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.SPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
decide where you wanna be a go there now. words to live by.
Yeah, those words still apply today but in a different way.
I remember those words, Mike and I took them to heart and departed for Montana way earlier than we normally leave Arizona. I am so concerned about Ukraine and Russia–it fills my thoughts so many times a day. I do admire your decision to walk so far and wish you all the best in your gear quest! Emmi has that “feed me” look down pat and if that doesn’t work she gives me a “woof!”
Dogs work hard to keep us on track. I love it.
Linda Sand says
I bought an overly large, hooded, rain-proof windbreaker that I could zip right over my small backpack. Being large it also came down over my hips which I appreciated. And being too large, it gave my body room to breathe within it. But, I wasn’t walking nearly as far as you are so it might not work as well for you.
It’s a good tip. The poncho idea intrigues me in part because it covers down to mid-thigh, much like your over-sized windbreaker. I’ll have to see how it works out in practice.
Dolores Tanner says
that last paragraph about Polly is funny and oh, so very true!!! a carefully timed day indeed!!
This is her job, and she does it well 🙂
Sue Malone says
It always amazes me just how very much dogs love their routines, timed to the minute. They have no care about DST either…do you have that in southern France? I am cheering you on as you prepare for your big walk. Such a great thing to do no matter what is happening in the world. I just hope the world holds out. Like you, I do hope my fears are all wrong and it gets resolved. In the meantime, because Mo is a new watcher, I spend most mornings in silent tears. I feel like one feels when passing a horrible highway accident — look, don’t look, look, don’t look. It is impossible to not look, to avoid the news and pretend all is well, even though the sun is trying to warm up the late spring cloudy weather that appeared here in Oregon as well. Take care, Nina, and thank you for your weekly missives. I love them, even if I don’t manage to comment every time.
I have that same feeling about the news. I don’t want to see it, but I know it’s important to be aware of the atrocities going on, so many days I am in despair. Thank you also for the comment. It’s always nice to hear from my long-time readers and friends.
Diane Borcyckowski says
I love your humor! We have to be able to laugh at ourselves or go crazy. It seems your over researching/over planning could be a very important part of your whole “journey”. It is a spiritual trek, isn’t it? – and finding the right – well, everything – is a way to work your way into what you’re getting yourself into- a huge solo adventure! Your journey has already started and your way of being is a good thing. I think so anyway. Go for it! I can’t wait to read about it.
I like that thought….my planning is part of the spiritual trek. Why not LOL.
My husband and I hike a lot. I got this pair of pants for Christmas. These are my very favorite pants in the whole world. I could wear them every single day, if I didn’t need to wash them once in a while. They have pockets galore, with zippers and look so good on. They are expensive, but so worth the price. I have long legs also-always wear a tall, but I don’t need to worry about that with these pants. They look so good with hiking boots. https://www.nike.com/t/acg-smith-summit-womens-cargo-pants-BLSHgT/CV0617-011
Yesssss!!!! Now those are the type of pockets I want. I’ll have a look and see if they make a longer inseam.
Nina , loving all your thoughts.. here’s a few tips that Worked great for me!
I had a sleeping bag liner, zippered on two sides with slot at top to put pillow into from underneath. Worked great and warm too. Also waterproof pants from Columbia that go
Over your regular clothes. Also help if it’s too cold. Easy to take off if rain stops and gets too warm. The morning’s tend to be coldest and warms up as the sun gets higher. Also
My hiking boots by Merrill ( wished I had gone with prettier Merrill’s), we’re waterproof.
I also sprayed them with waterproofing spray. My feet never got wet. We had rain quite a few times, and puddles…And mud…oh and pack as light as possible, remember you can buy anything you might need along the way…all liquids are heavy.. I was always jealous of how light Paul packed, but then he is a Man!
I will be there with you in spirit. Also check out “Slow Strollers “ app FB.
Big Hugs , Margaret
Thanks so much for your tips Margaret. Invaluable stuff from someone who has already been there. I too envy Pauls ability to stuff everything into a mini-backpack. I tried (I really did), but I’ll have to go bigger.
Thanks so much for your tips Margaret. Invaluable stuff from folks who have already been there. I too envy Pauls ability to stuff everything into a mini backpack. I tried, but I’ll have to go bigger.
Jeff T. says
Two things you’ve written about today I just have to comment. Our cat Mea wakes me up every morning at 6:00 to be fed. Doesn’t matter whether it is dark, light or in between and it is not 5:45 or 6:15. It is 6:00. After I get up she will race down the hall and get in front of her dish. We feed her wet food so there is no rest until she is fed. During the day she will streak about the look over her shoulder to see if I am watching and if I will come chase her. It’s this game we play, I gonna get you. If I don’t persue she will come back with her tail down, bummed out.
I agree that things look grim with regard to Ukraine. We are going to resupply as we did in March 2020. I am going to Costco tomorrow. I fear that things will get grim and be that way for a while. I truly hope I’m wrong on this and just being Chicken Little.
Love the story about your cat!!! Taggart was like that too. Very bossy as well lol. We too have stocked up a bit, but hope we never need it.
The situation in the Ukraine is tragic and scary for our entire world. I also had a hard time writing a blog this week, feeling the need to acknowledge the hard reality of the news and also knowing that we need the uplifting grace of hope and joy. I’m so glad you’re going to walk the Camino…I would love to do that, and will enjoy every step of your journey. I over-research everything, too, so I can completely understand your backpack shopping trauma LOL. I’m looking forward to what you decide on, because I’m still trying to find a backpack that fits me! (And a good lightweight rain jacket, as well.) 🙂
I will definitely share whatever gems I find.
I had the same problem with finding a backpack that was comfortable. At one outdoors store, the clerk took the pack I wanted to buy, pulled out the support stays from the back of the pack, bent them so that they conformed to the curve of my back and reinserted them in the pack. The backpack fit perfectly and I have used it for the last twenty-five years.
That’s exactly it Sue. That’s what they did with my Kelty all those years ago, contoured the support exactly to my back. It seems the newer backpacks don’t have this ability? Despite my old backpack being quite heavy I barely feel it at all when I carry it.
Cynthia Huff says
Did you read Shirley McClains book on the Camino walk?? You will like it!
I have not. I just finished Bill Bryson’s AT trail book. A fun re-read (I’d read it a long time ago). I’ll look up her book next.
Michael Raina says
There is luggage transfer on the Camino. Many companies including the Spanish postal system do it for 4 to 5€ per day.
We did not know about it when we walked the Camino Frances in 2017 September till we got to Pamplona…that really freed us up to enjoy the walk during the day and spared our backs and joints. We actually bought a cheap 10€ duffel bag from a chino store and emptied both our backpack contents into it…thereby costing us only the transport of one bag. We wore our mostly empty backpacks (save for some day snacks, water etc) the rest of the way just like a regular peregrino.
So that us now another angle to research perhaps
P.S. Been probably following your blog from the start and almost crossed paths at Desert Hot Springs but I think..shoes outside the RV meant do not disturb
If it’s not Putin threatening to nuke the west, it’s a new variant of Omicron, Ba.2. It will take awhile, but the epidemiologists are predicting it will surge in the US late April. It’s in Denmark now, China is shutting down entire cities, it’s always something. It feels like the entire planet is off the rails.
Hope it doesn’t rain on you and that the trip is fun. The shoes look great! That’s quite a trip you’ve signed up for. Wish we were younger with better feet.
How about a poncho and waterproof bootcovers? I used those in my motorcycle days.
It’s a good idea, Brigitta. Ill look into it.
Have you heard of Pacerpole hiking poles? I got a pair a few years ago. Pacerpoles have angled handles which keep my wrists in a neutral position and helps prevent injury. I have chronic tendinitis and carpal tunnel problems in my wrists. So the poles really help prevent strain and reinjury of my wrists. I don’t know if you have any problems with your wrists, but, in my opinion, it’s best to avoid starting any–especially after a certain age ;-).
They are based in the UK so you might be able to get them in time. Their website says the kind I got are out of stock, but they have others that also have the same angled handles. Their website is: http://pacerpole.com/
What a superb product! Thanks for the tip. I’ll look into it.
I’ve never regretted over planning. It serves one well. I am excited for you. It’s great to have something to look forward to.
Terri in Virginia says
My favorite Camino tip is to wear liner socks beneath your regular socks. When walking the Camino in 2017, I did not get ONE blister — many other aches and pains, but NO blisters. Look up Hiking Liner Socks. Wigwam and FoxRiver are two popular brands. Best of luck to you, Nina.
Liner socks are a good idea. I have a kinda love/hate relationship with them though. I went through a long period (when I was younger) when I used them constantly, but then went off them. I may try some of the newer materials. I’m sure lots has changed since I last used them.