Reflections on a Half Camino – The Practical

September 2, 2013

It’s been five days since I returned home from my round-the-world adventure. Having walked and cycled about 280 miles of the Camino de Santiago, it’s an appropriate time to share a few thoughts about what I’ve learned from the experience.

#1 – Proper Training is Important but Unachievable

Unless you’re walking the distance you plan to walk each day, and then repeat that for the number of days you plan to walk without a break, you have not trained properly. Add to that the need to replicate the terrain, trail surfaces and weather conditions of the Camino, and the ability to prepare yourself adequately becomes impossible. You may be a stud or studette on your home turf, but the Camino experience is different.

I believe the best way to train is 6 days of walking a variety of conditions and distances followed by a rest day. Most pilgrims, of course, do not have the time to do this (I surely didn’t) so that leads us to observation #2.

#2 – Take It Slowly for the First Week

My hiking/walking experience is primarily in the mountains/canyons of the western US. I typically carry 35-40 lbs and hike 5-10 miles a day. My trips typically last 3-5 days. I have been to the top of Mt. Whitney at 14,500 feet and the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I provide this information as background for probably the most important lesson I learned: start slowly and build speed gradually.

If you review my blog posts, you’ll see that my average daily speed including all rest stops started around 3.5 km/hr for the first five days. After that, it dropped steadily until it bottomed out around 2.8 km/hr by day #10. Now, you may think that 3.5 km/hr isn’t very fast but the fact is, it was too fast for me to sustain for ten days.

Like the disclaimer says, your mileage may vary, but the lesson I learned is to really go slowly for the first week or so. This lesson leads us to #3.

#3 – Do Not Pre-Plan Your Camino

You’ll have to have some sort of plan for travel to/from your start/stop points, but other than that, allow your physical and emotional state to dictate your experience. My buddy Nancy summarized it best: “I’ll get there when I get there.” Easy to say but tough to live by, especially for me. Other than my start and stop dates, I had an intermediate deadline to meet my wife in Burgos on a certain date. That required me to average 13.5 miles/day for 10 days. That mileage was too much for me and I paid the price. Next time I’ll allow at least one flex day per week so that I can rest before I injure myself.

The last night in Mansilla de las Mulas, we met a woman who had pre-planned every hotel, breakfast and dinner on her entire camino. I think that worked well for her but I would have been out big money if I had done that. Start each day with a general objective and then adapt to your body, head and heart speaking to you along the way.

#4 – Beware of the Odd’s and End’s

I carried a Osprey Talon 33 liter pack which had plenty of space for my stuff. In fact, my clothes and sleeping system only filled half of the pack. What filled the rest was the odd’s and end’s – the little stuff that doesn’t weigh much by itself but adds a lot of weight when taken together. I’m talking about toiletries, first aid, laundry soap, power cords, converters/adapters, etc.. A lot of these items are carried “just in case.”

I ended up wearing every item of clothing and all of my sleeping system at various times during my camino. I probably only used about 20% of the “just in case” stuff. When my camino continues, that’s where I’ll focus my weight saving efforts.

I also added water and food items to my pack weight every day. Having bonked during a hike in the Grand Canyon, I tend to carry too much water rather than not enough. That said, is there anywhere I found that I need to carry more than two liters? The answer is no. Regarding food, you can save money by shopping at a supermercado rather than buying food at a roadside bar/restaurant but you’ll have to carry your groceries until you consume them. Consider the weight vs. cost tradeoff.

Adding the odd’s and end’s with food and water will quickly take your carefully planned 15 lb. pack to 20+ lbs.

#5 – Bring the Mayo and Mustard!

Don’t get me wrong. I love sandwiches as much as anyone. But most of the sandwiches you buy in Spain will be dry. That is, devoid of mustard, mayo or other sauces. (Some places will put olive oil and vinegar on theirs.) So before you leave home, pack some individual servings or Grey Poupon (like in the movie), mayo, hot sauce or whatever you slather on two pieces of bread. You’ll thank me for it.

So that’s the practical lessons learned after a half-camino. My next blog will focus on the more abstract things I learned along the way.

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5 thoughts on “Reflections on a Half Camino – The Practical

  1. My pack last year weighed in at 22 pounds. Way too heavy. I was forced to use a baggage taxi at €7 per day. This year the pack is 12.17 pounds and I bet I can eliminate more before I leave in 2 weeks.
    As far as your other points, I couldn’t agree more. But I think one has to do the Camino to truly know what the Camino is like. 🙂
    It has been great following your blog and I look forward to future posts.

    Arlene

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Kathryn and I are talking about doing the first part of other routes before we continue the CF. That way we would approach Santiago from all directions and our Camino would last as long as possible. What do you think?

      • Michael,

        I like that idea, but would you go through to Santiago or just do portions of the other routes?

        I’m doing the Frances again in 13 short days. I had been making plans to walk the Norte next September but then Bill came up with his Portuguese tour and the lure of getting into Santiago for Easter and meeting him, his wife and Sister and hopefully other members of his forum and blog was too great to turn away from.

        I generally do not like Tour Groups, and I especially think I dislike them for the Camino, but this tour seems different to me; maybe that is because I feel those people are my friends even though I have never met them in person. And the fact that it is only 3 weeks long……mmmmmm.

        I do have a friend walking the Norte in May and there is also the possibility I might have a commission to create a mosaic mural in Ventosa on the Frances. I will be discussing that with Rocio, the owner of a casa rurale, on September 17th this year.

        Long story bearable, I stayed in her CR last year, we got talking about an empty wall in her courtyard. I told her I was a mosaicist and she lit up, she asked if I would come back and do a mosaic for that wall. Many months later with much correspondence and my suggestions and drawings being sent to her, she has decided she wants to speak more definitely with me about working on the mural next year.

        So you never know, do you?

        Keep thinking about the Camino – I like to hear that others have also “been bitten” like I have.

        Buen Camino!
        Arlene

      • When Kathryn and I took our break in Burgos and headed north to Santander, we met some Norte peregrines and became interested in the route. Our wild idea is to try sections of many camino routes and gradually move toward Santiago.

        My wife is also playing with the idea of joining Bill’s group in April. It would be a blast to meet everyone but I need to focus on my new business for a while before I make any new travel plans.

        I’m looking forward to following your journey.

        Michael

      • That would be fantastic if Kathryn could come along on Bill’s Portuguese Tour. I spoke with Jill, Steve’s wife and they are definitely considering joining the tour also. That will be great.

        I think Bill only had six spots for the PGS family, there already are three taken (Me, Marie the Basque and Julie) if Steve, Jill and Kathryn “enlist” that will make the 6. And what a great group that will be! But I sure do wish you could join us, too!

        Only 10 more days for me! It’s getting closer, today I picked up some euros, I’m getting there!

        Arlene

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