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Archive for July, 2012

It’s getting closer.

38 more sleeps and approximately 22 more workouts until my friends and I get on a plane to Barcelona. From there we’ll travel to Santiago, then bus to Sarria. Then we walk 100 k back to Santiago over 5 days. Touch the statue of St. James. Attend pilgrim mass. Go home.

Short, sweet, a blink of the eye after the long and twisty path to get there. Yet this Camino pilgrimage, however brief in reality it will be, has already meant so much, called on me to examine things (self) in new lights, introduced me to new worlds and new people with whom I now feel a deep connection. I am already grateful. I go there with no additional expectations.

This trip felt like it was eons away when I first started writing about it in October 2011. I had a plan then – to learn more about the Camino de Santiago and to regain the overall fitness and walking chops I’d lost in the last couple of years. I’d lost a good bit of that while gaining a good bit of weight. That’s how it works.

Telling myself I’d walked a bazillion kilometres in life and while training for marathons was no match, it seemed, for my new life of late night ice cream and sweat-free dog ambles. That was then.

Everyone and everything can change – something I find quite heartening. True, change sometimes bitch slaps us out of the blue with surprising vigour and it can hurt like hell.

Other times, though, it comes with a heart-fluttery gladness and a lovely sense of empowerment. I can do this! And I am lucky I can! And it’s good! And sometimes, (often? always?), it seems change most often comes down to how we respond to – life, I suppose, what goes on in our head and heart, how we choose to interpret the map and the guideposts we have.

The kind of story we tell ourselves can be a dark tale or a gentler, less judgmental narrative. It seems we play our part accordingly. Well, that’s how it’s worked for me – meaning, at the end of the day, this whole extravaganza has been a lot more about interior change, learning, exploring new territory and releasing the past than it has been about going to the gym or even going to Camino, as compellingly important as that has become to me.

I’ve quoted Marianne Williamson here before. And now again: “We do not heal the past by dwelling there; we heal the past by living fully in the present…I’ve come to trust not that events will always unfold exactly as I want, but that I will be fine either way. The challenges we face in life are always lessons that serve our soul’s growth…The present moment, if you think about it, is the only time there is. No matter what time it is, it is always now.”

I used to resist what I thought were aphoristic reductions of complex fundamental truths. But ‘I’m younger than that now.’ I have found it helpful to have certain simple statements and mantras that in fact are a lot harder to live by than they look. These particular themes have been a persistent drumbeat for me this past year.

Now the trip is around the corner. I am definitely stronger and love the Iron Kate experience I’ve had, a new one for me, one I never expected to like as much as I do for reasons I can’t entirely express. The knee injury (still there but more in the background now, or so I hope) put quite a crimp in the fitness plan and very nearly put an end to this year’s Camino. Instead, I’m now back (nearly) to the place where I left off months ago.

Let me just share yet another sample of several workouts, done across my 4 days a week with Stefan:

Conventional dead-lift: 120 lbs!! This was a milestone day. When I stopped going to the gym months ago at the height of knee injury, I was struggling to lift this weight. I think I managed it once or twice, but I do recall that I was afraid of it, I felt unable to do it, even when I did.

I don’t think I smile like this. Maybe I should. Note the hand positions. I do that!

Now? We did a superset of 95lbs, then 110 lbs, then 120lb lifts and while I wasn’t twirling the barbell like a baton, I really felt strong and able to do it. And did.

Pull ups: 135 lbs

Lat pull downs: 55 lbs

Standing rows: 75 lbs

Standing cable press – 20 lbs per arm

Push ups: Ok, not ‘real’ ones but not total girl ones either. They’re hard enough. Take my word for it.

Sandbag chest press: 15kg

Lift, lift, more lift, press, pull – all of it designed to strengthen, balance, stabilize. All good.

What am I not doing to prepare for Camino? Well, I’m not doing much actual walking other than half hour to 45 minute dog ambles nearly every day. Many people think I’m nuts. Usually people train for a hiking trip by – you got it, hiking or walking.

But here’s the thing: I’m still walking with a brace. Even as the knee has stabilized as muscles around it get stronger, walking tends to lead back into inflammation territory. In earlier times, this meant tremendous swelling, a lot more pain, a tightness and hitch in my walk that had me hobbling very carefully even walking a few metres. So I am sticking with gym program for now in hopes of throwing everything I have into making everything else as strong as possible.

This is an actual picture outside a Camino refugio.

And then give it all over on the Camino itself. In the scheme of things, it’s a very short Camino and we won’t be carrying heavy packs. I can do this. If not, way will open.

In the spirit of disclosing other things I am ‘not’ doing to prepare for Camino:

I have not, after all, learned much Spanish. I suppose there’s still time to get some basic phrases downloaded into my head.

I have lifted a ton of weight, but not dropped very much. Though I feel quite good about making some important changes to the fuel I take in, and eliminating the Doritos/ice cream/pop comfort food plan, I have not been rigorous enough about it to change shape and reduce the load my knee will have to bear. I suppose I could eat raw veggies while listening to the Spanish lessons and see if I could kick off a couple of lbs before leaving. Tal vez. Tal vez.

Cramming for Camino – perhaps not the right spirit to take on pilgrimage.

I will definitely keep working on several fronts. Health is a good goal, Camino or not.

Because it feels good to quote Aaron Sorkin (still miss West Wing quite a bit), the Sam Waterson character on Newsroom had this to say to his star anchor on last show:

“In the off chance you don’t live forever, why don’t you try being happy now?”

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And so, a new chapter in my life is one week gone.

First full week at the donkey sanctuary, and my head is flooded with the usual niagara of information that comes with learning to navigate a new job. The rhythms of life on a farm are earthy and pragmatic. Hay must be cut. Donkeys fed on time. Ornery machinery fixed. Stalls mucked.


This sweet thing was coming over to check out my dog beyond the fence. They stared at each other for a few minutes and decided all was well.

My job is to get the word out about donkeys and raise the money – and support – we need to help these funny, beautiful, often sadly mistreated, neglected, forgotten animals.

I feel privileged to try.

My Camino quest, re-ignited since I was told I may not require surgery after all, continues apace as well. The doctor told me to try walking again – slower steps, not too far, build up over time.

So I began to do that at the donkey sanctuary, too. I am lucky to have my dog with me at work, so at noon, we’ve been taking a 20-minute amble around the pond, no iPod stuck in my ear because that would drown out the symphonic braying that has become my daily sound track. I don’t know what it is, but I know others feel the same – when the braying starts, my heart gladdens. It’s the best sound in the world.

I will admit to some anxiety about the whole walking thing. (which is something of a sin given the calm pastoral splendor I am surrounded by, but well, it’s the truth). It’s just that I’m still only able to walk with a brace, quite slowly (yes, I know, that’s what I’m *supposed* to do), and I’ve probably not gone more than a kilometre or two.

I can’t help wonder about the 20-plus k walks every day on the Camino. The one thing that never worried me in the least – until now. I took walking for granted. I didn’t walk ‘consciously’. I just walked.

So I have occasionally slipped into that quite fruitless speculation about the future, what it will be like out there on the Way attempting to walk what used to be normal distances for me and now seem rather enormous. And it’s happening in 2 months! When this wasp buzzes in my head, I feel my pace quickening – I feel that sense of ‘hurry up’, which I know leads straight to ice packs and Advil.

Here’s what I’ve learned from donkeys. They NEVER rush. They will often think for a very long time about whether to walk anywhere at all. People have attributed their slow patient demeanor to stubbornness.

I don’t think so. They know certain terrain can trip them up. They often put up with an enormous amount of pain and don’t show anything so it’s possible when they’re contemplating walking, it’s to assess whether the pain is too much. They like to be with other donkeys and people and they also walk alone.

My daily walking place.

So I need to find my inner donkey spirit. I need to walk now – and likely later on the Camino – as a donkey would. Which may mean I walk alone a *lot* and reach the destination far behind my friends but that’s ok. It will do me good to quiet my spirit and brain and see what a more contemplative rhythm will bring forward.

The third big change this past week has been about the gym, continuing with the program the surgeon says has helped me potentially bypass surgery. Instead of racing to the gym after work, I go early in the morning now, 4 days a week, before heading off to the donkeys.

We are continuing apace:

  • 115 lb dead-lifts
  • 50 lb chest presses
  • 60-70 lb seated rows
  • 130 lb pull ups

And more along these lines. I start to wake up about 15 minutes in, and I can honestly say, this kind of workout clears the nattering out of my head and demands attention in a way almost nothing else does in our highly-plugged in, information overload lives.

They also give me tremendous energy for the day. I feel like I’ve been fueled, the tank is full, and I can work hard, with a reasonably clear mind, for a good 8 hours or more. Despite quite a long morning before I actually ‘get’ to work, I think this is a better set up than what I was doing before, going after work, coming home late-ish and feeling kind of wired for action well into the late evening.

Somewhere around 8 in the evening, though, I feel quite whacked out with exhaustion. But I think that’s mostly mental right now, so much new information coming in, and my brain is frantically trying to find a place to put it all. I expect that will ease in good time. Again, when I’m at work and start to feel anything resembling frazzled, I take a breath and look at a donkey.

They are so very ‘in the present’, accepting the day as it is, and calmly making decisions about whether to walk 10 feet to the water bucket or stay where they are leaning on a fence post. What me, worry?

One week of new. And renewal. I feel good that I worked it out – didn’t wimp out of the gym, learned a lot and accomplished a few things at work, and walked. (even managed the laundry but the rest of the house will just have to wait). A full week – a week! Chapter 1.

A belated Happy Canada Day to all! Some came out to celebrate with the donkeys, and many of us added colour with this lovely tattoo. Wonderful Canada and wonderful donkeys – does it get any better?

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