Angels unaware: Camino training hike #4

With almost no advance planning, Nancy messages me to ask if we’re going for a hike tomorrow. A hike. Did we talk about a hike?

Nancy and I bonded a year ago as she was planning for her September 2015 Camino. Now that I’m planning my return, we regularly walk and talk about Spain and Camino memories, and ponder life’s deep questions together.

“Yes,” I reply, “of course we’re going on a hike!”

Training Hike #4

Distance: 2.47mi
Elevation gain/loss: 974/978 ft.
Pack weight: 10lbs

The cold weather inversion is making the valley smoggy, so we bee-line up to our favorite park up in the Cascade foothills, Silver Falls State Park, like we’d just skipped class without getting caught.

The seven-mile loop in this stunning park features no less than ten waterfalls. Its trails are excellent training—with steep climbs and descents that thread through a deep, river-cut gorge.

Silver Creek Falls

On our initial descent into the canyon, the largest of the falls, Winter, is roaring with the power of water as it cascades 134 feet onto basalt rocks below. We pose to take a quick photo.

Although we can manage an arm-stretch selfie, instead I ask a couple nearby if they’d take our photo. Asking this is a small, but conscious effort on my part to meet other humans and get out of my comfort zone.

Jen and Nancy at Silver Falls

 

Further down this trail, I’d discover why I’m glad I observed this practice on this particular day.

“I’ll take two,” the woman smiled, turning my phone to show vertical and horizontal. I grin back. On the second shot, she says playfully, “Change your pose!” Be playful! Do something different! Those words are ones to live by. I give Nancy bunny ears.

After thanking them, we go on our way, descending deeper into the gorge. The river gurgles gaily beside us as we talk about footwear, catch up on mutual friends and family matters, and share about our dreams and aspirations. With a Camino under our respective belts, there’s always lots to talk about.

One of the things I love about Nancy is how she gets death. She’s one of the few people I know who can talk about the reality of one’s eventual demise. Comfort with mortality isn’t morbid; it’s actually a way of celebrating the precious time we have on the planet. It’s a reminder to live fully today.

Mud! True Camino training!
Mud! True Camino training!

After several miles, we slowly ascend a steep hill and come to a fork in the woods with benches for resting. Under a tree there’s a heart made of fir cones. How lovely. I’ve come to trust in signs like these.

a heart made of fir cones at the base of a tree
photo thanks to Nancy!

While we nosh on chocolate, the couple who took our photo shows up. In their mid-thirties, the man is sweating in his well-tailored navy blue peacoat. The woman, our funny photgrapher is in a white jacket, white hijab, and white knit newsboy cap. We greet them as they approach, smiling.

As the man sets down their pack on the bench near us, the woman looks at me and asks, “Would you like some coffee?”

I’m flabbergasted by the question. Coffee?  Out here in the middle of nowhere?  I don’t know what to say. I look at Nancy. (Nancy loves coffee.)

“Suuure,” we both say in unison.

“It’s . . . Arabic coffee. Do you know it?”

I shake my head, but the combination of her accent and the offer of a new kind of food delights me. I’m excited to try it, still stunned by her offer.

“It’s not like—how do you say—dark coffee. It is lighter. It has cardamom and other spices maybe you’ve never heard of.” She pulls out two paper cups—certainly they were intended for her and her husband—and sets them on the bench.

“Why don’t we share a cup?” Nancy suggests. Perfect! That way they still have their own.

From the pack, she pulls a large white carafe.

“You carried that all the way out here!” Nancy exclaims with a smile. The woman laughs, and doesn’t seem to mind the playful teasing. She pours out the steaming orange-brown liquid.

Though scalding hot, the coffee is amazing. Milky with a flavor is reminiscent of chai, it tastes of cardamom and a hint of flowers. “Mmmm! Wow!” I hand Nancy the cup.

“It’s my mother’s recipe,” she offers.

“I’m sorry—I didn’t ask your names,” I say apologetically.

“This is Ali, my husband,” the woman says, “And I am Fauzia.” Nancy and I introduce ourselves.

I want to know this couple’s whole story. Where are they from? How did they get here? What to they think of the US? How did they come to learn English? None of these seem polite, and I don’t want to assume anything.

“We are from Saudi Arabia,” Fauzia volunteers.

“Oh! What part?” I ask. I regret I don’t know this country’s geography at all, but have found this question handy for learning all kind of tidbits someone’s homeland. It keeps people talking about things they like and what features are nearby and spares me from looking like an ignorant oaf.

“We are from the south, where it is cold. But we also lived in Riyadh before coming here.” I’ve heard of the city, and am certain the country borders the Red Sea. I resolve to look a map later to see what is there. (When I get home, I learn that Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam. Mecca is there. It is mostly unforested, but has several wildlife preserves.)

As we sip the coffee, the warmth and kindness grow as Ali shares about the English language program he’s attending at a university. Fauzia teases him laughingly about practicing more.

“Would you like a date?” she asks, pulling a Tupperware container from the bag.

She opens it and extends them to us. “Thank you!” They’re almost round, taupe-colored, and have an almond inside. Heaven. Pure, sweet heaven.

“Did you bring them from home,” Nancy asks. Fauzia nods proudly.

I offer them some chocolate, and Fauzia grabs her stomach and says, “I am too fat!” This isn’t true, but I wonder about cultural rules about offering gifts. In Ireland, you are expected to take a cup of tea on a visit, whether you want one or not. To do otherwise is highly offensive. In one Native American tribe, Nancy shared later, if you compliment something belonging to a person, they must give it to you. In some cultures, an offer must be declined at least three times or you risk appearing greedy (even if you want it!).

I offered again a few moments later, but they both turn down the chocolate.

Before we go, we thank them profusely for the coffee and treats, wish them luck in their studies, and joke about pacing themselves with that big carafe in their pack.

The hill back to the car is staggeringly, gaspingly steep, but I feel like I’m floating on sunbeams of happiness, a bounce in my step. The exchange with Ali and Fauzia touched something within me.

“I can’t seem to name it,” I tell Nancy, “But something really good and beautiful happened back there.”

After a pause, she says thoughtfully, “Maybe it’s because they showed us hospitality in our own country.”

That’s it. That’s exactly it, Nancy. They had no reason to be kind, to reach out to us, and yet they did.”

“I really wanted to ask them about how they’re being received here in the US with all the anti-Muslim sentiment lately. I wanted to know if people are treating them well.”

“Me too,” I say. “On the other hand, maybe it’s enough, or even better, that we met heart to heart and shared laughter with them.”

In Hebrews, it says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

My lesson on this training hike is that Camino angels are everywhere. Look for them. And, miraculously, sometimes it’s the angels themselves who offer the hospitality. Stay open.

Maybe it’s a lesson our whole world needs.

angels unawares

 

What will it be like walking backwards to Saint Jean Pied de Port?

For all the certainty I feel about my call to walk the Camino in reverse, it feels strange not to be walking toward something. Saint Jean Pied de Port is a lovely Basque town, but it lacks Santiago’s saint and the epic coastline of Fistera and Muxia.

If I were European doing this trip, I might literally be walking home. Though few modern pilgrims do, ancient peregrinos left a cozy bed—and voila!—their pilgrimage began. All they did was step out the front door and go to their closest cathedral, where pilgrims united with guards in tow. Once the whole band walked to Santiago, they turned around and walked home again. The closest I can come to simulating that experience is to return to the beginning of my original journey (SJPP) and hope to get a bed at the albergue where I spent my first night.

In reality, my walk is not a return to a location, but to a place within. To walk the Camino backwards and arrive in the Pyreneen foothills is to revisit who I was on April 18, 2013. It is an practice in noticing how the Camino has changed me and how I’ve used the experience to grow in the time since.

Oh, I was so adorably naive!

That day, I was so tired and jetlagged when I arrived—and so clueless. Where do I go? Why is the pilgrim office so far from the train station? Did they really have to put everything at the top of a hill? Why do the welcome center volunteers seem so gruff?

That newly-arrived pilgrim was so eager to have other people like her. So willing to put her own needs in second place to get along. There was no way this journey wouldn’t change her, make her more resilient, but it would have to break her first. It would have to challenge her so profoundly, that her old ways of being would break under the weight of their ineffectiveness.

Pretending nothing was wrong would stop working when her feet hurt so badly, she could barely walk. And later when she got a fever and an ear infection. Denial stopped working. Her body’s needs forced her to wake up and take action.

The pattern of trying to get other people’s approval would break when she repeatedly ignored her own needs to keep her Camino family together. Then, when they were all gone, she would face loneliness head on and discover what it would teach her.

Pushing down her emotions would stop working when she experienced a profound and magnetic attraction to another pilgrim. The feelings couldn’t be banished. This unfamiliar situation would push her to the edge.

At the beginning, I had no idea how the Camino would test me. Maybe it’s better I didn’t, but I’m glad angels showed up.

Camino angels

On that first day in Saint Jean Pied de Port, I met a man who told us how he left his wife and four children for a Camino romance. Even now, I marvel at how irrationally angry I felt about his story. (Chicken shit, I believe, were my inner words of choice. Not a very nice thing to call an angel.)

As I sat in judgment of him, I was blissfully unaware. I couldn’t have known I would meet someone who’d take my breath away 500 miles from that very place. I would face the very same dilemma.

Now, having lived that dilemma, I understand how human it is to want the more exciting path over the harder one. I’d been emotionally absent in my own marriage long before I left for the Camino. When I returned home, I faced a decision: to be as open with my wife as I’d been with Meg—or leave. There were really no other alternatives.

Would I have chosen the same if that Camino angel hadn’t crossed my path and given me fair warning? Had I not been so furious at his choice, would I have been as informed about making my own? In the end, I opted for integrating the Camino’s lessons. I chose to transform myself and re-choose my marriage with an undivided heart. That’s not the right choice for everyone, but for me, it was a path toward wholeness, of living an undivided life.

The power of intention

As I arrived in Saint Jean Pied de Port, I didn’t know any of this awaited me. My stated hope had been “to be changed” by the Camino, and I was. Or, more accurately, the Camino shaped me. And then I used the experience to change my life.

Looking ahead, retracing my steps will give me time to consider the soul-ground I’ve trod the three years since, and invite completion.

At least, that’s my intention for this return trip. Who knows what else it has in store for me?

And for you too…

If you’ve already walked the Camino, reflecting on the journey, its angels, and lessons invites profound spiritual and personal insights. You don’t even have to walk it backwards for this to happen! It’s enough journal, share, reminisce, and connect with others who’ve walked similar paths. What’s important is to make the conscious choice to apply these insights to your life and live them.

The rewards are worth the trip. ❤

Camino training hike 3 and Altus poncho review

Everyone has been asking me when I see them—at work, socially, my family—how’s the training going?

It’s going!

Training hike 3

Distance: 5.55 miles
Pack weight: 5lbs

A peregrina friend sent me her Altus poncho to borrow for my upcoming Camino. The morning of my third training hike, I saw the threatening clouds and drizzle and was excited to test it out! (Only in Oregon are we excited about this kind of weather!)

Honestly, I’ve been kicking myself since April 2013, when I passed up the opportunity to purchase an Altus in Saint Jean Pied de Port. They’re part-poncho, part-raincoat with sleeves, but not sold outside of Europe. In fact, today they’re not available at all because they’re not made anymore. When my peregrina friend offered to lend me hers to use in Spain, I was tickled!

As soon as I arrived at the park, got my pack on, and the poncho situated, this happened.

Keizer Rapids Park

The sky cleared.

Even with only a slight mist, the wind was strong. Ponchos are notoriously billowy, so I was curious to see how it responded in the wind.

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The hood has tiny clips allowing for adjustment of fit. The wrist sleeves are elastic. The zipper was surprisingly tiny–maybe to keep out water? There’s a protective flap over the zipper with velcro closure to keep out the rain. My favorite part is the back which works like a wedding-gown bustle. Snap it up, and it’s short when you’re around town. Unsnap the three fasteners, and it’s longer and pouchy to fit over your backpack.

Like a floating bright blue cloud, I passed three women with five small dogs. One quipped, “The rain won’t get you today!”

The earthworm game

After a night of rain, the paved footpath had thousands of tiny earthworms all over it. They reminded me of the little snails on the Camino path every morning. I hated stepping on them, so I turned it into a game. At my walking speed, I stared at the ground as they “sped” by placing my foot so I wouldn’t squish one.

This nightcrawler was so huge (I wear a size 11 shoe), he insisted we take a selfie together.

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It’s amazing how your mind can wander as you walk. Seeing this sign along the road into the park made me recall my early driving days in high school.

bump ahead sign

“Bump ahead!” yelled my impish, slightly younger-than-me brother.

The yell was followed by a shove to my forehead, bumping the back of my skull into the car’s headrest. “Hey!!” I replied in protest.

“Sign says ‘Bump a head,’ so I did!”

A grin. Do all siblings mildly torture each other this way?

Back to the poncho again

After 20 minutes, I was hot. I was afraid that would happen. The Altus has no side or pocket vents, no tiny armpit holes to let out the warmth the body produces while exercising. After 40 minutes, I took a short rest. When I took off the Altus, I discovered the chest and shoulder area drenched with condensation.

My first reaction was disappointment. I really wanted to use this poncho, so lovingly shared by a friend. There’s just no way to hike for hours with this much moisture inside. My next reaction was profound remorse: I had steered my friend toward purchasing this jacket for her own Camino. (I’m so sorry, Sarah!)

The danger in non-ventilating rain gear is hypothermia. All that condensation makes your clothes wet, makes you wet, and can lower your body temperature—especially if the air is cool, if it’s windy, or if you need to rest, sodden, for any reason. Wet and cold are not a good combination.

The problem is that the better your rain gear vents body heat and dampness, the chances of getting rain under the protective barrier increase.

So, I’m back to the drawing board. I do have my original Camino poncho, the model that leaked and is on the heavy side. If I can tape the leaky seams, it could work. It’s not ideal, though.

The other idea I keep tossing around came from a convincing article I read about hiking with a lightweight umbrella. A reflective parsol takes the place of rain gear, eliminates the need for a hat, allows for complete ventilation, and protects against sun (portable shade!). The average price is about the same as a decent lightweight poncho or rain suit. The down side is that legs can get wet, but that’s true with ponchos too.

So rain gear is on the agenda again.

In the meantime, I walked my longest training distance yet five and a half miles, and felt really good. No funky knees, no soreness the day after, just a touch of stiffness in my right foot toward the end. I’m averaging fifteen minutes per mile too, which is about right for me.

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More hikes are in the plans!

Do you have a good rain gear solution? I’d love to hear about it!

Camino training hikes 1 and 2

At a bent elbow of the Willamette river sits a quirky little park with just enough trail for training. Since my current goal is to increase distance (elevation comes later), paved trails on a riverbed are perfect.

Training hike 1

Distance: 4.12 miles
Pack weight: 4lbs

Late in the afternoon, Mary and I decided to go together to take advantage of the sun. While she bee-lined to the river’s edge to hunt for agates, jasper, and petrified wood, I did a full two loops of the park.

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We’ve had a lot of el niño-related storms, so the water was unbelievably high and running fast.

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At the end, we walked back to the car, and this spray-painted arrow appeared on our path. Whenever I see these somewhere random, they remind me of the Camino’s yellow arrows that direct pilgrims to Santiago. This particular arrow pointed us back the way we’d just come—just the way all my upcoming Camino arrows will be.

 

Training hike 2

Distance: 4.54 miles
Pack weight: 4lbs

Same park, different day—this time solo in early morning. I had the park practically to myself.

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It was lovely not having anyone around to stare at my backpack-and-walking-sticks getup. I swear I am going to train in the rain (especially if I ever get my Camino rain gear figured out), but I was so grateful for the mid-winter sun.

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The river is high again, but not nearly as swollen as before. As I walked along the path, I heard the croak of a great blue heron (AKA pterodactyl) protesting my presence and a number of songbirds testing out their songs (yellow-rumped warbler, winter wren, Anna’s hummingbird, among others).

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I spied a flock of small waterfowl bobbing in a back current, but I couldn’t identify them. As I stood there, breathing in the quiet, a pair of Canada geese aloft called to each other, their wingtips almost touching. It’s hard to believe nesting might already be in progress in late January.

This forested half-mile along the water is my favorite part of the park. The rest of my loop is through open field that runs beside an old hazelnut orchard. Although I resist taking my camera at all, I loved the sunlight, mist, and trees full of fuzzy catkins. Spring is coming!

 

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Most of all, I’m grateful this sweet little park is so close to home. It means I can get my early training and mileage doing without having to drive very far to a trail.

At the moment, I’m working on a training calendar that will help me get up to fifteen miles and will post about it soon. My hope is to feel strong before I leave for Spain. With these two first hikes in, I know I can do it!

Doing a Slow Camino

A slow down sign

Back in 1980s Italy, the land of homemade pastas, sauces, and delicious wines, where food is an art and a way of expressing love, Rome’s citizens protested plans for a McDonalds restaurant. Can you blame them? What an affront to la dolce vita, a proud way of life!

From that protest sprang a celebration of preparing food intentionally using locally-sourced ingredients. The movement was dubbed Slow Food (in contrast to fast food) and has since grown a following around the world. Some of Slow Food’s offspring are Slow Cities, Slow Talk, and Slow Travel—with the common theme being consciously stopping the hurry and choosing to be present with what you are doing. It’s called the Slow Movement.

A crash course in slow

When I was on Molokai for three weeks this summer, I got a front-row seat to slow living. I’m one wound-up chica most of the time and don’t even realize it. The daily, relentless slowness of the island made me downshift and truly relax. It made a difference for the whole experience. Had I whisked in to Teri’s bookstore like a selfish haole (literally without breath), I would never have been invited to sit with locals talking story or learn of the island’s sacred places.

The idea of intentional slowness on my next Camino has been coming up a lot.

What does a slow Camino look like?

I can only give you my version. Perhaps my reflections will give you a chance to think about what a Slow Camino is to you.

Deeply appreciating my environment

My journal from 2013 has numerous sketches of the birds and wildflowers I saw. A walking pace makes it easy to take note of the rocks underfoot, observe geological formations, and the changing terrain. Noticing my environment often leaves me in a state of wonder about my smallness in creation and gratitude for being alive. As I move through towns and open spaces, I want to be present enough to look gently and appreciatively into the faces of the people I pass.

Eating what the locals eat

No matter how desperately I may long for peanut butter or oatmeal, allowing myself to hunger for these familiar foods is a powerful spiritual practice. Sitting with longing can invite gratitude or show me how to be satisfied with what I have. Eating how the locals do invites delight in tasting foods grown nearby and prepared by hand, even if unfamiliar.

Being open to spontaneous connection

Some of the most profound moments of my first Camino came from a smile that led to a conversation and unexpected generosity. Locals gave me gifts, wine, invitations to dinner, good directions, tips on places to eat, a laugh, encouragement on a hard day, and so much more. But I had to be willing to connect, to look up and make eye contact. This takes vulnerability!

Often, the timing of these unexpected meeting was just what I needed—a tremendous gift for this self-reliant introvert. Connections reminded me that humans are communal creatures. We need each other.

Relying on signs, maps, and the kindness of strangers

I could carry a device with accurate maps, but I want to learn what I’m made of. Some might say this makes the journey unnecessarily harder. If I get off track, what does this allow me to discover? Can I ask for and receive help? Getting lost on the Camino can contain may prepare me for times when I get lost in life, where neither GPS or Google street view are an option. This takes courage, but the insights are worth it.

Space and time for reflection

Have you ever been in the middle of a short walk or a long shower and had a new insight about a long-standing problem? To me, this is what slow travel provides. Removing myself from the everyday habits and triggers of my life allows space for new thoughts and ideas to arise. On the Way, each unhurried day unfolds at walking pace, leaving ample time for reflection.

On my last Camino, writing each night was a priority, and I cherish the memories that arise when I read my journal. For me, journaling daily is a way to synthesize the many experiences that take place and mine them for meaning. Both walking and writing have an inherent slowness to them that allows the mind to relax its grip and the heart to unfold.

Little to no technology

This topic deserves its own post, but I’ll say that by its very nature, technology is fast. Technology today is also tiny. A sponge-sized computer allows us to make reservations, take photos, store endless songs and books, make connections via video, bank online, and perform countless other functions. It’s a miracle, really. There’s no denying the plentiful and myriad advantages of carrying a cell phone.

But. (You knew that was coming.) As a highly distractable person with a technology addiction, every second of screen time takes me away from my surroundings. It’s just that simple. For every dollar I’ve raised or saved to get myself back to Spain, I simply can’t bring myself to waste a single minute on Facebook or behind a lens. Will I get lonely and want to connect online? Absolutely. Will I wish I could take a photo of someone or something while I walk? Yes. Will I wish I could make a reservation somewhere? Possibly. The bottom line is I will be able to survive without these tools in the same way that an alcoholic can survive without wine and beer (and even thrive).

To me, the absence of technology is a choice that makes room for a different, less-controlled experience in spite of its myriad advantages. It’s this lack of control and decreased speed I’m longing for on my return to Spain.

Enjoyment

With fewer distractions and a slow pace, the pilgrim can be fully present to notice herself think, hear Divine whispers, and witness the truths of other travelers. She can delight in discovering the world around her and connect meaningfully with fellow humans across generations and cultures.

Although pilgrims stay in a new place almost every night, it’s possible to know rural Spain and its provinces in a deeper way that even the Spanish themselves. I came away from my first Camino with an enduring love for its cultures and people.

For this reason, I’m not preoccupied with achieving a specific number of miles per day and am open to taking public transportation if needed. Some say you haven’t “done” the Camino if you haven’t walked every mile, but I’m not among them. I’ve met too many people who got injured on the Way and were still committed to getting to Santiago. If you enjoy the journey and learn something valuable from it, I say it counts as a pilgrimage without exception.

Slow is a state of mind

Years ago, I discovered a book by Carl Honoré called In Praise of Slow and read it cover to cover—twice. In it, he explores the many ways we can bring intention to our everyday lives. I highly recommend it.

As convenient as our speedy culture is, the calling so many hear to walk the Camino may be connected to our collective disillusionment with the pace of our lives. We’re longing for something deeper than fast. And to get it, slowing down enough to walk across a country is one incredible solution. How slow do you want to go?

I’d love to know your thoughts! What does a Slow Camino look like to you?

Divine nods

I believe in signs.

Since I avoid walking under ladders and throw spilled salt over my left shoulder, I probably should. But deciding to take a seven-week journey halfway around the world makes me look for affirmations—Divine nods—that I’m making the right choices.

Maybe I shouldn’t put this in print, but things are going really well.

Flights!

I bought my airfare! I have a flight to Dublin and will soon purchase connections to Santiago and Biarritz. Oh, my Lord, was that scary! At my request, Mary held my hand in support as I clicked “purchase,” and now it’s done. I’m going! Good sign? The price jumped up the day after I purchased and hasn’t gone down since. Granted, I know there’s a corporate algorithm that makes this happen, but signs are in the eye of the beholder. (And, in case you’re wondering, the fare was $1077 from PDX to DUB.)

Muriel!

Second, after a few emails and a Skype call to talk about details, Muriel emailed me last week to confirm that she will be arriving in Pamplona for us to cross the Pyrenees together. “Just in time for pintxos,” she wrote. I am beside myself with glee that this sage soul and I will walk together over those mountains while having deep talks and laughs about life.

I feel the need to knock wood right now!

Camino connections!

Third, I’ve met three separate people in two weeks who have Camino dreams. Totally random places. Totally joyful conversations. I encouraged them to trust the call they hear. “Our meeting was not a coincidence,” one said gratefully. Exactly my point.

More Camino connections!

Fourth, a local peregrina friend invited me to attend a huge Camino-themed holiday potluck put on by the Portlandia Chapter of APOC. Our hour-long car ride was fun and meaningful (why have we not done this before?). As an introvert, groups overwhelm me, and I feared sitting alone awkwardly with no one to talk to.  I should not have worried! We pilgrims know how to connect with almost anyone. More than one hundred people were in attendance and at least half had walked the Camino. One peregrina I met had completed her pilgrimage a mere month before. Her sparkling eyes and relaxed jaw reminded me: you too will feel this way soon.

Reconnections!

Fifth, two of my favorite Camino bloggers, Nadine and Elissa, both did Caminos this past summer. Both have been in post-pilgrimage processing mode and understandably quiet since they returned. In the last few weeks, they’ve both come out of the woods, reaching out and writing. This delights me as I’ve missed them (while understanding the need to take time to process the journey) and look forward to more reading and connecting with them both.

A draft!

Sixth, I spent time at my favorite mountain retreat center for five days of writing and—lo and behold—I finished a very rough draft of my Camino book. Good omen? You bet!

Happy knees!

Seventh (it just keeps going!!), I saw my awesome doc last week to talk about my knee progress. She didn’t say a word about hobbies or hiking. Instead, she was really encouraging and thrilled to hear that the supplements and exercises are working. I’m thrilled too. I’m not pain-free, but the pain is less and bearable. Now if I could just stop eating holiday goodies (I just learned how to make my own egg nog chai), I might make progress on the weight-loss side of things I’d be even happier. All in all, I’m thrilled my body is healing!

A serious one!

Finally, there is one sign I’m still sorting out. Since my post about risks on the Camino, the world’s axis seems to have shifted a few degrees in the wake of inexplicable violence. More than one caring person in my life has questioned whether it’s safe to travel in Europe right now. The US government advises caution. Here’s what I know in my gut: If I change my life or plans one iota because of fear, the evil side wins.

I mention this issue because signs don’t always confirm what we want to hear. Sometimes they challenge us to question how devoted we are to our call. Are you ready, they ask. Are you sure you’re up for the risks? Are you willing to lose others’ respect, your comfort, even your life to follow your heart? 

Yes. I am. Like life, the Camino may not be bed of rose petals, but nothing worth loving ever is. I’m trusting my conviction as a Divine nod—and proceeding with willingness, caution, and joy. May you do the same in order to follow what you love.

This might be the week…

This might be the week I actually buy airfare. Committing to those non-refundable, staggeringly-expensive tickets is quite possibly the scariest part of the journey for me.

At present, I am watching no fewer than eight possible itineraries on Google Flights.

flight price graph

Conventional wisdom holds that the best prices are 171 days from departure from the US to Europe. Sadly, everything took a jump last week while I bit my nails and second-guessed myself. I hope I don’t regret that.

In spite of my nerves, the most amazing generosity has been pouring my way. I don’t have adequate words to describe my feelings about this. Stunned comes close. Humbled too. I’ve wept in astonished gratitude more than once. The faith of supporters in my purpose invites me to trust the Divine plan at work in all of this.

 *   *   *

 

In quiet moments, I hear two messages about this journey. One of them is a constant companion, my old chattery brain with its hair-trigger worry reflex. It sets off without stopping to take a breath, “What if you’re doing the wrong thing? What if you’re not supposed to go? Don’t you have better things to do with your time and resources? This is ridiculous. Why are you doing this to yourself?” All reasonable concerns.

But. If I pat this hyper messenger on the head and send it off with a cookie, it settles down. Only then can I hear a second one, a truth-telling guide who whispers gentle, one-word messages in basso profundo, “Go.”

“Are you sure?” I ask.

“Trust.”

Though I lack a strong conviction about the identity of that messenger, its simple statements make my jaw unclench, my shoulders relax, and my body takes a deep, refreshing breath. This gets my attention.

 *   *   *

Tuesday mid-morning is the best time to buy airfare, so I’ll likely be hovering over the “Purchase” button with sweaty palms this week.

With everything happening in the world right now, I hesitate to ask for prayers when so many suffer and endure extreme uncertainty. My struggle seems so small by comparison. What compels me back to Spain is a calling into deeper relationship with the Divine and to be on the path, both literal and spiritual. With my whole heart, I hope to be a beacon of peace wherever I go.

I’d be grateful if you can send up a flare or a prayer for this one pilgrim’s next step.

Risks and sticks — Safety on the Camino de Santiago

“I’m worried about you going back there,” Steve tells me.

“You are?” This is news to me. “I’ve already been there once, you know.”

“It just doesn’t seem safe for a woman alone,” he explains. Steve is twenty-ish years my senior and former military, so I respect his opinion. His words of concern echo my dad’s worries three years ago, when I was planning my first Camino.

“You know, Steve, I have two walking sticks with pointy tips. I’ve thought of at least eight ways to kill someone with those suckers.”

He cracks a smile, “What if there’s more than eight of them?” I burst out laughing.

Steve’s fears about my solo journey aren’t completely unfounded. Last April, when an American pilgrim Denise Thiem disappeared en route, her frantic family turned to social media to try to locate her. Sadly, this fall we learned she was murdered by a local man–now in jail. However, her disappearance sparked unprecedented sharing online about other accounts of harassment, particularly of penis-exposing and groping by older men.

Then, a few months after Denise disappeared, a local Spanish woman was almost abducted by two men in a car while she was out for a walk outside Astorga. This really spooked me. My response was to spend hours online reading about organized crime, the organ trade, and sex trafficking in Europe. It turns out that eastern Europe is where the really scary stuff happens whereas Spain’s organized crime focuses primarily on trafficking tobacco. In other words, it’s just like everywhere else.

For all the creepy details that have emerged from these events, it’s important to view the information about crimes in perspective: over a hundred thousand pilgrims walk the Camino each year without being killed or accosted. In my opinion, it comes down to odds–and the odds of completing this pilgrimage without incident are very favorable.

That said, travelers would do well to prepare for worst-case scenarios in the unlikely event they do occur. For example if you’re traveling internationally, it’s a good idea to learn how to get in touch with your country’s consulate for aid (not the embassy) and know the region’s emergency response number. For pilgrims, it’s important to take precautions en route; don’t let yourself get too tired, hungry, or distracted, making you less able to respond to danger. I spent time online after the near-abduction report came out learning how to prevent an abduction or escape from one. Necessary? Probably not. Good to know? Definitely.

Not to go all Girl Scout on you, but being prepared is a great way to not get hurt or injured. Be prepared, and you’ll be able to deal with the unexpected.

In terms of odds, the real peril comes from the terrain itself since the chances of falling, injury, or breaking a bone are good. The path is sometimes nothing more than a long, downhill swath of loose cobbles. Be alert. Don’t walk while eating, reading, texting, or anything that takes your eyes off the terrain. Historically, one of the biggest killers of pilgrims is of getting struck by oncoming traffic.

As a naturally high-strung person, I am inclined to hear a comment like Steve’s and join him in the fear. As if I don’t already have my own worries! The truth remains that not going on this journey doesn’t make me safer. I could just as easily be accosted or killed by an intruder in my own home, blinds drawn and doors locked. But what kind of life would that be? I can’t wait in fear of an unlikely worst-case scenario. I want to live, to challenge myself and grow!

So I’ve made peace with this fact: it’s not unsafe to be a solo peregrina, but it’s unsafe to travel unprepared. That’s a big difference. I’ve got a good brain and some pointy hiking sticks–and I know how to use them both.

Ultreia!

 

Want to know why I’m doing the Camino in reverse — and how you can help? Read on!

Exciting almost-news about my 2016 pilgrimage

Oh, wow. I have news! Well, it’s almost news. Technically, it’s not-quite-for-sure-yet news, but a conversation today took a next step into discussing actual dates and locations. A thing! It’s moving from the realm of “wouldn’t that be nice?” into “OMG, this might actually happen.”

What on earth are you talking about, Jen?

Well, I had a lovely catch-up Skype session with one of my camigas today who lives in Europe. I shall not name her since it may all fall through, but she is a wise soul who was part of my little Camino family early on in the journey in 2013. I adore her. And I learned she might be able to join me for the tail end of my walk.

OMG! I’m so excited!

And you know what? We had this great discussion about how one of the key lessons of the Camino is to Trust How It Turns Out, whatever it may be. Stay Open. Refrain From Being Attached. Her reminding me of this pivotal insight was so great, because I am now free to just enjoy the possibility of shared walking plans without worrying about what ifs. It may happen or not, but I’m at peace with any outcome. That’s living the Camino, right there.

If it does work out, I will still get to walk alone in Galicia, which I very much want to do. I will get to have the experience I’m supposed to have as I make my way towards France and the Pyrenees (it’s still so strange to think of the big mountain pass coming at the *end* of my journey, rather than the beginning). And if she and I can rendezvous in Pamplona, I will have a companion of the most delightful kind at the very end of my journey back to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

The very idea!

I’m so excited about this development, I just had to tell you.

Gratitude:

I want to thank Mary Ellen for the perfect thermometer/compass key fob (which I mentioned needing in a previous post) and also to Nancy for my newest pair of Injinji liner socks! I am so blessed and grateful for your thoughtfulness and generosity!

Finally, I will likely be buying airfare in the next week. With the risk of such a big purchase and so much room for error, any good energy or prayers for “the best possible outcome” are welcome. Here I go!

Finally, finally, I wanted you to know about a new page on this site which is back after a three-year hiatus. Also exciting!

Stay posted for a new post soon!

Want to know why I’m doing the Camino in reverse — and how you can help? Read on!

What’s in my pack for the Camino de Santiago 2016

I learned from my first pilgrimage what’s essential on the Camino and what isn’t. Packing for my second (return) journey will be agony-free and much easier based on what I learned. I hope it helps you too!

Here’s what I plan to pack for the Camino de Santiago 2016

Pack:

  • Deuter Women’s Futura Vario 45L+10 (same)

Sleeping gear:

  • Sea2Summit pyrethrin-treated sleeping bag liner (same)
  • Homemade blanket of silk fabric and Primaloft (same)

Clothes:

  • 1 quick-dry sports bra (same)
  • 4 pair quick-dry underwear (same)
  • 2 pair medium weight REI wool socks (same)
  • 2 pair Injinji liner toe socks (adding a pair – I love them)
  • 2 lightweight quick-dry running t-shirts (same)
  • 1 huge cotton t-shirt for evenings and bedtime (same)
  • 1 REI running pants (one fewer than last time)
  • 1 Patagonia zip-off pants/shorts (swapping these for the pants above in case it’s hot)
  • 1 zip-up fleece with hood (same)
  • 1 wool hat (same)
  • 1 REI sun hat (same)
  • 1 fleece gator (mostly used as an eyemask, but good for warmth)
  • 1 pair micro gloves (same)
  • 1 pr Brooks Cascadia trail runners (same, technically a new pair)
  • 1 pr black Crocks (now with holes! I may swap these for flip flops)

Documents

  • Printed flight confirmation (same)
  • Passport (same)
  • Photocopy of passport, ID, and bank cards (same)
  • Driver’s license (same)
  • Compostella (same)
  • Scallop shell (same)
  • Camino de Santiago guidebook (same, updated version)
  • Cash (600 euro – more than last time)
  • 2 credit/bank cards (same)

Handy stuff/first aid

  • Folding scissors (brought a utility tool last time — too heavy)
  • Plastic fork, knife, and spoon (same)
  • Keychain LED squeeze light (same)
  • 1 16oz Nalgene bottle (same)
  • 1 32oz collapsible Platypus bottle (same)
  • Reusable fabric sack for groceries, laundry, and my carry on (same)
  • 1 gallon Ziploc bag for first aid supplies (same)
  • Small antiseptic cream (same)
  • 3 sewing needles and case (same)
  • Bandaids (same)
  • Mefix blister wrap (same)
  • Ibuprofen (20ct) (fewer than last time)
  • Immodium (3ct) (same)
  • Chewable antacids (10ct) (needed them and didn’t have any last time)
  • Allergy pills (for sleeping) (30ct) (same)
  • Calms Forte (100ct) (same)
  • Cranberry pills (30ct) (same)
  • Acidophilus pills (50ct) (same)
  • Wellness formula (20ct) (bringing many more this time)
  • Anti-inflammatory supplements for arthritis (added since last trip)
    • Vitamin D (5oct)
    • Turmeric (150ct)
    • Glucosamine (150ct)
  • Night guard and case (same)
  • 10 pairs of Hearos earplugs (same)
  • 6 feminine pads (same)
  • Bandana (same)
  • 15ft of line & 8 clothespins (twice as many clothespins this time)
  • 10 safety pins (same)
  • Leki walking sticks (same)

Shower bag

  • 1 gal baggie for shower stuff (same)
  • sarong to use as a towel (I brought a chamois washcloth last time – terrible idea with long hair)
  • Mini hair brush (same)
  • 3 ponytail holders (same)
  • 6oz shampoo in two hanging bottles (new – I plant to put them on a lanyard to hang from the showerhead. I also use shampoo as soap and for laundry)
  • Tiny “rock” deodorant (same)
  • Small toothpaste (same)
  • Toothbrush and flosser (same)
  • Pink scrubbie (same)
  • 2 disposable razors (same)

For the Spirit

  • 100-page art journal with: (all the same)
    • List of emergency contact numbers
    • Friends’ addresses for post cards
    • 1 Pilot V5 black pen (THE BEST!)
    • Pentel ICY .7mm mechanical pencil
  • St. Christopher’s medal (same)
  • Scallop shell necklace from Mom (same)

Still need to purchase…

I’m amazed how prepared I am! Here are the only things I want to get…

  • Poncho
  • Keychain with temperature gauge (in F and C) with mini compass
  • Lanyard for hanging shampoo in the shower
  • Dr Scholl’s arch-supporting shoe inserts
  • Second pair of Injinji runners’ toe socks

What I’m not bringing (that I brought last time)

Experience taught me that anything packed “just in case” can be left at home and purchased in Spain if really needed. No sense carrying what you don’t need! (True in Spain and in life!)

Here’s what I brought last time that I’m leaving home

  • 1 Patagonia Nano-Puff jacket (I’m on the fence about this one. It’s great for evenings, but is too hot to wear when hiking)
  • Utility tool (too heavy, not useful enough)
  • Long sleeve cotton t-shirt (too heavy and took too long to dry)
  • 1 pair thin wicking socks (didn’t use them as much as the toe socks)
  • 1 pr of thick wool socks (they were too thick for my swollen feet)
  • Fabric money belt (too awkward to use and it got all sweaty and gross)
  • Disposable camera (too heavy and didn’t use)
  • Sunglasses (the sunhat was cuter and worked fine keeping the sun out)
  • Powdered sunblock (a good idea that didn’t work)
  • Night guard case (my night guard got crushed on the way home – $400)
  • Silk long underwear top (too hot to wear when walking and too see-through to wear to bed)
  • Sucky, pain-inducing shoe inserts (my arches needed WAY more support)
  • Stupid Rick Steeves leaking poncho
  • Spork (not necessary – a plastic fork is fine)
  • Tupperware (took up too much room, and I didn’t use it enough)

Want to know why I’m doing the Camino in reverse — and how you can help? Read on!