One Man, One Million Steps

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Boise’s Kurt Koontz tests his body, mind and soul on a 490-mile pilgrimage across Spain, turning this modern day adventure tale into his first novel.

By Jamie Dillion

Do you know it takes 1,153 footsteps to walk a kilometer? No?

Well, Kurt Koontz knows. It’s the kind of information that mulls around in the mind of someone who has nothing but time and just shy of 500 miles in front of him. The rhythm of his progress lends way to an internal ticker. One. Two. Three steps. Eight-hundred. Nine-hundred. A thousand plus almost a few hundred more add up to one kilometer and then another and another, all tucking under the proverbial belt of this self-proclaimed adventure junkie.

It was on the 13th day of his 30-day walk on what’s known as the Camino de Santiago that this Southeast Boise man figured out that between the time he started his journey and when he reached his final destination, Santiago de Compostela, that he would take in total about a million steps – over rocky terrain and alongside sunflower fields, through quiet towns, up steep-pitched trails – sometimes alone and sometimes with the company of other foot travelers from any given country who shared the same intention.
In his first book, A Million Steps, Koontz tells the stories about his pilgrimage that started in Western France about 10 miles from the border of Spain and spanned another 480 miles across northern Spain. It’s a trek that millions haven taken since medieval times and is rooted in Christian history. The Camino, also referred to as The Way, is riddled with symbolism and lore, art and architecture, nature and, as Koontz learned almost every day, a tremendous amount of nurture.

In a quick, playful and poignant read, this wanderlust-filled man who chose to retire from a successful sales career at Micron Technology at the early age of 36 to sate his sense of adventure, shares with readers a string of sensory-rich experiences and his motivation for it all.

It’s a modern-day adventure tale of dichotomies and extremes: Warm bread and cold feet. Hard rain and sunny days. Open hearts and no room for closed minds. Language barriers and mental roadblocks. Getting lost – and the feeling of finding himself through it all.

This perpetually smiling and optimistic fellow, who stands at a formidably fit 6’5”, tells how he nearly gets thwarted by a solitary, coin-sized blister and how he finds good company in music and the thoughts of people who are waiting at home.
More importantly, he shows the impact of empathy and how even the smallest acts of generosity spur many more. When a stranger shares their sandwich with you when you’re hungry, you’re eager to make someone else feel as good, Koontz said. It’s a cycle that spreads over the entire journey and over the years, adding to the lure and perpetuating curiosity of others who wonder if they have what it takes – physically, mentally and spiritually – to walk the Camino.

“I love the notion that millions of people have taken their own million steps over the same earth I did,” said Koontz, who’s frequently asked to speak at schools, businesses and for a variety of organizations. “I love, too, to leave my footprints as a welcome mat for the millions of people and millions of stories that will happen in the years to come.”