Gearing up for the Camino…

SpainBlog2With a month and a half to go before departure to Spain and el Camino de Santiago, it’s time to prepare. Fortunately I’ve done enough traveling to a variety of places that I already have a selection of gear to choose from. I don’t think I’ll be needing that snorkeling mask or flippers…but that broad-brimmed hat, Thorlos, and Merrell hiking shoes…that’s a good start for hitting a 500-mile long trail. And thank goodness I’ve already got the shoes. Poor Xina has been trying out shoe after shoe before finding the right ones that survive her test hikes…or rather, I should say that allow her feet to survive the test hikes. My Merrell’s have been to Iceland – tromping across ancient lava flows and cobblestone streets; to Zanzibar – trekking through spice markets and not-ancient-enough slave markets; and numerous places in between. Not to mention all those countless airports we’ve been through together. They’re worn-in and will serve me well on the Camino.

But I definitely needed a better backpack, so off to REI I went. They have an excellent selection and employees trained to fit you with the right one. I’d recommend the guy to you, but it was his last day on the job – he’s moving home to Argentina to take care of his mom. So now I’m equipped with an Osprey Cirrus, small enough for my frame that will also accommodate what I’ll need. (It’s recommended to not pack more than 10% of your body weight for such a long-distance hike, but fortunately along the “French Way” [the most well-known route] there are plenty of albergues [hostels] where pilgrims can sleep and eat, so we won’t need to plan for a full backpacking expedition.) I still have a number of items to pick up, but I have time and…best of all…REI member annual dividends will be coming in March, so I can apply those funds toward the rest of my purchases. Timing is everything.

Another future peregrina (female pilgrim) was also being outfitted with her backpack at the same time, but she will be starting her hike a week later than us back at St Jean Pied de Port, the traditional start of the Camino, whereas we’re starting at Roncesvalles, so it’s doubtful that we’ll run into her. But maybe. One never knows. There will be other people. That’s part of the Camino’s appeal. You can be alone when you want (or need) to be, and with others when you desire companionship. Friendships are made – sometimes fleeting, sometimes lasting. In that way it will be much like my other travels. I look forward to the faces, the smiles, the stories, and the motivations…for every pilgrim’s reasons are different and unique.

Never been to Spain…

…but in a couple of months, I will!

CAMINO-DE-SANTIAGO-MAPA5

 

It’s not the trip I had envisioned for myself this year, but sometimes fate intervenes. I was looking through my options for an African safari but the variety of itineraries and available dates did not meet my needs, especially because I am specifically interested in including Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia where the local herd of elephants are known to hang around and even walk through the lobby…but primarily in November when the nearby mango trees bear fruit. Apparently they’re very fond of those mangoes. Of course, one can never guarantee a particular experience when wildlife is involved, but I’d like to maximize my chances of witnessing these magnificent, intelligent and emotional creatures quietly filing through the lobby. I’d also like to combine the safari with a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, but I’m not quite in shape for a hike up 19,000+ feet of mountainous terrain. I’m in good shape, yes, but I still need to prepare more for such a feat, and so I’m putting those plans off until next year.

With plans up in the air, and me casting about for a particular destination on my extremely long list of must-see places to jump up and shout “pick me” I was surprised when a good friend, and fellow writer, Xina Marie Uhl, announced that she was going to do Camino de Santiago, an ancient 500-mile pilgrimage route across Northern Spain favored by both religious adherents and hiking enthusiasts. When she asked if I would like to accompany her, I said yes without hesitation. (There were the twin caveats of securing time off from work and arranging pet sitting, but as they say, “where this is a will, there is a way.”)

Xina is doing it for reasons of faith and I admire her for her belief that “the spirit has called” her to do this pilgrimage at this particular time. Although not religious myself, I support my friends who are and enjoy attending their children’s baptisms or confirmations. So I’ve told Xina I’ll be her emotional support, butt-kicker (when needed) and plucky comic relief.

Why am I doing it? For the challenge, to prove to myself that I am as strong as I believe I am. (And, yes, as training for Mount Kilimanjaro.) And you might say I’m doing it for my spirit. As you know, I’ve been dealing with migraines, and while I’m doing much better, I still don’t feel back to my old self. I miss myself. I miss my creativity, the ability to turn scraps of paper with scribbled ideas on them into short stories in a matter of days. Seeking to re-awaken my brain by going to graduate school is helping, but it’s not enough. My spirit needs more. It needs the open road, my own two feet, a small camera, a notebook. It needs freedom.

Ghlaghghee, 2003 – 2015

Reminds me that I’m still not ready to say goodbye to the cats I’ve already had to let go…no matter the number of years that have passed. RIP.

Whatever

Glaghghee came to us in May of 2003 when my then next-door neighbor Jerry knocked on my door, said, “here’s the kitten your wife said she wanted,” thrust a small, furry thing into my hands, and then walked off. I looked at the small puff of fur, literally no larger than my hand, said “okay” to myself and then took it upstairs with me.

Then I called my wife, who was at work, and the conversation went like this:

Me: You didn’t tell me you ordered a cat.

Krissy: I ordered a what?

Me: A cat.

Krissy: I didn’t order a cat.

Me: Jerry just came over with a kitten that he said you wanted. He mentioned you specifically.

Krissy: Oh, lord. I was talking to him the other day and he said that his cat had had kittens and that he thought that one of them was an albino…

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Listening to The Call of the Wild When You’re Stuck in the Suburbs

Picture this, if you will: a dumpy middle-aged woman with frizzy hair and a distracted look in her eyes. It’s been a hard few years. There’s been sudden death, shocking confessions, unexpected babies, invisible braces, multiplying dogs, grumpy cats, enthusiastic yoga, painful spines, drunk people, depression, doom, gloom, and menopause. What’s a person to do? Especially if that person is me?

Well, she could teach her three dogs to trot alongside her bicycle. You know, for giggles and that other stuff. Check. How about something simple,  then.

Take a walk.

I’ve been a walker for a long time. It makes me feel good to get outside in the sun and fresh air, dogs at my side, meandering route in front of me. The motion, the movement, getting somewhere even though I’m going at a slow pace, is addictive. I live in a valley with hills all around, and I’ve…

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