Prologue

June 15,2016

Sometime in 2014, I read an article in the Times Colonist about the Camino de Santiago. I am not really sure what exactly drew me to the article. I read it and was quite fascinated about this 800 km journey across the top of Spain.

A movie was going to be playing up at the University of  Victoria in the weeks following the article, and I suggested to my two children, Reagan and Taylor, that they should come with me. Perhaps as a family we could do part of the Camino.

I went to the movie and I was hooked. The Camino is a pilgrimage, which of course people do for different reasons. I have my own which I will share at some point in this blog.

Both my kids now have children of their own, and we realized that it was really not practical to think that we could do this together. Nevertheless, Dad…Granddad..said he was going! I originally planned on starting in the Fall of 2015, however everything I had read about the weather at that time of the year convinced me to start instead in the spring of 2016.

I fly from Victoria, BC to Paris on April 23rd, I take two trains from Paris and on April 25th I will start my Camino in St Jean Pied de Port, France . I will simply put one foot in front of the other and stop about 800kms later in Santiago, Spain. From everything I have read the journey should take me about 35 days or so.

I had a ” Camino ” Christmas..I received a number of items that I will need to put in my backpack for the journey. I have bought my “credencial” from the Canadian Company of Pilgrims, which I will get stamped at the hostels or “alberques” along the way. More about them later . At the end of the journey you need to produce this stamped credencial to prove that you are indeed a true pilgrim! For that, you receive a parchment with your name spelled in Latin. After my Camino, I expect to be addressed by my Latin name at all times!

So, how am I feeling now. Nervous as hell, thats how I am feeling.There is no turning back. I know this will be the adventure and a journey of a lifetime. I expect it’s the fear of the unknown that I am a bit wary about. Will I indeed be able to walk that far? What if I fail? Will I be well enough prepared? Can a 64 year old fart sleep in a hostel?

After I have told people about my plan to walk the Camino, usually the first thing that most  ask me is if I am going with a group or going alone. I am going alone. I know I have to go alone. From the books I have read and stories I have heard, many folks who travel with a group soon find that for a number of reasons the group breaks up. For simply selfish and practical reasons, quite frankly, I don’t want to debate with anyone on any particular day how far we should walk, when we should stop to eat, or  where we should stay for the night. Mostly though, I want to travel alone because I think to take the entire adventure in for what it is, to experience the pilgrimage of the Camino, I have to do it on my own. And it’s not like I will truly be alone. In fact, there are thousands of people who walk the Camino so I expect I will meet many pilgrims along the way. But I am not stuck with them for 800kms!

As far as walking the Camino, some people really get it, and some just don’t. They shake my hand and wish me well and say have a great time, but they just don’t get why someone…me in this case..would want to walk 800 kms across the north of Spain.

Let the Preparations Begin

January 19, 2016

The journey of walking the Camino became a reality the day that I purchased the plane tickets. I had always said that I would buy an “open” ticket , rather than a return ticket. However when I went to purchase the ticket, I discovered an open ticket was almost twice the price of a return ticket. So, I built into my journey what I hope will be a sufficient buffer…6 days.

The bible on the Camino ” A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago” by John Brierley tells me that it should take 33 days of walking to complete my journey, and on top of that you should build in a couple of rest days.

So ticket purchased, what’s next? Those that know me ,know that I really like to research things. Now that is mostly when I am about to purchase a wide screen TV, a sound system, a new car etc. So I started to research the Camino to sort out how to prepare for the trip. Searching the Internet on the Camino is enough to scare you away from making the journey. There are literally thousand and thousands of pages on the Internet about the Camino. And of course the problem is, like when you go to the Internet to diagnose an illness you have, you can scare the shit out of yourself. You convince yourself that mole is cancerous and you will be gone before the years’s end!

Researching the Camino is frustrating because there are so many opinions about when to walk, what to take with you, how to get there, where to stay…that you find yourself going round and round in circles. Information overload. In my first blog entry I mentioned that I decided to walk in the Spring as opposed to the Fall because the weather was supposed to be much more favourable in the Spring. Um, maybe not! Now I read many Camino reports that I will be walking in the rain for a good part of my journey.

And so it goes. For me, I have broken the preparation down into three parts. The physical preparation, that is, getting myself in decent shape to tackle the long journey ahead. The mental preparation, which includes reading as much as I can about the Camino to be as prepared as possible, and attending local Camino workshops. Thirdly, the material preparation, that is, borrowing, buying, scrounging everything that you will be stuffing into your backpack to take with you.

Which leads me really to my first major decision..what make and size backpack. Backpacks are measured in litres, and in part, the time of the year that you walk the Camino determines what size to take. However as previously noted, there are many many opinions on exactly what you need to stuff into that thing you will be lugging around for 5 weeks! The rule of thumb, which I of yet have not been able to figure out who’s rule or who’s thumb, is not to carry more than 10% of your body weight. So, its really my first major decision and I have been fussing and fussing over what size to buy.

I have narrowed the backpack down to the Gregory Z40, a 40 litre bag, and an Osprey Stratos 36..indeed, a 36 litre bag. Clever how they name those. Do I go with a smaller backpack and cram stuff in, or a larger backpack and then carry too much! I will let you know what I decide. Once I have purchased the backpack I will stuff the pants, the layers of clothing, the headlamps and energy bars , the first aid kit and of course the iPad mini into the backpack and see if it all actually fits in.

As far as the mental preparation, I have now read three books about the Camino, each of them about an individual’s journey. I have purchased the Brierley guide, and I have watched the Martin Sheen movie The Way. I have attended a Camino workshop locally and I will attend one later in March. One remarkable thing though is when you start talking about the Camino, there are many people that I know even around the Greater Victoria area that have walked it. Some walk it in stages, and some walk the entire length in one go. I never considered walking it in stages..never.

As far as the physical preparation, in the Spring of last year I was probably in the best shape that I had ever been in, in my entire life. I was chosen to participate in the Times Colonist Health Challenge, and working with my trainer Angela Turnbull I exceeded my expectations. Unfortunately, in late summer I managed to get an inguinal hernia, and when I went to the doctor he told me in fact I had two inguinal hernias. I had the operation to repair them on November 30th, and the recuperation period was 6 weeks. Virtually no working out, no lifting anything for 6 weeks. I am a regular attendee at the Panorama Recreation Centre, so not being able to work out for 6 weeks combined with all the Christmas goodies spelled a whole lot of weight gain and setback for me. However I have been back to working out 9 days in a row now, start back with my trainer tomorrow, and I expect to be in excellent physical condition when I start the Camino.

In about a month or so I will start walking Elk Lake, John Dean Park and other venues with my backpack and walking poles. I will look like a nerd but it will all be worth it!

These Boots Weren’t Made for Walking

February 6, 2016

I continue to fuss about two essential ingredients to a successful Camino..the right backpack and the right footwear.

In preparation for my Camino I have been walking a lap of Elk Lake which is 10k, and walking on the treadmill at Panorama Recreation Centre. I mostly walk on the treadmill when it is pouring outside. However, I also like to set the grade on the treadmill at a significant incline. Often my one hour workout on the treadmill , cardio wise, is better than my 1 hour and 40 minute walk around Elk Lake.

 

The problem however is that I can’t wear my hiking footwear on the treadmill. Well, I guess I could but I would l look like a dork and we simply can’t have that.

I say footwear because I am still trying to decide if I should wear boots or trail shoes. The problem with boots are that they are much heavier than light trail shoes. I have heard 1 lb on the foot is equal to 5 in your backpack, but I suspect that this may just be a Camino urban myth. However, there must be something to be said about a heavier piece of footwear.

If you saw someone in Save On Foods the other week putting bags on and off the scales in the bulk food section, that was me weighing my footwear! My old boots came in at 2.8 lbs, while the two pairs of  trail shoes I had purchased to try each weighed less than 2 lbs. Not obviously comfort is of paramount importance , but the weight of the shoe should be considered as well. My Fitbit tells me that I took 22,984 steps walking 20km today ,so you can imagine how much better off you would be if each time you lifted your foot to take a step your footwear was considerably lighter.

Of course, a trail shoe just doesn’t have the same cool factor as a trail boot..decisions decisions.

Today, because my amazing weekend plans went in the shitter thanks to Mother Nature, and I had much free time on my hands, I decided I would do not one but two laps around Elk Lake.

I did the first lap of the lake today in one hour and 39 minutes and I surprised myself in that my second lap was only two minutes slower at one hour and 41 minutes for a total of 3 hours and 20 minutes for the 20k. Now, I was walking much faster than I would expect to walk the Camino, and I didn’t have a backpack on.

Having walked the 20k though I have come to the conclusion that the boots are too heavy and I will have to quickly find a decent trail shoe. I say quickly as I want to break it in before heading off.

Surprisingly, my feet don’t feel too bad. Its my calfs that hurt the most followed by my hamstrings. I need to stretch which I didn’t do today and was mightily scolded for that from my son Reagan and his wife Aimee. I expect I will feel a bit more pain tomorrow.

To make up for my less than cool trail shoes I will have to get some cool stuff to dangle from my backpack!

 

 

A Big Big Week

This has been a big week for me as I countdown to my Camino adventure. This past Tuesday marked exactly two months until my date of departure. I am getting very excited but certainly remain somewhat anxious and nervous. I am told that once I take my first step that feeling should all disappear as I begin what certainly will be a journey of a lifetime.

This week I walked with my backpack for the very first time, albeit not with it ” fully loaded “. Everything I read and heard told me to gradually add more weight as I get used to it. I met up with Geoff who was a facilitator at a Camino workshop that I attended, and he helped me immensely as we sorted out the proper positioning of the backpack and adjusted the weight of the contents in the backpack. It is a bit of an art, one I gather that I will get quite used to. You have to make sure that all the weight is squarely on your hips, and not on your back or your shoulders. So off we set on a lap of Elk Lake  ( 10 kms ) with trekking poles and backpacks. We moved along at a great clip. The backpack felt great. I was pretty happy with my first outing with it.

Geoff answered a number of questions that I had about the Camino on our trek around the lake, and more and more my list of things to inquire about is decreasing. I also have made my final decision with respect to my footwear. I have been struggling with the issue of shoes or boots. I have read quite a bit that boots are overkill, and that decent trail shoes will suffice. Another advantage of the shoes is that they are lighter. However, after talking one on one with people I know who have made the trip I have decided I am going to go with a boot. However, I have also decided that the ones I have are too old and worn so I must now quickly try a few pairs of boots and then break a pair in. I have two pairs ready to try and one on order, and I will choose one of those. I actually tried out 7 different pairs of trail shoes and although I had narrowed my selection down to a choice of two..boots it is!

I continue to walk or ride a stationary bike every day and in fact I think I walked too far and too often this week. I have to learn to train at a pace that will increase my endurance without injury. I am a slow learner..I rarely do things at a slow and steady pace! I am actually taking the day off today but it is hard to do and I feel quite guilty!

Just today I have booked my train ticket . The train  leaves from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and travels to Bayonne France. It is about a 6 hour and 30 minute ride on a high speed train and I am riding First Class. It sounds pretty classy  but its actually only $25 more than standard fare. I overnight in Bayonne at a hotel a short walking distance from the train station, then I catch a train the next morning from Bayonne to St Jean Pied du Port. This is just a one hour ride.

I will be arriving mid day on Monday April 25th and I understand Monday is a busy day with all the pilgrims leaving St Jean. I will happily leave well after the ” main rush” and walk only part way to what I initially  thought would be my first day’s journey. More about that later.

Lions and Tigers and Bears..oh my

Less than a month to go before I head off, and I have one piece of advice for those who might be thinking of walking the Camino. Don’t read as much as I have!

I may not run into lions and tigers and bears on the Camino, but if the rabid dogs don’t get me, or if I am not struck by a car on one of the busy highways, I am sure to fall off a cliff in a blinding snowstorm over the Pyrenees. Or robbed by bad guys in the deepest darkest woods. Seriously, as Dave Barry says..I am not making this up..these are all the things I have read that I have to be wary of. So, don’t read that shit. The Camino is going to be fun..right..right…RIGHT?

So, I have about 4 weeks to put on 20 pounds! I had better get eating. You see..as I said in an earlier post..your backpack should be about 10% of your body weight..so I have to gain 20 pounds..and right quick. Well, I know that is not going to happen so I guess I can’t take my laptop with me..out it goes! If only it were that simple. My backpack weighs about 18.5 pounds and I would like to get it down to 16.

Today I added all the odds and sods that I have not as yet carried..and they sure added up.

I shouldn’t have weighed it before I went on my 25 km walk today..I think its mind over matter..but today for the very first time it felt very heavy to me. I need to find three or four pounds of excess cargo. I am thinking my rain pants can go, as I have a poncho that almost comes down to my ankles. I will carry a half litre of water and not a litre and that will save some weight. I have a First Aid kit that could likely treat every pilgrim that is walking in April..so I can get rid of some of those supplies. I really don’t feel that I have any surplus stuff, but I do need to pore it down.

And here I thought I was over the top. On a Forum I am following on the topic of weight of a backpack, one pilgrim made a five page list of everything they were taking..and weighed each item and had its weight on the list. Pen..2 grams..list..1 gram…Not only that , she cut all the tags off her clothing to save weight..and weighed the tags to see how much she had saved..again..this is true..I am not making this up! Wait until she reads about those rabid dogs…

I promised my faithful reader..I think there is at least one..I would let you know the final decision on the footwear and backpack. I am going with a Gregory 40 litre backpack, which I am very pleased with, and Solomon boots that are very comfortable. I am still trying to decide on $50 insoles I bought that I have another month or so on until I have to decide if I should keep them or not. I have been very pleased with my physical condition after all my walks. My feet feel fine, a bit sore, but that is to be expected. But no blisters that are a real common occurrence. However, I think I am walking too much and I am going to cut back and spend more time working up at Panorama Rec Centre on my leg strength.

Lastly, today I am trying to figure out how to add pictures to my posts. So, there should be three here, if there isn’t I still have some learnin’ to do!.

 

 

One More Sleep

One more sleep..who am I kidding, I doubt that there will be much sleeping. I have had fitful sleeps all week as I wake up with my pre Camino to do list running through my head. The final preparations.

But really, more than that, its the excitement and the anticipation. I am as nervous as can be. Like the feeling before you started in a new school, or were preparing for final exams. But my excitement is off the scale. I am beyond thrilled that I am almost out the door.

Mentally, physically and emotionally, I don’t think I could possibly be more prepared. If I don’t make it to Santiago it certainly won’t be for lack of preparation.IMG_7976

I didn’t gain those 20 pounds to be at the proper weight for my backpack, but I did pare it down as much as I could. If I had done this prior to being an old geezer, the backpack scenario would have been a piece of cake. But I think I have 5 pounds of prescription drugs, inhalers, allergy pills, sleeping pills, and medical supplies ! And another couple of pounds for reading glasses, sunglasses and distance glasses!

Next time I shave will be about June 5th or 6th. I expect my grandkids won’t recognize me when I return. Hey, I may not recognize me!

So, on Monday around noon in St Jean Pied de Port I will take the first step on the journey of my lifetime. Thank you all for your best wishes.

Hasta luego!

Chapter 1-Getting There

Reagan , with Harper in tow, picked me up and took me to the airport. Reagan had an assignment. I packed my trekking poles in my backpack, although officially I understand they are not allowed. But all the peregrinos I had spoken to said they never had any problem . Reagan had a heavy duty tube with him, and in the event they did not make it through screening, I was going to put them in the tube and check them, and hope they made it through 3 fights to Paris. Success..poles passed security and off we went.img_8699

I flew to Paris via Calgary and Chicago. My had luck with air travel continued. Our flight leaving Chicago was delayed over an hour due to computer issues. Then, they were unable to turn out the lights in our section of the plane so needless to say there was little if any sleep.

I took three trains from Paris to St. Jean Pied de Port. I had to wait in Paris 8 hours for the train’s scheduled departure. I just missed the initial train by 5 minutes due to the delayed take off. Thank you United!

The train station located at the airport is freezing and there are very few seats. The trains themselves were amazing.

The first two trains were about four hours travel in total. I overnighted in Bayonne and caught a train in the morning to St. Jean.

I should mention the day before leaving Victoria I caught a nasty cold , so the travel was loads of fun. I am still coughing and hacking, but it’s not going to affect my Camino!

The train ride from Bayonne to St.Jean was an hour and the scenery was so tranquil and beautiful. It followed the Ardor river and it was the perfect lead into St. Jean.  Ed’s note: it was interesting watching the lady beside me transfixed on her iPhone the entire trip. Didn’t look out the window once!

When we arrived at St. Jean I knew the Pilgrim Office was only open about another 30 minutes before lunch. So, I had studied the route there and I was off. I needed to go to the office but I didn’t want to wait over the hour break. They shut the door about 5 minutes after my arrival. In fact after leaving I realized I left my Dad’s Tilley hat there, so I had to bang on the door or retrieve it.