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College sophomore took journey to learn more about himself

John Schultes is seen during his travels in Spain.

John Schultes is seen during his travels in Spain.

College sophomore John Schulte spent July on a 500-mile hike across northern Spain, taking the “Way of St. James” pilgrimage that ends at the Cathedral of Santiago in Galacia, in northwestern Spain.

“I think I got my life figured out,” Schulte, 19, said. “For the most part, it was just kind of go, do it and see what happens, because I know it’s an experience and I wanted a new place to see.”

He had many reasons for making the trip.

“I wanted to see more, and meet new people with different ideas and different culture,” the Jefferson City native said. “I think my main goal for the whole journey was awareness (and), maybe, a story or some ideas — just walking, I had all that time to myself, to think.”

The “Way of St. James” ends at the cathedral where, tradition says, St. James the Apostle is buried.

There actually are a number of trails that all end at the same place, and all are considered part of “The Way.” Over the years, the various trails were a religious pilgrimage — especially in the Middle Ages.

Today, Schulte said, “The majority of people I met on the trail were not there for religion.

“I found that really interesting, because I thought I was going to meet a lot more people that were going for religion.”

But most of the people he met or traveled with were, like him, on the trail for personal reasons.

“Philosophically, I was thinking a lot deeper than normally, and getting into myself,” he said. “And, really, trying to meet other people and push myself was a big thing — just to see that I could walk 500 miles and test my mentality.”

Schulte averaged 162⁄3 miles a day across mountains and farm fields.

“There’s four bigger metropolitan areas that you walk through,” he said. “The rest is rural villages — they look like they haven’t been touched in ages.

“It’s definitely pretty rural. There are some parts where you go a long way and don’t hit any towns at all.”

He slept outdoors a couple of times, Schulte said. But the trails offer hostel-like accommodations called “albergues” (Al-BURR-gays).

“These albergues are very cheap — and some are, actually, free,” he said. “Some are very nice, and some are like homeless shelters — big rooms with bunk beds (or) mats on the ground.”

Some days, he traveled alone. Other days, there were groups.

On those days — and when there were groups together at an albergue — “You explain your life story to people,” he said. “I think the people that you meet and talk to, you get extremely close.”

Some of the travelers spoke English, while communication with others required effort.

“There was one man I met several times, and all we did was wave at each other,” Schulte said.

Schulte plans to be a journalist and a creative writer.

Part of the idea of a pilgrimage was to think about that, he said.

“Do I want to be a journalist? Do I want to be a writer? What do I want to do?” he said. “What is my purpose?

“Why do I want to be a journalist? I thought about that a lot.”

And, he said, he came away from the experience more convinced that writing and reporting is the career he wants to follow.

Schulte said he’s thought about writing for much of his life, but credits Helias Catholic High School English teacher Brandon Martin, who also sponsors the school’s Journalism Club, as the inspiration for his career focus.

“I was in his English class, and I loved writing, and he said, ‘Why don’t you try journalism?’” Schulte said. “I did an article or two for the paper.

“And I got more and more into it, and I became the senior editor of the paper my senior year, and decided I wanted to do that in college.”

Schulte graduated from Helias in 2012, and is in the University of Missouri’s pre-journalism program in Columbia.

“I’m also very interested in politics and investigative things like that,” he said. “Also, I’m very curious and really want to get into everything and learn about as much as I can.

“So, I figured journalism would be the best course for that.”

He said that passion and curiosity led him to consider a pilgrimage of some kind.

His original goal had been taking the Inca Trail through Peru, but his parents encouraged him to consider a different location.

After his journey, he said, he talked with someone who took the South American trip — and Schulte decided he had the better experience.

While the Way has been traveled for centuries, Schulte said, taking it in the 21st century has some advantages.

He exchanged email addresses with a number of the folks he met, already has exchanged pictures and plans to stay in touch with many of them.

“I met so many people from all over the world,” he said. “I went to Spain.

“But I felt like I went so many other places just because I was walking with people from Lithuania, South Africa, England, Italy — just all over.”

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