In the course of all the conversations I've had with people about doing the Camino a second time, besides "Why are you doing this a second time?", the question I'm most often asked is, "So what will you do differently this time?"
To which I generally reply that:
1. We're spending 11 days more than we did last time because last time I was so slow we had to cut out about 57 kilometers of the Camino (we took the train for that distance) in order to be done in time;
2. I've switched my oh-so-critical rain apparel from cheap-poncho-over-a-Frogg-Toggs-rain-suit (which worked rather wretchedly for me last time,
For the record, most Camino pilgrims just carry a sleeping bag;
4. And, unless we have no option other than sleeping out on the concrete, we hope to avoid the municipal albergue (the abergues are the hostels along the Camino just for the pilgrims) in the town of Zubiri, and not only because the shower facility there was just one long stall with five shower heads and no walls between and no locks on the shower room door. The place had other debits as well. (see "Tighten your boots" post from 9/18/2013).
Other than that, well, I expect we'll start at the same place as last time, St. Jean Pied de Port, France and, hopefully, end up in Santiago, Spain, using the same unchanging routine: waking up in the morning, grabbing our packs and sticks, walking all day with fellow pilgrims from all over the planet, falling into bed bone-tired at night.
But in truth there is one elephant in my mind that I expect I'll be carrying in tandem with the little elephant on my back (see yesterday's post), that I wish I could leave behind this time: that's my fear of the steep, jagged, wobbly rocks we encountered last time that always paralyzed me with a fear of falling. I had a nick name for these little Frankensteins of mine: I called them the Wretched Stones (which I also called the difficult stones along our training route in Clear Creek park and named after the Chris Van Allsburg picture book. See post from 8/25/2015).
Sometimes on the Camino I would stand at the top of a steep rocky crest gripping my sticks, unable to make myself move down the hill. Meanwhile the other pilgrims would have to maneuver around me, the young ones hopping down the rocks ahead of me like mountain goats, now and then one of them turning back to me and, perched on a rock, extending their hand to me in an offer to help me down. "Oh, no, heh, heh, I'm fine," I'd respond, fearing to drag both of us down the hill to our untimely deaths.
So anyway, the one thing I truly wish to do differently this time is to overcome my fear of downward inclines and big rocks.
Even now, two days before we leave, I'm trying to talk myself into making this change, leaving my mental elephant behind.
Up to this point Tom and I have done all our Camino training at Clear Creek Park (see post from 8/25/2015) with our backpacks filled and weighted with random household items, towels, books, shoes, winter clothes. My memory seemed to suggest that 14 pounds, before adding water bottles, was the weight of my backpack last time we did the Camino. So I'd been been practicing with 15 pre-water pounds, just for good measure.
Yesterday I decided to have a mini-Camino-dress-rehearsal walk around my neighborhood.
. Then I hoisted my pack onto my back. It felt alarmingly heavy.
So I stepped onto the scale and saw, to my dismay, that my backpack, holding only the barest necessities, was weighing in at 21 pounds, pre-water.
without 'em for two months, I figure), Tums, an extra tube of toothpaste, a couple extra vaselines, (I vaseline my feet everyday before putting on my socks, my secret for avoiding blisters. Unfortunately vaseline is hard to find in Spain, you can only get it at a pharmacy where it's very expensive), my wash cloth (I'll use my hands!) and gloves (I'll use my spare socks!).
I managed to cut back 3 pounds. So now I was down to 18 pounds, pre-water. Water weighs about 3 or 4 pounds, so I was up to 22 pounds total, which I know for sturdy young backpackers is practically nada to carry around. For me it felt like a baby elephant on my back.
In truth, it’s always felt like a baby elephant on my back.
Now it was just a little bigger baby elephant.
So I tightened my boots, grabbed my sticks, and heaved my backpackiderm onto my back.
Let’s go, Ellie, said I in my mind to my newly christened companion as we took off down the sidewalk, maybe we’ll get a couple of pounds off you yet!
Well, I'll now admit that the other day I felt just the weensiest bit - well, not worried, exactly, but just wondering how it would be negotiating the world - or, at least, my little corner of the world - as a woman with a buzz cut.
Now, last time I was on the Camino it was common enough to see a girl sporting a buzz or semi-buzz, and I can't even say for sure that I've never before seen a woman with a buzz around Gahanna, Ohio. I'd just never before seen one in the mirror .
And so upon my return from Jerry's Barber Shop (see yesterday's post) I found myself staring and staring and staring at myself in the mirror, trying to wrap my head around my head. I wondered if the sight of my hair - or rather my lack of hair - would make me seem strange to other people. I wondered if it would make my piano students uncomfortable.
I was starting to feel twinges of buzz-cut remorse.
Still, without or without hair life had to go on and so I sucked in my gut and headed out to Krogers for my maiden voyage in my Army Ranger Girl look.
The store was crowded and as I roamed the aisles I was constantly glancing left and right to measure people's reactions.
Except that nobody was having any. Nobody was staring at or looking at, or even noticing me. The cashier at the checkout gave me not a second glance, or even a first. It's as if I look normal, I thought, and then realized that I probably did.
As for my piano students and their parents, much to my surprise I was offered the normal polite compliments one is normally offered when one shows up with a normal new haircut.
My husband likes my cut. My son and daughter say it looks really nice.
A young woman working the desk at the Y told me the cut looked beautiful on me. Actually, several people have.
And of course I realize that people may be telling me I look good not because I actually do but because they care about my feelings. But then isn't a compliment offered because someone cares about you just as good as -no, even better than - a compliment offered because of how you look?
Anyway, now freed from any anxiety over what over people might think of my haircut - because, much to my relief, nobody thinks anything of it - I can say that it's liberating, physically - it does feel wonderful - and mentally.
I suggest that every woman try rocking a buzz cut at least once. You'll know what I mean.
I requested of the owner of Jerry’s Barber shop, who is in fact a pretty blonde lady named Jenny.
Now, a gal can’t breeze into a hairdresser’s salon and ask the stylist for an Army Ranger cut; and even Jenny the barber was reluctant to accommodate my request..
But the problem, as I explained to Jenny, is that hair needs shampoo and shampoo needs to be carried in the backpack so the hair has to go.
"But I could just cut it real short for you," Jenny suggested, "like I did went last time you went on your Spain hike."
I considered for a moment then decided, no, this time I wanted to go for the Ranger Girl look. I wanted to give it a try. Just this once. Just to see how it would feel. Just to see how it would be.
"Okaaay," Jenny sighed, pulling out her clippers then proceeding, as my locks fell away, to list all the advantages I'd enjoy during my hike with this clean, neat, cool, cute, problem-free style. I think she was afraid I'd freak when I saw the final result.
But no, I didn't.
As I walked out of the barber shop I got stuck in my head the song I used to hear the soldiers sing as they ran their morning P.T. on the army post in Germany where I used to work:
I wanna be an Airborne Ranger
I wanna live a life of danger...
Of course I don't want to be an Airborne Ranger or live a life of danger.
I just look like I do.
As we learned from the experience of our last Camino, along with tightening your boots and lightening your pack, training is critical to surmounting to the challenge of backpacking for 490 miles, much of it over the rugged Pyrenees Mountains in the east of Spain and the more rugged mountains of Galicia in the west, some of which rise to an elevation of over 3,000 feet.
But then the challenge of the challenge is trying to find a mountain to practice on in central Ohio.
But there is a 350-foot-high hill an hour outside Columbus in Clear Creek Park near Lancaster, Ohio, and so we figured that walking up and down that 350-foot hill nine times should equal about 3,000 feet total, right?
So for the past few months we've been spending our Saturdays walking up and down that hill, usually walking the two-mile Fern Trail, which takes an hour and fifteen minutes to complete, but sometimes for variety walking the longer but less-grueling thee-mile Hemlock Trail which takes an hour and forty minutes. But those are only the basic times, to which must be added the time stopped along the trail to talk to other walkers who, seeing these two old folks hiking along loaded for bear, always stop to ask us what we're training for. We've actually met fellow pilgrims along the way who've done the Camino. While training for our first Camino we received some invaluable advice about lightening our packs from veteran pilgrims we met at Clear Creek
So the training days are long, but the trails are beautiful,
... and the Fern Trail has become so familiar that I've divided the trail into sections in my mind and given a name to each section: The Beginning, The Wretched Stones (named after a Chris Van Allsburg picture book that terrified my son Tommy when he was little) , The Meadow, The First Fairy Forest, The Deep Brown Forest, The Second Fairy Forest, The Not-Quite-As-Wretched-Stones, The End.
In truth, we've seldom managed to accomplish nine trail loops. We generally walk two or three loops, then break for lunch, invariably a cut-in-half foot-long Turkey-And-Black-Forest-Ham which we eat in our car after purchasing it from the Subway located in the back of the convenience store outside the park entrance.
After lunch we usually manage another two or three loops after which we're usually ready to drive the hour back to Gahanna where we always stop for dinner at our local Frisch's and, sweaty, dusty and dog-tired, drag ourselves into the restaurant where we each order our usual:
The friendly wait staff knows us now and, though they never ask, I sometimes wonder if they wonder about this older couple who come in every Saturday night looking (and probably smelling) as if they've just come off a construction job and who always order the same thing and then leave a great tip.
I also wonder if a few weeks from now one of the Frisch's waitresses will say to another, "Hey, you know those two old folks in dirty clothes and boots who used to come in here every Saturday night? They haven't been here for a while, have they? I wonder where they are?"
About three years ago I got saw a movie called "The Way", a fictional story about a man who sets out on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the path walked by pilgrims for over 1200 years, to heal his grief over the death of his son. That movie stayed in my head long after I left the theater, and I thought and thought and thought about about walking the Camino until a year later,
...and continued over the weeks and miles,
Not that it wasn't a wonderful journey, but I truth, I found hiking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela much (much, much) more difficult than the it appeared to be for the actors in the movie. And, in truth, when I arrived back in the States I swore I'd never put a backpack on my back again.
(Sigh). And yet here I am, two years later, getting ready to leave in a week and two days to return to St. Jean Pied-de-Port to begin walking the 490.7 miles of the Camino again.
Why? I don't really know, except that about a year ago the Camino started calling to me once more. I just started feeling like I wanted to see how it would feel to walk the Camino a second time. I guess maybe it's like childbirth: It can be so terrible that once through it you swear you'll never do it again. And yet a couple of years later, there you are, doing it again.
Tom's reason for doing another Camino is the same as his first reason: because I wanted to. Still, Tom, unlike me, is a veteran backpacker from his many years as a Scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts, and, also unlike me, always wanted to do another Camino.
So we're doing the Camino again. But just one more time.
Of course, that's what I said about going through childbirth a second time.
A romantic comedy of errors.
Lots and lots of errors.
"Equal And Opposite Reactions"
by Patti Liszkay
Buy it on Kindle:
or in print:
The Book Loft
of German Village,
Or check it out at the Columbus Metropolitan Library