T-Minus 2 weeks

4/17/19: Today is a Wednesday. It is nearly a year and a half after I submitted my sabbatical proposal, and now I must soon literally walk the walk. The Weds after next on May 1st 2019, I will begin walking the Camino de Santiago taking the French route (Camino Francés), which is a 500-mile pilgrimage across northern Spain that should take 33-35 days of walking 6-8 hour days to complete. Right now as I sit at my computer with my cat on my lap this seems pretty daunting.

Why blog? Just trying to write about this journey and what it means feels daunting, but I will be documenting it because reason#1, as part of my sabbatical, I’ll share my story with my students as part of my fall class theme: “Challenges, Failures & Persistence” (I really hope this story is not one of failure!). So as I share my journey, I will try to be honest about my struggles, push deeper in my reflections, and also try not to commit the cardinal sin of being boring. Also, I’ll be doing the majority of the walk alone, and yet I’m the type who does not like doing things alone. I feel awkward eating by myself in a restaurant, I feel weird going to a movie by myself, and I felt lonely the one time I’ve traveled out-of-country by myself. While I do want to challenge this in myself, I write this blog for reason #2, so I can also draw strength from knowing my friends and family can join in on this journey with me.

Background: I’m not an athlete. Never have been. I used to run semi-regularly in my 20s and 30s and for the past 8 months I’ve been walking regularly, but I have never gone on a hike longer than 6 hours and I’ve never carried a loaded pack longer than 3 hours. That this will soon change is an understatement. Also, 2019 has already been a year of dramatic challenge and change for me. In December of 2018, after years of feeling like we were living largely separate lives and did not get along like a couple should, I asked my husband to end our marriage after 6 1/2 years together. He moved out last month. So far I’ve been enjoying a much better friendship with him, we’re both happier, but there are still feelings of sadness and loss. Additionally, my mom was recently diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s, so we have been working together to adjust to this new normal while ensuring she can continue to live on her own safely. For the first time, I’ve had to intrude on her privacy and start the process of managing her financials, being her medical-care advocate, and most importantly figuring out our new relationship in which I take on more of a caretaker role and she is open and trusting enough to let me. The last change of 2019 was me turning 49 in January. There’s nothing like staring down the mid-century mark to force you to take stock in your own health in all of its meanings. As I head into this walk and have nothing but time to think and reflect and to have to rely on and push my body in ways I never have before, I hope to emerge stronger in body, mind, and spirit, or something less new-agey sounding :).

My first walk with a 22 pound loaded pack at the beginning April 2019:

Contents of my backpack–every ounce counts! Two days ago I changed out my 45 liter pack (above) for a smaller 28 liter pack. I also did what you aren’t supposed to do…I returned the hiking boots I had been walking in for the last 8 months as they had just recently given me blisters on a particularly hilly hike. I replaced them with lighter hiking shoes I need to pretty much live in now before I go.

The things I’ll carry: After meeting with a friend who has done this walk, reading countless blogs, and looking at various people’s packing lists for the Camino, here is what I have which with water now comes in at 19 pounds…about 4 pounds more than I’d like but things are already bare-bones for over a month of travel! Contents: 3 quick-dry shirts with sunblock; 1 pair of pants, 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of hiking shoes, 1 pair of flip flops; 1 water resistant windbreaker; 1 long sleeve zip up; 1 dress to wear in the evenings (the one luxury item for relaxing in and not walking in); 4 pairs of underwear; 4 pairs of hiking socks; 2 sports bras; 1 day-pack; 1 shower bag (with soap, shampoo, deodorant, etc); concise map of hiking stages; packets of energy and protein gel; gear bag (charging cords, adapters, carabiners, laundry lines/soap/plug to wash clothes in sinks, etc); quick dry towel; medicine bag (with Ibuprofen, Pepto, electrolytes, anti-inflammatories from my doctor as I have developed tendinitis in my left foot from training); 2 liter water bladder; pack of kleenex and ziplock trash bag (when I’m trapped between towns and need to go!); sunblock; brush; hiking pole; rain covers for pack and self; 1 massage ball to rub on sore feet, back, hips; 1 scarf/headband; a sleep sack sprayed with bed big spray as I’ll mainly be staying in dormitory-style places called albergues with other pilgrims and sleeping in bunk beds (another first); and for the snoring and noise of dormitory-life: ear plugs, eye mask, and sleeping pills! And finally, an item I never thought I would have assembled: a Feet First Aid Kit–my poor little size 6 feet need to carry me and my pack over many many miles, so I have one bag dedicated entirely to feet: foot powder, foot glide, foot lotion, band-aids, sports kinesiology tape, waterproof tape, compeed blister cushions, gauze, alcohol swabs, needle and thread for blisters, neosporin, cortizone cream, clippers, emery board, scissors, and more band-aids!

Stripping down: Those are the contents of my pack now, but every Camino blog I’ve read and video I’ve watched have a repeated theme of stripping down…leaving behind things you thought you couldn’t live without, dropping weight you were carrying but didn’t need to, trimming down to the essentials. The life metaphor is pretty clear here, so I’ll reign in my English-teacher self from putting too fine a point on this.

Well, I hope I’ve piqued your interest and you will come on this journey with me…every word of support will mean everything especially when I’m out on that long road stretching out endlessly ahead.

10 thoughts on “T-Minus 2 weeks

  1. I regretted my overstuffed backpack in Colombia EVERY DAY I was there…I know you will do better “lightening up” get ready for the journey of a lifetime!! best wishes stay safe!!

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  2. Many blessings for your journey Rachel! I’m sorry I didn’t connect with you again before you left but I will be following your adventures! Much love – Justin

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rachel–thank you for sharing your blog with us. It’s very useful as we gear up to do our trip. You’ve got this–a big hug to you and best wishes! Serena

    Liked by 1 person

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