Friday, April 30, 2010

Day Two

Actually, the truth is I was in shock following my crossing of the Pyrenees. The "refugio" of Roncesvalle is located in a valley which suggested that the morning would involve an ascent out of the valley. I was certainly in no mood to engage in more of the same two days in succession.

The "refugio" accomodation is a rather marvelous dormitory accomodating close to 150 people, men and women, in one room. Perhaps it had been a church before been handed over for its present purpose of accomodating pilgrims. With vaulted ceiling, it was rather like sleeping in a church, along with fifteen century ecclesiastic music played until lights-out at 10.00 p.m. sharp.

During the night the driving rain changed to thunder and lightning lasting right into the early morning. Exciting as that might be, I did not wish to begin my walk soaking wet.

By the time I set off the weather had changed to more of a soft Scottish drizzle - perfect conditions for the day. Until midday that weather continued to be replaced by a hot sun.

My companion today has been Pepe from Alicante. So I have had the opportunity to practice my Spanish. When I had to slow down on descents due to my knee, he has stayed with me. He will ocasionally turn to see how far behind I am trailing him and will good naturedly ask me what is the problem. Probably I have traveled further than I would have had I been totally on my own. So he is challenging me to push a little harder.

Today there have still been several hard climbs. The peak of one of them is named after Roland, a general who fought with Emperor Charlemagne. He is reputed to have done many acts of bravery and machismo in his battles against the Moors. With my present difficulties and in my somewhat weakened condition, I do not think I like the guy.

We have ended up the night at a refugio in the town of Zubiri. There is nothing much to recommend it other than good company. Pepe bought ingredients to make up a delicious rice dish with cured ham. I supplied the wine. I had bought a wine in St Jean Pied de Port and had been carrying it for the last two days. Too much extra weight. I will not make that mistake again.

Tomorow, the land flattens out somewhat and I plan to get as far as Pamplona. I do not think I will be taking part in any running with the bulls.

PS. I am hoping to contribute photos with this blog. The problem is finding an internet cafe that will allow me to download photos. Stay tuned on this one

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Arrival in France

Have started the beginning of my 800 kilometre walk and have completed the first day - perhaps the hardest day - crossing the Pyrenees from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Roncesvalle in Spain - a distance of 27 kilometres.

It is not so much that the journey seems to be predominantly up hill. It is the final 4 kilometres descent that is the killer. With my probem knee, I think I have set a record for slowness, taking more than four hours for this part of the journey. Despite fabulous weather for most of the day, the final couple of hours is in driving rain. I arrive after dark and find that dinner is over. Still, I have sampled some fabulous cheeses from the Basque region of France.

So for now, I can still claim to be the seventeen year old. Let us see how the coming weeks change that perspective.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The calm before the storm

Just 24 hours until I fly down to Biarritz in the south of France for the start of my camino. Actually, I am aware that my camino started long before. I have always been on a camino.

Everyone seems intent on giving me advice on what to do based on their own life experience. Take this with you or don't take this with you. That is too heavy. You don't need that. The truth is that I do need this at this moment in time.

The problem continues - I still have knee pain. In little more than a day I will be faced by the challenge of the Pyrenees mountains. Would I wish to be embarking on this journey at some other time? No, this is what I need to be doing now.

My flight to London this past Wednesday was, for me, more or less on schedule. There was loud applause as the plane touched down at Heathrow reuniting volcano stranded passengers with their homeland. I have not seriously practiced for my one month walk. I have spent time with England based family enjoying their company and the art galleries of London and Oxford. The weather has been gloriously Spring like with flowers in full bloom.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Day of Departure

Nature has a way of reminding us that we are not in control. My morning flight to the United Kingdom was canceled because of the volcanic eruptions in Iceland. I am rescheduled to depart on a flight tonight.......maybe. Does not life teach us to expect the unexpected? Meanwhile, I am enjoying the day.

This natural phenomenon has been counted as a major disruption to our lives. What is the lesson to be learned? Perhaps we need a return to a more simpler life less dependent on man made conveniences. Really, all we can do is enjoy the present moment.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

One week to departure date

A constant question asked of me is "am I training for El Camino?" Well, if that means loading up my back pack and doing a daily ten mile walk, then the answer is "no." My first reaction is "why do I need to train for this?" My mind tells me that I am only 17 years old. It is just that the body seems intent on adding another 43 years to the total.

I am going to the gym on a regular basis. This is maybe not the same as doing a regular long walk and I may be in for a rude awakening. At the moment my problem left knee does not permit taking extended walks. Therefore, I am focusing on building strength in the quads and lengthening the iliotibial band.

I reckon that I can start the walking component of training once I arrive in London. That will give me six days of daily walks on Hampstead Heath before leaving for St Jean Pied de Port. Will this be enough?

My camino is about a journey of self exploration. I am trying not to have expectations. It is possible to plan to some extent. However, my excitement lies in experiencing the unexpected. Perhaps it is an understanding that I can influence my path but, when all is said and done, I am not in control.

Rather than say that I will be walking 'el camino', it is more accurate to say that 'el camino' is walking me.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Less than two weeks prior to departure and all is not well. Therefore, all is as it should be!!

I have a left knee that is giving me pain on walking any distance. Three weeks ago I did a trial 15 km walk along Lake Ontario. On completion, I could barely tell which part of the anatomy hurt most. The whole of me had gone into protective spasm.

Patellofemoral pain syndrome is the most likely label to my condition and is to do with the way the patella tracks along the femur. Fortunately, I have a team of highly competent professionals in my clinic who are able to give me the care and attention that will take me to the starting point of my 'camino' at Saint Jean Pied de Port, at the foot of the Pyrenees.

Thank you to Norman, Richelle, Susan, Paul and Katherine for providing freely of their services. Acupuncture, massage, craniosacral, chiropractic and reiki have helped immensely, and I feel like a racehorse prepared for its day of glory.

I will need all the help I can get to complete my 800 km walk over the Pyrenees into Spain on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Everyone agrees: "strengthen the medial quads and lengthen the iliotibial band."

I wonder if the Pilgrims over the last millennium had the benefit of such sage advice: "Me thinketh that strongly thou doth pronate in promenade. Let me take stock. Tarry not, for with papyrus* in thy shoe thou shall grow wings and proceedith with God's speed"

*Foot notes: papyrus - a medieval orthotic