First Adventure In My New Boots

In November, I got to take my new boots out for a spin. One of my friends in Chicago has a yearly hike around his birthday, and a bunch of my group of friends get together to spend a day in nature. Of course, our version of a nature hike includes wine, snacks, enough chattering to scare away the wildlife, and typically at least one stupidity-induced injury. In short, it’s not exactly serious, but it is a lot of fun.

The friend who puts all of this together, Nate, is an architectural history enthusiast, and when I lived in Chicago, we’d regularly go and explore cemeteries and old historic sites together. I was so happy to have my monthly work trip up to Chicago coincide with his birthday hike, since he always picks somewhere interesting to go. What’s great about hanging out with Nate is that he’s able to find the historic gem in the middle of the most banal setting. For instance, the following pictures are from Red Gate Woods, a forest preserve in Lemont, IL. I found out during our hike that it was the site of Site A & Plot M – the world’s first nuclear reactor (and subsequent disposal area).

One of the nature trails in Red Gate Woods.

One of the nature trails in Red Gate Woods.

Nate at the Site A marker.

Nate at the Site A marker.

A close up of the marker.

A close up of the marker.

Most of the trail was in the woods, but there were some open areas, too. Plenty of prairie grass here.

Most of the trail was in the woods, but there were some open areas, too. Plenty of prairie grass here.

Do Not Dig. Seriously, don't do it. You won't like the results.

Do Not Dig. Seriously, don’t do it. You won’t like the results.

We found a pond near sunset. It was frozen over enough that some of us (not me - I'm not crazy) were able to walk out onto the ice.

We found a pond near sunset. It was frozen over enough that some of us (not me – I’m not crazy) were able to walk out onto the ice.

The day was perfect, and my boots did their job perfectly. By the end they were caked in mud from the trail, but throughout the course of the day I was able to try them for extended periods on asphalt, gravel, grass, dirt, and mud. They were warm and waterproof, and I think they’re going to do me well on The Camino!

One Foot In Front Of The Other

“It is no use walking anywhere to preach, unless our walking is our preaching.” – St. Francis of Assisi

When I first started seriously considering going on pilgrimage, I made this silent agreement with myself that I would only approach the concept of the journey from a place of positivity. I guess that might sound strange – after all, what’s there to be negative about when you’re considering a soul-shaking adventure that promises to completely change the way you encounter the world from that point forward? Positivity wasn’t part of my grand plan; it wasn’t something that I carefully decided on and then tried hard to fulfill – being positive was just something that happened, then continued to happen. And now that I’m writing this blog post, I’m finding that indeed, I’ve been used to thinking about this trip in such glowing terms that it’s hard for me to put words to any underlying worries.

(Side note: Yay for positive thinking! It actually works! This is especially important since I’m generally kind of a realist in the day-to-day, definitely not anything near to being a Pollyanna.)

There comes a time, however, when you must confront potential issues, if just to work through them and visualize what your solutions might be should problems arise. For me, my greatest concerns about this trip have been focused on either side of the Atlantic: my cats’ wellbeing while I’m gone, and my physical stamina on The Camino. 

If you’ve ever read my other blog, Compass & Quill, you’ve probably seen me mention my two cats, Izzy and Munky, at least a few times. Though I wouldn’t go as far as some cat ladies and say that they’re “my life,” they are definitely my fur babies, and I love them. When you decide to share your home with another living creature that depends on you, there are always going to be some sacrifices made for their wellbeing. For instance, though I don’t always have the money to go to the doctor, they always get a yearly vet visit, stay current on their shots, and get the healthiest food I can afford. They make a mockery of my upholstered furniture, despite constant claw clipping, double-sided tape, pheromone spray to keep them from being stressed, and a dozen other tries at possible deterrence, but that doesn’t mean that I’d ever consider declawing them. And now they’re going to cost me a pretty penny for a pet sitter while I’m gone.

But even though I’ll most likely have at least a couple of people looking in on them on a regular basis during my absence, I still worry. Izzy is high strung and only likes one human – me. The last time I left for a couple of weeks, even though she had constant care and companionship, she still meowed herself hoarse at the door, waiting for my return. What’s she going to do when I’m gone for a month and a half? Luckily, Munky loves everyone. I doubt he’ll even notice that I’m gone as long as he’s still getting back rubs on a daily basis. But I’m afraid to think of the stress I’ll be putting poor Isabel under by being gone for an extended period. There’s no real solution, so I guess it’s really not something I should think about too much more. I’ll shower her with love for as long as I’m here, and I’ll make sure that their cat sitter is the best possible choice for a loving surrogate while I’m out of town. After that, it’s out of my hands.

The other thing that worries me is the physical toll of walking 500 miles. Unlike the cat situation, this is something for which I can prepare myself. However, much like the cat situation, no matter how much preparation I undergo, it is inevitable that there will be a considerable amount of pain involved. If there’s anything I’ve learned from reading so many Camino autobiographies, it’s that I will think that I’ve thought of every eventuality, but I’ll miss something. But the best I can do is try to go with the flow. Put in as much work as I’m capable of, then take my chances.

Right now, I’m walking about seven miles a day on average, with a 15 lb. backpack. I’m going to try to keep upping that number (pack and distance), until I’m closer to walking 10 miles a day with a 25 lb. pack. Hopefully that will negate some of the shock to my system when I kick things off in St. Jean Pied-de-Port. I’m also going to need to start doing some thorough stretching on a daily basis to try to get my hip and back pain under control prior to leaving. If anything has a real chance of sidelining me, it’s going to be hip/back/knee pain or a major blister. Unfortunately, I’m really prone to blisters, so I’m not sure if there’s much I can do to avoid them, other than properly breaking in my hiking boots, wearing good socks, applying some sort of non-chafing cream/lotion my feet every day, and bringing along plenty of bandaids and moleskin patches for hot spots. One thing I should be much more worried about, but am not letting bother me just yet, is the fact that there are no hills or mountains anywhere near my home in New Orleans, yet much of the terrain I’ll be covering in Spain is hilly or mountainous. The best I’ll be able to do is start walking at steep inclines on the treadmill, and hope that helps a little bit. Other than that, all I can do is put my boots on and just put one foot in front of the other, and trust that they’ll get me where I want to go in the end!

Have you had any worries about walking The Camino, or about leaving your life behind to go on pilgrimage? How did you address them?

Footloose, Fancy-Free…Fashionable?

Yeah...no.

Yeah…no.

Here’s a confession: I have no clue what to wear on The Camino. Sure, I know the basics, like sturdy boots, a warm, waterproof jacket, breathable shirts, convertible pants/shorts, and thick wool socks, but I’ve never purchased any serious outdoorsy gear. Hiking and camping aren’t really huge pastimes here in New Orleans, and the last time I went on a “hike” I lived in Chicago, wore sneakers, and brought along a couple of bottles of wine for the journey. With pretty much zero experience and a seemingly endless array of different Camino forums and camping websites, option paralysis has already taken hold. When it comes to putting together my all-star list of perfect pilgrimage duds, I’m feeling pretty lost.

My rational side tells me that this is all a bit of a gamble, and that I should try my best to not get bogged down in the details. Things that matter: weight, waterproofing, temperature control, long term comfort, injury prevention. Things that don’t matter: color, attractiveness, current trends.

In the end, I’ll probably make some sacrifices on both sides of the coin. For instance, I know I won’t be comfortable wearing a dark jacket. What if I fall down a cliff and the rescue team can’t see me? So I’ll be looking for a combination of performance and obnoxious color – preferably magenta, since it makes me happy. I’m also thinking of trying to find minimalist hiking boots, which will probably come across as a tad trendy to most people. However, I love walking in minimalist shoes, and my hips and back feel a lot better since I stopped using shoes with extraneous cushioning, so in that case trend and performance are on equal ground.

Socks, as small a purchase as they are, are one of the most important choices I’ll have to make. Blisters can slow you down, or even end your pilgrimage, and I am notoriously prone to blisters on the tops of my toes and backs of my heels. There are methods to avoid this, like rubbing Vicks Vaporub on your feet each day before donning socks, but your choice of socks is still key to preventing foot injury on the trail.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten as of now, other than discovering that there are about a million and one choices for everything on my list, and all of them have pros and cons. In the end, I’m going to have to start trying things out, one at a time. I’m going to probably spring for boots and pack first, so I can practice and wear them (and myself) in. Everything else will have to happen a piece at a time, so I guess I’d better get started comparing reviews, huh?

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