Disconnecting to Reconnect – Our Search for More with Less

–Life begins at the end of your comfort zone

We were relieved to remove our now-christened walking boots and relax while we enjoyed a pilgrim’s three-course dinner, accompanied by local wine. Before settling down for the night, we attended to my feet by popping whatever blisters we could and soaking my feet in the bathtub for as long as possible. We spent a challenging night in an unfamiliar bed. Both of my feet burned without ceasing. But by morning, the pain had given way to a gorgeous sunrise, and we knew a world of discovery lay ahead. We dressed my feet as best we could, and off we went again.

I walked gingerly now and with the help of a collapsible walking stick I’d originally intended to use climbing hills along the trail. Throughout the day, we discovered not only amazing scenery, steeped in history and legend but also the simple pleasures of life stripped back to the essentials. As the hours went by, we strolled through several small villages, ultimately taking a break about four miles into our journey, driven not by a need for rest or snacks but because I felt that my feet were on fire. I came upon a stone bench on the outskirts of the village and took the opportunity to pull off my boots and explore the condition of my feet.

There I sat. Boots off. Feet exposed. What now? What’s next? Where do we go from here? Would I disappoint her?

These tough questions arose swiftly when I discovered that the previous day’s blisters had now morphed into scarlet bubbles covering the soles of both feet—festering, multiplying blisters. It became glaringly obvious I simply couldn’t put my boots back on. In fact, it looked like I was on the precipice of ending my trip, just ten miles into our long-planned, 205-mile adventure.

As my wife approached on the road from the village, she saw me look up from inspecting my feet. She said later that she’d never witnessed such an overwhelming look of anguish and despair. We both realized that tough choices lay ahead. The most obvious and likely best choice would be to terminate our journey right there and then. We knew we could hire a taxi from the village to drive us back to where this junket began. Even getting my socks back on would be a test of my pain threshold. My feet were well beyond band-aid solutions. We knew that I couldn’t keep walking in my “ideal” boots but finding alternative footwear in the village seemed nearly impossible because of my exceptionally large shoe size.

Not one to give up hope, my wife decided to venture back into the local hamlet in search of anything resembling a shoe store. Although I appreciated her noble effort, any steps forward, regardless of what covered my feet, were going to be torment and potentially dangerous to my health. So, there I sat, pondering the smartest and most logical choice— retreat—and weighing it against the years of anticipation, planning, and excitement that had gone into this bucket-list adventure.

I couldn’t let her down. I couldn’t let us down. There had to be a way.

What I needed at this point was a purpose to go on. At the end of the Camino de Santiago, many pilgrims are asked, “What was the reason for your walk?” The answers people give are as individual as they are varied. Some do it for spiritual renewal, and others to escape their daily life and reconnect with nature. Some are looking for a challenge, or for exercise, or to explore a different culture. Our original reason had been a combination of all of the above, I suppose, ultimately centered on three words: escape, unplug, and renew. But now I would need to dig deeper, to find some personal goal to propel me forward over the remaining 195 miles.

This was the time to fall upon my faith and beg for Divine intervention. And that’s when thoughts of my sister Dee came into my consciousness.

My beloved sister, one of seven siblings, had passed away too young, just nine years earlier, following a long illness. She was an amazing woman who embraced her faith and loved her family until the end. I decided, then and there, that my reason for conquering my pain and completing the pilgrimage would be to honor my sister. I would “do it for Dee.” The instant I made this decision, my wife came strolling back from the village with news: She had discovered just one small shoe shop, about a half-mile down the road. I would have to join her, so the proprietor could do his best to find something that would fit my inflamed feet. Without new footwear, my journey for Dee would be over before it started.

I hobbled into the village, now with help from both of our walking sticks, sharing my newfound inspiration with my wife along the way. The shopkeeper, who spoke no English, understood at a glance that there was no point in measuring my feet. He just needed to locate the largest shoes in his shop. Hoping for the best, he rummaged through his inventory. There were no size-thirteen shoes to be found; his largest were size ten. But then he remembered the only pair of sandals in his shop, which perched in the window display. He slid the sandals onto my feet in one last effort to solve our problem. And it worked! They fit, but only because of the long, adjustable Velcro straps. These sandals would be able to expand to whatever width I needed to snugly hold my feet in place, without putting any pressure on my damaged skin.


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 the 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.

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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 🙂