Walking, talking, and icing on my Camino cake

Seventeen days!

This week, Carol (my first Camino angel back in 2012) came down from Portland for a walk and catch-up visit. Together, we did 10.7 miles around north Salem and explored a whole agricultural area where I’d never been before!

I confess, I was fine up to about six miles and then started getting crabby, sore, and tired. Thank goodness for interesting, chatty friends whose natural energy keeps me going. ❤

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And! News!

Finally! All the details have been hashed out so I can share with you some exciting Camino developments!

Back in December, I mentioned that it was very, very likely I would be joined by Muriel—the sage and funny French librarian I met on my first Camino—for the last part of my Camino.

Now it’s confirmed and I’m squee-cited! PLUS, an additional exciting thing has developed.

Marisela, the city-savvy girl from Bogotá I met on my very first day in Saint Jean Pied de Port, is flying to Europe from Colombia to meet us! NO WAY! Yes, way!!

Peregrina reunion

The three of us will reunite in Pamplona and then take our time crossing back over the Pyrenees together. Muriel and Marisela (plus Katrin, another peregrina) were a little Camino family in 2013. After weeks of walking solo this year, I can only imagine how wonderful it will be to see these two beautiful, beloved faces again after three years apart.

Marisela and I are especially excited to cross the Pyrenees via the higher, Napoleon route since it was closed due to snow the day we left SJPP. The Valcarlos route was lovely, but we’re eager to see the shrine to Mary and have the whole experience.

Best of all, we already have a confirmed reservation at Orisson (the only place to stay on top of the hill), and two days at Beilari, where Marisela and I first met.

As if I needed more reasons to be excited, I already know this peregrina reunion will be the icing on my Camino cake!

Also!

Right out of thin air, I’ve got two Camino speaking gigs on the calendar for fall!

In October, I’ve been invited by the Las Vegas REI to give a presentation about my Camino experiences and meet up with their newly-hatched APOC group. I’m also invited to give a Camino talk at Salem Summit Company this September in Salem, OR.

Group events like these are one one my vary favorite things to do. When the dates are firmed up, I’ll be sure to post them here. I’m super jazzed!

Now, if I could just find enough time to walk daily. It’s coming up SO fast!

Flight screwups and glorious training hikes!

Getting to the Camino

This morning, I sat down to confirm all my Camino transportation details and discovered a mistake in my flight schedule. My mistake.

My original plan was to:

  1. fly to Dublin on a red-eye
  2. fly to Santiago the same day
  3. stay in town that night to rest up
  4. then take a bus to Finisterre in the morning

Well! Precise scheduling details like this are not my strong suit. I transposed a date on my spreadsheet and gummed up this tidy little plan.

So now I will:

  1. fly to Dublin overnight on that same red-eye
  2. stay in Dublin that night at a hotel
  3. Take my flight to Santiago the next day
  4. and hope to catch an evening a bus to Finisterre or Cee

Even though the tidiness is gone (and a degree of uncertainty and the need for hope inserted), it’s not that big a deal. My ego is just a tad bruised. I want to spend as little time getting there so I can be there.

In other news!

Training Hike #8

Distance: 7.2 mi
Elevation gain/loss: 1000 ft.
Pack weight: 10lbs

Martha is a new Camino friend I met back in December when I attended the Portland APOC Christmas potluck. She met me at Silver Falls State Park for a hike despite mud, rain, and wind. It’s a beautiful place in any kind of weather!

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We hiked for several hours and even with the steep elevation gain and loss, my knees didn’t hurt or swell at all! Woohoo!

We had Camino-quality conversations too. My favorite part about walking is the freedom and spaciousness to discuss whatever topics come to mind, to listen, to share deeply from the heart. I want to remember that conversations like these aren’t just a Camino thing. They come from making a choice to show up authentically and vulnerably with others anywhere.

Training Hike #9

Distance: 8.2 mi
Elevation gain/loss: 1240 ft.
Pack weight: 12lbs

Then! Last weekend, I got to stay with my friend Nancy. You remember her, right? She is my right-hand training buddy and Camino soul sister who walked the Way last fall.

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When Nancy was preparing and training last year, I was living vicariously (and a little enviously) through her. Now that I’m getting ready, she confesses to the same.

Jen and Nancy

We agreed to do a hard hike and chose Cascade Head on the Oregon coast. I love this hike. In terms of geology, it’s a lot like Finisterre—a tall, narrow landmass that juts out into the ocean—only with more trees. The elevation gain is 1,200 feet up and back down again. And the views? Stunning.

Cascade Head

Except when you ascend into the clouds.

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At the top, we met a tall, hip-looking woman and talked together for a few moments. Then she disappeared into the mist.

Nancy and I had decided to be clever by leaving one car at a different trailhead so we could walk just one way, Camino-like. What we didn’t plan for was the scary trail closure sign (threatening a $5000 fine and 6 months in jail) that met us as we proceeded into the woods toward my car.

We agonized, really. We’re both first-born big sisters and good girls with a strong sense of responsibility.

“We should probably go back the way we came,” Nancy said.

“But I really want to have our adventure!” I whined.

“Me too!”

We scrutinized the sign: TRAIL CLOSED TO ALL FOOT, BIKE, AND MOTOR TRAFFIC. When I’d parked my car, a similar sign specified only a single trail to avoid. I’d thought we were in the clear. Now doubt set in.

“I know this is to protect a fragile butterfly species,” I said. “I guess we should do the right thing.”

“Yeah. We should.”

On the way back down the hill, the tall lady passed us.

“Where did you go after we talked with you?” I asked.

“Oh, I walked down the road a way.”

“Did you see the sign?” Nancy asked.

“Oh, yeah. I didn’t think it applied to me,” she said pragmatically. She was right. It was only the side trail we needed to avoid.

Nancy burst out laughing, “The two good little Catholic girls followed the rules.”

“And this Jewish girl ignored them!” We all laughed.

For me, the lesson is to not make decisions from a place of fear. Choose because of love, because of passion, because of joy. Don’t step on butterflies, of course, but don’t diminish your truth and your calling out of fear.

There’s a big difference between fear and actual danger.

Getting ready!

These two hikes really tested my body and allowed me to discover what it’s capable of doing despite the diagnosis. I’ve felt a little sore, but my knees felt terrific. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

I’m getting really, really, REALLY excited for Spain.

Needs and knees: Camino training hike #5

The deep need for the Camino experience

Every pilgrim I’ve ever met longs to reconnect with the Camino experience after they return. Sometimes you feel it so deeply, it’s like a physical ache—yet it goes mysteriously unnamed. What is this? Why do I miss it so much? What can I do to make this uncomfortable feeling go away?

This feeling reminds me of the springtime buds about to pop where I live. How uncomfortable to be a swelling flower, furled up and encased in a husk. The Camino revitalizes the soul after years-long winter. Post-pilgrimage longing is an urge to burst into bloom, to be radiantly alive every day, the way we were as pilgrims.

Out of that feeling, at least for me, comes a desire to connect meaningfully with other pilgrims. Nothing nourishes me more than connecting with other souls who willingly challenge themselves and ponder life’s deep questions.

Walking is a kind of meditation. To intentionally walk with others can be a sacred, moving ritual.

Training Hike #5

Distance: 5.5 mi
Elevation gain/loss: 25? ft.
Pack weight: 8lbs

Although the easiest, most obvious choice would be to participate in the monthly event hosted by my closest APOC chapter, the idea of gathering with friends to do longer walks held more appeal.

So, for training hike number five, I met up with two aspiring peregrinas and a veteran. Together, we walked along the interconnected paths and parks of Salem. The weather was astonishingly beautiful for early February.

The walk was full of happy accidents. One in our group realized she needed a hat just as we approached Salem’s independent camping gear store. From a hilltop in one park, a guy practicing his trombone, giving us a free, quarter-mile performance. When we stopped for a restroom break, we broke metaphorical bread by sharing chocolate (maybe that’s even better).

Along the way, we compared the merits of gear options for long-distance walking. The aspiring pilgrims asked wonderful questions about the Camino, probing especially for the meaning, the significance, and the moments that made it so much more than just a walk, but a life-changing, soul-healing experience.

Knees

Addressing my arthritis diagnosis is still a relatively new thing for me. I mean, how can I be old enough to have arthritis in the first place??

After finishing the previous training hike with Nancy, it was clear my knee had had too much. Within a few hours, it tingled, felt mildly warm, and was a bit puffy. I suspect that the combination of a ten-pound pack and almost 1000 feet elevation loss and gain over 2.5 miles had been too big a change from all the mostly-flat walking I’ve done so far.

On training hike number five, I was glad for the flat walking, but my knee was still uncomfortable. A few times, it even hurt a bit. This was new and unnerved me. I can’t be messing with this in Spain. I can’t just walk the way I did last time with only meager training. I’ve got to be ready.

Writing it will make me accountable, so I’m recommitting here to doing my daily physical therapy exercises and taking all of my physician-prescribed supplements. Doing yoga was really helping me too, but I just got bust. So I’m going to do that at least every three days.

I do not want to be caught by surprise while walking the Camino. I want my body to be in great shape before I get there.

On the up-side, I’ve lost seven pounds so far. This is helping lighten the literal load on my joints. I would like to lose another seven before I leave (10 weeks left!), so I might have to forego the chocolate I love so much—at least until I’m walking on the Camino!

Simulating the Camino at home

I loved walking with these ladies and talking about life, our respective journeys, and the Camino.

peregrinas on the train bridge in Salem

The need to connect, to gather, to share unstructured time in community is a deep human need. As hard as it can be to find, all we need is a clear intention to create it. Although not everyone can walk (or return to) the Camino for various reasons, the experience can be simulated or recreated to similar effect.

After the walk, we gathered at my home to share a potluck meal—a cozy end to a beautiful day—all vowing to walk again soon.

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!

A daunting diagnosis: Can I walk the Camino?

“Well, the first thing you’ll want to do is thank you parents for passing this on to you,” my doctor smiled ironically. “Osteoarthritis is usually inherited.”

“I’ll be sure to show them some gratitude,” I grinned back.

“Now, I don’t mean to sound negative,” she continued. “I know you like hiking, but I think you’re going to need to find a new hobby. Your knee just can’t take it.”

*   *   *

A few months ago, I lay in the reverberating MRI chamber wondering what the heck was wrong with my knee. A squishy feeling persisted any time I walked or hiked. Sometimes it ached a bit, so I finally got it checked out. The results came today: arthritis. At forty-two.

This wouldn’t normally be a big deal for this world-class couch potato. I could merely have used the diagnosis as an excuse to take my laziness to the next level.

But, given my recent announcement, these times are anything but “normal.” I’m planning to walk the Camino de Santiago again in nine months! That fact alone would be concerning, but the truth is hiking has become a lot more to me than what my doc called a hobby. Being out in nature is what got my life back on track after falling apart post-Camino. Hiking is what saved me from the most paralyzing depression of my life. Later, when I was whole again, it’s what saved my relationship with Mary. Simply put, hiking is what I do to encounter the Divine and restore my soul.

For this reason and many others, I can’t stop walking. I simply won’t.

“As you know, I walked across Spain two years ago,” I reminded my doc. “I’m planning to go back again next spring and do at least part of it again.”

“Well…” she started slowly, a cautious look crossing her face. “In that case, we need to focus on strengthening the weaker muscles in your quads and loosening your hamstrings. I also have some supplements I want you to start on that can help reduce swelling and support the cartilage.”

Her thought is if these interventions don’t help with my pain and swelling by December, we’ll explore a more aggressive strategy to help the knees become healthier so I can still walk in spring.

I never imagined this — of all things. To be told that I’m physically incapable of walking — or that doing so would be unwise. The craziest part about today’s revelation is that, up until now, I’ve been feeling scared, resistant, and mildly apathetic about the call to walk the Camino again. I haven’t exactly been jumping for joy about going. But now there’s this hurdle. There’s someone looking over my lab reports evaluating whether I should go. I want to spit nails. Find another hobby, my ass!

This new information is changing my formerly-reluctant assent into a defiant just-try-and-stop-me! Something deep within is rising to the challenge.

*   *   *

My mindset is pumped, but the reality of what I’ll have to do to prepare is daunting. I’m one of those excitable types who starts out all gung-ho about a project and then rapidly loses steam — twenty-four hours is a generous window. I have to do exercises every day: Wii balance board games, leg extensions, rolling on a foam thing to stretch my hamstrings (painful!), and a little move I call the stork leg. Daily. Twice daily for extra credit. How on earth will I find the resolve to do this for nine months?

Taking the supplements diligently will be easy enough with breakfast, but it’s the final challenge that fills me with undeniable dread: I have to lose weight. If I’m honest, I need to lose at least forty pounds (and keep it off) to take the strain off my knee. Losing weight takes diligence I do not inherently possess. Oh, that my arms and legs and torso were like Legos, and I could just pull off the bits I don’t need, piece by piece.

Oh, that I didn’t medicate every shift in my mood with sugar, fats, and carbs. Losing weight might be easy if it were just about my meals, but what keeps me overweight is what I eat in secret, in between meals, when no one is watching. Me and food are thick as thieves.

The arthritis was coming, one way or the other. What I didn’t know was saying yes to this Camino meant facing the inherited, intertwined issues of food and feelings. I can curse my fate or deny it, but there that wound is still there, waiting for me to heal it. Further proof, as if I needed any, that the Camino gives you what you need.

So, dear reader, here I am. As you know, I’m embarking on a physical journey in Spain nine months from now. To prepare for that walk, I begin another journey now toward healing and getting healthy in unexpected, potentially-transformational ways. I am equal parts daunted and eager, but one thing is for certain: I’m keeping my hobby.

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