Category Archives: Preparation

Happy Feet: In search of some on the Camino?

Anyone who’s walked a week on the Camino de Santiago or maybe an avid runner knows—happy feet are hard to come by, but something you’ll do anything to pursue.

For some, their mental toughness can block out  the constant pounding and wear and tear. And for others, like myself, my mental toughness would take a siesta about eight  miles in. Sometimes 20 minutes in if it was raining. No matter how much I would envision fluffy slippers, feet massages and wheels my reality was to push on.

Before embarking on our journey I anticipated that there would be blisters and discomfort. I had walked two Avon Breast Cancer two-day walks, surely I was no stranger to this. And no offense my dear Aunt Leslie who walked them with me, I figured my feet were pretty resilient in comparison to her delicate tootsies. So yeah, I got this. Pack a sewing needle and thread and some band aids and I’m good to go.

Silly me.

It’s amazing how many tips and tricks we heard from others. I refused to believe or put many into practice. I was the skeptic. Surely, they were crazy or it only worked on their feet and would not be suitable for me. Like Jonathan’s duct tape method. Psshhaw! Not for me! Where in my family did I inherit this stubborn side? hmmmm…

Had it not been for my crazy hook toe and poorly chosen shoes, I think I would have been able to make it further and in far less pain, but combined with the torrential downpours starting Day 2 of the Camino, it was the perfect storm. Unfortunately, there is little time for healing on the Camino. Yada yada yada.

First Method: And fail (for sort-of-happy feet)
– Bandages of all shapes and sizes
– Blister cushions (These are the worst things ever. If you like keeping skin on your feet, don’t use these.)
– Alcohol Disinfecting Wipes
– Needle and thread: depending on size of blister the idea is to thread it and
leave thread in the blister for a few hours to drain it without exposing the skin or tearing it
– Multiple sock changes

Second Method: Partially successful. (aka, the Marabel method)
Backstory: We stayed outside Pamplona in Cizur Menor at Albergue Roncal. Great stay by the way. Marabel Roncal and her family run the albergue and she told me to come back after we settled in and she would look at my feet. I thought she would give me some crazy tiritas (Basque=bandages) and send me on my way. Instead she brought out this huge medical bag. She could’ve performed amputations for all I know with that bag. She pulled out a wrapped medical syringe and some iodine.

What?! I hate needles. I close my eyes when I get acupuncture even. I said to myself, it can’t feel worse than I already did. Surrender. At first I couldn’t watch, but then she said I needed to learn how to do it myself. She drained the fluid out of one blister and it filled a syringe the size of the image attached, not once, but twice. She went in once and then discovered another “Oh a double!”. It was disgusting but it was business as usual for her. I apologized repeatedly. She did two of my worst ones and then showed me how to disinfect the needle with the iodine. She said “only for you to use”. No worries there. It’s incredible the things we do to get through the tough times. By the end of the trip, I’m sure I could’ve become a certified nurse. This gave instant relief but also helped things heal enough to put shoes back on the next day. I used it so often, that the needle became dull, so I had to get another one from the Pharmacy.

Final Method: The ‘good as it’s gonna get’ combination.
– Marabel method at the end of the day
– Saturating your feet before and after and repeatedly with Alcohol de Romero.  (Rosemary Alcohol)About €2.50 and sold in the pharmacies. It has an antiseptic quality and encourages cell rejuvenation. This was a Jonathan tip from back in the day and his first Camino. It’s seriously amazing stuff and we converted several pilgrims along the way.
– Elevate the feet, 600mg ibuprofen and rest.
– In the morning: tape, tape and more tape. Yes, Jonathan even made me use duct tape which actually worked! (which we found surprisingly in the China Bazaar stores pretty cheaply). First, I would use the gauze, Neosporin and tape for a couple really sensitive spots or toes, then first aid tape over any bandages and extend beyond a little bit to hold things in place. Then for my heels I would put duct tape over the first aid tape. Only the edges would be on skin and it just kind of was another barrier against friction. I never had a tough time getting it off my feet at the end of the day.
– And the areas that weren’t covered by tape I used the Second Skin stick. It looks like a small deodorant stick and is a thin smooth lader that would glide on over my toes and feet. It sort of is similar to the Vaseline method that some people did. I didn’t want my feet sliding around all gooped up with Vaseline and two pairs of socks though. This was less messy and effective.

Bottom line is: do whatever works for you and your feet. It took me a while to get there but the method above and easier terrain helped my feet make it through the day much easier and faster. Sometimes, you don’t know what will work until you try it all, so I wouldn’t go to crazy before the trip stocking up on expensive methods. We stopped in pharmacies or restocked every couple days. You don’t want all that excess weight when you know it’s usually available in the next day or two.

As for post Camino? My feet still are slowly recovering. I wish I still had the alcohol de Romero. I will have to make my own I guess. They still feel bruised on the soles and I have calluses all over my feet like I never wore shoes in my life. Some toenails are greyish but still with me at least! Keeping active helps. And my acupuncturist turned me on to Kinesio tape which is miraculous! I really wish I had this on the Camino for my knees. I guess athletes use this stuff all the time. It really works.

And keeping moving helps too. Putting one foot in front of the other and repeating. Just in better shoes!

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Do you have what it takes?

Gear that is. I have enough to worry about with making sure my legs can get me from start to finish, the last thing I need to worry about is whether or not my pack will bust or that waterproof jacket being water absorbent. Of course we’ll have the final report at the end, but this is what I’ve been working with so far and feel confident enough making the trek with. Unfortunately, with water and snacks, I’m probably about 22-23 lbs. which is a few pounds over what I want to carry. I may have to leave behind a few “necessities”. What’s a girl to do?!

The Pack
Gregory Women’s Jade 50 Backpack  So far, I’m a big fan. After a 20 mile day, I hope that doesn’t change. I went and got fitted for packs at a local outdoor gear shop.

This was hugely helpful. I would’ve picked the wrong size otherwise. This pack has an inner frame and keeps it from directly resting on your back. It distributes the weight so efficiently it feels super light, even though the pack itself weighs 3.5 lbs. As with all of the gear, we were trying to be budget conscious so of course there may be pricier and better performing alternatives. I bought the rain cover for this pack at well. This pack has lots of compartments, straps, side entry zip,  a pocket that could fit two water bladders, and can extend further to make room for all the shiny things I will buy along the way. (Just kidding Jonathan)

The Shoes
North Face Women’s Tyndall Mid WP Hiking Shoes

I went to REI originally and tried on almost all of their mid-weight, above ankle shoes and was less than impressed. They all felt weird and were pretty overpriced.

I think I just wasn’t used to the added arch and heel supports though. The Camino is made up mostly of groomed trails and road walking so you don’t need the Brawny Man lumberjack boots and instead need something light weight but has enough cushion and support to withstand the miles and additional weight carried.

After wearing these shoes a few times, I noticed an intense pain in my right heel. I was worried. I quickly figured out the inserts were pretty weak on this shoe. I then ordered the fancy inserts by Superfeet which made all the difference. I felt a little silly because the inserts were kind of expensive, I might as well have bought a pricier/better shoe that didn’t need the insoles replaced. Oh well, I do like that these shoes are fairly light, offer enough support around the ankle and are waterproof though.

Socks
Injinji Toe Socks
Another crucial component to keeping happy feet. I inherited a crooked toe and know from past experience it’s a hot spot for blisters. I thought I would give these toe socks a try to help alleviate this problem. I’m thinking this might be the miracle sock. My only wish is that it had additional cushioning for the rest of the foot that is similar to other hiking socks from Smartwool. I bought the heaviest weight I could from Zappos. I’ll bring one other thicker pair too and mix them up.

Other
The sleeping bag I have is actually from Jonathan. It’s a 45 degree bag I think and should be more than warm enough. Temperatures cool off in the evenings, but we’ll be inside so this should be more than sufficient. It also has some compartments built into the bag which is where I’ll stash my passport and phone while I sleep. In addition, I will have a Thermarest pad that rolls up. The extra padding may be nice for some of the beds as well as being just a cleaner layer between you and the bed. We also found these inflatable pillows from REI that seem pretty comfortable. The Cocoon Hyperlite Pillow weighs only 2.4 oz and stuffs to a yogurt container size! It has a soft cloth side and a nylon sleeping bag material side. Another essential is a headlamp. I bought a pretty standard one from REI/ Petzyl. Lights go out at a certain time in the albergues and if you want to read it’s helpful and shouldn’t disturb your neighbors. Unless you use the strobe mode. Then you may have bigger issues. Also, always good to have in case you’re walking in the darkness, which we don’t plan on doing. I found these Micronet Microfiber Towels too which seem to dry very quickly and are super absorbent. Another must have will be earplugs. I already wear these at night (thanks to our days living in San Francisco) and should do the trick.

Clothing
You don’t have to be shy about wearing the same outfit more than once on the Camino. Some people only have one or two outfits the entire time! The clothing wasn’t too tough to find. Most of everything I have is lightweight, wickable and quick-drying. Important for rain as well as laundry which we’ll do to some capacity everyday. Even if it’s just socks. Add in a couple of long sleeves, short sleeves, tank top, one skirt, long pants and capris. I’ll also be bringing flip flops for the showers, and a light weight comfortable walking shoe. A scarf, fleece, rain jacket, hat and gloves. It sounds like a lot, but surprisingly it doesn’t take up much room. It’s the toiletries that I think may be my downfall. I wanted enough to not have to do laundry everyday and a backup outfit for when you want to launder all your clothes at once. Also, you need to have clothes that cover your legs and arms when you go into the churches. I wanted the clothes to perform well, but I also wanted to not look like a hobo.

Technology
This trip is definitely not about updating the Twitter feed every hour or checking emails. We will use the WiFi to check in with family and post some photos or to the blogs here and there but I want to try and turn it off for awhile. Couldn’t we all stand to check out every now and then? We’ll have our iPhones and have our calls forwarded using Google Voice and Skype. Also, we’ll be taking lots of photos and since Jonathan will mostly have his famous self-portraits and photos of ponies, I’ll try to fill in with the rest.

I’ll be sure to post any other gear standouts along the way.

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Snow Pack

We started training with full packs this weekend. Each of us will carry about 20 lbs. I think this is pretty good considering my pack weighs about 3.5 lbs. and I had a full Camelbak. And I’m a girl. Ha!

So far our gear is working great. The true test will be how it holds up on the Camino. I’m liking my Gregory pack which distributes the weight well. We now know that not only is our gear waterproof but also snow proof! We walked a short 3 mile loop at Discovery Park as big fat snowflakes fell.

I don’t know who got the funnier looks: us with the all the extreme gear for a casual hike or the college guys wearing green skirts and boxers as they ran the trail celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

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Setting The Stage

We used this really cool website Camino Planner to get sort of a rough idea of stops and distances between on the way to Santiago. (You can download here: Camino de Santiago (Stages) (1))

In summary:
1 kilometer = 0.62 miles

Longest stage:
Sansol–Navarrete: 33.5 km.

Shortest stage:
Arcahueja­‐León: 7.9km.

Total Distance:
748.6 km

Stages (days): 31

Average: 24.1 km/day (14.9 miles)

We thought even on our “days off” we still wanted some really light walking. We’ll spend more time in Burgos, León, and Astorga. Some days may have less mileage but the walking is a bit more strenuous. Our longest walking days span the Meseta or central Spain where the scenery and walking is not super fun. I guess it’s pretty flat, but a lot of road and industrial area walking. We tried to pick towns that had higher rated albergues as well. We’ll stay in a mix of private and public albergues and a few hotels mixed in from time to time.

This is just a rough guide more or less. Things change, we may be more tired on certain days and need to cut back, or hear better suggestions of where to stay along the way.

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How does this thing work?

We’ve been fortunate to hear a lot of positive feedback and words of encouragement that we’ll carry with us over the duration of this walk. Thank you, we are most appreciative. One of the many questions we keep hearing is “So…how does one walk across Spain?”. It’s definitely on the more rustic side of adventures, but not too bad seeing how we’ll be staying in places with bathrooms and beds. Unfortunately, we won’t have security detail to carry our bags for us and will be walking the full route unlike Jenna Bush who walked in 2004.

Aside from the obvious “put one foot in front of the other, repeat” method, the path and walking schedule seems pretty structured, but flexible and easy to follow. I’ll be sure to update from the road, but from what I understand this is what a typical day will look like for us:

530 – 600am: Get woken up by the early risers in the albergues (pilgrim hostels).
Become early riser.
630-ish: Hit the road and walk for a couple hours
830-ish: Stop for breakfast/cafe con leche
900-12: Walk
Noon: lunch
1300: Walk until final destination or siesta
Afternoon/Evening: Attend pilgrim’s mass, eat with others and rest.
Some albergues provide a basic meal with your stay, other times we’ll eat out.

Repeat.

Rick Steves has a quick little video about the camino you can watch here.

Ideally, we want to arrive earlier in the day in the town where we will be staying. That way we have more options with the albergues and can spend the rest of the day relaxing or doing laundry. Some days will require more walking than others and vice versa. The forums are pretty good about listing out the best places to stay and ones to avoid. Some of them will have as few as 6 beds and others with as many as 100. Usually bunk beds. It varies a lot. The fewer the better obviously, and over time you can identify the snorers and try to go to the other side of the room. Since there are a lot of senior walkers, you are supposed to give them priority and offer them lower bunks. Jonathan said sometimes these places have a couple private bedrooms and those usually go to the sick or loud snorers. I don’t reckon this will be a completely restful type of adventure, but we’ll be ok. We plan on staying a night in a hotel or nice B&B every now and then or as needed so we can catch up on rest, and clean up.

What can you bring?

How does a girl pack for 6 weeks away, knowing your joints will feel each ounce you add? I think this is going to be a challenge. I’ve asked a few of my friends if they’d be interested in being my Spanish sherpa, but still no takers. We’re just putting the pieces together. I bought a pack, hiking shoes, and some clothing and rain gear and am testing things out. I discovered that toe socks may help prevent blisters and thankfully no one will see them. Not to be confused with the toe shoes which still freak me out. I probably will have about 3 outfits will all interchangeable pieces depending on the weather. I will definitely not be among the latest fashion trends this spring, but as my mother always says “it’s not about how you look, but how warm/comfortable you are.”

In addition, we carry a sleeping bag, a mat, shoes and other necessities in our packs. My goal is to keep it under 20 lbs.

I’ll have a follow up post with the items that make the cut.

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You like walking. I like walking. What a small world.

About seven years ago, this was the email subject line I had written to my now, husband after we met electronically via match.com. That’s right, we’re one of those couples. I was training for my second Avon Breast Cancer Walk. His profile listed several great “walks”.  I think a walk is something you do over a few hours or a few days. This is a pilgrimage. The one on his list that interested me the most was the Camino de Santiago. A friend of mine had written a novel based around his experience on the same walk. It was moving, inspiring, sad and beautiful all at the same time. I thought to myself, anyone who has walked the Camino has to have a good story and would be great to meet. Needless to stay, our stories have merged and we continue onwards together.

So here we are, married over four years and close to our anniversary of when we met seven years ago. It seemed fitting to embark upon this adventure that had initially helped bring us together. Our first four years of marriage haven’t been a walk in the park (pardon the pun) but it’s life, and it isn’t always rainbows and ponies. The most important thing is that we have each other. We’ve fought through Lyme Disease, selling a depreciating condo , moving to Seattle, and my employer filing bankruptcy. It’s time to take a break, and literally walk into a new chapter in life. Hopefully, a sunnier one.

Now walking an average of 20 miles a day for a month may not be for everyone. It will be both mentally and physically challenging, but we’re up for the challenge. I think I look forward to stepping out of the everyday routine. No Facebook, Internet, phone…and instead meeting people from all over and hearing their stories. To see a part of Spain I’ve never been to. To really understand and get to know the landscape and its people. Also, after years of being beat down by Lyme disease I really want to regain a lot of that strength and mental energy I once had. We’ll see…

As with many great adventures in life, there never really is a perfect time to embark on one. Whether it’s a trip, starting a family, a new job etc. There will never be enough money in the bank account. There will always be millions of reasons to hold us back from what we want to be and do — this is our attempt to leap fearlessly. Being a freelance designer and starting a paper goods company is a daily commitment and it will be difficult to put these things on hold for such a long time. Will it all be waiting for me when I return? Who knows? It’s all a part of the journey.

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