Yesterday my body rejected me!

I leave today.

Yesterday, my body rejected me. It didn’t want to go. So, you know what it did?

I woke up with a chest infection, an eye infection, my knee so sore I could barely stand, and I had tooth ache.

Ha ha! I thought. I know what’s going on here. I’ve been so damn fit and healthy these last several months, why do I now come down with these ailments just before I’m about to leave?

Because my body is chicken shit.

It doesn’t want to go walking in the rain and snow for 35 days. It wants to stay home and eat what remaining Easter eggs it can find.

Bugger that.

So, I had some Vitamin C powder, I did some yoga stretches, I went out on my last training hike, only 8kms, and I told my body to back off and behave. And by last night, it had.

The chest and eye infections had retreated, my tooth no longer ached, and the yoga fixed my knee.

This morning, I leave Mudgee for Sydney, then this time tomorrow I’m on the plane, and some 40 hrs later I’ll be in St. Jean Pied de Port.

Now, I’m just going to repack my backpack, and weigh it again…

The excuses not to go have started!

Less than a week out from leaving now, and the excuses not to go have started:

  1. I’m not fit enough.
  2. I’m too fit – I’ve already peaked.
  3. My leg hurts from my last 32km training hike.
  4. I can’t get my pack weight down to below 9 kgs.
  5. I’ve eaten too much over Easter.
  6. It’s snowing over there – I didn’t sign up for snow.
  7. I really shouldn’t be taking so much time off work.
  8. I’ve read so many blogs, watched so many YouTube videos, I feel like I’ve already done it.
  9. I like Australia.
  10. I’ll miss five rounds of the footy season.

But the kicker is: Why am I doing this?
And that’s why I have to go.

Packing and repacking my pack

Today I found myself emptying out some shampoo from a small plastic container. I brought the weight down from 75 gms to 50 gms. So I shaved 25 gms off the weight of my backpack.

You have no idea how happy I felt!

Over the past few weeks, I have packed and repacked my backpack countless times, trying to lock down what’s essential and what’s desirable. Desirable, if it weighs more than 10 gms, has no place on my back!

I’ve weighed, on the digital kitchen scales, everything I’m taking – from my beanie to my undies. (If you’re interested, my Bonds comfy undies weigh 65 gms. They are synthetic, not cotton. I’ve learnt that cotton is a real no-no on the Camino. Cotton takes a long time to dry, and it quickly becomes stinky.)

The weight of my backpack has become my obsession. Rule of thumb states that it should be no more than 10% of your body weight. Given that I weigh about 75 kgs, that means my backpack should be 7.5 kgs. But I can’t get it down to that – no way.

The lightest I can get it is 9 kgs – which means I have to do one of two things: I have to either lose 1.5 kgs off the backpack, or gain 15 kgs body weight.

So, bring on the buffets…

What’s making my pack heavy is my iPad (650 gms) and my camera (670 gms). That’s almost 1.5 kgs there. But I really need both, so 9 kgs it is. Actually, I’ve been training with this weight, and it seems to be manageable.

And after all, I did save 25 gms off the weight of my shampoo!

Full Disclosure

Let me state up front that I’m damaged goods.

I’m not talking about the psychological damage that usually only reveals itself after a couple of bottles of wine. Or when I see a parking cop ticketing my car.

I have two metal plates screwed into my spine, thanks to a car accident many years ago. From that same accident I got a compound fracture of my right leg, which has resulted in a dodgy knee. In my left leg, I have sciatic nerve issues. Yoga helps, but it’s always there.

Oh, and I get nappy rash.

Nah, just kidding.

Well, I’m not entirely kidding. A man’s nether regions, when that man walks a long distance, can be susceptible to skin irritation. But I’m buggered if I’ll use Johnson’s baby powder.

Anyway, with continual walking day after day, these niggles that I’ve accumulated could develop into full-blown injuries, which could slow me up, or sideline me.

I hope not.

Amping up the training

I leave in less than 3 weeks now, and I’ve amped up the training.

Mt. Misery is becoming my friend, although it’s a strained relationship at times, and on my last haul up to the top I damn near fainted. Nearly went face down onto a pile of rocks. That freaked me out, I have to say, and I promptly sat down and ate a muesli bar.

I think a muesli bar is a cure-all, and I hope they sell them in Spain.

(I’ve got to admit I pushed myself hard. I wear a heart rate monitor and noticed that at times, my bpm (beats per minute) was 158 – and the maximum heart rate for my age is 160. So I guess it’s no wonder I nearly keeled over!)

I’ve now put a scallop shell on the back of my pack, the shell being the symbol of the Camino, and I’m sure that drivers who pass me on the roads around Mudgee must think I’m either an ageing homeless person, or a looney.

It doesn’t help that during my training walks, I’m learning Spanish on my iPod – so I walk along saying to myself: Hola! Buen dia! Uno, dos, tres…

(I’ve noticed that lately when I go to the local supermarket, a few people give me a wide berth.)

The 10kg pack though now feels comfortable, even on a 14km walk at 5.7km/hr pace, which is clipping along, and I feel my core strength improving. I still though don’t know how I’ll handle 25-30 kms per day for 30 days in a row. I guess I’ll find out soon enough!

Walking up Mount Misery

It’s four weeks now until I head off to France to start the Camino, and today I did a training hike up a mountain near where I live. It’s called Mount Misery, and now I know why.


The climb (850m) was very steep in parts, and the descent down the other side was on goat tracks that were near vertical at times. I had my backpack loaded to 10 kgs, including food and water, and so it was probably a good test for the first day from St.Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles – although obviously that first stage of the Camino, a total of 28km rising to 1470m, is going to be much much tougher. (Today’s walk was about 9 kms)

However, things which pleased me today were these:

  • My Asolo boots handled the climb and the descent well. I now have my socks (thick Icebreaker merino), insoles (Superfeet) and lacing absolutely right for my feet. No blisters!
  • My dodgy knee held up, particularly going down the mountain. It was very tricky on a rough track that was incredibly steep, but the knee gave me no problems. Probably the yoga I’m doing has helped more than I realised.
  • The pack, even at 10 kgs, was manageable. The heaviest it seemed was when I was hauling it onto my back! Once on and buckled up correctly, the weight didn’t seem to be an issue. That said, I still want to try and lose about 2 kgs from the pack, and about 4 kgs from my personage. (I currently weigh approx 78 kgs.)

I’ll see how my legs feel tomorrow morning when I wake up – but at the moment it was a successful test run. Bring on the Pyrenees!

Blister Alert

As part of my preparation for this walk, I’ve been training – and doing walks that will approximate what I’ll face on the Camino.

On the weekend I did a 28km walk with my backpack loaded to 8kgs. This is roughly what I’ll be carrying.

My walk took me from Mudgee in rural New South Wales, along a country road to a small town called Lue. All on tar. About 8km into the walk my right knee started to give me pain. This is a recurring injury from my running days. I was determined that this wouldn’t stop me, so I shifted my weight more to my left leg, and in the process unbeknown to me, I busted the gel sack in the inner sole in my boot.


I then started to feel a “hot spot” on my left heel, which is the precursor to a blister. About 12km in I finally stopped, took off my boot and realised what had happened. The inner sole at the heel was disintegrating. Stupidly I put my boot on and kept walking.

The last 15kms were pure agony. The knee was stabbing me intermittently, but my left heel was murder. When I finally got to Lue I took off my sock and found a huge blister had formed. In about 2500kms of walking over the past several years, this is the first blister I’ve ever had.

I subsequently treated the blister with a patch called Compeed, which is highly recommended by hikers and now I know why. It took the pain away, and has allowed me to continue my training.

Lessons learned?

1) If I get a hot spot, deal with it straight away.
2) Always carry Compeed with me.
3) Deal with my right knee issue because that was ultimately the cause of the problem.

Most importantly, now I know what blisters feel like, and how to treat them. So if the situation arises on the Camino, I’m now better informed.

The Universe is telling me something!

I booked the flights for the Camino this morning, which came in at $4,194. (economy airfares for myself and my wife, who will come over to meet up with me at the end.)

I checked my bank account this evening and out of the blue, I’d received $4,392 today in royalties from a past film. Completely unexpected. I cannot believe it. The extra $200 will cover taxis and incidentals in transit.

If you follow your intuitive path, then everything will be okay.

What I’m Taking

What you take on your Camino walk is one of the most important decisions you’ll make – because you’ll have to haul it all on your back, or on your person, for 800+ kms.

I’ve given a lot of thought to it, and I’ve done a lot of reading on blogs and forums, and what I’ve come to learn is that the two most crucial pieces of gear are your boots and your backpack.

BOOTS: I’m going with a pair of Asolo Moran Gortex hiking boots. I’ve tried various Timberland and Scarpa boots, but the Asolo seem to be the most comfortable for me. They’re Italian, although made in Romania, and I’m using inner soles (Superfeet) to give me more cushioning for my back. (I have two metal plates screwed into my lower spine, thanks to a car accident many years ago.)

A tip on boots – don’t buy them online, you have to get them fitted, and preferably with the socks you’ll be wearing, and any sock liners too. Then you have to allow some serious wriggle room, because your feet will swell with continuous day-after-day walking. You’ll find you’ll need at least half a size, and more probably a full size bigger than normal. Also, make sure you have plenty of toe room, because when you’re walking down steep slopes, particularly with a load on your back, your toes tend to jam into the end of your boots. You’ll find that you quickly lose toe-nails if you don’t have sufficient room.

Another tip on boots: wear them in! Allow enough time to wear them in over a variety of conditions; on the road, on bush tracks, up and down hills and mountains. Do about 150-200 kms in them before you hit the Camino. If you’re going to get blisters, it’s best to get them before you leave home, that way you can work out why, and fix the problem.

BACKPACK: I’ve decided on an Osprey 38L Kestral backpack. I’ve gone through various reviews, and it seems that 38L will be all I’ll need, and the Osprey has a great reputation. I went in to Paddy Pallin in Sydney (the best hiking place, I reckon) and I got one of the staff to personally fit it – because different packs fit different backs. This one fitted fine. It’s relatively heavy – 1.44kgs – but it seems well made and very comfortable.

I’ve given thought to getting a hydration pack for the backpack – that’s basically a 2L water bladder that fits inside your backpack, with a tube that allows you to drink while you walk. I’ve decided against this – I’m going to carry two bottles of water (600ml) in the side pouches of the backpack, with a 300ml smaller bottle of water in the front pouch which I can access easily. I’ll periodically refill the smaller bottle from the two larger bottles during the day. Why do it this way? Because I don’t like the idea of sucking on a teat.

CAMERA: The choice of a camera is a critical one for me. I’m a film director but also a photographer (accredited with the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers), and so imagery is very important to me. But on this trip, so is weight!

The lightest option (other than not taking a camera at all) is the iPhone, at 135gms. I have an iPhone 5 and it’s pretty nifty with imaging, particularly with some of the apps that can really enhance a shot. However it’s a fixed lens camera, the sensor is very small, and even though I can use the panoramic function, the lens isn’t wide enough for me.

The camera I’d like to take is a Nikon D3200 – a small light entry-level DSLR with a 24MP sensor. But even with a 12-24mm f4 lens, charger and batteries, the weight comes in at 1.35kgs. Too heavy.

So I’m taking a small Fujifilm x10. I love this little camera. It has a 2/3″ CMOS sensor and a 28-112mm f2.0-2.8 lens which is sharp as a tack. Useable ISO up to 1600. With batteries and charger it comes in at 700gms. It’s a good compromise.

MAPS ETC: To save on weight, I’m digitising my maps and guidebooks, including the Camino standard – John Brierley’s Guidebook. I can view these on my iPad or iPhone. This way, I have the added advantage of being able to magnify the text with the zoom function, so I won’t need to take my reading glasses out of my pack all the time.

PACKING LIST: This is what I’m taking – with the weight of each item:

(The total backpack weight, without food and water, comes in at 8.46kgs. Food and 1.5lts of water will add another 2kgs. This is too heavy for my body weight – but right at the moment I can’t figure out what to drop from this list, given that at times it’s going to be very wet and cold.)

What I’m wearing –

Asolo boots – 1320gms
Icebreaker hiking merino socks (thick) – 118gms
Nike track pants – tech, fast drying – 350gms
Icebreaker short sleeve t-shirt – merino – 175gms
Icebreaker long sleeve top – merino – 315gms
Windbreaker softshell jacket – 560gms
Scarf – wool – 96gms
Cap (Australian Cricket cap) – 95gms
Bonds tech undies – 65gms
Sunglasses (prescription) – 95gms

What’s in the pack:

Backpack – Osprey Kestral 38L – 1440gms
Sleeping Bag – Western Mountaineering – 568gms
Knife – Opinel – 100gms
Headlamp Princeton Tek – 96gms
Towel – Katmandu – 121gms
Toilet paper – 25gms
Sellic 15 (anti-blister cream) x1 – 170gms
Day Pack – Sea to Summit sling bag – 30 gms
Ziplocs (extra bags) – 30gms

Rain Jacket – Gortex – Katmandu – 620gms
Rain pants (long) – North Face – 215gms
Katmandu Windstopper vest – 280gms
Reflective Safety vest – 220gms
2nd Nike tech track pants – 350gs
Sneakers (Rivers Barefoot lite) – 430gms
2nd Icebreaker t-shirt – merino – 175gms
2nd Icebreaker long sleeve top – merino – 315gms
Thermal top – Icebreaker merino – 220gms
2nd pair Icebreaker socks (thick) – 118gms
1 pair Icebreaker socks (medium) – 85gms
Sock Liners x 2 (Wigwam) – 50gms
2 x Bonds undies – 130 gms
Gloves – Katmandu windstoppers – 66gms
Beanie Icebreaker merino – 33gms
Glasses + case (distance + readers) – 85gms
Extra boot laces – 10gms

Sunscreen – 85gms
Aspirin / Codral – 50gms
Vitamin C powder – 50gms
Betadine small tube – 25gms
Earplugs / Eyeshades – 15gms
Soap – 50gms
Razor – 45gms
Deodorant (Dove 50ml) – 84gms
Shampoo (small) – 50gms
6 plastic clothes pegs – 24gms
6 large safety pins – 24gms
Laundry bag – 20gms
Compeed (for blisters) x 8 – 40gms
Knee bandage – 96gms
Toothbrush – 15gms
Toothpaste – 45gms
Hairbrush – 20gms
Passports – 75gms
Credit cards + Drivers License – 25gms
Money belt – mesh – 150gms
Scallop Shell – 75gms
St. Christopher medallion – 40gms
A small stone, from home, to put at base of Iron Cross. – 50gms

iPod – 31gms
iPhone – 137gms
iPad – 613gms
Sim card remover – 3gms
Apple Charger (for iPhone, iPod + iPad) – 98gms
Nokia phone -85gms (for local calls + texts)
Nokia charger – 45gms
iPad SD card reader – 35gms
Camera – Fujifilm x10 – 700gms
(includes charger and 3 extra batteries)
SD cards 16GB x 2 – 50gms
Power adapter – 47gms

NOTE: A week out from departing, I have done a cull, and removed some of the above items. I’ve had to ask myself – Is this REALLY necessary? Here are the things that I’ve taken out of the pack –

Reflective Safety vest – 220gms
1 x Sellic 15 (anti-blister cream) – 85gms
Reading glasses – 40gms
Extra boot laces – 10gms
Sunscreen – 85gms
Deodorant (Dove 50ml) – 84gms
6 plastic clothes pegs – 24gms
Laundry bag – 20gms
Hairbrush – 20gms

Individually, some of the items don’t weigh much, (a hairbrush at 20 gms? Seriously?) but cumulatively it saves more than 600gms, which is significant. The only item I’m not sure about leaving behind is the reflective vest, however I figure if I really need it, I can buy one over in Spain.

Most importantly though, with this culling I’ve now managed to bring the weight of the backpack, without food or water, down to 7.75 kgs. I’m not sure I can reduce it much further.

Today I booked the flights

Today I booked the flights to Spain. Well, actually not to Spain, to Paris. Because from there I can fly to Biarritz, and from there to St. Jean Pied de Port, which is where I’ll start my journey.

I’m not sure how I’ll get from Biarritz to St. Jean Pied de Port, but it’s only about 60kms so if I get the urge, I can walk. But after 26hrs traveling from Australia, it might be easier to get a train!

I’m very excited though about actually booking a ticket and fixing a date – April 10 will be when I arrive in France. It will still be cold. Early spring. It should be beautiful.