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The Journey Begins

Aboard the Plane from Miami to Paris

And I'm Off

A sabbatical, particularly mine, is an odd thing. In my entire almost 18 years at IPF, I haven’t really ever unplugged. There’s always been something to do, an email to respond to, some decision to make, even if I was on a vacation. The timing of this sabbatical correlates directly with the current state of IPF, the strength of the staff and demonstrated initiative and leadership of the entire team. Heck, we onboarded two new staffers this week at the same time as I was sleeping on a plane bound for Europe. That would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. In short, this opportunity for me is only possible because of our incredible staff at IPF!

The last two days have been a whirlwind: the emotions of saying goodbye to my family for six weeks, a long day of travel to get to Paris, and being in Paris for less than 24 hours but having an absolutely delightful dinner with my Parisian cousins filled with good food and no shortage of libations. And then early train to St. Jean Pied-de-Port, the starting point of my walk, made complicated by what is almost certainly an unexpected case of pink eye and a delayed departure due to a passenger having a medical emergency upon boarding the train. An inauspicious start for sure.

Video recap of the journey from Tallahassee to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France

And yet, as I’m on the train only one night’s sleep away from starting to walk the entirety of Spain, I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity. Everything from this point until I return home is a new experience, filled with some measure of uncertainty: places I’ve never been, people I’ve never met, steps I’ve never taken. 

I’m mindful that while this uncertainty is the foundation for my excitement, our clients and their families are beset with diametrically opposed emotions based in their own uncertainties: how could my I be wrongfully convicted for something I didn’t do? Will someone be able to free my daughter and bring her home? Will my son be himself when he does come home?

At IPF we try our best to alleviate these uncertainties for our clients and their families and bring them hope. And I am just so damn thankful for the outpouring of financial support for our Freedom to Walk campaign, which demonstrates your commitment to removing those uncertainties for our released clients through the Exoneree Support Fund. We are half-way to our goal and I haven’t even started walking yet. The support is truly inspiring and with continued support, we may need to adjust our expectations about how successful this effort could be.

Top Row: river through Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, relaxing before the journey begins

Middle Row: El Camino De Santiago passport stamp, marker showing start of the Camino, sunrise at the start of the walk

Bottom Row: snow-capped Pyrenees, alberge accommodations for night 1, selfie during first day of walk


Today I began the journey and completed the first of many stages of the Camino Francees, going 23.7 km (about 14.5 miles) from St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Roncesvalles, Spain. I zoomed through the morning portion, walking with new friends from South Korea and meeting two new friends from, of all places, Pensacola, Florida, when we stopped for coffee and a croissant in Valcarlos. 

The remainder of the day was all up hill, ascending 800 meters over about 10km. It was very challenging going from dry ground, to mud and eventually to about a foot of snow when we reached the higher elevations. Despite this difficulty, it was an amazing first day, capped off with a great Pilgrim dinner with a man from Madrid, a woman from Barcelona and another man from Denver. I met so many great people from all over the world, many of whom will be on the way with me for this entire experience.  You can see a short video of some highlights from my first day.

Thank you for all of your support for me personally and the Freedom to Walk campaign. The outpouring of support for me, IPF and our clients has been overwhelming. I am so grateful. 

Until the next update. Buen Camino.

Video recap of Day 1 of the walk from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France to Roncesvalles, Spain


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