Archive for August, 2012

Camino. Soon.

By this time next week, my friends and I will be 3 days in to our Camino walk to Santiago.

To say I’m excited is beyond understatement. Thank you so very much – my family and friends and Camino angels – who have given me such extraordinary love and support. This has been a long time coming and I love you for sticking with me and the many twists and turns the journey before the journey has taken.

And you kept it coming in these last few days before departure. You’ve sent beautiful notes. And made me dinner. And taken me out for dinner. (people seem to realize I stop cooking when I get focused on other things). And called. And created a lovely goodbye video message that made me cry. And texted and messaged on fb and given parting gifts.

Here’s a very thoughtful one from a volunteer at my new work, one with lots of Camino resonance and personal meaning, too. It’s a gorgeous turquoise stone on a copper chain, and the note said turquoise has given protection and emotional balance to travellers since 3000 B.C. in ancient Egypt and many other countries and cultures since then. So that’s pretty perfect. Also, what the giver didn’t know is that turquoise was a favourite stone of my beloved – always missed – mother. So I will carry this, extra weight be damned, and be ever grateful.

People have asked in the last few days ‘am I ready?’ I think the main subtext is: Is your knee going to be able to do this?

I say yes. I’ve done everything I can to be as strong as I can. Yeah, I’m limping around some. It’s most certainly not where I *expected* I’d be at this time, once again demonstrating the folly of expectations.

But thanks to Stefan’s persistent persistent persistence, and mine, I’m strong enough. I have to trust that I can put one foot in front of the other, a lot of times, as slowly as I need to, and that I will get there – with ‘there’ being every single step along the way to Santiago.

Of course ‘readiness’ is about the spirit, too, perhaps most of all. I know I have sometimes wondered will I, can I, should I? I have been disheartened on occasion when I was well and truly benched. I have turned on myself at other times – why didn’t you stick with the food plan and lose weight? Why didn’t you stick with the Spanish? Why did you foolishly run on a treadmill until your knee was wrecked??

I can honestly and thankfully say, however, that these were flickers of fear and mere sparks of old patterns that didn’t flare up enough to really matter, in the end. Mostly, it has been a wondrous and illuminating and positive process of being drawn into the notion and reality of pilgrimage – of discovery – of moving forward. I am happy. I am not a paragon of fitness or enlightenment but I am stronger, and I have learned, and I feel ready to thank the Camino for all that has happened.

I don’t expect to skip lightly down the trail. I know my knee (and likely other body parts) will hurt – maybe a lot. I know I can keep going. I know I can stop, too. That’s all I can know.

People who know me have called about my suitcase. I did not pare down to the essential pilgrim needs. But it’s much lighter than what I used to haul around. I feel like I may be almost ready to think about a manageable pack if I’m lucky enough to return to the Camino to do a longer stretch of it.

I did, however, just have a slightly terrifying moment. I went into the fully packed suitcase (very good thing I did, too) to look for this turquoise stone pictured above. What I found first was an erupted shampoo bottle (just one of the little dollar store ones that clearly wasn’t worth a dollar) that had made lovely-smelling rivulets all over my top layer, including my knee brace (is there some kind of strange message in that?).

So I swabbed things down, had to take the brace out to dry with my hairdryer (no I’m not taking that, come on!), and replace a couple of things that were just too shampoo-drenched to stay in. I must admit, I now have a frisson of anxiety every time I look at the dang suitcase and will pray that toothpaste knows how to stay in the tube.

People have again asked me ‘Why Camino?’ Why are you doing this? Why do you want to do this so much? They’re not suggesting I shouldn’t want to and mostly no one thinks I should cancel because of injury. They just want to know. I do, too.

But I don’t have a good answer. That may be avoidance but I don’t think so. I just feel – and have from the beginning – a draw to do it. And it’s deepened over time. I am going with as open a mind and heart as I can possibly make them – I don’t want to write the story before it happens.

I have not been a church goer. But a Quaker upbringing has instilled in me a sensibility for seeking. For recognizing that of God within every person, not only in something big and divine outside ourselves. For silence and discovery and peace and the glory that is humanity. I hope I can find these touchstones in me on the Camino and beyond.

I have a strong sense of my mother, too. I know we walk the Camino alone, even as we are in company. But I feel like I will be closer to her on this walk somehow. I think she would love the Camino – and the donkeys – and the turquoise stone. But that’s not the reason either.

Sarria, our starting point.

So not a very specific answer. I imagine some people know exactly why they walk. But I know others just sense a reason somewhere beyond words, like it is for me. I found a lovely write-up by some Camino pilgrims and I’ll just put the first and last bit of it here:

“When we started, we did not know – exactly – why we were doing it…

When we got to the sea at the end of the world
We sat down on the beach at sunset
We knew why we had done it
To know our lives are less important than just one grain of sand
To know that we did not need the things we had left behind us
To know the we would nevertheless return to them
To know that we needed to be where we belonged
To know that kindness and friendship and love is all one needs
To know that we did not – after all – have to make this long journey to find this out
To know that – for us – it certainly helped.”
So, that’s it for now. I’m going unplugged onto the Camino. Of course I hope to write about it when I return.

Thank you.


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I’ve been preparing for the Camino for about a year – perhaps longer, if I think about when the spark of an idea from a brief conversation with two friends seemed to trigger an invitation from other friends.

And so it began. Going to the gym. Reading Camino books. Unexpectedly, and gratefully, connecting with many other pilgrims who have welcomed me with a huge embrace in spirit – and sometimes in person – and taught me so generously about walking this sacred trail.

Yet it’s only now that I feel I’m truly starting to put my whole heart and mind into a different place – into the wonder of it all.

I am going to walk the Way – part of it anyway. Wow!

Not that mine is a unique story. Hundreds of thousands for hundreds of years have set out for hundreds of thousands of reasons to – simply – walk to Santiago and put down their burdens at the statue of St. James. Religious or not, people from all over the world have been drawn to the Camino – often more than once – and find the rigour and simplicity and profundity of walking many steps in the footsteps of history changes them. The collective made personal.

And so, maybe I’m amazed.

Two friends very close to my heart helped me still my heart, so that I could experience this ‘readiness’ and not have it get lost in the shuffle. They saw me always on the move, new job – with my beloved donkeys – but still lots of new, the gym 4 times a week, house stuff, life stuff, making lists and checking them twice and thrice. Life as ‘to do’ list. I was getting it done, but perhaps losing out on an important piece of the journey.

My friends kindly told me of a brief meditation and it goes like this – When you find you’re 5 steps ahead into ‘what’s next’, maybe a bit too revved up in accomplishment gear, just stop for a moment and say:

Here. Now.

It can be tough to do, but I think the words speak to their purpose – and how it might be helpful. Which it has been for me. A breath of calm, a sigh of relief, a quickening, too, but of excitement about what I’m getting ready to do.

Getting prepared for a 100k hike has a clear pragmatic side, too. And here I’ve been learning as well. Though we’re not carrying everything we have on our backs nor staying in refugios (this time – 🙂 we still will carry some, plus there are strict weight restrictions on our second flight from Barcelona to Santiago. Plus it’s just good form to not carry everything you own on a pilgrimage.

I have freely confessed in this blog to the sin of overpacking. I have lugged ridiculous luggage the size of refrigerators around for – well, for too long. And not for any good reason. Half the stuff stayed in the suitcase anyway while one or two items became the every day favourites.

So here’s where the Camino angels flew in again to help me sort myself out or risk paying enormous fines for an obese suitcase, this time around. And when I do return to the Camino carrying all in a pack, it is imperative I learn how to whittle the gear down into something that won’t cripple me as I attempt to stagger the much longer future hike. Many a pilgrim can be found in Spanish post offices quietly mailing a good third or more of their ‘essential’ gear back home; a 30k uphill trek strips need down to the truly essential.

Rob (quoted often throughout this blog) sent me some words from a fellow pilgrim-in-training who had recently read a book that I feel was written for me: To Walk Far, Carry Less. The author Jean-Christie Ashmore has walked over 3,000k on the Camino in France and Spain and knows of what he speaks when he says:

We pack our fears, our what-if’s, our just in case’s.

Ever feel like you’ve been hit in the head by truth? I did…in a good way. Honestly, everything I have done when it comes to travel fell into place – just like that. I do this. I don’t *need* to do this. Seeing it was enough. (I hope, please).

If this extraordinarily sage advice wasn’t enough, Rob went one better. He who is walking a 3 1/2 week pilgrimage this summer showed me what he is taking. This is his 4th time, so he knows, too. Take a look. (My current planned list for a week in Spain is – was – 4 times as much, at least).

So I’m re-thinking and trying to separate what’s needed from fear, what if, and just in case.

This Camino experience has taken me to many many places, not very far away, before I’ve even boarded a plane.

Because working out has been such a big part of preparing – physically and mentally, too – here’s the latest in Stefan’s tough love regime. And I have the hand calluses to prove it:

8-12 reps, 2-0-2-0 Temp with 30 sec rest, 4-5 sets. These are a new format of workouts we’ve been doing for past few weeks, more reps, lower weight (in some anyway), and these little bitty rest breaks in between instead of a minute. Apparently these break down muscle or fat or something even faster. I wondered if they’d break me. But nope, I’ve been working it out.


  • Conventional Deadlift 125 lbs. That’s 125 lbs!! The most I’ve done so far.
  • Stability Ball Hamstring Curl
  • Step up
  • Hip Press 25 kg

Upper body:

  • Assisted Pull-up 140lbs
  • Seated Stability Ball Cable Row 52.5 lbs
  • Lat Pulldown 67.5 lbs
  • Sandbag Press 25kg
  • Raised Pushups
  • Cable Press 17.5lbs/ side

Workouts are winding down now with a week of ‘no training’ just before I leave. My friends continue to do 10, 12, 18k or more hikes to prepare. Me, I lift. I am hoping St James will consider that sufficient.

Many people carry stones on the Camino and leave them in places along the way as symbols of letting go, forgiveness, or maybe they were just lightening the load. I’m laying down my stones before I get there.


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