Ten Inspiring People I Met on the Internet and Now Call Friends

Keith Richardson

Some time around 2014 my phone rang and showed an unknown number. The caller identified himself at Keith Richardson and said he’d found a blog site where I mostly wrote about our adventures building a house and living part-time in Ecuador. He wondered if I had time for a few questions. I said, sure.

Six years later, Keith and I are close friends. He is a man I admire. Smart as a whip. Moral. A learner. Compassionate for those less fortunate. A giver. Both a lawyer and a minister by profession. We communicate frequently as friends and consider ourselves traveling companions. We’ve spent a week together in Ecuador, and last year logged about four thousand miles together on a round-trip, road trip to Nova Scotia. I consider Keith a part of my inner circle.

Beth Jusino

Beth’s name began popping up in my social media feed during my 2015 pilgrimage on the Way of St. James. She and her husband had walked just months earlier and she re-lived her experience through me, though it was quite different from hers.

Writers pay attention to how others write, even on social media. I immediately

With Beth in Asheville, NC.

recognized her as a skilled and thoughtful writer, one of the best around. That alone drew me to her as a friend. Little did either of us know we’d both spend the next couple of years writing about the walking experience. Her book is Walking to the End of the World. Our friendship also became a professional relationship. I’ve consulted with Beth on several writing projects, and she is the lead editor for The King of Highbanks Road. Beth blogs at caminotimestwo.com and bethjusino.com. She is one of those people whose opinion is important.

Annie O’Neil

Annie introduced herself to me the same as Beth. Social media comments here and there during pilgrimage. Because the pilgrim population is a tight-knit group, I knew of Annie’s work on a developing documentary called Phil’s Camino. It was an honor having Annie in the conversation.

I’d actually first seen Annie in her own documentary, Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. The film captured Annie’s physical pain with several miles yet to go. She was

The one, the only, Annie O’Neil.

genuine, authentic and raw in that film, and I knew I’d like her immediately.

We became close enough friends, and Annie identifies with my writing enough, that I asked her to write the foreword for Pilgrim Strong. She was the perfect person in that moment. Our names are forever intertwined in that relationship.

We get to hang out occasionally. We spent a day together at the Hot Springs Film Festival and watched the total eclipse together near Kansas City in 2018. Annie is an incredible artistic talent.

Phil Volker

He is the rock star of the pilgrim community.

Phil Volker is the focus of Annie’s film, Phil’s Camino, the story of a man who overcame all odds to walk the Way. Phil, too, followed along as I walked in 2015.

He is one of the most inspiring men you’ll ever meet. My favorite Phil Volker quote:

“There is a difference in being cured and being healed. At this point in life I’m focusing on the healing which means all the important things in life are reconciled like my relationships with my family and with God.”

It was one of my greatest pleasures walking with Phil on his camino in 2018, and I’ll see him later this year at a gathering now known as Philstock. Yes, he has his own annual gathering. That’s how much people love him.

Susan & Kym Gardner

Another Camino connection. Susan and I were first connected until I met both her and her husband, Kym at the Gathering of Pilgrims in Asheville last year. This North Carolina-based couple is kind and generous, and have found a way to use their resources for the greater good.

For the last two years, they’ve organized groups that are part of a long-term project to carry a young man named Gabriel across the Way. Physical limitations confine Gabriel to a wheelchair. The experiences they’ve shared as part of Gabriel’s camino are amazing.

Brien Crothers

Some people are just extraordinary. Brien Crothers is one.

All-round good man, and endurance athlete Brien Crothers.

Though we connected through pilgrimage, I am most impressed with Brien’s adventures as an endurance athlete. He’s run several ultra marathons across several deserts on several continents. He’s complete the Western States 100 on multiple occasions, and he’s just a super nice guy. He allowed me to tag along last year, observing an aid station around mile 70 of this spectacular event.

Brien and his wife, Kathey, opened their home to me in 2019 during a book tour through California. We have the same eccentric qualities with an interest in many things and Brien is steadily working on his writing craft.

Roni Kay

I never realized how many friends I’ve developed just because of pilgrimage. Roni is another.

Her comments on my social media thread in 2015 struck me much in the same way Beth’s did. Roni was clearly educated, thoughtful, and articulate. I eventually learned she was closing in on her doctoral degree in communication and was studying how the use of technology impacted pilgrimage with people who used it. I was the perfect mouse in the maze to observe on that topic.

She’s since completed that degree, frequently demonstrates an amazing flair for photography across rural Oklahoma and the world, and she travels. Roni’s headed back to Camino in just a few weeks.

Suzan Haskins

The only person on this list I’ve not met personally.

Suzan and her husband’s work in travel writing first caught my attention back around 2010. They were writing a lot for a publication known as International Living, and Ecuador was a frequent topic. Their writing piqued our curiosity enough that Dana and I made a 3-week exploratory trip to Ecuador in 2012. It’s a long story after that, but Latin America has since become a big part of our lives.

I was on a train to Pamplona when Suzan wrote and asked if I’d consider writing a story about pilgrimage for International Living.

I ultimately learned Suzan has considerable roots in Arkansas and an impressive list of writing credentials. She is one of those folks with a solid world view based on real experience.

Thomas  Wynne

If you have a wooden sign in your home about your pilgrimage experience chances are this Minnesota man made it. Tom has a great Etsy business making commemorative camino signs and he’s one of the kindest men you’ll ever know. After reading Pilgrim Strong, Tom sent me several pieces of his work as “thanks” for the book.

When Tom passed though Arkansas last year, he and his wife spent a night with us. We made him an honorary citizen of Wynne, AR, just forty miles south of here.

James Rubart

It was my first literary gathering – The Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference in Asheville, NC. A particular book in the bookstore drew me toward it and I began flipping through. The voice from behind is one I’ll never forget.

“My mother just LOVES that book,” the voice said. And I wondered who this strange man was, and why he was talking to me.

He was the author! What an honor!

I followed Jim’s career from that moment. A New York Times best selling author, he’s achieved the highest awards in the world of Christian fiction. And he’s an amazing person.

I attended his Rubart Academy last year just so I could get to know Jim better. It was time and money well spent. I’m hopeful I’ll get to say more about working with Jim in the next few weeks.

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