In contemplating walking nearly 1000kms over the space of four or five weeks, there are certain things you have to ask yourself:
- Will I physically be able to make it?
- What will I take, because I’ll be carrying it all on my back.
- What plans should I make?
- Why the hell am I doing this?
Let’s leave the last one for a while because that’s not easy to answer.
As for #1, I’ve been walking for a while now – a few years – but I got more serious about it when I came back from Spain with the crazed notion of walking the Camino. For those of you who like the gritty detail, I have been walking about 4-5 times a week, doing either a 8km walk or a 14km walk. I do them fast – averaging about 6.5km per hr – to get my aerobic fitness up.
Lately I’ve been doing the walks with a backpack, weighted to 7.5kg, and that slows me down! Yesterday for instance I did a 34km walk with the backpack between two country towns, to try and simulate as much as possible what I’ll be facing day to day on the Camino. It was hard. It took me 6 hours and I averaged 5.4km/hr. Slow for me. But I had pain in my right knee from an old running injury, and that concerned me. What concerned me more though was the prospect of doing that same walk thirty days in a row!
Will I be able to do it? Thousands do, each year – many older than me, and not as fit. So as long as my knee holds out, then yes, I’ll be able to do it.
What to take: This is a big one, and in checking various forums on the Camino, there are packing lists everywhere, and advice on what to bring and what to leave behind. The one thing that everyone says though is that you should not carry more than 10% of your body weight. For me, that’s about 7.5kg. When I travel for business, I usually check in with no less than 24kg and hand luggage weighing about 12kgs. (laptop, cameras, books etc.) So getting everything I need for 5 weeks away down to a measly 7.5kg will be the first major life challenge for me!
The second challenge will be social. I am by nature a solitary person – other than the relationship I have with my wife, immediate family and a few friends. (Facebook friends don’t count!) I’ll have to sleep in pilgrim dormitories, called albergues, which are mixed bunk like accommodation with shared toilet and bathroom facilities. Some of these places are infested with bed bugs, and some are pretty scungy, from all accounts. But they cost bugger all, about €7-€10 per night, and walking the Camino is all about stripping back (no pun intended) and putting yourself into situations that will at times be confronting.
The last time I slept in dorm accommodation was when I was 10 years old, on a school excursion. Even then I hated it.
I am doing this walk alone, and I have no desire or intention to make it a social occasion. When I walk here at home, I listen to audiobooks on my iPod. I won’t be doing that on the Camino. I want to be alone with my thoughts. I want to allow whatever might bubble up to bubble up, without any interference or distraction.
Having said I’m solitary, I’m also fascinated by other people, and I’m sure I’ll get chatting to pilgrims along the way, to find out their story and learn whatever lessons they’ve been sent to impart to me. I know that sounds whacky but that’s what I believe – that people cross your path to teach you lessons.
I want though to walk this ancient route at my own rhythm, at my own pace, and be open to whatever might present itself. Like I said at the outset, I don’t know why I’m walking 800+ kms – but I think I’ll know when I finish.