Saturday, 31 January 2009

Helpful advice

Today has been my lucky day. I went to buy my first pair of inner socks at an outdoor sports shop I haven´t been to before, and they were extremely helpful. They sell the same rucksack that I have, and although I hadn´t bought mine there, when I remarked to the assistant that I was having some trouble with mine, he went to endless trouble showing me how to adjust all the straps properly, even to the extent of putting some weight in one and making me wear it while he demonstrated. I was very impressed, especially as I had told him I´d already bought virtually all my equipment and only needed socks! I shall try and put what he told me into practice tomorrow when I do my weekly two-hour walk, but he has said if I´m still having trouble I can go back to the shop with my own rucksack and he´ll go through it again. Wow!

One item of equipment I am having trouble with is gaiters. I haven´t found a shop so far that sells them, and even if I did, as far as I remember gaiters don´t completely cover your footware. The fact is I intend to do most of my walking in trainers, which are not waterproof, and I know wet feet and socks lead to blisters. I actually have a good pair of boots, but after operations on both feet I find that thirty minutes walking is as much as I can manage in them. My walking trainers are extremely comfortable, and I intend to use sandals on reasonable stretches just to give my feet a rest. I know most people would throw up their hands in horror at the thought of sandals on the Camino, but because of my foot trouble I actually did the Inca Trail in sandals without any mishaps, so I´m not too concerned. I remember my sandals attracted quite a few stares and negative remarks on the Trail, one group of Germans actually sneakily took a photo of my feet thinking I hadn´t noticed.

I tried fashioning some gaiters out of strong polythene bags, but when I put them on I looked like someone who lives on the streets, so I gave up. I´m wondering whether bags over my socks, inside the trainers, will work. If the socks wick away the moisture, it would surely be an improvement on putting dry feet into wet footwear. I´ll have to try it out, and hope the neighbours aren´t looking.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Trying to train

I´m following a 16-week training programme in order to try and get myself fit for my Camino, but the weather really isn´t helping at the moment. You´d have thought that living in a tropical country would mean lots of nice hot sunny days (it is our summer, after all) but instead virtually every day it is overcast all day and drizzling, or overcast with violent tropical storms. It reminds me of the film "Blade Runner" where it rained all the time. At least it isn´t cold, which is a small blessing.

What I am trying to do at the moment is take a very brisk walk for 30 minutes every day, and a two-hour walk at the weekend. My rain gear hasn´t arrived yet, so I can choose to either get wringing wet or wait for a break in the weather. I defy anyone to take a nice brisk walk clutching a brolly! I am also trying to use the daily walk to exercise my little Yorkshire Terrier, Toby, and I don´t want him getting soaked on a daily basis either. So, it is all very frustrating.

I am looking forward so much to my Camino, not just the challenge of covering that distance, on my own, but also the time to reflect and meditate and put things in perspective. I think we all need to find time to stand back from our daily lives and routine once in a while.

I am planning on allowing myself 45 days for the Camino Frances, from Roncesvalles to Santiago. I know this is much more than most people usually need, but I don´t want to feel rushed or pressured. I´m one of those walkers who is slow but steady. I think, given enough time, I could cover any distance. What wears me out is trying to keep up with faster walkers, especially up hill. So I intend to go at my own pace, enjoying company for a while if the opportunity arises, but happy with my own company too. And... should I finish with time to spare before my return flight to Brazil, I can always pop over to England on a cheap flight to visit my newest grandchild (and his parents, of course!).

Monday, 26 January 2009

Having made up my mind...

Once the decision was made I started on an information-gathering marathon, visiting loads of sites and forums and comparing what they said. My favourite is at where the folks are really friendly and full of good advice. Apart from getting a general idea about the Camino I started checking out equipment lists and making up my own. Following other pilgrims blogs was really useful, and one of the reasons I decided write my own blog. Hopefully it may be of some help to others as well as a record for myself of a very special time.

So, list made, I checked out what gear I already had. Sadly most of my stuff dates back to rambling days in the English Lake District and has been overtaken by all the new technology, so basically I was starting from scratch. Virtually all the brands for rucksacks and clothes, etc, mentioned on the various sites are unavailable here where I live (in Brazil) and buying over the Internet was not really an option when you need to try things on. So I decided to see what I could find locally. I visited four specialist shops to compare prices and assistant knowledge, but didn´t feel very confident about the information and advice given. Maybe I´m an old stick-in-the-mud, but when a lad who looks about twelve years old tells me I need a 60L pack weighing in at over two kilos, my inclination is to take my business elsewhere!

At one shop there was a lady assistant who has done the Camino several times, and I thought "at last, I´m in the right place". Unfortunately as soon as she opened her mouth she got right up my nose. Now, I am not a difficult or demanding person (as far as I know), but I object most strongly to being spoken to like a child. She never bothered to ask whether this was my first Camino, whether I had ever done any long-distance walks, or even any walking at all. Instead she immediately launched into a tirade of do´s and don´ts and must´s and must not´s as if I had decided at the drop of a hat to go on an 800k walk without a second thought. I gritted my teeth, thanked her politely for all her advice and left. It was a pretty upmarket shop and quite expensive, so I wasn´t all that sorry to leave anyway.

I finally found a shop where I could get most of my stuff, although I am still not sure whether I have bought the right rucksack. It weighs in at 1.5kg, which I know is over the recommended weight, but it was the most comfortable one I tried on. I have set myself a target of carrying a maximum of 7kg including pack, and am enjoying the challenge of planning for that. So far it seems to be working so hopefully the heavier rucksack won´t matter in the long run. I´ve done a couple of two-hour walks with the pack weighing 7kg, and by the end my neck and shoulders were aching, though. I am naturally concerned about this, but don´t know if it is because I haven´t adjusted all the innumerable straps properly, or whether I´ve got round shouldered and stooped as time got on, or whether I am just not used to it. Time will tell.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Where it all began...

Like many people, I´ve been saying for a while that one day I´d like to do the Camino de Santiago. I´ve always wanted to do a long-distance walk, take up the challenge and see how far I got, but life kept getting in the way: family, commitments, the need to earn a living. Now I am semi-retired, and while I still have family responsibilities they are not an insurmountable problem.
I had planned to visit China and Tibet this year - I´ve dreamed of visiting Tibet since I was a child, but last October I went to a talk by a pilgrim about her Camino, and I was hooked! My other dreams can wait, I´ve got to do this while I´ve still got the "get up and go" for it.

So, since last October I have been researching, planning and preparing myself for what I think will be a challenging physical and spiritual experience. In order to make sure it is going to happen, I´m telling everyone I know about my plans, then it would be too humiliating to try and chicken out!

I´ve just got back from a two-hour training walk with my pack containing 7 kilos - a sack of dogfood and several cartons of milk - I´m not risking being mugged and losing my brand new and expensive equipment - and although I ache a little I´m not unpleasantly tired. Since I am only in the 2nd week of a 16-week training programme I don´t think that is so bad.