Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The aftermath and side-affects of walking the caminos

Every time I return from the camino I get this urge to make changes in my life and chuck stuff away!
For the last three weeks I’ve been spring-cleaning. Just a couple of hours each day which has resulted in us carting boxes of junk to the recycling bins, sacks of rubbish to the dump, and boxes of books, ornaments, clothing and other unwanted stuff to the SPCA. My poor husband groans every time he sees the piles of stuff coming up for dumping.

June 2002:
I remember standing in front of my clothes cupboard after the first camino in 2002.
“What are you looking at?” asked Finn.
“All this … this .. STUFF!” I replied.
I felt almost repulsed by all the clothing hanging there. Why did I need 13 t-shirts? How could I possible wear 9 pairs of shorts and 7 cycle shorts? Rows of blouses, shirts, denim jeans, track suits and dresses. Most of the t-shirts were hand-outs from running races and were much too big for me but I had jealously guarded them until that moment. Out they went – to anyone who needed them.

July 2004:
When I got back from walking for 6 weeks in France and Spain I had an irresistible compulsion to change the décor in my living rooms. Why did I need all those pictures and photographs, ornaments and souvenirs cluttering up table tops, mantelpiece and corner what-nots?
My poor husband watched bemused as I packed them all into boxes.
“Why are you getting rid of those?” he asked.
“We need to re-decorate” I told him.
“What’s wrong with the way it is?” he said.
“It’s all too busy,” was all I could say.

I still don’t know why our things and colour scheme lost their charm but I had an overpowering urge to go minimalist, quiet, plain, de-clutter. I had shelves full of birding books, flower arranging books. I used to scour second hand book shops and flea markets for these books, often spending my last few available pennies on them. I had a collection of every bird book on the market and flower books that that included everything from Ikebana (3 years of Ichiyo School) to George Smith (favourite flower arranger of Princess Grace). They nearly all went to the SPCA. Ditto all the novels.
I cleared away all the little ornaments, animal carvings: made plain cream curtains to replace the burgundy shantung and put in a plain sandy coloured corded carpet. I covered the Chintz lounge suite in a plain colour and covered the pink draylon dining chairs with cream curtaining.

July 2006:
When I returned home from walking the Via Francigena I decided that I wasn’t going to wear my gold watch and diamond engagement ring anymore.
“Why not?” asked my husband.
“I do so much walking – I could be mugged for them” I said.
Truth is I didn’t want to wear gold and diamonds. They’re better off in the safe anyway. I never have worn much jewelry but my tastes have changed. I wear a string with a Santiago shell on it or a cord with a wooden Tau. I wear a cord wrist strap from La Faba and a wrist band with Ave Fenix printed on it. (I'm starting to look like a hippie!)
For years I have been the one to plant the flower beds while Finn does all the hard work maintaining the rest of the garden. I love flowers and worked with them for 25 years, but I would really like to rip out the entire garden and go indigenous so that the garden will care for itself with Aloes, agapanthus, watsonia and other indigenous plants.
I now had two Compostelas and a Testimonium as well as pebbles from Paris and St Jean, Roncesvalles, Santiago and Finisterre, Lake Geneva, Gr St Bernard and Roma. What to do with them? I framed them all and hung them in the guest bathroom!

July 2007:
My artist friend Sandi Beukes did three small Santiago paintings for my entrance - Santiago Apostle, Santiago peregrino and Santiago Matamoros. My sister painted a pilgrim walking on the path to Hontanas. When I got back from walking the camino I took down all the framed prints in the house. Who needs prints of boats, Big Ben, waves crashing on some unknown beach when you can have Sant'Iago and peregrinas?

My friends and family buy me anything with scallop shells - soap dishes, gift boxes, ornaments, serving dishes. I added a shell ornament from Croatia to our entrance, a moulded shell to our front door, a little brass shell on the entrance table, replaced the door handles in our bathroom with shell handles. I started serving Spanish food when friends came to lunch. Nothing like a Tortialla Espanol and ensalada for lunch or a large Paella for supper!
I went through my clothes - again - and gave away more t-shirts, jeans, dresses, blouses. When summer arrived I looked for something cool to wear one day and found that I didn't have a summer dress - not one! I decided not to buy one either - don't need them.

I used to enjoy looking at the season's fashions and bought a few new items of clothing each season. My clothing habits have changed. I'm only attracted to outdoor and hiking shops. I can spend hours looking at the gadgets, backpacks, new hiking shoes and boots, feeling the weight of shirts and fleeces. No more Daniel Hechter or Jenny Button for me. Now it's not the colour for fashion that is important - it's the weight! If they don't weigh under 100g I'm not interested in buying them!

July 2009:
Last month when I got back from Spain Finn said, “What are you going to chuck out or change this time?” I think he’s getting nervous of this new, minimalist me! After all, some camino pilgrims not only change their lifestyle, they sell their homes and emigrate to Spain.
“I’m going to clear the storeroom” I said.
Our storeroom is two rooms underneath the house. They are only just higher than head height but are packed to the top with boxes and packets of stuff that ‘we might need one day’ – like boxes that new irons, kettles, toasters, key-boards, lamps, radios came in … all things that might stop working which would necessitate a return to the store where we bought them. So, the boxes they came in (with purchase slips stuck to the lids) all found their way to the storeroom. Some were from 2003. I don’t think we’ll be able to return these item, so the boxes have been flattened and taken to the cardboard recycle bin with all the other cardboard that ‘we might have needed one day’. This is a mammoth job which will feed my need to chuck out for at least three months - which is usually how long it takes for me to settle down again. While I'm working the little stone encased in wire dangles around my neck. It is worth much more to me than the gold chain I used to wear - it was made by Pepe, a perpetual pilgrim - and the stone is from Aragon, very precious.

Walking the camino changes your perspective on many things. It helps you to find what it important in your life - what you really need to be happy and how little you need to survive. It helps you to divest yourself of psychological and emotional baggage.

This clearing out transfers itself to material baggage too and many pilgrims have said that they too come back and start decluttering their lives. I know a pilgrim who sold her television, DVD player and computer when she got back from her third camino.

I could do without the television but I think I'll hang onto the computer. I need it to write stories, to sell to magazines, to make money to pay for my next camino!

Monday, August 03, 2009


Q: What have the characters in these pictures got in common?

    A: They all have walking poles!
    When I was diagnosed with fairly severe osteoporosis I started using sticks when hiking. I don't mind the going up, but it is the coming down that makes me feel unsteady and using two sticks have been my saving grace. I may look like a crippled crab on crutches but they are my rod and my staff and are a great comfort to me!

    You either love 'em or you hate 'em.

    Walking sticks, hiking poles or trekking sticks - some swear by them others denounce them, most of us can't bear the click-click-clicking the metal tips make on hard surfaces when hiking or walking.

    WHICH KIND IS BEST?Wooden staff, bamboo pole, carbon fibre, aluminium, metal, cane .....
    Use what's best for you. Only you know. Test a few or borrow someone else's pole or use a ski pole or a broom handle or a pool cue, just to see how it feels. If you decide on having a pole, then make or buy what feels best. Remember, it should feel like an extension of your body. If it feels clumsy, then you will probably be clumsy. If it fits smoothly into your hiking rhythm and even enhances your rhythm, then you've got a good candidate for your third (and fourth) leg.
    My favourite walking stick is a simple bamboo pole I found in a bundle standing next to a sherpherd's croft in the Alps when we walked the Via Francigena. We left a donation of 5 euro in a box next to the pile and chose a stick. I use it together with a telescopic pole.

    TWO POLES OR ONEIt boils down to what is your preference. Or more specifically, what feels right on the trail. "Theoretically, I felt that two poles was the best thing to do. It didn't work for me, at first--it just didn't feel right. I couldn't get balanced--couldn't get a good rhythm. I didn't have problems on snow with two snow poles, but I couldn't seem to get the same rhythm on the trail. So, for a long time, I used only one aluminum pole, or one wooden staff, when (non-snow) trekking or hiking. Currently, though, I've gotten more comfortable with two aluminum hiking poles. I've found it helps my bad back, considerably."


    Hold the pole upside down under the basket with your forearm in a horizontal position. Adjust +10cm or so going downhill and -10cm or so going uphill.

    Have a look at this short video from Backpackers Gear School on how to adjust your poles.


    There are several choices one can make when using ski-pole type hiking poles.

    Hand Grips:
    Hard rubber, hard cork, plastic, foam are all common materials used for pole handles. Plastic is lifeless, cold, hard, and slippery. Foam isn't durable enough. Hard rubber and cork seem to mould to the hand well and are very durable. Make sure the finger grips fit your hands well. Some poles come with slight, subtle design differences between right and left hands (e.g., Leki Super Makalu) to provide less unnecessary friction against the hands.

    Hand/Wrist Straps (and How To Use Them)Most hiking/trekking poles come with wrist straps. Several poles (e.g., Leki poles) come with a color coding. The right pole has a red or black dot on top of the hand grip and the left pole has a white or silver dot. The significance is that each pole has a hand strap that has been contoured to best fit each hand. If you use straps, find poles with straps that are made of one-inch nylon webbing that are pre-twisted to provide more comfort to your wrist. Most folks either don't use straps or, if they do, think the straps are just a safety device to keep them from losing the poles, should they drop them. Although that may be true, that's not their main function. If you are using poles correctly, your hands won't get tired.
    The straps help to hold your hand in place on the trekking pole, allowing you to swing the pole using a light grip, thus less hand fatigue.
    To properly use the wrist strap, follow these simple steps:
    1. Put your hand up through the bottom of the strap
    2. Grasp the pole grip, keeping your hand relaxed
    3. Cinch the strap snug, but not tight and with your fingers, guide the pole to where you want to plant it, still very loosely holding it in your hand, then plant it on the ground with all the weight of your body, pack, etc. transferring to the wrist strap via your wrist and arm.
    Bottom line: the appendage stress associated with using poles should not be on your hands and fingers, but on your wrist and arms. Firstly don’t grip the handle too hard, it is the strap that should be doing all the work. Have a relaxed grip that allows the trekking pole to have natural swinging action. You should use opposite pole to the leading leg, so right pole left leg and vice versa. The position of the pole plant should be roughly level with your foot but it’s what ever suits you.

    However - Pacer Poles do not rely on wrist bands but rather on a moulded left and right hand grip.

    Some of the reviews on the website:

    CAMERON McNEISH: “A truly innovative design which will I am convinced change the fundamental thinking on how we use poles to aid us when walking or trekking.”

    CHRIS BONINGTON: “Pacerpoles are excellent and I will certainly be using them as my poles in the future.”

    GRAHAM HOPKINS: “I through-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with a pair of Pacerpoles from Canada to Mexico, a distance of about 2658 miles. I loved the poles. They gave great power on the up-hill climbs, and good control on the descent, the largest of which was 7,000ft. I truly have to commend you for a great creation.”

    Shock Absorbers:Some poles (e.g. Leki Super Makalu) come with shock absorbers. Springs are integrated into the telescoping shaft joints, such that they absorb some shock otherwise absorbed by your elbow and wrist joints. Most poles don't incorporate them, but you can purchase them separately.

    Adjustable Shafts:Some poles have telescoping sections with a screw-down-tight locking mechanism located at the intersection of each pole section. Some poles have three sections--they can be reduced more in length so that they are more compact--but they cost more. Other poles have two sections--they're longer when shortened, but they may weigh a little less, as well as cost less. Then there is the one-section pole which is cheaper but is not very packable.

    Camera Mount:The handle on some poles will unscrew to reveal a 1/4" screw that is compatible with most compact point 'n shoot and zoom cameras. These poles are intended to have camera-monopod capability.

    Baskets vs Non-Baskets:
    These are those little upside down cradles at the bottom of the shaft. In non-snow terrain, your typical ski baskets tend to get in the way. They get caught in brush, wedged between rocks, and are difficult to use in crossing fast water.

    Rubber Tip vs Carbide Tip:Most aluminum ski-type poles come with the carbide tip. Others (e.g., Tracks Sherlock) come with a rubber tip. Rubber tips can slip on wet ground and rock. Some people like the rubber tip because it doesn't sound like "fingernails on a blackboard" when crossing rock surfaces and it's easier to maintain a smooth hiking rhythm because the rubber tip doesn't create "drag" by penetrating the ground.



    Crossing Creeks, Streams, Rivers

    Traversing hillsides
    Carrying heavy loads
    Resting en route

    On uneven or slippery ground

    Hiking in muddy conditions

    Crossing landslides, shale, scree


    Provides extra power & balance going uphill
    Reduces shock on knees going downhill
    Takes pressure off back & hips (mainly uphill)


    Help others to cross rivers, boulders etc
    Center or side pole for a tarp
    To prop up your pack
    To lean on when resting
    Pushing aside spider webs & brush
    Self defense
    A wash line in albergues
    An exercise pole whilst walking
    Picking up fallen objects

    (Thank you to and for permission to use info from their websites).