By: Dominique Johnson
Adventure and an experience in the Alaskan wilderness are common themes you may hear when someone decides to journey through Alaska’s inside passage by kayak, but for longtime friends Patrick Ryland and Daniel Amy a longing for spiritual renewal was their reason for a three-month pilgrimage to the National Shrine of St. Therese.
Ryland and Amy met their freshman year at Thomas Aquinas College in California and have both spent time outdoors and going on adventures together. While they were attending school in California they both decided that one day they would make the voyage to Alaska via kayak, but ten years ago, they didn’t imagine the trip would be for a religious experience.
“We were feeling this call to pray together, and to get deeper with God together and we weren’t sure where that was going to lead us and one of the options was kayaking to Alaska,” Ryland said.
This past winter Amy, a Canadian citizen, began praying a novena with Ryland for a way to stay in the United States as his visa was about to expire.
“By the end of the week things had been turned on their head, and all of a sudden we were talking about how we needed to get this trip together and leave in the spring,” Ryland said.
When they began planning the trip, their only destination was to Spruce Island, near Kodiak, so, Amy, an Orthodox Christian, could visit the area where St. Herman, an Orthodox saint, lived and prayed.
They added an additional destination to their trip when Ryland, a Roman Catholic, shared his plans to travel up the inside passage with a deacon at his parish, St. Mary Star of the Sea, in Port Townsend, Washington. It was his conversation with Deacon Bill Swanson, a former Juneau resident, where Ryland learned about the National Shrine of St. Therese. Deacon Swanson shared with Ryland how the Shrine, as well as learning about the life of St. Therese played a role in his conversion to Catholicism.
Ryland felt that this was God again telling him to make this trip, because he had just finished reading the retreat of St. Therese, in Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book 33 Days to Merciful Love. Ryland decided after that conversation, “okay we’re paddling to Juneau.”
Though Amy and Ryland had experience hiking and camping, neither had been on a long kayak trip before. Ryland had completed a couple five day trips and when asked about his longest trip Amy quickly laughed, “A lot shorter than this.”
Patrick Ryland and Daniel Amy took off from Port Townsend on April 21st for their long talked about journey, expecting a wilderness experience through British Columbia and Alaska, but found out that the experience was less about being in the wild and more about an encounter with people by sharing their stories. It was in these encounters they were able to experience Christ in the people they met along their journey.
“We didn’t expect it to be as much about encounter and sharing, conversation and praying with people and praying for people that we met,” Ryland shared.
One of the encounters that Ryland recalled was with a couple on Hardwicke Island, British Columbia, who let them stay in their cabin for three days, while they were waiting for a storm to pass. The couple also shared food with Amy and Ryland and taught them how to fish. “We really didn’t know the first thing about fishing,” Ryland joked, “They showed us how to tie the knots, where to cast for rockfish and how to improve their trolling.” Ryland added, “It wasn’t an explicitly spiritual experience, but it was this really good human connection…and we’ll always carry these people in our hearts.”
With them in their kayaks Amy and Ryland carried a book of prayer intentions with intentions shared by the people from their home parishes in Port Townsend and with the people they encountered on the pilgrimage. On the cover of the book is a painting of St. Therese and St. Herman. “We put down prayers that people wanted us to carry, which gave us a feeling that we were doing this on behalf of our communities.”
Ryland wanted people to know “We are sinners in need of the grace of God” and on this pilgrimage, “I felt heard in my prayer for spiritual healing.” He added that he knows his spiritual journey is still unfolding and will continue beyond this trip.
Ryland and Amy arrived at the Shrine July 30th, after three months on the water. They plan to stay in Juneau for a few weeks to pray and encounter the people visiting the National Shrine of St. Therese. Juneau will be their final kayaking destination. They plan to sell their kayaks and find another mode of transportation to reach Spruce Island before heading home.
Ryland and Amy encourage people to share their stories and religious experiences with others, because it was in sharing their faith that they could grow their friendship, as well as their relationship with God.