It's pitch dark when the rustling begins. Sleeping bags shoved into stuff sacks. Legs into pants, feet into socks, gear into backpacks. The morning ablutions. Headlamps and cellphone flashlights dart into the darkest corners, checking nothing has been left behind. Evening pleasantries forgotten, not a word spoken.
You're one of the first out the door, closing it softly behind you. You forego the sleepy cafe across the street, taking one last glance at the village you are leaving, with its shuttered shopfronts and rainy pavements and grey silent church. Then it's uphill on an asphalt road past country houses still asleep, onto a woodland path beneath dripping pines, the rain gentle on your poncho.
Before long the older Dutch couple catch up to you, the petite wife in her high tech gear motoring ahead as she always does. The husband slows briefly to chat, introducing you to a pilgrim's song, its rhythm echoing the pace of the walk. Then he too is off, joining the wife, the two of them singing into the rain.
You enter a town. Everything closed. So quiet, dogs don't even bark. The sun comes out and for a moment you see your shadow. How much do you resemble the other pilgrims who have walked this same path? You, with your broad brimmed hat, your cloak-like poncho and your walking stick. You and thousands of pilgrims have walked this road for centuries, rising early with strangers, walking through the days. Knowing your destination but perhaps not knowing the reason you walk until days or even years after your journey has ended.