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.

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.

Early preparations

In contemplating walking nearly 1000kms over the space of four or five weeks, there are certain things you have to ask yourself:

  1. Will I physically be able to make it?  
  2. What will I take, because I’ll be carrying it all on my back.
  3. What plans should I make?
  4. 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.