What is a Pilgrimage?

From: University of York: “‘Pilgrim’ and ‘pilgrimage’ are words that have carried a range of meanings over the centuries.

“The English term ‘pilgrim’ originally comes from the Latin word peregrinus (per, through + ager, field, country, land), which means a foreigner, a stranger, someone on a journey,…. It can describe a traveller making a brief journey to a particular place….”

Our Context

We consider travel a “pilgrimage.” The destination is not the sole purpose. We enrich our souls by being open to amazing travel surprises. Here are some we discovered on recent trips to New Jersey and Saskatchewan, Canada.

Interstate Highways are outstanding for getting places quickly, but we consider them a boring slog that bypasses fascinating places. Too many people focus on getting to a destination and miss intriguing sites along the way. In contrast, we often scan maps and brochures and, from time to time, duck off Interstates to drive on somewhat parallel, smaller roads stopping in towns bypassed by the interstates.

Two trips from this summer that highlight this concept come to mind. We’ve featured the Hopewell Earthworks around Chillicothe, OH, and took in great southern BBQ at Old Canal Smokehouse. The server presented us with an enormous slice of peanut butter pie and regaled us with tales of his childhood exploring the steep mounds and snaking earthworks while four of us made quick work of the dessert.


Logo Calico Cafe

An unusual cafe.

On our return from the East Coast, we needed a respite from the truck traffic and fast driving of I-80, so we exited and drove through Brookville, PA. Seeking coffee, we discovered the Calico Cafe.  While ordering we asked the barista where the restrooms were.  She responded, “You’ll find them through the cat room behind me.”   Cat room!!!!!  Well, we opened the door to find people petting cats. It was a place for them to get their cat fix.  We’re not cat people but the experience was different……something that can’t be found in chain eateries along Interstate exits. And the coffee was decent.


On a more recent drive to Saskatchewan, Canada, we were cruising north on Interstate 29 in North Dakota and spotted a tiny note on the map showing the location of North America’s tallest structure. It was along a small paved road that headed in the direction we wanted to go, so we exited, made a few turns, and saw, not a massive skyscraper, but a 2063-foot-tall television tower. To stabilize the tower, guy wires extended scores of yards out. Not terribly exciting but a sight we’d have missed had we stayed on the interstate. And it has a history.

Just north of the tower we passed through the small town of Mayville, North Dakota, and discovered a gem of a college called Mayville State University. With 80+ majors/minors, a student/faculty ratio of 14:1, and reasonable tuition, MSU would be a good bet for a solid education and a bright, “no-debt” future. Only a few miles north we tented overnight in Turtle River State Park. Songbirds serenaded us in the evening and greeted us in the early morning.

Medicine Wheel and College Towns

Valley City Medicine Wheel

Glacial boulders align to the rising and setting sun and moon.

On our return trip we were eastbound on Interstate 94. We’d picked up a brochure at a North Dakota welcome station about the Medicine Wheel Park in Valley City, a town between Bismarck and Fargo. Even though it was raining we exited, donned raincoats, and walked around a fascinating and well-maintained medicine wheel almost adjacent to the big road. The structure, inspired by the Big Horn Medicine Wheel, marks the rises and sets of the sun and moon in relation to the Earth. Then we drove through Valley City State University before jumping back on the big road.  VCSU has an interactive financial program with surrounding states and two Canadian provinces. Recreational opportunities abound.

Our western trip passed the geographic center of North America in Rugby, ND, (watch the video! It’s rather fun!), and a Continental Divide (Laurentian) between water flowing to Hudson Bay and that flowing to the Gulf of Mexico. Actually, a map reveals several watershed divides in the Americas.

Most travelers would have buzzed by these interesting stops. Curiosity grips us and leads us to unusual places we’d usually never heard of. We are richer for this.

Great Plains Colleges

Our son, Daniel, graduated from a college few people have ever heard of – Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota.  It was an outstanding educational experience for him. And, tuition and living expenses were modest. He graduated debt free.

We’ve explored other colleges in small Great Plains towns, sometimes to have coffee in their student center, and to learn about them. Many, like Black Hills State, are little known, offer outstanding education, and are inexpensive. They offer students the chance to earn a college degree without debt.

Here are a few we’ve visited:

Black Hills State, Spearfish, South Dakota.

Valley City State University, Valley City, North Dakota

Mayville State University, Mayville, ND

Wayne State University, Wayne, Nebraska

Know someone considering college?  One of these rather obscure but top-notch schools might be a perfect match……and there are many more we’ve yet to visit.