LEARNING IT THE HARD WAY | PRACTICING FOR THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO | #3 PORRIDGE AND JÄGERMEISTER

When I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago, I immediately planned a “practice week”; a week in which I would not only walk several consecutive days but also practice with my gear. That week was last week. This is the third part of the blog post about my practice week; here you can read the first part and the second part.

It was like waking up from a nightmare and then realising it actually happened. Although, I must admit that, when opening my tent zippers the sight was pretty amazing. The grass was completely white frozen and the winter sun peeked through the trees. My body, however, did not feel as amazing as my surroundings looked and if I did not just have the night that I had, I would have ran to the heated toilet building (Yes. Throughout the night, I had the idea to sleep in this building. In hindsight, I probably should have.). I opened the door and saw Rennon packing his backpack with the energy of someone that fell asleep in a five-star hotel and woke up with a champagne breakfast. “Good morning!” “Morning.” I replied. Ok, I might have given him a bit of a death stare. “How was your night?” It took me a lot of courage admitting to the horror that was my night but deep inside I was aware that Rennon already knew my night was going to suck hard when he saw me sitting in the opening of my tent, boiling water in a pot without a lid.

“What’s for breakfast?” I answered with a question, as I was wondering whether I, as a rookie, might have brought the wrong breakfast despite my extensive research on nutrient-dense, dehydrated foods. “Porridge with dried fruits?” Pass. He asked to have breakfast together in a shelter on the terrain. By the time I gathered all my bits and pieces, he already ate his and was busy making some tea. As I ate my porridge, he gave me valuable advice on apps, gear and hiking in general and promised me to send his packing list. I thanked him for the advice and before he took of, I told him I would survive another night. He thought so too. An hour after Rennon left, I decided I would not.

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I stood in the toilet building crying as I felt like I was giving up and because I could not feel my toes anymore. Then I realised that my dad and stepmother were staying in Otterlo, a village in the Veluwe where I had done one of my previous walks. I called dad, deconstructed my tent, moved all my crap into the toilet building and hysterically packed my bag. Once packed, I walked to the bus stop and travelled to Otterlo. A steaming hot shower, a couple of Jägermeister and a good night’s sleep got me all set for the days after.

In the days that followed, I did two walks with my backpack that weighed about 10 kilograms. The first was 16,2 km and took me about three hours, the second was 18,2 km and took me almost four hours to complete. During these walks, I did not only realise that I suck at taking breaks, I also discovered a whole new set of muscles in my feet and back. After doing some research about my sleeping bag, I found out that the comfort temperature for a female using this particular bag is 4°C, for a male it is -2°C. No wonder -5°C was a little too cold for me. Finding a sleeping bag suitable for a colder night is now on my to-do-list. I did however manage to sleep two more nights in my tent… this time it was above 0°C and I had an extra sleeping bag.

All in all, these couple of days were a valuable experience, just a little bit of a shame I had to learn it the hard way ; )

Love,

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LEARNING IT THE HARD WAY | PRACTICING FOR THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO | #2 SHOWERS AND EMERGENCY BLANKETS

When I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago, I immediately planned a “practice week”; a week in which I would not only walk several consecutive days but also practice with my gear. That week was last week. This is the second part of the blog post about my practice week, read the first part here.

The sun had set. I had made myself some dinner that I partially had to slurp out of the holes of my foam pad, as I dropped it there in a hurry to shove it in my mouth (I was really hungry). It was time for a shower. At this stage, it was so cold that I figured a hot shower would be the only way to get myself warm before hopping into bed. Undressed and ready to face the water, I was stoked to see the timer on six minutes. Six whole minutes of showering! And then I turned it on. The water was a lukewarm. Just enough to make you think you are not showering with cold water, but miles away from an actual hot shower. Not a great start of the night. When walking back to my tent, my body remained cold and, in addition, my mood was crap.

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Installing myself in my sleeping bag, I suddenly notice a flashlight shining on my tent. After Rennon, I had only spotted two more guests entering the terrain and since they all camped a lot further from where my tent was, I freaked out a little. “Asleep yet?” It was Rennon. Sigh of relief. “Nah. Not yet. But I’m sort of in bed already.” “We are having a campfire, want to join?” “Nah. I want to get up early tomorrow and I’m pretty tired, so I’ll have an early night.” “Alright.” Truth was. I was so cold, I did not even want to go outside. The only thing I wanted was to get warm.

And I can tell you. I did not get warm. My feet were tucked into my backpack, my mat was folded so that my upper body was furthest from the ground and my water bottle was filled up with hot water to warm my feet. With every movement, I rearranged my sleeping bag and my liner, put my hat back on and wrapped my fleece around my head to seal the opening of my sleeping bag. Around 1 AM, in between tears, cursing and falling asleep for no longer then twenty minutes at the time, I remembered the existence of my emergency blanket. My mind screamed: this is the emergency! I took the neatly folded blanket out of the package and draped it over my sleeping bag. A couple of minutes later, it felt like heaven: I was getting warm again.

With everything that seemed to go right in the beginning, this highlight also did not last very long. Between the sleeping bag and the emergency blanket formed a layer of condense which dampened my sleeping bag and, in turn, made me even colder. Attempts to unfold my stiff body to dry the top of the sleeping bag with my (now completely frozen) towel were merely symbolical, as I already knew that the feeling of being cold would not stop – wet sleeping bag or not.

Throughout the night the temperature dropped to -5. It was the longest night of my life.

Final part will be published on Sunday!

Love,

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LEARNING IT THE HARD WAY: PRACTISING FOR THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO | #1 TOO COLD FOR TOUCHSCREENS

When I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago, I immediately planned a “practice week”; a week in which I would not only walk several consecutive days but also practice with my gear. That week was last week. Because the Netherlands can become quite cold in winter, there are only a handful of nature reserves in which you can camp throughout the year or where, as it is stated on the website of the organisation maintaining these reserves, you can “stay with the ranger”. I chose to go to Borger, a tiny village in one of the Northern provinces.

I ran through my packing list one last time to confirm every item was in my bag. It was. And boy, was that bag heavy. Somewhere halfway I met up with Mum for a little coffee and cake celebration, as it was my birthday a few days before and I love celebrating things. Her words that it was not possible to prepare for everything resonated with me once I sat in the train to Assen. Once in Assen, I had to take two busses to arrive at a bus stop after which it took me another 45 minutes walking to reach the campsite. Side note: it was cold. And with cold, I mean just above 0 degrees cold.

I had a look around the campsite. Apart from one other tent there was no one on the terrain. I ignored my feelings of dislike and walked towards the information column. According to the email I received when making the reservation, it was here that I had to check-in. Great… a touchscreen computer. The screen was cold, my fingers too. After fifteen minutes of pressing the same damn button, I finally received a label that I had to fix to my tent as proof of my reservation. On the label it said I had camping spot number 9, which happened to be all the way on the other side of the terrain. I walked towards it with the front part of my feet already frozen.

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Proudly seated in the entrance of my tent – that I had pitched relatively quick seen the ice-cold state my hands were in at that time – I was boiling some water to make myself a nice cup of tea, when I saw someone walking towards me. Soon I figured it was a man and by his posture and tread I had decided he was the ranger. He kneeled down in front of me: “So, are you not going to be cold tonight?” “I’ll experience that tonight. In case it will be cold, I have got many layers to put on.” I told him I was practising for the Camino de Santiago. “Alright. You have a Therm-A-Rest pad, those last for about 10 to 12 years.” I nodded. I knew that, I had done my research. “My name is Rennon.” “Hi, I am Querien.” We shook hands. “You might want to consider a lid for your pot, so you don’t have to fight the wind. Here, this is what I’m sleeping in.” He showed me a picture on his phone  of bivy sack and a tarp. I told Rennon it looked impressive, which it did, although I was not really sure whether I would exchange my tent to sleep in that situation. “I saw some good trees over there. I am going to set up my tarp. Good luck!”

He took off, leaving me behind with a strange feeling that something was about to happen and I was not prepared to face it. Definitely not the ranger, I thought, and had a sip from the tea of which the water had taken way too long to come to a boil.

Curious? This blog post will be continued next week! See you then : )

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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