27 May 2016

Walking the Camino Via Podiensis from Le Puy to Figeac...A Movable Retreat.

 As the train leaves Figeac and speeds through the countryside towards Toulouse, my feet yearn to feel the path below them this morning.   To feel my muscles warming up as I climb up and down the hills.  To feel the weight of the pack on my back. The sun on my head.  Tears sit just behind my eyes as I watch the countryside speed away from me until it becomes a blur.   My trusty companion, my backpack sits at my leg...its weight leaning against me, its mere presence a security, a comfort.  I feel like the path, the trees, the birds, the sunshine, the freshness of the morning are being torn away from my soul. For the last two weeks life was boiled down to a few very simple movements...Get up, pack up the backpack, share a coffee and a bit of breakfast with the other pilgrims, walk, eat lunch, walk, unpack, shower, rinse clothes, eat dinner, sleep. Returning to the reality of a more charged life seemed unnatural.

Every day on the Camino was only full of strength and success...I started walking in the morning and I always arrived at the gite or auberge where I was to sleep that night with no doubt or problems that could not be resolved.  Every day was a neat tidy and beautiful package all tied up and completed. Even though there were many challenges faced (including the morning I hiked for more than 2 hours on some nasty, hilly, muddy paths only to return to my starting point...yes it is possible to wander off the Camino!)  and more than a little discomfort life felt more compressed and manageable in little one day dosed packages.

Walking in the beautiful countryside and forests from Le Puy to Figeac on the Camino Via Podiensis was one of the most incredible and trying experiences in my life.  It may come as a surprise to those who have heard of the Camino that there are actually many Camino routes that crisscross France and Spain and even begin in Germany and Switzerland.  This stage of the Camino in France is considered one of the most beautiful, yet physically challenging which is actually why I chose to walk it...and to walk alone and not in a group.   Legend has it that the first pilgrim to walk this route was the Bishop of Le Puy in 950 CE.  Pilgrims at that time were said to have walked around 60 kilometers a day.  This made me feel lazy and soft when I was pretty exhausted after 25 kilometers.  I often thought about what he would have seen that I was seeing all these centuries later...the huge rock formations, the rivers, the mountains we crossed. 

In the months before I walked, I had done my usual anxiety driven research on the route trying to anticipate and control the weather, the challenges of the steep terrain, even how to recognize and deal with the three types of mud - did you know there are three types of mud?  I thought that if I filled my head with enough information, I could handle (control) every possible obstacle.  It was my armor against failure.  Failure was not making it the whole 250 kilometers to Figeac.  All of that anxiety and armor became a giant waste of time the second my feet hit the Camino.  Failure became irrelevant. Obstacles were diminished down to small choices.  Where is the best foot hold on this rocky climb? Can I walk faster so that I get out of this snow storm before I freeze? Can I walk fast enough to make up for the time I was on the wrong trail?

There were many trials and tests of mental and physical grit, but I always succeeded.  No one controlled my day or critiqued my form or my choices or my methods.  Every decision, every step was mine and mine alone to own, to take responsibility for, to celebrate.  At the end of each day, pilgrims shared their struggles, successes and war stories...celebrating each day the fact that we all made it through the difficulties and length of the walk.  When someone had a serious issue, we all gathered and supported that person and cheered them on to muster on or to pause and care for their needs.  We drew courage from others who walked the same path as us, but with seemingly more challenges.  The most steepest and longest day on the Camino was giving me a bit of angst as I watched the weather and assessed my strengths.  A woman who was almost completely blind and a generation older than me said she had done that section two years before and as long as I took it slowly, I would be ok.  How could I not draw courage from this woman and her confidence and strength?  As I faced the mountains that day, it occurred to me that we all have baggage and burdens, but if we just face each step one at a time, we can handle any challenge that is put in front of us.  Our biggest obstacle is our self doubt.

Walking on the Camino has become my annual movable retreat in the countryside.  Something I look forward to.  Something that keeps me walking every day to stay strong.  Something that reminds me that I am up to any challenge this life throws my way.  Bring it on!

23 April 2016

Camino Meditations

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going.  What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.
                                                 Thomas Merton

Lean back into the present moment.  Savor it!  Release and relax into it!  Be completely aware of the present.

One step at a time...one breath at a time.


In beauty may I walk.
All day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons may I walk.
Beautifully birds . . .
Beautifully joyful birds
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk.

With dew about my feet may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
It is finished in beauty...

A Navajo Indian Prayer of the Second Day of the Night Chant (anonymous)

Energy for those LONG hills!!!

Last May I walked the Camino Norte/Primitivo.  It was my first Camino and my first ever long hiking experience.  One of the biggest mistakes I made was not having a bit of energy throughout the day...that and not regularly drinking water.  I can now see what a HUGE difference that would have made.  The most difficult day of the Camino was a continuous all day up and down overall climb from sea level to 337 meters of more than 28 kilometers.

We started too late missing out on our morning energy and fresh legs.  We did not take any long breaks except for a sandwich and cake lunch (note serious lack of complex nutrients in that lunch!) and I did not drink enough water continuously.  By the end of the day we were dragging the last dregs of energy on the last hilly 6 kilometers to our dinner of mushy microwaved pasta and magnum ice cream bar (again note the lack of complex nutrients!)

So with the gained knowledge and the known hilliness of the Le Puy route, I am better preparing for my Camino this year.  I have energy powder to add to my morning water bottle and healthy nutrient packed snacks.  Nathan gave me the recipe for the peanut butter bars:

Dried fruit (I used cranberries)
Nuts (I used roasted soy nuts)
Chocolate (70% dark chopped)
Peanut butter

It is all mixed and then let to sit so the oats soften a bit.  Then it is formed into a rectangle and cut into bars.  I refrigerated mine to harden the peanut butter a bit.

Trail mix for nibbling as needed
Dried cranberries 
Dark 70% chocolate

I know there will definitely be challenges on this Camino, but I do not plan to run out of fuel and hydration this time!!

Two more sleeps!!!

20 April 2016


When I was a "coach" for my daughter's soccer team and we encountered a messy, muddy field on game days, I immediately would insist that they go jump in the big holes full of water and mud before the game started.  Our incredible leader Jen N always said that kids need to get in the mud in soccer.  It is a messy physical game and they need to not be afraid to jump in the mud!  Of course, I got some sour looks from parents who had to clean them up after the game, but Jen had a very valid point.  Soccer as in life is a muddy messy game!

So fast forward more than a few years and here I am about to hit the Camino on Monday from Le Puy.  No doubt there will be mud and it will get messy.  It is Spring in the Auvergne...it rains in the Spring in the Auvergne.  There will be mud!  Rather than let it freak me out and make me nervous which will not lead to good, I need to find that puddle full of water and mud and jump in it!  Get it over even if it is figuratively in my head!  It is just rain...it is just mud.  I have been in both before and it can be fun or it can be miserable.  Most depends on my outlook and not reality.

So on that note, I did as I always do when I am challenged by something...I google it!  So here are the results:

When I was first learning to ski, I remember the lessons about dealing with ice and slipping.  It seems to be applicable to hiking in the rain as well.  Walk duck footed to get a better grip and avoid slipping.  Traverse across the slope rather than straight down to deal with slipping and speed.  This latter advice I use even in dry times on any steep ascent or descent.  It cuts the grade if you walk across the grade at an angle rather than straight down.

So there is my logical, rational brain dealing with the challenges of rain.  Now I will go out and enjoy the rain and wallow in the mud!!  Bring it on!!

07 April 2016

My Camino Shell

This is a scallop shell that was given to me last May when I walked the Camino by the owner of a wonderful Basque auberge that we stayed at.  Such wonderful memories of connecting with fellow pilgrims, wonderful Basque cuisine, and generous and welcoming hosts!  

I decided to make it my record of the pilgrimages I hope to continue throughout my life.  I have attached it with 20 gauge copper wire and some wonderful ribbon that I had in my stash that has Imagine, Hope, Believe, Dream printed on it.  I am writing the dates of my camino pilgrimages on the inside of the shell to remember that the journey continues! 

17 More Sleeps to Mon Chemin 2016!!

I have been thinking on my May 2015 Camino a lot recently as my 2016 Camino approaches.  There are many lessons that I learned from my first Camino.
  • To leave my anxieties floating outside of myself as they are just proof that I am pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.  
  • To not over think and over plan as it feeds those anxieties rather than assuaging them.  And it is a grand waste of time!
  • To bring only the absolute essentials in order to focus more on the walk than the burden I carry. I was so surprised to find that I needed so little.  The rest truly became extra weight and useless.
  • To be open to all experiences and people that I will encounter.  Challenging or joyful, they are all part of the journey and teach me something about myself.

17 May 2015

Ascension Mass at the Cathedral in Santiago

The Mass was such an incredible experience and finale to my Camino. There is an immense and beautiful incense vessel (thurbinger ??) that took 3 or 4 men to tend to the rope and cause it to swing in grand sweeping arcs over the worshippers and almost to the top of the volume of the Cathedral all the while spewing clouds of incense.  Amazing!!!

I swear it is to cover the human smell of us pilgrims who have not washed properly in many days!!! My shoes alone are more pungent than the incense!!

The number of each nationality of Pilgrim that arrived yesterday was announced (40 Americans) and a very warm welcome in many languages was said.

The organ music, chanting,  and choir hymns filled the Cathedral with joy. Much emotion on the part of the pilgrims around us.

Whew...drained physically and emotionally,  but in a peaceful and joyous way. Thankful for all of the love and support from my family and friends. What an amazingly beautiful experience!!