refused to sit with that notion, and she did learn to walk with the help of a prosthetic – our very own Captain Dan.
    So, when I am feeling too tired to run or go to the gym or take that 4-mile walk, I remember my mom and I do it for her. Here’s to our everyday heroes. They are the most treasured gifts we could ever receive.
    I wish you well on your next journey and Godspeed.

    • Simply amazing how much our experience (challenges aside) transformed our lives for the better, Laura. And it is a gift that keeps on giving every day in so many ways. Thanks for your kind words and for sharing your Mom’s story – clearly an everyday hero …

  2. An amazing story Dennis! I am in awe at your determination, I think you channeling Dee was a step (or 450K of them) in the right direction. One of my beloved engineers just left, sadly. Yet we rejoiced for him as he departed. He had already hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. Shortly after finishing the PCT in 2018, he was back at work. A few months later he went in for his annual wellness check and they determined his heart was failing due to a birth defect. In April 2019, at 30 years old, he had the top third of his heart replaced. Then in November he was approached to join a fully sponsored hike of the Great Western Loop (over 7,200 miles). Only two people have ever made this hike. He couldn’t say no, and just 9 days ago, started off on the journey of a lifetime. Now he is part of a 12 person team that will hike the entire length of the loop while being filmed for a documentary. Your story had parallels to the stories he told of his hikes, the hardships, the triumphs, the motivations. It also reminded me that we can never take for granted the value of a good pair of shoes!

    • Thanks for weighing in here, Aaaron with your amazing (and inspirational) story… Few people can comprehend the “legacy” created via our walk – one that we never expected but one that we will treasure for a lifetime. And under the “lessons learned” column, our first entry is ignore the so-called “expert advice” and wear the very same everyday walking shoes you wear at home. Because (contrary to Nancy Sinatra’s song) those expensive professional hiking boots we were sold certaintly weren’t “made for walkin … “

  3. Dennis Strong Ink Indeed. A quest into the unknown, an epic journey. All journeys change us in someway and add to who we are. Each journey allows you to grow and discover more about life and yes more about yourself. Remember your friends always always have a cool bucket of water by the well for the dusty traveler.

  4. Sister would be very proud of you and Ali bro – she would of made you one of grandma’s favorite meals along with dessert to celebrate. Oops! Based on your plant-based diet, I would have to enjoy it for you.

    You and Ali along with our two baby sisters will be in our prayers on your soon upcoming sojourn to Compostela de Santiago – Buen Camino!

  5. This is a remarkable experience, Dennis! And beautifully written! It never ceases to amaze me how people surprise us with their challenges, and mind-over-matter attitude to overcome the impossible odds. Your experience of Divine Intervention is as true as it gets. Choosing a virtue against all odds. My hats off to you! Family bonds are an extremely strong incentive to carry on, one more step at a time. Love is all.

  6. Dennis — As you were sitting on that stone bench with your feet on fire, my wife’s outlook on problem solving popped into my head: “There is always a solution.” But who knows, maybe Dee was smiling down on you and pointing the way back to the shoe store.

    What a beautiful story, as Mark noted, of trial and triumph, and I’ll add, impact: “less is more” is a beautiful remembrance, more powerful than any photo.

    Thank you for sharing it.

    I am on a similar journey now albeit a virtual one. I am reading Timothy Egan’s beautifully written book: A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of Faith. Egan embarks on a thousand-mile pilgrimage along the Via Francigena “through the theological cradle of Christianity.” As I am not a person of faith, lapsed perhaps, but ever curious, I am “walking” with him.

    • Indeed, Jeff, we believe that Dee was providing me and us with a sense of purpose/direction. As we’ve said to many, we found “more” than we were looking for, and truly came back better versions of ourselves. So much history along “the way” – no doubt all of which would of particular interest to you…

  7. Dennis, this is a wonderful story of trial and triumph. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Joseph Campbell, but your story is “the hero’s journey”, the manifestation of Campbell’s notion of the monomyth:

    I admire you and your wife tremendously. And I wish you Godspeed on your second Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.

    P.S. When my son, Quinn, was nine, I made the mistake of buying him new soccer shoes to take to a week-long summer soccer camp. I had to soak the poor kid’s feet for the week after he came back.

    • Unfamiliar with Joseph Campbell but checked the Book out (“This is a book that should be read by almost everyone. We live between a flux of reality and a perpetual state of consciousness.”) and put it in my basket as a great read on during our next travel adventure. And thank you for your kind words. We came back different (but better) versions of ourselves, Mark in so many respects and our journey continued on the homefront as we approached life & relationships in a (positively) different way. In retrospect, our Camino trauma ultimately became the gift that simply keeps on giving. No doubt our return trip will be full of more, wonderful experiences. And this time around, I’ve got two sisters who were so inspired by our stories that they are coming along so they too can disconnect to reconnect. Ps. Quinn’s soccer shoe experience mirrors mine, as we made the mistake of taking “expert advice” on shoes versus simply walking in the very same “everyday” walking shoes that we’re most comfortable with at home. Won’t be making that mistake this time around 🙂