Camino: By The Numbers

78:   Age of the oldest pilgrim I’ve met (from France, walking with his daughter – they do two weeks of the Camino each year.  Have also met a 73 year-old South Korean woman travelling alone, a 74 year-old Italian man with his son, and an American who will turn 70 on Sunday and is doing with Camino with four friends in honor of the occasion)

15:   Age of the youngest pilgrim I’ve met (from Australia, travelling with her mother.  Trying to figure out where to go next with her studies – she’s unschooled so she gets to choose.  She’s thinking of a perfumerie course.)

480: Total miles of the Camino Frances (the route I’m on)

12:   Number of other routes to Santiago listed in my guidebook (from Portugal, Spain, France, and beyond)

441: Number of miles I’ve walked so far.

34:   Number of days I’ve spent walking.

20:   Highest number of miles I’ve walked in one day.

3:   Lowest number of miles I’ve walked in one day (due to an allergic reaction for which I had to walk to the next town to see a doctor.  By the time my appointment was over, it was too late and too hot to walk on…my body’s way of saying “take a rest day.”)

37:  Highest temperature in which I’ve walked (in Celsius – that’s 98 degrees Fahrenheit)

0:   Number of blisters so far

4:   Number of “hot spots” I’ve had on my feet.  Thankfully, I covered them with moleskin and none have developed into blisters.

3:   Number of other ailments I’ve had.  (A tight Achilles/bone spur on Day 3 – it hurt to touch my left foot to the ground let alone walk; an allergic reaction resulting in itchy bumps all over my upper body; a tight piriformis that found me sitting in the middle of the path to Leonnearly every half hour in an attempt to stretch it into submission.)

22:   Weight (in pounds) of my pack when they weighed it upon my arrival at JFK.  According to the rule I read, I should weigh 220 pounds if I am carrying that much….I weigh almost half that.  Oops.

9:  Number of things I left at hostels along the way to make my pack lighter.(I have not weighed my bag since…will see what it is when I get to the airport!)

6:  Number of continents from which other pilgrims have come.

19: Number of countries from which I’ve met pilgrims.

13: Number of US States from which I’ve met pilgrims.

32: Number of American pilgrims I’ve met.

0:   Number of regrets I have about taking this journey:)

Advertisements

A Camino Q&A

I realize I have yet to write a post about the ins and outs of the Camino, so here’s a little Q& A for you all.

  1. What is the Camino? A pilgrimage route through Northern Spain.
  2. How long is it? The route I chose, the Camino Francés, is 480 miles from St. Jean Pied-de-Port to Santiago.
  3. Why would someone do this?  Well, hundreds of years ago people walked to Santiago  (translation: Saint James) to because the relics of St. James were said to be there.  Some went for penance for their sins.  If you’re interested in why I’m doing it, click here to read that story.
  4. How long will it take to complete? I’m taking about 40 days.  The average is about 33 days. I started on May 11 and will finish by June 19, if not earlier.
  5. How many miles per day is that? I planned to do 12-15 miles per day (about 20-25 km per day).  So far I’ve had two days where I’ve walked 18 miles, but am pretty much sticking to 12-15.   I just get up in the morning and walk however far my body takes me.
  6. Where do you stay? There are albergues (like hostels) specifically for pilgrims all along The Way.  They are usually places with large rooms full of bunk beds.  They cost between 5 and 8 Euros per night (between 6 and 10 US dollars).
  7. Did Martin Sheen just make a movie about this?  Yes.  It’s called The Way.  I would recommend watching it.  It gives a pretty good idea of the walk, but remember it is a movie so does miss some things.  I am thinking of writing a post about that.
  8. How did you hear about this?  Shirley MacLaine walked it and wrote a book about it.  I saw her interviewed on a morning news program back in 2000.

If you have any more questions about it, do feel free to write a comment or send me an e-mail and I’ll be happy to answer them.

Learning to Walk

“The book says it’s good to walk with two walking sticks – better for your balance than just one.”  My mother sat in the chair in the corner of my bedroom reading my Camino guidebook.  As she read, I tried to organize my pack.

“I’ve only ever used one, but I guess I’ll bring both and see how it goes.”  Walking sticks are not allowed in carry-on luggage so the next day I bought a mailing tube and prepared to do something I rarely do – check something at the airport.  Twenty-two days into my Camino I can say that borrowing those (two) sticks from my friend Kate and taking them with me was one of the best decisions I’ve made.  But when I pulled them out of their tube at the Biarritz airport, I didn’t yet know that I didn’t really have a clue as to how to walk with them.

I plodded up the Pyrennees the next day appreciative of the help they offered.  But it wasn’t until my second morning on the Camino, shortly after leaving the hostel at Orisson, that Franco, an Italian I’d met the night before, showed me how to use them properly.  He moved his right hand and stick in time with his left foot, and vice versa.  I found it difficult at first – felt like I was learning to walk all over again.  I’d often stop moving all my limbs in order to start over again trying to get them all in sync.

Franco walked on ahead.  An hour later Michel came up behind me.  He walked quickly, but slowed his pace to mine.  After a half-hour of conversation in his native French, he felt he knew me well enough to ask if he could offer some advice: perhaps my sticks were a little too high for me.  He adjusted them to my height and I couldn’t believe the difference it made.

Walking down the steep path into Roncesvalles that afternoon, I met Philipp. He was young German guy who started his Camino in LePuy, France.  As I carefully pushed my sticks into the ground with each step, he cautioned me that my quads would burn tomorrow from our descent. I was surprised by this as I thought my walking sticks would help relieve some of the pressure on my quads.  Philipp didn’t have walking sticks. Thankfully, Philipp’s prediction didn’t come true.  I have yet to feel any tightness in my quads.  My Achilles, well, that’s another story…

By the next day, I realized I’d become a four-legged animal: able to walk with all of my limbs.  Today (Day 23 of my Camino) it’s second nature to pull out my sticks, adjust them to my height, and walk with them in sync with my feet.  But hardly a day passes that I don’t silently thank Kate for lending me her sticks and for Franco and Michel for teaching me how to walk with them.

And She’s Off…Again

While most of you are sleeping soundly tonight, I’ll be 30,000 feet in the air trying to do the same.  At 10pm, I leave JFK and head to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.  From there, it’s a bit an adventure to get to my starting point for the Camino: St. Jean Pied-de-Port.

  • Thursday, May 10, 11:10 AM: Touch down at Charles de Gaulle.  Get my bags.  Go through customs.  Hop a bus for the 45 minute ride to Paris’ other airport – Orly.
  • 3:00PM: Depart Orly for Biarritz, France – on the same flight as two fellow pilgrims from South Africa with whom I’ll travel the rest of the way to St. Jean.  (More on that below.)
  • 4:15PM: Arrive Biarritz.  Take a half-hour bus ride to the Bayonne train station.
  • 6:10 PM: Take the train from Bayonne to St. Jean Pied-de-Port.
  • 7:36PM: Arrive in St. Jean.  Make my way to the hostel I reserved.  Eat something.  Hopefully get some sleep.
  • May 11, sometime after 6AM: Wake up, write three pages, eat, don my pack and head out for my first day on the Camino.  Walk 5 miles up and up and up and up into the Pyrenees to Orisson.  Note the snow in the pictures on their web site.  Let’s hope I don’t see any of that.

I posted my start date and location on a Camino Forum a couple months ago.  Thanks to that, I know of seven people starting with me.   Brad is originally from Nebraska, now going to school in DC.  You can follow his blog here.  Next I heard from Daniel who informed me he and his two friends (all from Switzerland) would also be starting from St. Jean on May 11.  Next Christina from Germany asked about car pooling.  I gave her the name of a web site for that as I’m aiming to take public transit from the airport.  Then there’s Charmaine and Chrisi – the two girls from South Africa who are actually on my very same flight from Orly to Biarritz.  So for those of you that said, “You’re doing this alone?!” rest assured I’ll have some company along The Way.

And if you’re still picturing me walking something akin to the Appalachian trail, go on Netflix and watch The Way with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.  You’ll have a much better picture.

Note that I’ll also be blogging for bustedhalo.com along the Camino.  I will link to those posts from this site (so subscribers – you’ll still get an e-mail notification), but you’ll find those posts on bustedhalo.com first.  The first post is due to go up on Friday, the second possibly on Monday.

Any words of support or encouragement are welcomed – ideally via the comments section on these posts or via e-mail.  Thanks to everyone who helped me get this far:)  Next post will be from Spain!

On Walking

As we walked toward Piazza Venezia, I flipped open the pedometer on my belt.

“How much?” Daniel asked.

“Nine miles.”  I’d made a mistake earlier of telling him that I set a personal record ten days ago when my sister Jessica and I walked seventeen miles one day in Rome.  He, of course, wanted to beat that.  Not competitive by nature, I had no desire.  But as we roamed the city, the miles started adding up.  Villa Borghese Gardens, the Dali Exhibit, gelato at the Cremeria.  By the time we got back to our hostel, I’d clocked 15 miles – my second highest day yet.  (To his credit, we would have probably beat the record if I didn’t have us take a bus back to the hostel that night.)

4/22/12: Me and Daniel at the Trevi Fountain in Rome - Mile 13

Italy was a great place to rack up miles for three weeks.  Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, Rome.  Now that I think about it, though, every place I’ve been since I started training for the Camino in January has been “meant to be” – for both the walking conditions and the people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of walking.

Would I have started training in January were I not living through such a mild winter at Glenda’s house in Hayesville, NC?  Would I have not continued training had I not spent ten days on Kiawah Island with all it’s options: walking trails, bike trails, golf courses and beaches?  What about those unexpected ten days I got to go to Florida? Walking in 70 degree weather with Sarah and Russ surely beat the temps of winter in my home state of New York.

Speaking of Sarah and Russ, I was pleasantly surprised by all the friends who accepted my invitations to join me on a walk.   Leslie, Kate, and Dianna met me at different times on the Norrie/Mills Mansion Trail.  Stacey, Lois, and Lynne on Kiawah Island.  Sr. Peggy and John on the Walkway Over the Hudson.

“I don’t know if I can keep up with you,” my friend Dora lamented when we took off from her doorstep in Maryland.  I’d stopped there for an overnight visit on a drive between Asheville, NC and Hyde Park, NY.

“I’m not walking for speed – just distance.  I mostly stroll.  You’ll be fine.”  Indeed she was.  In fact, we walked a trail her husband has volunteered to maintain for their town.  Would I have known of his good work had Dora not agreed to take a walk with me?

Kate did my first mountain with me which happened to also be the first time I hiked in the snow.  I’m hoping I don’t have to repeat the snow experience in the Pyrenees.

4/1/12: Hiking Overlook Mountain in Woodstock, NY

Greg and Scott were patient as I lagged behind on the hundreds of steps up the hillsides of the Cinque Terre.

4/19/12: Greg and I on the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

Dad and Mom walked the Walkway Over the Hudson with me.

“How many more miles do you need to do today?” Dad asked.

“Eh – probably another two or three would be good.”

“This trail keeps going – Mom could turn around and get the car, then meet us further down the trail,” he suggested.  Mom did just that while Dad and I added more miles to my daily total.

I’ve done plenty of walking alone, as well.  Sometimes that was fine.  Other times, I needed the distraction of a phone call to keep me going.  So thanks to Dawn, Tara, Terry, Mom, Jessica, Meg, Liz, Jenn and Jeff for taking my calls.

A few weeks ago I made a list of everyone I’ve walked with since I started training.  My cousin Stephanie and I caught up on a walk around her neighborhood.  My Asheville friends Todd and David accompanied me on trails in North Carolina.  I’ve got a list of 19 people I’ve walked with since January.  And I’m pretty impressed I’m managed to mention every one of them in this post.  (If I left you out, please let me know!)

So thanks to all those who put foot to pavement with me.  And also thanks to those who were with me by phone on those days I needed someone to keep me going.  Know that you all helped to get me to this point: in thirteen days I’ll get to see all this training pay off.

Slip ‘N Slide

Maybe hiking a steep stone trail in the rain wasn’t my best idea.  But it was my first afternoon in the Cinque Terre, and I wanted to get out there.  So off I went climbing up and up and up towards the Madonna di Montenero Sanctuary high above Riomaggiore.

The light rain didn’t faze me.  I know there’s a chance I’ll have a wet day or two on the Camino, so I’ve gone out walking every day – rain or shine.  In any other year of my life, rainy days would find me curled up indoors with a good book.  I laughed to myself.  I was impressed with how much I’d changed my habits and myself in preparation for the Camino. There was another change that needed to take place though.  I needed some uphill practice.  Miles of walking on flat paved surfaces are not going to help me hike through the Pyrenees (which I must do on my first two days of the Camino).

So after settling into my hostel, I started up at 4:45pm.  I saw just two women coming down during my forty-five minute hike up.  They each had a pair of walking sticks.  That’s when it hit me.  I turned around and looked at the slick stones I’d just ascended.  That’s not going to be fun walking down, I thought, wishing I had some walking sticks.  I looked around but grapevines weren’t going to cut it.

I plugged ahead, deciding the walk would be worth it, and I was right.  If you think the views from the Cinque Terre are amazing, hike a little higher.  I’d post pictures, but am having some technical difficulties.

I took dainty baby steps on the descent.  Stairs were done one at time.  Watching only my feet, I thought of a few things to be thankful for:

  1. The residents of Riomaggiore who put railings between their property and the trail – something to hold onto!
  2. The patches of grass growing between the stones – much better to step there than to slide down the slick stones.
  3. The two girls who passed me as I was walking down.  At least if something happened to me, I knew there’d be two people coming back down the trail that I could call to.

When I reached the bottom, I walk also thankful to have all my parts intact.  No sprained ankle, no broken leg, not even a scratch.  It would be devastating to get injured on these trails.  Not only because I’m alone and far from home, but because then I wouldn’t be able to do the Camino.  I’ll be much more careful here on out.

**********

For those of you worried about my safety:

  • Before hiking, I leave a note in my room as to where I’m going and when I should be back.
  • If I can go with others from the hostel, I’ll consider it.  But I do like being on my own schedule.
  • The trails I’m taking are not back woods types of things.  They’re pretty commonly used by tourists.
  • The two trails that had the mudslide in October are closed.  I’m not a rule-breaker, so will not be climbing gates to get to them.
  • If I’m meant to die falling off a cliff into the ocean on the Italian coast, so be it.  It’s a hell of a way to go, no?

 

Back on Track!

The backpack I’ll use when I walk the Camino was bought at an outdoor gear tent sale.  It’s a used pack – clearly indicated by the words “Rental EMS” written across one of the pockets.

My backpack - formerly owned by Eastern Mountain Sports

I was thinking it’d be nice to have something to cover those words.  Today, I found one thing that will help me do just that.

My hometown is blessed with four National Parks, all just a few miles apart from each other.  In 2007, property was acquired that allowed all four to finally be connected by walking trails.  Years ago, as a Park Ranger at Vanderbilt Mansion (one of the four aforementioned parks), I would tell people about the trails, but couldn’t speak about them all from experience.  Today, that changed.

Today, for the first time, I walked from Vanderbilt Mansion to the FDR Home to Eleanor Roosevelt’s Valkill.  It took me  two hours and 15 minutes and my pedometer told me I walked a total of 7.5 miles in that time.  Wow, did that feel good!

image

A waterfall near the Lower Gatehouse at Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site.

image

The back of the FDR Home viewed from the Hyde Park Trail.

Turns out that the town of Hyde Park has a nice little brochure that promotes these trails.  I used to give it out to visitors.  If you walk five of the trails on the brochure, you can get a patch.  Each year, they come out with a new one.  Wouldn’t that be just the perfect thing to sew on my pack?  Something with my very home town right on it!  If you click here, you can see the map of the trails I walked today (Trails B, F, and G).  Walks A, J, and K I’ve done many times before – and done them all in the last few weeks.  So guess what?  Tomorrow I’ll head out to claim my patch! 🙂