Before Erik and I leave for any trip, we always talk about the places or activities that we are most looking forward to, as well as any concerns or worries that we might have. After the trip, we come up with our list of superlatives – our favourite meal, our favourite town, our greatest surprise, our biggest disappointment, our most memorable moment, our lowest point etc. For some, we are very much in agreement and for others, not so much, but it always leads to a great deal of discussion and we get a big kick out of rehashing our trips.
Today I thought we would create and respond to a list of questions that describe our expectations of the Camino. We each wrote out our answers privately, without discussing it with each other, so it was interesting for us to see how each other responded.
In addition, I asked my friends on social media for their questions and I posted our responses at the end. After the trip, we will do a similar post and see how reality differed from our expectations.
What are your pre-Camino stats?
Barb: Age 56, 5’3″, 134 lbs, relatively fit but not really “race-ready”, carrying about 13 lbs on my back. Gear includes a Deuter Futura 30L pack, 2 pairs of Peregrine 5 trail shoes, and Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z collapsable Trekking Poles.
Erik: Age 66, 6’1″, 178 lbs, fit and healthy, carrying about 17 lbs on my back. Gear includes an Osprey Kestrel 38 L pack, 1 pair North Face gortex trail shoes and 1 pair of Vasque Juxt trail shoes, and Black Diamond FLZ trekking poles.
Why do you want to do the Camino and what do you hope to get out of it?
Barb: I’m looking forward to the mental and physical challenge and seeing how hard I can push my body. I’m looking forward to meeting new people. I’m curious, and maybe secretly hoping to see if I get caught up in the spiritual side of the Camino.
Erik: I want to do the Camino because I want to know what type of an effect this walk will have on me physically, mentally and spiritually. One would think that once you’re a “senior citizen” you would know what the answers are. Well, I don’t know. Maybe I might discover some of the answers by escaping my normal life for a bit. At the very least I may find out what some of the questions are.
What are you looking forward to the most about doing the Camino?
Barb: Meeting people from all over the world, and meeting the locals. Trying to speak Spanish. Testing my endurance.
Erik: Walking out of St. Jean Pied de Port and starting the walk up to Orrison. I have been planning this for 2 or 3 years and finally being on “The Way” will be super special. That departure will initiate 35 to 40 days of walking, eating, sleeping, and meeting new friends, as well as abandoning the lifestyle with which I am so comfortable and familiar.
What is your greatest worry or major concern about doing the Camino?
Barb: I guess my biggest fear is having gut issues from eating unusual foods – stress and fatigue and strange food can really bother me and I’m afraid of it affecting me to the point that I might need to hang around a bathroom for a few hours instead of walking. (TMI? ;)) I am also afraid of walking alone and/or getting lost if Erik goes on ahead of me at some point. I can sometimes have moments of irrational panic when I’m alone so that is always a big fear for me. Those two fears combine to cause worry.
Erik: The first three or four days will greatly help to clarify the unknown: how will my body hold up?, will the possible discomfort of situations make me long to be somewhere else?,…..all those things that I really won’t know until I’m there and experiencing it.
What city or location are you looking forward to the most?
Barb: Not sure – Erik has spent more time looking at all the locations than I have. I know there are a few cities/towns with beautiful gothic churches and I love visiting beautiful old churches, even thought I’m not religious at all, and hardly even consider myself “spiritual.” Nevertheless, there is something very emotional that happens to me when I have the opportunity to stand alone and quiet in an ancient structure and let the waves of history wash over me – it brings tears to my eyes every time.
Erik: Really hard to answer this one. I think Cruz de Ferro could be a special place. While there I will leave something that I have carried with me throughout the entire walk. Throughout the walk I believe that I will attach a special significance to the object as a result of my thoughts, and leaving it will be difficult, yet very meaningful.
What do you think is going to be the hardest section of the Camino?
Barb: Climbing mountains for the cardio challenge and going down steep hills because it’s hard on my knees.
Erik: I think the most challenging part may be the last 3 or 4 days when we are getting close to Santiago. More pilgrims (the 100 mile kind) than usual may be a bit of an irritant and may prove distracting to the overall journey. Maybe I won’t be “ready” for it to end. Whether the ending is overall happy or overall sad, I believe it will be challenging.
What piece of equipment did you get that you think will be most useful?
Barb: My poles. I am really happy I was able to find super lightweight carbon poles. I find they really help with stability and support as well as take a certain amount of pressure off my legs.
Erik: I think my hiking poles will prove to be priceless as far as walking comfort is concerned. Also if we are ever set upon by any animals or other life forms they could prove to be handy.
What are you taking that you’re not sure you will really need?
Barb: My 2nd pair of pants. I have some capris (not shorts) as well as tights for bed. Not sure I really need the extra 245 grams of weight. However, I’m not planning to take rain pants so an extra pair might come in handy.
Erik: I’m trying not to take anything that I won’t need…..but…..I think it unlikely that I will use my poncho as I anticipate that my Marmot Precip jacket and backpack rain cover will suffice…… But you never know, the poncho may turnout to be my most valued item. Another item that I’m still not sure whether I will take is a head lamp. I really don’t think we will ever start out early enough to need it.
What do you think will be the most challenging for you – the physical or mental aspects?
Barb: Physical for sure. The mental part doesn’t frighten me.
Erik: I think the physical ones will initially be the most challenging as I am not certain as to how my body will respond to walking 800 km. After a few days, after I am tuned into my body and realize that it will be fine, I think the mental part will begin to take over. Over the course of the whole journey I believe that the mental aspects will be more challenging. I anticipate that this could become more of an internal journey than a walk through the countryside.
What are you going to do to manage physical challenges?
Barb: Go slow. Take my time. Stretch frequently. Take rest days. I’m just crossing my fingers that nothing serious crops up, but Erik and I have both talked about how we expect to handle unforeseen challenges or injuries. Our line of defence is avoidance, then rest, then sherpa service, then bussing to next destination, in that order. Our plan is primarily to stick together although there is always a chance that one of us will walk a section alone and the other will take a bus and meet at the next destination.
Erik: This is a question that invites an extended answer, but the key point is that I plan to always listen to my body and maintain whatever comfortable pace is suggested by the terrain and weather. In attempting to keep my body happy I will be wearing an ankle brace, and also plan on using my trekking poles all the time. I honestly believe that the only time I could run into physical difficulties is if I don’t listen to what my body is saying.
What are you going to do to manage mental challenges?
Barb: I’m less concerned about the mental challenges because I see this entire trip as a challenge much like some of the long distance races I’ve done in the past. I know for a fact that I am capable of putting one foot in front of another and continuing to move forward no matter how I feel so I have no doubt I can do it. I’m not really one to get bored from similar environments but I suppose if I’m really sick of the view, I can listen to invigorating music from time to time. I also find listening to audio books helpful. Most of the time I am hoping to be near other people which will keep my mind free from boredom or from dwelling on pain.
Erik: Probably have another glass of wine. Seriously? …hopefully talk to Barb about the challenges I’m facing, as well as talking to other people I meet along the way (while having a glass of wine). That way I can look at the challenges (whatever they might be) through different lenses. I think that the mental challenges are likely to be more significant than the physical ones cause the physical ones are often easier to analyze and therefore remedy.
What is the longest distance you anticipate walking in one day, and why?
Barb: Probably 30+km because we got lost or we just felt like moving on to the next town for better accommodations. We are giving ourselves up to 40 days to do the Camino and expect to stay in some towns for an extra night about once a week on average. That means about 20km per day. But we plan to start out slow and then perhaps do longer days when we are both feeling strong and there aren’t many hills. Our longest day on the Cotswold Way was about 26-28km I think and that was a lot of climbing. I was bagged.
Erik: I think we may hit around 30 k during a day on the Meseta because the landscape (from what I understand) can be a bit flat and monotonous. In this type of setting you could get caught up in your mind and maybe even lose track of distance and time. Of course, another reason we may travel that distance is that we feel, for some reason, that we have to make up for lost time.
What are you going to miss while you’re on the Camino?
Barb: Cooking. I love to cook and there are probably some foods I’ll miss. I’m going to miss my family and friends as well, but hope to keep in touch via messaging from time to time.
Erik: Most likely the guarantee of a nice comfortable quiet bed at the end of each day, and not knowing where the bathroom is in the middle of the night.
How do you anticipate you will respond to belligerent pushy pilgrim at the end of a hard day?
Barb: I’ll ignore them and then likely talk or write about them later.
Erik: If I am in a positive state of mind ideally I would like to find out why this person is behaving like this. Would be great if by some magical means we could just sorta sit down, have a drink or two, and talk. These potentially negative type situations could be the best spiritual type episodes that could happen on the Camino. On the other hand, if I’m not in a fabulous state of mind I might just be very up front with this person and give him/her a piece of my mind….. and then calmly walk away.
Are you worried about bedbugs in the albergues?
Barb: Not really. I will do what I can to avoid them and I’ve read a lot about what do if you get infested. I know the Hospitaleros are generally good at helping pilgrims.
Erik: Honestly…..no. We will be spending more time in hotels/pensions than albergues, and consequently will be less likely to encounter them. Certainly there is always the possibility, but I’m not going to worry about them.
I asked my friends on social media if they had any questions they wanted us to respond to and my friend Liz asked the following questions:
Are you taking anything sentimental/funny/luxurious that isn’t at all “must have”?
Barb: I am taking 150 gr of my favourite conditioner (but no shampoo) because I am picky. Also I’m allergic to sodium laurel sulphate which is an ingredient in most toothpaste so I am bringing a full size tube that is safe for me. The good news is that these will get lighter throughout the hike. I am also carrying my makeup (only 50 grams) which I clearly don’t need, but I suspect there may be a day or two when I just want to look better than I feel.
Erik: Nothing I can think of at this point.
Is there a Sherpa service or are you carrying everything on your back?
Barb and Erik: There are Sherpa services, such as taxis etc, but we aren’t planning to use them unless we are injured or sick. Doing the Camino is quite different from regular “backpacking” though. You try to carry as little as possible and you don’t need to carry a tent, food, or cooking gear. We aren’t even carrying a sleeping bag although some Pilgrims do. We are both trying to keep our weight down to about 10% of our body weight – my current pack weight including 500ml water is about 13 lbs and Erik’s is around 17 lbs I think. Erik is going to carry about 1 1/2 lbs of my stuff for me.
How many pairs of socks? (ha!)
Barb and Erik: 3 pairs each – A merino wool blend from Costco.
Do you speak Spanish?
Barb and Erik: We’ve both been using Duolingo, free app very much like Rosetta Stone, for a few months now. Barb is at level 10 (supposedly 41% fluency) and Erik is at Level 14 (55% fluency). Truthfully, we are now familiar with the structure of the language and have a basic vocabulary but we’ve never really put it into practice. I suspect I will be able to read it better than orally comprehend it, but most importantly, we will be making an effort to communicate!
As as aside, I have also been learning Italian (level 11 now) and reviewing French (level 12). Erik has been doing the same but he’s been focussing on Spanish only since Christmas.
Are you planning to wear a shirt that says “I’m Canadian not American, so don’t blame me for Trump?”
Haha, no but we both have Canadian flags sewn onto our backpacks. We learned that trick when we first started travelling. 😉