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Walk with Me: Kaitlin and Ben Cox

Walk with Me: Kaitlin and Ben Cox

When Kaitlin Fauria and Ben Cox planned their wedding, they knew they intended to walk together to “the end of the earth.” 

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A few days after their March 20, 2013, wedding, the couple left for a month-long walk from the Pyrenees mountains in France through northern Spain to Santiago, Spain, on a pilgrimage route known as El Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James.

The journey is a religious pilgrimage for many, made since medieval times, to a cathedral in the city of Santiago de Compostela where the bones of the apostle St. James are interred. The earliest records of pilgrims making the journey from England belong to the period between 1092 and 1105. Today, both the faithful and the adventurous make the walk.

A shared yen for travel was just a part of the attraction this bright young couple felt when they met through mutual friends in Fayetteville. Kaitlin had moved there from California to seek a degree in nursing. Ben, who had already graduated from the University of Arkansas when they met, is from Greenwood but a few months after they began dating, he had his first extended trip abroad.

“My cousin Laura wanted to send me somewhere as a graduation gift,” Ben said. “At least half of it had to be humanitarian and half of it could be whatever I wanted. I found a volunteer spot in Tanzania, teaching English to locals there and I got to go to Zanzibar and do some safaris.”

“I tried to get her to send me to Bali so I could teach English and surf but she didn’t go for that,” Ben joked.

Kaitlin met Ben in Rome at the end of his two-month African trip, giving them their first travel experience together. They found they were good at it and complemented each other by dividing up different tasks. She does the advance research, he handles the logistics when they’re on the ground, Kaitlin said. She credits him with the friendlier social skills.

He comes by it naturally. Ben’s from a friendly family. So, when the California transplant and the son of Patti and James O. Cox, Sebastian County Circuit Court judge, prepared wedding invitations, she learned the Cox family “knows everybody.” The guest list would be much larger than she expected. Ben kidded that his dad invited everyone he bumped into on the street, every day.

Even so, her ideas for the wedding decorations were “easy, simple and something I could put together,” she said. “I’m not super crafty, but his sister Katie is, thank God, because she helped out a lot, but I was budget-conscious since we were going on this big trip.”

Kaitlin said Ben was amenable to anything she wanted to do with the decorations and plans. “Whatever you want, babe,” was his easy-going response.

She designed their wedding program and the wedding party helped to hand-tie their own flowers. They were married in an architecturally beautiful First United Methodist Church in Greenwood, which was filled with sunlight on their wedding day.

The wedding party wore shades of charcoal to black and carried blushing pink and white flowers. Kaitlin had found her dress while on a visit home to California, an experience she was glad her younger sister and mother could share. She chose a 1920s-style veil, online.

As her father is no longer living, Kaitlin was escorted down the aisle by her mother. Kaitlin and her sister each had their father’s picture in a locket, Kaitlin’s attached to her bridal bouquet. The wedding rings were tied with ribbon to her dad’s childhood Daily Missal prayer book.

Attended by their siblings and close friends, they were definitively, authoritatively wed, Ben pointed out, in the presence of two ministers and a judge all participating as officiants.

Their reception was held at Fianna Hills Country Club, courtesy of Jim Shields, Ben’s uncle and an owner of the club. The view that evening was beautiful as the lights of the city began to come on as they arrived. Kaitlin chose simple decor because the venue itself was so pretty – just candlelight and flowers. 

They had novel appetizers of “mashed potato martinis” with toppings and sushi before serving heavy hors d’oeuvres. The champagne flowed and everyone danced and celebrated.

But the next morning was Easter. (“We hadn’t realized that,” Kaitlin admitted.) They attended church and, somehow, Ben’s mom presented a splendid Easter luncheon for all the relatives, Kaitlin noted.

After a few days’ rest, they packed only their backpacks and flew to Barcelona, a four-day starting point of their journey.

Their 600-mile trek began in the Pyrenees at the French border. They knew they would walk for at least 30-32 days. Ben injured a knee the first day, but got a walking stick and a brace and soldiered on. He recovered mid-trip.

“You get to know the people you walk with,” Ben said. Pilgrims meet along the way and just “walk along talking – about everything,” he said. They quickly became companionable with Brits, Australians and Canadians.

The photos they posted to the Internet when possible showed herds of sheep, narrow trails through overhanging trees and dirt lanes passing tiny farms. No two days were alike, they said, walking from village to village. There are many shrines and the symbol of the pilgrimage, a seashell, along the way.

Spaced at a day’s walking distance are restaurants, bars and hostels. Hostels are fine, Ben said, “if you don’t mind staying in a room with anywhere from six to 90 people.”

They reached their destination, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, after 500 miles. Then they continued, walking about 100 more miles to the Atlantic Coast to Cape Finisterre, “the end of the earth.” Fortunately, it includes a very nice beach, where they rested at last.

Just last month, they went to Machu Picchu, Peru, on a five-day trek and took along Kaitlin’s younger sister. They want to travel by trekking again and dream of New Zealand or Nepal.

“I’ve got trekking in my blood now,” Kaitlin said. Ben vows he would have started back on the camino again the next day. “I tell people we walked to a cliff at the end of the world and she didn’t push me off,” Ben quipped. “So, I guess we’ll make it.” 

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