Update:  for all of my Camino de Santiago posts, visit my Camino page!

When I visited Spain in 2011, I immediately fell in love with the country and knew I’d return. In Madrid, I encountered a couple who had just finished their second Camino de Santiago, this time from Portugal. At the time, I knew nothing about it and asked them enough questions to know this was something I’d have to do. On the flight home, I was decided: I will walk the Camino de Santiago in 2014. On paper, it’s a big year for me. I turn 40. And while 40 is the new 29, or some hot nonsense like that, it’s also a good time for me to go somewhere I really want to go, enjoy what comes my way and meet people from all over the world while I’m doing it.

Walking, eating and meeting. This is what I want to do in 2014. As the months tick by, I’ll provide updates with my progress, planning and preparation. At best, it will be one person’s definitive guide to fulfilling her dreams. If you find it helpful, have questions, or even better, want to offer advice, let me know in the comments! Buen camino!

#caminotwits

My friend Lori and I are planning to do the Camino around the same time and have been pursuing our planning with great, shared enthusiasm. She’s also blogging her Camino prep, and we’ve created a hashtag – #caminotwits – to tag information in our Twitter conversations. Needless to say, it’s quickly becoming the theme of our adventure and a source of amusement among our friends.

My Camino de Santiago Plan (subject to change)

As a travel planner of some renown (among people who know me), I’m making a conscious effort to keep the planning to a minimum and focusing more on the preparation. I know I want to do my Camino in September, that I’ll arrive in Madrid, and go for churros con chocolat at  Chocolatería San Ginés before departing for my starting point by train. From there, I’ll be starting around Léon due to vacation time constraints and following the Camino Francés. This route is approximately 300 km of the 800 km Camino Francés (when you start in Saint Jean Pied de Port).

Update September 2014: A slight change of plans, owing to the whimsy of available flights will have me arriving in Barcelona and going from there. Things could be way, way worse than returning to a city I love.

Beyond that, it’s up to Saint James. Philosophically, I’d just like to experience whatever happens along the way without too much advance problem-solving. I’m trying to keep my expectations scaled. I’m not expecting to have grand revelations about my life, or fall in love, or experience trauma, but I’m certainly aware any of those things can happen. I’ve read enough by this point to appreciate the Camino decides what happens, not you, so I’ll just have to deal with what happens when it does.

Physical Preparation for the Camino de Santiago (when you have a back injury)

I’ve given myself a about 10 months to prepare. This is for practical health reasons. I have two herniated discs in my lower back which gave me considerable trouble for most of 2013, and I need time for my body and my back to get ready to undertake the trek. I’m focusing on the physical preparation for walking 300 km somewhat methodically. Slow and steady is the plan, so maybe my body won’t notice what I’m doing to it. (That’s a thing, yes?)

Throughout the winter, I’m going to focus on walking short distances regularly and breaking in my hiking boots. I have some friends are also planning their caminos and we’re hoping to get some weekend hikes in when the Canadian winter cooperates.

Month Preparation Summary
November 2013 Physical preparation: I alternated daily walks in the 3-5 kilometre range with boot camp-style workouts 3-4 times a week. I’ve already tried to up my daily mileage to 7-10 kilometres, plus bootcamps. The results were not good, so I’ve scaled things back.Free advice for the back injured: You have to walk a little before you’re ready to walk a lot.
December 2013 Physical preparation: A pretty slack month, full of eating and taking transit to get around.Free advice for the back injured: Posture, posture, posture. The limited amount of physical activity I’ve done this month has involved trying to improve my posture while sitting, standing and walking.
January 2014 Physical preparation: I’m walking to work at least one way every day (3-5 kilometres, depending on post-work detours) and doing boot camp-style workouts 3-4 times a week. Winter makes it extra challenging to get around, but I’ve set a goal to walk 20 km weekly for two weeks, then start incrementally increase my kilometres. I’ve started wearing my Camino pack and my hiking boots daily (when winter conditions permit), to get a sense of how both the boots and the pack will perform.Free advice for the back injured: Gradually get used to carrying weight. On the advice of my physiotherapist, I’m starting to wear my pack daily with a little bit of weight in it (1-2 kilograms in a pack that weights 1.27kg). Knowing that I’ll be carrying more for a lot further is my inspiration for starting slowly and adding weight incrementally. As the months wear on, I’m going to carry more of my intended Camino gear, again in the pack, to get used to the weight and normalize the activity.

Other planning activities

Packing

I’m working on a packing list based on the many years of packing lists I already have, the gear I already have, and the many fantastic summaries I’ve found written by other peregrinos after their Caminos. I’ve found the “what I wish I had/what I didn’t need” assessments to be some of the most valuable information so far. My packing philosophy for this trip is pack for needs that must be met. We’ll see if that lasts throughout the planning process or not.

Language

I’ve also been told Spanish language skills are incredibly helpful, so I intend to work on my language skills over the winter as well. So far, I’ve re-opened my Spanish language phrase books I picked up in 2011 when I went the last time. Other than refreshing my memory on numbers, colours and directions, progress is … slow… on new vocabulary. I can still find a bathroom and order wine, so that’s probably the best I can hope for. I may just eat the weight and carry the book from my 2011 trip. I’m also intending to learn a little Galego (Galician), it just seems like a nice thing to do.

Travel plans

I’m hoping to use points for my flight to Madrid, so I’m chipping away at that goal. With any luck, I should hit it by the end of March so I have decent flight options for September. Everything else is very fluid. I’m intending to take the train from Madrid to Leon and I’d like to have enough time to explore a bit after. Basically, everything after Santiago de Compostela is to be determined.

Your Camino de Santiago tips, questions, comments & more

The floor is open. I am happy to receive any tips, advice, packing advice, dining suggestions, comments and more. How did you prepare for an adventure – any adventure – if your body didn’t fully cooperate? Fire away in the comments!

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