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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THE WAY OF ST. JAMES

Now we have gotten over the initial shock of the endeavour, let’s dive into a little history of the Camino de Santiago and Saint James in particular. Although most people have heard of the pilgrimage to Santiago, not everyone is aware of where all these roads are actually leading to and why people have travelled them since the Middle Ages.

The myriad of routes that compromise the Camino de Santiago all lead to one particular place: the shrine of Saint James the Great. Although not much is known about James as a historical figure, the Bible describes that he died in Jerusalem as a martyr in 44CE. From the fifth century onwards, tales were published adding to James’ character, depicting him as the first missionary in Spain. Other stories narrate how his body made its way back there, how it was buried and forgotten.

The miraculous rediscovery of his tomb in 813 and the chapel that was build to mark it reignites the interest in and support of this cult site. The construction of a larger church at the end of the ninth century, ordered by Alfons III, furthers the growth of the city of Santiago and incites pilgrims to visit James’ shrine. From the eleventh century onward, pilgrims from all over Europe, travel to Santiago de Compostela to venerate St. James.

Although pilgrims walked the Camino the Santiago for religious reasons, these pilgrim routes were also places where people came together, interacted and exchanged things, whether that means goods, culture, art, ideas or knowledge. In the Middle Ages, the Way of James’ thus allowed for cultural and intellectual dialogue between Europe and Iberia, being one of the reasons why UNESCO declared the Spanish routes of the camino as world heritage in 1987.

In the past years the Camino de Santiago has become ever more popular and those who perform it are not only motivated by religious reasons. Some like the physical challenge, others admire the artistic expressions one can find along the routes and some simply do it because they have always wanted to. I would love to hear about all of these reasons, because I find it fascinating that even though the reasons to conquer the camino are as manifold as the routes themselves, people still partake in a Christian pilgrimage. I wonder, what is it about the camino?

Naturally, this quick introduction to the story behind the camino does not even come close to the rich history of this pilgrimage, as well as the academic research that has been performed on it. Future posts might shine some more light on these topics, for now though, we will continue with some other camino matters.

Love,

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To write this blog post, I have used the following sources:

  • Lokin, Daniëlle, en Kees van Schooten (ed). (2011). Pelgrims; onderweg naar Santiago.
  • Murray, Michael. (2015). “The Cultural Heritage of Pilgrim Itineraries: the Camino de Santiago.”

DECISION MADE. NOW WHAT?

The first thing that appeared in my mind after making the decision to perform the Camino, was not figuring out who this St. James-guy was and why people were walking days on end to be near his relics. To be honest, I was more concerned with the fact that I had now internally agreed to walk from Amsterdam to Santiago, which freaked me out a little after I found out this route compromises roughly 2500 kilometres (Wanna know how I found out? I’ll tell you all about it soon!). Since I made the decision to go, two people told me that they knew someone that walked “the Way”, so I figured it was doable… although I did not dare asking if they departed in the Netherlands to avoid coming across like a snob.

Walking an average of 20 km a day, which is according to most Camino websites the average amount one walks daily, means I will reach Santiago after being on the road for 126 days. That is, of course, if I walk every single day. Yes, I made that cursive, because that sounds a little silly now, doesn’t it? Sure there will be days when I am exhausted, wet, cold, in my period longing for home and chocolate, a decent bed, warm shower, walking around in the middle of *** nowhere, wishing to take a day off. Or perhaps there will be days I am in a beautiful place and want to linger around for a little. (Oh, all the expectations!)

Days off or not, it does not change anything about the 2500 kilometres that my feet will be covering. Besides the distance, I had so many other questions. Where will I sleep? What will I eat? How much money do I need? How does it work? Will it be safe? Will I get lonely? How do I wash my clothes? For how long can you walk in the rain? How am I going to find my way? Do I really need to know all this stuff before hand? Do all pilgrims have this many questions?

Although four months seems to be a long time, I reckon there is no such thing as being too prepared, so I have officially commenced my pilgrimage preparations. Inspired by the exorbitant amount of information for future pilgrims you can find online and in the library, I have distilled several topics that I will be covering in the upcoming posts:

know your camino – This category will cover all sorts of historical and practical information regarding the Camino de Santiago, answering questions like… what is the Camino the Santiago all about, who was St. James, why did/do people decide to go on this pilgrimage, and how are we going to get there in one piece?

prep your physique – Yes. We will have to cover this. I know. I do not want to be working out either. Here I will be giving some inspiration on how to prepare your body for long distance hiking, keep you updated on my individual progress and provide some information for the actual journey.

make up your mind – Besides your body, your mind has to be in an excellent shape too. This category will focus on mentally preparing yourself for the trip and will also include some of my personal musings.

get your gear going – It is very simple. When being on the road for such a long time, you will need things. I have no idea what is necessary either. This category will cover my attempts to find out.

Excited? Well, I definitely am! So excited, I have been spending the past week in a sleeping bag to practice.

Love,
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image credit: nadinewalks.com

THE END?

And then she graduated. The End.

Ok. I might be exaggerating a little bit, but receiving my diploma a while ago did feel like the end of a life phase. Anyways, I decided freaking out was not going to get me anywhere and where certain things end, new things begin. Although obtaining my master’s degree was quite the battle I reckoned that, when I survived writing a 60-page thesis whilst in constant doubt about my academic abilities, I was totally ready for a new challenge.

As a (now) scientist of religion (yes, I know) I have always been fascinated by pilgrimage and spiritual journeys. Preparation, travelling and transformation are all experiences that naturally occur when going through life. Purposely experiencing these stages, with or even without a religious intention, makes for inspiring stories and intellectual nourishment. Although I had written my thesis about the Hajj – the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca – I knew I wouldn’t be able to experience this ritual myself due to simple fact that I would never be able to enter Mecca as a non-Muslim. However,  I was aware of a possible alternative.

The Camino de Santiago, among others known as the Way of St. James, is one of the most popular Christian pilgrimages. Last year 277.854 pilgrims arrived in Santiago, a number that is growing every year. I have always longed to be a pilgrim myself. Why? Perhaps, because I am in search of something myself but I also want to figure out who these people are, where they come from and, most importantly, what motivates them perform this pilgrimage. Whatever it is that makes me yearn to be on the road for 4,5 months to walk 2500 kilometres to Spain… it sounds exactly like what I am looking for.

Love,
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