The Mechanics of Walking 620 km

I truly dislike the time 4.34am. Tucked up in bed it’s dark outside, I imagine it’s cold and it’s probably windy. But it is not to be ignored as it’s time to pull on my hiking boots, strap on the pack and pick up my walking poles. Yes, I am training for another camino.

Apologies in advance as I am the first to admit I am a camino-bore. The species does exist – just ask The Brave Man*. I can talk walking, especially caminos, all day, every day – again, just ask The Brave Man*.

12 May 2016 will see the start of my third camino –  the shortest I have tackled so far. The Camino Portuguese starts in Lisbon (Portugal – no surprises there) and strolls 620 km duephysical-map-of-Portugal.jpg north, across the border of Spain and on to Santiago de Compostela. It will be springtime there – my first Spring camino – and I am hoping for the full Spring-look, soft green grass, flowers, buzzing bees and more importantly mild, dry days.

While most people around me think I am crazy – and sometimes I do wonder myself – I simply love these adventures. I am quick to clarify that they are not holidays but adventures. I have decided that I do not ‘holiday’ well and prefer to be on the move, even if slowly.

The early morning training started gently back in January and now, a few weeks out, I will ramp it up. I plan to average around 26 km per day while in Portugal but sometimes that will blow out to 32 km. Even I admit that is a serious stroll. Unfortunately the first 10 days or so are all going to be 30+ km days and that is going to be a slight rude shock – but, I know I will soon find my rhythm.

The plan includes 21 walking days and a rest day at both Coimbra and Oporto.

For those unfamiliar with the camino concept, there is a whole series of pilgrimage routes from all over Europe that end in the north-west corner of Spain and the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, which contains (supposedly) the remains of St James the Apostle. I say ‘supposedly’ because so many churches and cathedrals throughout Spain proclaim to house part of St James that I imagine he is spread very thin indeed!

I am not a religious person at all, but I love the feeling of walking in the steps of history and I meet so many interesting people along the way. In fact, ‘camino’ actually means ‘way’ in Spanish.

The Camino Portuguese starts, at the time of writing, in Lisbon. It is an evolving journey as DSC229it often it relies on an enthusiastic bunch of locals to rejuvenate the route, re-mark it with the obvious yellow arrows and then promote it. In 2015 260 000 people walked the Camino Frances (from the French side of the Pyrenees), so you can imagine the huge economic impact this can have on a community. In the very early days pilgrims would have walked from the bottom of Portugal or even Morocco all with the aim of having their sins forgiven. I have a fair way to walk yet for that to happen.

So, starting in Lisbon on 12 May I will set out solo. This will be the first time I will walk a camino on my absolute lonesome and, while it is a tad scary, it will challenge me to meet even more people or learn to enjoy my own company.

As the Camino Portuguese is a relatively quiet walk (around 30 000 people in 2015) I am not expecting to have any trouble finding accommodation. Where there are no albergues (pilgrim hostels at €5-10 per night), I will stay in cheap hotels for €20-25 per night, which often includes breakfast. In the past I have found these little hotels to be pretty basic but clean and comfortable.

Yes, I will be carrying my pack. This seems to be a major turn-off for many people but DSCF4617after the first week I hardly even notice it is on my back – except for the last bloody walking hour of every bloody single bloody day. The rule of thumb is that your pack should weigh no more than 10% of your body weight but that is never going to work for me considering I always carry at least two litres of water. My pack usually weighs 13+ kg but seeing I am the one who has to carry it, I just need to pull on my big girl panties and keep walking.

The training regime has been going well – when I can motivate myself to get out of bed. I am walking 20 km two or three times week, plus some shorter walks. Our old dog used to come with me but we have decided that it is too much for him and I try to sneak away from the house unseen. Or is that un-smelled?

Despite the ugly hour, it is quite serene stepping out into the dark mornings. It is pretty quiet in town except for the stream of miners heading out to work. I suspect I look pretty strange striding through Mudgee at 4.45am kitted out in full hiking regalia – perhaps they think I am running away from home?

I do plan to keep more civilised hours when I get to Portugal and aim to start walking by 6.30am each day. The current early starts mean I can still be at the desk (very thankful to be sitting down) in the office at a reasonable time.

As the sun creeps over the Mudgee hills it is pretty special to see the countryside come to life. Kangaroos hop through the vines, I greet the cows and the sheep – no, nothing strange about me – and the magpies warble ‘Good Morning’.

It is on mornings like these that I am glad I made the effort to throw off the blankets, tie on the boots and step out into the world.

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My trusty Scarpa boots. One more walk left in them.

April 2016

Read About It: For a copy of Brierley’s Guide to walking the Camino Portuguese, purchase it from Book Depository

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

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Looking for James Taylor

Is there anything more stressful than driving out of a foreign city, on the wrong side of the road, sitting on the wrong side of the car, and next to your husband?

Perhaps this would be a good pre-marriage test for the young and in love. If you can survive a road trip in another country and are still talking to each other by the end of it all, then you were meant to be together.

In 2013 my husband received a scholarship to the USA. I was the bag carrier and played tourist while he did scholarly things. We sampled parts of California before landing in the wonderful city that is Washington DC. Our ultimate destination was Greenville, South Carolina.

My husband is a massive James Taylor fan and, before leaving Australia, had trawled the Internet and found that James Taylor’s home town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina had
established a museum celebrating JT’s musical life. The resident JT fan thought that rather than flying, it would be a brilliant idea to drive from Washington DC to Greenville, SC via Chapel Hill. After all, on a map it is only about 5cm.

We set off into the DC dawn, doing our best to avoid the onslaught of grim-faced commuters. We were Aussies, on an adventure and on a mission – what could possibly go wrong? Our first real mistake was to place our faith in the GPS lady. We had no real idea where we were heading or how to get there other than to keep driving south. The precise directions were her responsibility.

All seemed to go quite smoothly until we argued against her spoken directions which conflicted with the printed directions on a good, old-fashioned paper map. Like rebellious teenagers we set off cross-country, heedless of her constant “recalculating, recalculating”. Honestly, that woman has the patience of Job.

No doubt the locals complain about the state of their roads but on the whole, we found them excellent. Beautiful, dual lane highways were described as minor roads on the paper map. If only the minor roads in rural Australia were as good.

After getting the hang of this “stay right, stay right” driving, and now talking to each other again, we felt confident that we could leave the highway in search of breakfast. As tacky as it might sound the neon of The Waffle House also had our names all over it with the bonus of being on the correct side of the highway and a car park bursting at the seams. That had to be a good sign.

Imagine our surprise as we opened the door of the diner to be greeted by a chorus of

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Carb loading at The Waffle House

“Hi y’all”. We quickly glanced behind us to see who had followed us in. No, the greeting was for us and obviously we were nearing the South.

It was an unspectacular breakfast but fuelled us for the rest of the journey to Chapel Hill. By this stage we had been driving for about three hours and had another five hours to go. Did I mention my husband was a JT fan?

Staying on the highways – and avoiding arguments with the GPS lady – we zipped through the early-Spring countryside. All around us the paddocks were dark and moist with the trees only hinting at greenery.

After eight hours on the road we slowed, took the highway off-ramp and rolled into Chapel Hill. My husband was on the edge of his seat as if there was a chance JT would be strolling the footpaths or perhaps putting out his garbage bin. The GPS lady counted down the distance and, at last, the official James Taylor Museum appeared.

To be honest it was a rather non-descript building with a very empty carpark. I couldn’t help myself – I started to giggle. The gardens were overgrown and random litter blew around the ground. Yes, it was closed. The JT fan leapt from the car, in disbelief that he could be so cruelly tricked. The doors were chained closed, the windows grimy and the rooms empty. Not only was the museum closed, it had been closed for a very long time.

Still not wanting to face reality, we drove in search of a Tourist Information Centre (also closed) or an alternate JT museum (non-existent). Instead we found a Chapel Hill resident who thought the museum had closed three years ago, and yet its website was alive and well.

Undeterred the JT fan knew that Chapel Hill had also named a bridge after their favourite son and our pilgrimage continued.

I couldn’t help but feel l a little silly taking a photo of my husband in front of a fairly stock standard, concrete bridge. We attracted the attention of a car load of locals who cheered us266 when I told them we had travelled all the way from Australia and driven eight hours to see a bridge! Maybe they were cheering our dedication but more likely our ridiculousness.

And Greenville SC was still another four hours drive away…

 

March 2013