Testing, Testing And Testing
It’s been a dribbly and grey week here in SW France, and by that I mean the weather (not me).
The burst of early spring warmth we saw at the end of Feb has retreated into a temporary end-of-wintrish cooling trend. Mutant weeds are growing in abundance of course, and our fruit trees are still blooming, but everything else seems to have taken a little breather. Our tulips are green and abundant, but the flowers has not yet peeked through, the lawn is vibrantly green (and has required it’s first cut) and all aspects of herbs and other plants are testing the temps, trying to decide if they’re ready to go.
As for me, I’m just putting one foot in front of the other, training as much as I can (albeit less than I’d like) and immersing myself fully into Camino prep and gear. My A-type personality combined with my need to research everything in excruciating detail makes this waaay more complicated than it should be. A minor, but irritating trait that would be perfect for say, an 8-month self-supported Polar Expedition, but is rather overkill for a walk on a well-developed and popular trail. Nonetheless, the testing never stops.
As for the everything outside our little enclave? Oh my….
Two years ago in March the Pandemic launched. Three lockdowns, five waves and two years later, a war has broken out on European soil. And none of it makes any sense. I often struggle with these truths and finding a balance blog-wise between uplifting humor and diversion vs the hard grind of daily life and news. We all need a bit of it all I guess, the first for our mental health and the second to keep it real, so that’s where I usually end up when I write. A test of balance, I guess?
One thing is sure, much has changed over the past few years and much more is likely to change over the next several. When I was 12 I met a Buddhist monk in Hong Kong who perhaps put it best. “The only thing certain in life is change”, he explained, “if we can take solace in that we let go of many of our personal fears”. Several decades later, I’m still working on that one.
I’m A Special Kind (Of Tester)
The one upside of this past humid week has been my ability to test more gear.
I’m starting to dial-in a few things, but am still abysmally unsure of others. My shoes are now locked-in (Merrell Agility Peak 4 Trail Runners #affiliatelink for the win), as are my socks (Darn Tough forever #affiliatelink), which I thought was the end of it until a blog reader casually asked me last week what I was doing about about insoles?
Now, there’s a question that hadn’t even entered my 100-long-list of items to research.
So, naturally I spent the next 4 hours in online rabbit-holes of sole-literature only to discover the soles I (finally) wanted were out of stock, prompting me to drive an hour to hunt down said gems, which are now in my shoes for next-weeks test run.
Yes, I’m ridiculous about these things, to both my own amusement and ultimate dismay.
Yet another example is that I haven’t settled on a backpack. I’m still waffling between my heavy 20+ year old Kelty and a newer, lighter one. I bought several different Osprey versions online, tried them all without success and had to send them back. Either I have the largest hips of any woman alive (unlikely), or the curviest back (possible), or the most mutant dimensions (hmmm….very possible), but none of the newfangled stuff seems to be able to successfully transfer pack weight to my hips, which is essential if I’m to avoid 6 weeks of knife-stabbing pains in my lower back every time I take a step, thanks to my crushed discs.
In my efforts to solve this dilemma once and for all, I decided on another one-hour drive to the only serious camping store within 100km of our house to try on every backpack known to man. Or at least whatever they had in inventory. This would be the end of it, basta….
The result was about 25 different backpacks, both loaded (with ~10kg) and unloaded, male and female versions, which took around two and a half hours to work through. A mere 10,000 in-store steps later I had decided on….none of them. The salesperson, who got tired of hanging around (and so went off for a leisurely lunch and smoke while I manipulated his inventory) was surprised enough by this outcome of events that he invoked his liver, or at least that’s what it sounded like at first pass.
“Ma foi*” he exclaimed “tout ça and rien ne va?” (seriously, all that and none of it works?)
Yes, I’m a very special case.
And so the search continues….
*In this case he actually said foi (literal translation faith), not foie (liver) although they sound exactly the same. It means frankly, honestly, or more familiarly, seriously. Both kinda make sense, no?
And Now It’s Raining
Rain, as any hiker/backpacker will know can absolutely ruin a trek.
There is no sure-fire solution to stay dry, other than staying home as even the heftiest of jackets/pants will eventually leave you wet, from sweat from the inside if nothing else. However you can’t ignore the problem and go without either. And weight really matters. Heavy gear is effective, but ridiculous to lug ~800km if you don’t need it, whereas light gear is wonderfully….well, light….but mostly useless in a consistent, torrential downpour. There’s good stuff in-between, but much of it is also outrageously pricey, for something you may or may not need.
In 2019 Paul and his dad only had a few days of the drizzle near the start of their Camino (over the Pyrenees), but then enjoyed mostly good weather the rest of the way. He bought a decent jacket, and that was enough. Then again, hikers starting next week can look forward to at least a week of consistent downpour before it eases up. They’ll need more serious protection.
My own little tests this week have already pointed out glaring gaps in my own equipment.
On the positive side my hiking umbrella works wonderfully (bar wind) and is still a firm “go” on my list, but it can’t protect my whole body in a downpour, and (sadly) my old rain jacket is just as useless as it’s always been.
One might think, given my propensity to over-research stuff, that I would have bought a better one 15+ years ago, but this was one piece of gear I picked-up on an impulse while we were living in sunny CA. A rare case of “Oh, stop analyzing Nina and just buy it”. Predictably it failed on its very first real test and should have been duly buried thereafter. Alas I hate wasted money (and gear defeats) so I’ve simply dragged it around (and cursed it) ever since. We must now finally part ways.
Of course new rain gear means more research, with the added twist of ponchos being a rather useful (and well-loved) alternative, especially on the Camino. Jacket (and pants?)? vs Poncho? Hmmmmm.... Naturally I can’t decide, so I’ve ordered some of both options and hope to nail it down in the next weeks before I leave.
And thus the search goes on….
I Do Have Some Wins
Lest you all despair for the future of my gear-self, I can announce that I do have some definite wins.
I’ve finally, blissfully found a decent long-inseam pair of hiking pants from a German brand by the name of Vaude. May we all rejoice! They’re light, quick-drying, comfortable and long enough that they don’t look like cropped ankle-warmers. Like all women’s pants they lack proper, deep pockets (what is it with women’s clothing and pockets??), but otherwise they’re darn near perfect. I’m a happy camper.
I’m also warming slowly, but surely to the iPhone 13 as my only camera. Thanks to Steven (from the Chouters) I’ve discovered my phone can shoot in raw mode, making full use of its 12MP sensor. That’s not exactly print-worthy-size, but it’s about what my point-and-shoot camera could handle ~12 years ago so I guess it’s good enough for casual shots, and also the blog?
Even better I’ve discovered the mobile Lightroom app which is amazingly rich in features. Selective editing? check. Multi-photo HDR capability? check. All the hue, curve, contrast and masking bells and whistles you could want? yes, yes. Since I already pay for Photoshop I get it for free, so it’s an easy choice. I haven’t tested it extensively yet, but what I’ve tried so far greatly expands my creative possibilities on the phone. I know I’m still going to miss my big camera, especially at sunrise and sunset (there’s just no way a phone can capture the richness of a proper SLR), but at least I feel the phone is do-able now.
Some searches are done (?)….
World News Is Worrying
Two years ago almost to this day, I wrote my first warning post about the virus: COVID-19 Needs Action -> Decide Where You Wanna Be, And Go There Now. Back then I was convinced that we were on the brink of a massive crisis, although I could not have imagined it would impact the world so hard for so long (and it’s still not over!).
Two years later, we enter the third week of the invasion of Ukraine and my gut is giving me those same warning feelings all over again. This time however, the right course of action is not at all clear.
Some things are certain. We are on the brink of a massive humanitarian crisis, with almost 3 million people already displaced and many more to come. In Europe aide organizations are already mobilized on the frontline, and EU countries are working to prepare for the influx of refugees who will all need food, shelter and work. In France refugee centers are being set-up in the major cities, local Mairie’s are collecting and organizing donations, and sign-up links have been created for people willing to host refugee families. The government has also announced that all refugees will be given visa authority to live and work for at least a year. It’s good progress, but is it enough? Honestly, I dunno…
At this point I just know it’s important to support the aide and refugee organizations (IMO hard cash is best), to budget/plan as much as possible for increased prices (gas and food prices will continue to increase, folks), and prepare for….? I hope we all get some clarity on that, or better yet that all this resolves and peace prevails.
Most of all I just really, really want to be wrong on this one.
I’m Marching On
There’s a break in the clouds this afternoon, a little burst of light amongst the grey.
I haven’t walked today which feels somewhat odd…and sloth-like. When the body moves everyday it becomes like a Newtonian object in vacuum; it just wants to keep moving of its own accord. It’s a strange phenomenon that can also (quickly) go in reverse if you stop. Positive and negative reinforcement loops that must be maintained to work. As humans, both our body and mind so easily enter these loops for both better and worse.
Polly knows this too. She’s currently in the stare-down-the-human position on the grey carpet next to the sofa. She’s just a few feet away from my feet at a slight angle, casting a sideways look that could induce guilt into even the most souless of beings. If that doesn’t work she’ll get up and walk back and forth through the door, throwing her head towards the-magical-place-that-serves-food. Her final slay is whining audibly in a most pitiful woe-be-me tone, reminding me that not only do I need to get off my derriere and feed her, but we must also complete our post-lunch-pre-dinner-afternoon-walk if we are to keep our carefully timed day on track. These are important things in a doggie-life.
Thus I must go on. One step to the kitchen, one step outside and many steps forward to the next post. See you there.