YOU’VE DONE THIS BEFORE: HOW TO USE YOUR CAMINO SKILLS IN TIMES OF SELF-ISOLATION

If you went on a pilgrimage to Santiago, you probably experienced and dealt with some of the aspects of isolation before. So today’s post will focus on how you can use your Camino skills in these strange times of self-isolation.

You’ve done this before

“It must be easier for you, since you have done this before.” Not quite understanding the remark my aunty made, I gave her a puzzled look. “You’ve walked the Camino, you’ve been on the road by yourself for months.”

Then, I understood what she meant. Certain things you’ll encounter as a pilgrim on the road to Santiago bear a resemblance to our current experience of self-isolation. One in particular. You’re spending entire days by yourself, inside you head, with limited or no social contact.

You’ve done it before.

That means: You already have the skills to deal with this.

So, really, the question you should ask yourself is – how did I deal with it back then?

How to use your Camino skills

Need a little refresh (or, for those who didn’t experience a long distance hike yet, a little inspiration)? I’ll share some of the Camino skills I’ve used in the past few weeks to deal with this lockdown situation.

Listen to you body

On the Camino, your body is the most important thermometer of your well-being. It tells you when you need to eat, hit the bushes for the bathroom and when you need a break. In other words, your body talks to you.

This counts for everyday life, and especially now when self-isolating as it’s easy to ignore our bodies signals.

Skill #1 Make it a priority to check-in with yourself multiple times a day and listen to what your body needs!

Moderate the conversations in your head

Once you’re removed from a social environment, you all of a sudden realise you’ve got an entire social environment in your head. “Are you sure you’ve interpreted that waymark right? Do you have enough food with you for the upcoming days? Why aren’t you going faster? Sure this is safe?”

Although it’s totally normal to experience an overload of noise when you’re alone, you can practice moderating the conversations. Give the voices space, but try not to get involved. Unless shit’s getting really bad and you go total asshole on yourself. In that case, stand up for yourself and tell those voices to take a hike.

Skill #2 Observe the conversations in your head, give them space but try not to get caught up in it.

Journal

Walking to Santiago (and any other day) journaling kept me standing. I pretty much wrote down anything – what was going on during the day, inside my head, my fears, my doubts but also words of encouragement, things I was grateful for and beautiful stuff I encountered during the day.

Reflecting on those small things that have brightened up your day, expressing gratitude and writing down difficult experiences and fears, really helps to empty your mind and take a different perspective.

Skill #3 Write down the highlights and lowlights of each day. What are you grateful for, and would you do anything different tomorrow?

Be kind(er) to yourself

I only acknowledge my efforts once I arrived at the beach in Fisterra. Soaking up the sun and ocean views, I finally found the space to be kind to of myself.

Looking back on my journey, I wish I’d been somewhat kinder to myself throughout my pilgrimage. Being hard on yourself in a situation that is already difficult, often makes things worst. Cut yourself some slack, acknowledge that what you’re doing is difficult enough already. No need to flog yourself along.

Skill #4 Be aware that what you’re doing is hard enough already, and be a little kinder to yourself because of it.

The road to Santiago has now become the interior’s of our houses, apartment, studio’s or whatever it is that you find yourself in at this moment. By ourselves, days on end, with limited to no social interaction.

Remember: You’ve done this before...

Love,

Ps. Let’s wander together

MICRO CAMINO: A MIRACULOUS ONE DAY PILGRIMAGE ON THE MÜNCHNER JAKOBSWEG

Pilgrimages don’t have to last for weeks or months in order to have a great impact. A single day experience can be of great significance too! This certainly was the case with my one day pilgrimage on the Münchner Jakobsweg.

the Munich Way of St. James

As you might have noticed on my instagram, I frequently travel to Germany. A fortnight ago, I spent the week in Munich and, in preparation for my day off, did some research on hiking trails nearby. My search ended on this German website dedicated to all the different German routes to Santiago. Although I didn’t understand half of it, I did figure out how I’d spent my day off: hiking the first part of the Müncher Jakobsweg, or the Munich Way of St. James.

Munich to Schäftlarn – the first stage

Purple skies. I left before the sun had risen and took a metro to Marienplatz, which lies in the city center of Munich. From there I walked to the beginning of my one day pilgrimage: Sankt-Jakobs-Platz (St. Jacob’s place).

This first part of the Münchner Jakobsweg took me through the old town of Munich, first across the river Isar and then south, following the water. Soon enough, I’d found a sign of recognition: the scallop shell, guiding me on this micro Camino.

The day was gorgeous and the sun brightened up the impressive display of autumn colours. It was like walking through a painting of a landscape I’d never seen in my entire life. About two hours in I had a short coffee break, and ate a sandwich by the water. The quiet was almost overwhelming. I soaked it up and let it sink in before I continued on a forest path that led me to Schäftlarn.

Reaching the monastery of Schäftlarn meant I’d finished the first stage of the Münchner Jakobsweg (24km). I went into a small Maria chapel and to my surprise I found a little table with a pilgrim stamp attached to it. When walking the Camino de Santiago, getting a stamp in my pilgrim’s passport always felt like receiving some kind of reassurance. “See! There you go, another step in the right direction, keep on going!” I couldn’t resist and – in the absence of something more sufficient – stamped the metro ticket I’d used in the morning.

Schäftlarn to Starnberg – a little bit longer

The bells rang twelve o’clock. I sat on the lawn of the monastery, eating another sandwich. I sort of challenged myself to keep walking if I’d make it to Schäftlarn before twelve. So yeah. No way out. Off you go!

From Schäftlarn, the route went a up long way, and up and more up. Then the path took me through wide open fields, past farms and through a few of tiny villages. Again, the scallop leading the way. I noticed how my awareness had changed from when I’d left earlier that morning. Now, my body was in tune with the rhythm of my steps. My mind became quiet.

And then there it was, the Starnberger See (Lake Starnberg). As I walked down a sloping street, I could see the water shimmering in the sunlight. The path took me into a park right next to this giant lake. Once I was down by the water, I stepped onto a big stone lying right on the edge of the lake. I looked to my left and my heart filled itself with joy. The Alps! The view was so intensely beautiful that I forgot my aching legs for a moment, completely taken by that which my eyes were capturing. The end of my micro Camino couldn’t have been more enchanting!

Returning home

As I sat in the train back to Munich, the day played itself out in my head like a video on double speed. Not just the many different things I’d seen and admired, also the emotions and quiet moments that had passed through me, repeated itself in my head. I was surprised. Since returning from Santiago, I’d was constantly looking to for major hikes. Obviously, having a job and a million and one other things to do plus little financial means, those massive adventures are just not always an option.

My micro Camino on the Münchner Jakobsweg made me realise that big insights can happen anytime, also on a one day pilgrimage (or any other hike for that matter). The secret, I think, is to just get out there and open yourself up for the possibility that you’re about to have your biggest adventure yet!

Love,

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ENDLESS APPETITE: THE SECOND HIKE

Distance: 22.2 km
Moving time: 4:21:58
Pace: 11:48/km

Day two (here you can read about day one). This second day I took a bus to Park De Hoge Veluwe, a national park in the East of the Netherlands with an extensive network of walking and cycling routes that take you through some amazing Dutch nature. At first, this second day of my hiking venture seemed to go into a similar direction as the day one. The weather was crap, I started hiking in the wrong direction and there were moments I really doubted my ability to walk another kilometre let alone two. Lacking the pack made things a little lighter, however, I was so keen to finish twenty kilometres and experience how my body felt afterwards that it turned out to be pretty hard albeit the absence of the pack.

The night before I roamed the Internet for blister solutions, yet the supermarket did not sell the blister equipment that I wanted so I bought the extremely expensive blister bandages and pre-bandage my feet. In the first five kilometres, new hot spots appeared and I was forced to take my shoes off and put some extra bandages on. It did not matter, I was too late and I have felt them, every step of the way.

The shitty part was not the pain; it was walking in the sand. After being on the track for a while, the forest led to a path heading into a dune-like landscape with sand. Heaps of sand. Surrounded by mist, I did not solely feel how I alone I was at that particular moment, I also came to understand that I hate walking in loose sand. Every step you take, you seem to go backwards instead of forward! My mind was immediately flirting with the idea to change the route I had initially chosen. Boiling with frustration, since I was trying to walk as fast as possible but did not reach the speed I wanted to, I looked back and saw how far I had come. I took a deep breath and continued walking – hell no I was going to walk all the way back through that loose sand!

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Apart from my aversion to sand, another remarkable thing occurred this day that had not come to my attention during yesterday’s ten-kilometre walk: an endless appetite. Not only did I eat a fair amount of food for breakfast and during the walk, when I came home I devoured anything edible that I could find and even after a massive dinner, I still felt like I had not eating enough.

Soon I comprehended that my body was asking for food, because I had burned abnormal amounts of calories during this four-hour walk. This realisation instantly prompted so many questions: How much food would I have to bring? Would I be this hungry every day? How was I able to bring enough food to still this endless appetite but not carry endless amounts of weight?”

A little while later, after finishing an entire bag of slightly salty and sweet popcorn, I concluded I was too tired to think of this issue and that this was yet another thing I would add on my what-to-figure-out-before-I-go-list.

Love,

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LOVE YOUR BLISTERS, DATE YOUR BACKPACK: THE FIRST HIKING ATTEMPT

Distance: 10.0 km
Moving time: 1:57:07
Pace: 11:42/km

Since I promised to keep you updated on my training progress, I thought today would be a good day to tell you about my first hiking attempt. In case you are wondering, I followed the advice given in the previous post and took a backpack with me. Although I am not sure how heavy it was exactly, it contained enough shit for me to think it was at least 7 or 8 kilograms. Five minutes after I left, I already figured out how heavy that actually was when you have to carry it on your back.

I embarked on a little trip to the Veluwe, an area in the Netherlands known for its beautiful forest and diverse landscapes. The windows of the train allowed me to witness the city buildings and suburbs being replaced by the meadows and, after a while, the forest. I took a bus to the centre of Hoenderloo (from which I would walk to Beekbergen) got out and stood at the side of the road for a few seconds soaking up the quiet so characteristic for villages, before I took off. The hike I set out to do was one I had found on the Internet, yet I decided to walk it in the opposite direction. Thinking I was perfectly prepared by saving the website on my phone, I quickly discovered that it was near to impossible to navigate on the map provided due to the fact that the website did not resize on my phone screen.

The first hundred meters I walked were into the wrong direction. Then, when I had finally found my way, it started raining…

I made it though: ten whole kilometres with a backpack (*cheering*). A couple of happenings and reflections resonated with me after I arrived at my destination, a little hotel where I booked the tiniest room. Here are some of my observations after my first practice hike:

there will not only be sunshine and you will have bad days too

On sunny days you might think: “This is a great day to go for a hike!” However, when it is raining like there is no tomorrow, you probably feel a little less enthusiastic about getting out there. Now here is the thing, when you are hiking a long distance and you have limited time, you don’t really have a choice, you just have to accept the weather conditions. Whilst contemplating on the weather I realised that not only the weather has bad days, I have them too. So when I am in a shitty mood and the weather is shit, it will be a tough day.

pee when you can and take an FUD

I had the feeling I had to pee… the entire walk! From the moment I got out of the bus and tightened the hip strap of my backpack, I had to go to the toilet. So advice to myself for the next time: pee when you can and take an FUD. (An FUD is short for Female Urinating Device. They sell them in all sorts, materials and sizes. We’ll talk more about this topic in another blog post.)

you might want to consider trekking poles

One part of my hike I was taken into a very dense part of the forest. The path was swirling and the vegetation prevented me from seeing what was coming up. It was quiet and, I have to admit, it was a little scary. First thing that popped into my mind was, “Why don’t you grab a stick? With a stick you would be able to defend yourself!” Sounds silly right? Subsequently, I thought of the usage of trekking poles when hiking (a topic intensively discussed on an array of hiking forums), as well as there possible other usages. Found this, made my day.

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I will have to think about what I am wearing

I do not mean this in an aesthetic way, but in a practical manner. Any pro would have been able to tell me this, but experiencing it yourself is always a good thing. Your body temperature changes all the time and you will have to be prepared for that. I clearly wasn’t and it got me all hot-flushed and angry at stages. Better read up on that and inform you guys in an upcoming post.

you can fall

I will now tell you about the moment I fell. The autumn leaves were covering the tree roots; I tripped and fell on the ground. Hands first, knees in the mud. Whilst in this slightly strange position my brain made the situation all the more awkward by allowing the expectation that someone was going to pick me up, resulting in me feeling even weirder. So I got up, looked around (reflex) and continued like a boss. This – let’s be honest – minor event did make me realise that I have to be a little more careful and that, perhaps, some basic first-aid knowledge might come in handy.

love you blisters

That basic first-aid knowledge I was talking about also applies here. What do you do when you feel a blister coming up? How do you take care of it? The skin on my foot is gone, what now? Figuring this out will be pretty essential, as treating blisters will most likely become a daily duty on your hike.

you will doubt yourself

During this first attempt my minds was chattering away: Perhaps this is just a silly idea? Do you think you will be physically ready in four months? Are you sure you want to do this? I think those thoughts will not go away. Doubt will always linger in the corner of your brain ready to bother you at the wrong moment. Just accept it is there, have a conversation with it or grab one of those trekking poles to fight it when it starts nagging you.

date your backpack

I usually do not befriend inanimate objects but I feel it will be wise to become more acquainted with my backpack. It was like we were two people on a serious date who in the past had shared a drunken moment together on a party; the start was somewhat stiff, but we got to know each other pretty well and it was actually fun. Note to self: Date your backpack more often.

I am nackered. Tomorrow I will head out again without backpack (sorry man) since the sole purpose of tomorrow is experiencing what it is like to walk 20 km in one go. Hopefully, I will be able to maintain my sanity, love the shit out of my blisters and remain standing at all times.

Love,

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