Sunday, March 29, 2009

Individualized Training Programmes

As we get closer to the departure date, training for our Camino begins to get more serious and by serious I mean we're going to start really soon. Hey, it's Canada and it's been a long, cold winter which might be conducive to hibernating or catching up on the movie scene but definitely not conducive to outdoor trekking.

So far we have eaten our way through our Camino preparations. Our plan has been to attend every information session that serves food, free wine and tapas. Surprisingly, there have been a lot of them. We heard about and joined a London 'Friends of the Camino' group, which meets a couple of times a year to share their Camino stories and experiences over coffee and goodies. Again over coffee and goodies we had a three hour session at Williams Coffee Pub with a new Camino friend, John Madruga who really got us off on the right foot for this adventure. A recent talk at Novacks was particularly informative and helpful. It turns out the London Camino group group has a potluck dinner and celebration every July 25th in honour of the Feast of St. James. The wine is plentiful and the food and tapas are delicious. We also attended The Sacred Steps, an exhibition at King's College featuring art works inspired by the Camino as well as a panel discussion by three Camino graduates. The wine was plentiful and the tapas delicious. Recently, we went to a reception at St. John the Evangelist Church where the newly trained hospitaleros demonstrated their skills. The wine was plentiful and the tapas delicious. We've hosted friends who were heading out on the Camino and then again when they returned to share their experiences. The wine was plentiful and the food was pretty good too. Obviously we are shameless.

Actually, food seems to be the best motivation to get Dayton to train. Basically, Dayton's attitude to physical training is, "Why should I hurt now?" or "That's what the first 400km are for." I'm pretty active on a regular basis but winter walking is so not my thing. It's pretty sad that I'd get excited and consider -5C a good walking day. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we didn't get many days where the temperature was that high, so I concentrated my training programme on accommodating some of the differences in lifestyle I might have to deal with on the Camino. I've been trying to switch from white wine to red, to wearing the same clothes day after day and soon I'm going to add showering every other day. I've also been working on my Camino hairstyle. No hair dryer or curling iron for 47 days - that's not going to be good.

John, on the other hand, has taken a more traditional approach to getting into shape. During the winter months, which he enjoyed in the moderate climate of Destin, Florida, he did a lot of walking and running; running as in entering races! When we went to visit Linda and John this past February in Destin, John had mapped out some 20-30km walks. Once again food entered significantly into our training programme. Linda would drop us off 8 miles from a restaurant and we'd walk there to meet her for a replenishing lunch. Burn 300 calories walking - consume 3000 calories for lunch. The wine was always plentiful but the food not always as delicious as our other events.

To be honest, in the last week or so, we have gotten out for a few walks around town and a few walks carrying our packed backpacks. Definitely have not encompassed that ruthless concept. After each walk some of my gear invariably finds its way to Dayton's pack. Hey, he's gained all that extra weight so someone has to make use of the increase in his 10% of total body weight allotment - might as well be me.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Our Camino Team - Los Tres Amigos

Just as the Camino happens, so too does it evolve. From that initial misguided assumption that we would be on some competently guided and pampered excursion with our luggage transported from inn to inn, we have evolved from being mere tourists to travellers and soon to be true pilgrims. We have also grown in number from two to three.

Just as I was convinced that Dayton would be receptive to undertaking this journey, I was equally confident that it would appeal to our neighbour and best friend, John Langford. At first, John was going to join us for only two weeks at the end of our pilgrimage then it was the first half of it but, before long, it was and is now, for the entire experience.

It is not John's style to do anything by half measure and his initial hesitation about completing the entire Camino Frances had nothing to do with questioning his interest or ability but was based solely on his unwillingness to be away from his loved ones for such a great length of time. Linda may be John's wife and soul mate but she is in no way his hiking buddy.
Linda's hiking extends to afternoon walks to Williams Coffee Pub for a cafe latte. She has no need to travel half way around the world and hike 30km for her daily latte. Doesn't like it, not going to do it.

As adamant as Linda is that she hates hiking, she is still ardently supportive of our plans. She may think we're nuts but she's unfailingly and stoically supportive. If I were Linda, I would have run screaming from the room and thrown myself on a hiking stick, if I had to endure one more obsessive deliberation about: mefix vs duct tape, water bottle or camel pack, rain jacket or poncho, one pole or two, what to carry on - what to check. We just don't stop.

So there we are - Karen, Dayton and John, a happy hiking trio, los tres amigos. Hmmm, dare we identify with other famous trios; The Three Musketeers intrepid, dashing and fearless or perhaps that the trio from that yellow brick road, the Tin Man, the Lion and the Scarecrow? No we're most likely to conjure up images of Larry, Curly and Moe.

The Devil is in the Details

"Let your Camino unfold. Let it happen". Such calm and comforting words. How could anyone be intimidated by something that........unfolds. Walk 900km - no problem, no fear - it just unfolds. It doesn't erupt, attack or burst onto you. It unfolds.

"Let the Camino happen", may be words to live by but I think they mean after you start following those yellow arrows along the yellow brick road. Until then, the devil is in the details. You don't start out on a 900km backpacking adventure without some attention to gear and supplies, travel arrangements and training. Yes, training. This is not a walk in the park.

We do intend to let our Camino happen but, nonetheless, we have detailed the travel arrangements for the first three days of our trip. We leave from Toronto the evening of April 23, 2009, arrive in Paris the next morning and, after collecting our checked bags (which by the kindness of the baggage carrier gods or the patron saint of pilgrims )will have arrived undamaged on the same plane. We will make our way to the Montparnasse train station to catch the high speed train to Bayonne. We are booked into a hotel in Bayonne for that night and on Saturday morning, April 25th, we have tickets on an early morning train to St. Jean Pied-de-Port where our pilgrimage really and finally begins. We have to find the office where we register as pilgrims, pick up our pilgrims' passport or credenciales and then we head into and up the Pyrenees. Sounds innocuous enough but I do recall from reading Jane Christmas' book, What the Psychic told the Pilgrim, that one of her group, after doing a scouting prehike to St. Jean, messaged her group questioning "have any of you actually seen the Pyrenees?" and then cautioned them to start in Roncesvalles on the other side of the Pyrenees. They didn't heed her advice and we don't intend to either.

Undaunted, we are still planning on taking the Napoleon Route through the Pyrenees. It can't be any worse than the first day of our Wainwright Coast to Coast walk across England last September when we endured a torrential downpour and hurricane force winds all day as we struggled up and across the treacherous terrain of the fell for 23km. And too, whether we're regarded as wise or just wimps, we have booked into the refugio in Orisson just 10km into the Pyrenees. Not a particularly daunting day in terms of hiking but seems like a smart move after two days of planes and trains and travelling. The next day should be an easy 17km into Roncesvalles and after that - we let it happen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sweat the Small Stuff!

In today's world of self-discovery, self-actualization and self-help there's a recurring theme of, "don't sweat the small stuff". If I've learned anything researching the Camino, it's that, when it comes to packing for the Camino, it's definitely time to sweat the small stuff. The advice is to be ruthless. If something isn't mult-functional, it doesn't go. My personal packing method has always run more towards the 'just in case' method of "I'll take that, and that, and that."

No one has ever accused me of being 'fashion forward' so the clothes part of this ruthless restriction isn't too worrisome. I'm comfortable with a 'uniform' approach to fashion and I use the term 'uniform' quite literally. If I find something that fits and that I feel I look okay in, I will wear it time and again. For the Camino I've laid out: one pair each of long pants, capris and shorts, 3 pairs of socks, one long sleeve tops, two short sleeve, a hoodie, a fleece and a rain jacket. Throw in underwear, a bandana, mitts and a hat and I'm good to go.

The problem really is the 'small stuff'; the camera, camera case, journal, Spanish dictionary, guidebook, map, glasses, sunglasses, toilet paper, earplugs, water bottle, telephone, flip flops, flashlight, soap and/or shampoo, sunscreen, towel, clothesline, and the list goes on and on.

With some things, there's no compromise. Flip flops for the shower are a necessity; leggings are good for warmth under hiking pants, for sleepwear or for 'loungewear' in the refugios at night; walking sandals to relieve sore feet after a day in heavy hiking boots are considered well worth the extra weight and you need that vaseline and mefix or duct tape to prevent blistered feet. For family nostalgia, we're taking our kids well-worn, well-washed, hardly-weigh-anything old pillowcases. We'll stuff them with clothes and use them as pillows. I have Courtney's "Rainbow Dreams to You" and Dayton has Jordan's "Go Get 'Em' hockey pillowcase.

Apparently, there's no place for vanity on the Camino so no hairdryer, no curling iron, no makeup. Okay, slight ammendment here, I am taking lipstick, eyebrow pencil and mascara - for the evenings. I refuse to go six weeks without eyebrows.

And then there's the stuff that would be really, really nice to have - just in case. Umbrella, poncho, sleeping bag liner, my insulated tea mug, protein bars, razor, mirror, body lotion, iPod. AAAAAAArgh. And how can I go 47 days without reading my novels, doing crossword puzzles and sudokos? Really how much could they really weigh?

Weight: that's the issue. I've never had to carry anything except my camera, lunch and water bottle on any of our other hiking trips and, to be honest, Dayton carried at least half of that. The rule of thumb advice is to carry only 10% of your body weight. Ergo I have 30 days to gain 52 pounds. I've already decided to let Dayton carry my one-pound sleeping bag. By the way, that one-pound sleeping bag that actually weighs one and a half pounds. False advertising, like me saying I weigh 92lbs or that I'm around 53 years old.

So right now an entire bedroom is full of our clothes and hiking gear and all that small stuff. Medical aids have filled an entire plastic grocery tub and another is full of maps and guidebooks. Obviously, it will take a few practice 30km hikes to encourage us to embrace that 'be ruthless' concept.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Discovering the Camino

One month to go until we start our excellent Camino adventure! Actually to be more accurate, our Camino truly started two years ago with a presentation at King's College, Las Peregrinas. It was the first time I had ever heard of The Camino de Santiago de Compostela and I think I was hooked from the very first moment I saw a flyer advertising this talk about five women who left the comforts of their family and homes to don a backpack, fly half way around the world and set out walking for some 800 km. I'm not sure what it was about this undertaking that resonated with me. It wasn't the fact that it was an ancient and on-going Roman Catholic pilgrimage; I'm not that religious. I like my creature comforts so I couldn't have been enthralled with doing without a hairdryer, a razor or my insulated tea mug for over a month, or the fact that I'd be lugging 10% of my body weight in a pack on my back or the fact that I'd be sharing sleeping quarters with road-wearied, sweaty strangers and possibly bed bugs but enthralled I was. Some mention was made that if you walk the last 100kms to Santiago and have your pilgrims' passport certified you receive a special dispensation to serve less time in Purgatory than you might have really deserved. That held some appeal too.

After the Las Peregrinas presentation, I rushed home to interrupt my husband's NCAA Basketball Tournament viewing to announce, " I think I've discovered something we'd like to do". To be honest, I thought we'd do the Camino in the same manner as our recent hiking adventures; we'd book with HfHolidays, our new favourite British tour company, and Hf would take care of all the arrangements, the guides, the luggage transfers, the hotels and the meals. We'd just don a daypack and walk those last 100kms. ending each day in a small, quaint pensionne, sharing meals and comaraderie with our fellow walkers before settling into our comfy clean beds to rest up for the next day. That misguided fantasy lasted less than a day. Right away we started researching the Camino and right away we both decided (okay, Dayton decided it first) that we were going to do this as pilgrims and that we would do the entire Camino Frances starting in St. Jean Pied-de-Port and ending in Santiago some 800km later.

Now, two years later and one month to go, we have come a long way from that initial impulsive decision. In researching the Camino we have had so much help and advice and we have met so many wonderful people who have already done the Camino and who have shared their experiences and words of wisdom with us. We've read the books, poured over maps, highlighted the 'best' refugios and have saturated ourselves in Camino lore. Now it's time to sit back and let our Camino happen. What a treat!