Two to Go, Rain Gear & A New “Living Room” For LMB
Two weeks from today Polly, Paul and I will leave in LMB for St Jean Pied-de-Port, and the day after that I’ll start my pilgrimage.
I can’t tell you how nervous I am. Ridiculously so, even though there’s really no reason to be.
I’m about as prepared as I can be, and yet I still worry about my physical abilities….my fragile back that could so easily “give out” at any time, my knees that creak and crunch like old wooden planks every time I bend them, and all the various strange aches and pains that seem to be part of my normal day-to-day these days. Some days I question my gear (are these really the right shoes?), others my training (did I overdo it? or have I not done enough?). But then I calm myself with the knowledge that I’m not going on an expedition a-la-Indiana-Jones into the Amazonian Jungle, but rather on a well-trodden path with shops, pharmacies, and even backpack forwarding services, no less! Geez, Nina relax!
Still I’m not calm, not yet, although I predict I will be once I’m actually on the trail.
Interestingly enough the weather, in almost a perfect window to my soul has reflected this very unrest this week in the most spectacular way. It’s been the absolute craziest we’ve seen so far this year, swinging from relative warmth to a frozen tundra reminiscent of the darkest depths of winter in the space of a single day. Yesterday we saw snow, sleet, rain, sun and wind, with a view that changed almost every 5 minutes we looked out the window. Morning frost, similar to the dreaded late frost that we saw last year (and which ruined so many wine-makers’ vine crops) has swooped down with a vengeance and the relentless winds have pushed us into teeth-chattering negative territory, prompting us to bundle up inside with our pellet burner sucking fuel like it’s going out of style. Thank goodness we have over 6 tonnes of the stuff in our silo to keep us warm!
This also means I haven’t trained much this week. Gnnnnngh!
I did go for a few walks early on, and even managed to test out my new rain gear, but for the last 3 days I’ve huddled inside like a wimpy puppy, seduced by the simple creature comforts of warmth and staying dry. Oh how easily we fall, eh? I’ve justified this sloth-like existence by taking on some long-overdue RV/motorhome projects which really needed to be complete before we take off on our respective journeys this month. In fact these are smaller projects that we’ve both been working on for a while now, “test” ideas that we’ve been rolling around in LMB before taking on the much-bigger (and now alas, much-delayed) van build. Still, it’s progress of a sort and that’s worth talking about, no?
So this week there’s a bit for the hikers amongst you, some for the bricoleurs (tinkerers) and of course a few thoughts to roll it all up like a big, tasty blog burrito.
Rain & Wet Weather Gear
There’s a lot of talk about rain gear on the Camino forums…A LOT.
It’s an important topic for sure, but it’s also a bit of a lottery ticket. The seasons have an impact of course (Spring is rainier than Summer), as does the location (the Galicia portion of Northern Spain is known as being green for a reason), but beyond that it’s really just luck of the draw whether you get a wet Camino or a dry one.
Then there’s the infinite plethora of options. Do you opt for full protection with hard-core rain jacket, rain pants and backpack cover, rain gaiters and Gore-Tex shoes? Or are you in the lightweight camp that just relies on a simple poncho and let the rest dry out as and when it may?
Plus there are SO many options in-between from super-lightweight dry bags #affiliatelink (to keep the stuff *inside* your backpack dry), to rain skirts (more folks hiking in skirts these days it seems, including men! For those curious check these incredible Macabi Hiking Skirts), and even waterproof socks #affiliatelink (who knew???).
The debates on all this stuff is intense and passionate, and no-one agrees on the single best combo. In fact the only thing the forums can seem to agree on is that you want to keep your backpack light!
I’ve personally hiked for years in the jacket/pants/backpack cover combo and it works perfectly fine, but it’s a heavy combo and rain always ends up soaking your backpack straps and dripping behind your back (eventually soaking your backpack stuff from the inside out).
I’m also not a huge fan of Gore-Tex shoes (another passionate debate) as they can “suffocate” your feet in the heat leading to more blisters than you’d get from a few wetter days of non-Gore-Tex walking. For something like the Camino where you’re only hiking ~5-6 hours per day (and have the possibility to stop), I’d much rather that my feet breathe, relying more on changing socks and letting my feet air/dry out along the way. But it’s all a trade-off!
Anyway my shoes are a done deal now, but my upper rain gear was my last open “big” gear decision, and early this week I finally got to test the final configuration on my list…the very popular Altus Atmospheric poncho.
It’s light and (key fact here) also has arms, so it’s more like a very long jacket/poncho combo vs the old-fashioned fold-over types. And together with my trusty hiking umbrella, I think this is going to be my final choice. I like how well it covers, how easy it is to put on (way easier than I imagined) and the fact that it’s actually quite “airy” allowing for more circulation than a clingy jacket and pants. It’s not robust enough to protect me from days of constant downpour, but it’s certainly good enough for most and that’s the path I’m opting to take for this pilgrimage. Ask me again in ~8 weeks or so, though.
One more gear item…DONE!
LMB Has A New “Living Room”
No one has ever called either Paul or me “handy”, at least not unless finger-painting counts, but somehow over the years we’ve always managed to make it work.
The magic of YouTube combined with time (for inevitable mistakes) and sufficient cursing has allowed us to achieve far more than we ever imagined. This was true in “the beast” as much as it is now and although I continue to be amazed by folks who just seem to have a “knack” for handiwork, there’s much to be said for getting stuff done through sheer willpower and stubbornness.
Thus it was that Paul and I decided LMB needed a new “living room” some months ago. Specifically we wanted a new moveable living room table to replace the massively awkward factory-fixed one that’s smack in the middle of everything. It’s one thing that’s always bothered us in our Carthago design, as it’s really far too large for the space and impedes the passage back/forth to the front seats. Plus Polly has to kind of wrap around it to be comfortable. So we figured we’d just swap it out. A little light handiwork project if you will, to supple-up our creative hands before we tackle the much-more-imposing van build.
That’s all we wanted. A new table. Super simple. Hahahahahaha!
First of all we had to FIND the table arm which we decided would be the super-ingenious Lagun table support that basically allows a table to move freely up/down and all around. It’s a wonderful product, fabulously elegant in design, and very popular with van-builders making it about as rare as Dodo birds to locate, especially in Europe. We did hunt one down in the end, but it took a few months and some long-distance shipping from a rather dicey-looking website in Eastern Europe. Still, we managed to get the real thing in the end.
Now, we just needed to install it. Trivial, surely. BwwwwahahahaHAHAHA!
Once we’d wrangled out the old table we realized the best location for our new mount would be at the end of the seat-bench behind the drivers chair. A perfect location except for the minor-little-smidgen-of-a-bother that it didn’t quite fit. We would need…drat…a new seat bottom which…sigh…meant a new seat cushion too, which required well…fudge…a new seat cushion upholstery cover and…for-goodness-bleeding-sake….the whole thing wouldn’t look right without a custom doggie bed on the floor too. Yeah, that should be everything, absolutely everything. I mean, how difficult could it be?
So we launched into it with the naivety and energy of newbs who have not-the-slightest-clue of what they’re getting into.
Paul measured and planned, thought and worried, and finally drilled the holes for the mount which PHEW….actually worked. Extra reinforcement was added inside the bucket seat just to be sure our new mount would stay in place under the mini-earthquakes of motorhome travel, but otherwise it was solidly installed.
Then he created a new table, first in cardboard and then in real wood, albeit not without a few miss-steps along the way (our fancy idea of hinged fold-out leaves quickly had to be abandoned). We then both spent far too long thinking and shopping for wood stains (far, far too long) and even more time testing them. In the end our table-top isn’t fancy, but it’s decent-looking and functional we’ve spent so much time on it that it feels almost like a mini-pet at this point. What is they say, like owner, like table?
Finally we launched into the seat cushion side of things. We cut-out a new seat base and fashioned a new seat cover from layers of foam that I hunted down in a sewing store in Toulouse. Then I embarked on what would be an EPIC sewing project (for me) that involved both ridiculously difficult notches (who’s idea was it to make a custom doggie bed again?), hidden zippers (key tip, do NOT finish sewing-up your inside-out project without first opening your zipper), and even a pretty contoured band (because well….why not make the upholstery project more difficult?). My old plastic IKEA children’s sewing machine would have spontaneously combusted at the first stitch, so a new Brother CX70PE (called the CS6000i in USA #affiliatelink) was recruited for the job which was able to handle both multiple layers of fabric and serious upholstery thread. A splendid machine.
In the end the whole thing took ridiculously more time than it should, but we are both ridiculously thrilled with the result. The table change has made our main living area infinitely more livable both for doggie (very important) and for us. It’s easy to move back/forth to the front seat now, there’s more configurations for hanging out/working and it just feels sooooooo much more spacious!
The final test will be when Paul drives me to the Camino in 2 weeks time. I can’t wait….
Two, Just Two
Two, just two to go….
I did a “test pack” the other day and was superbly happy when everything fit into the backpack, but then became rather horrified when I weighed it. The whole thing came to 7kg (~15.5 lbs) without water, which IMO is too much. I’ve got to find a way to cut down. So now I’m considering just one pair of pants (the ones I’ll wear) rather than bringing two (i.e. having an extra in the pack), paring down one of my 4 layers, removing a few “luxury items” (although I’m keeping the towel, obviously). It’s ounces and bits, but it all adds up.
And that’s exactly where I’m at overall.
These are all the last bits, the last bits of preparation, the last bits of gear, the last bits of everything before what comes next. It feels like I’ve had a mini-lifetime to get ready, and yet now it’s all happening so fast. I guess it’s no different from any great adventure or any change, something we’ve all done million times in our lives as we’ve grown up; from school to real life, young age to old. We’ve moved, changed jobs, gone away and come back again. Stages of life, much like those of the Camino. Perhaps that’s why it’s such a transformative walk? There’s something in there, but I’ll have to think that one through a smidgen more…
In any case there’s just two to go now, and by the next time I write we’ll be down to one. Let’s hope all those last bits come together by then.