I leave for Europe on Tuesday. 2 days. I’ve read, however, that a pilgrimage begins the moment you step outside your front door. And if that’s the case, then my journey begins this morning. I’m heading to my parents’ for a couple days, and in a few hours, I’ll have all my stuff packed, my fridge cleared out, my apartment shut up. And my trip will begin.
These last few days- weeks- have been a bit frantic, but this morning I feel kind of relaxed. Most of my to-dos are done. My training hikes are over, and I’ve stopped worrying about the fact that I never did back-to-back 15 mile hikes with my loaded pack.
I got out for a small, 7 mile hike yesterday, which was all I had time for. I filled my pack with everything I’d be taking with me on the Camino, and did my first (and only) test run. Before I left I stepped on the scale to see how much my pack weighed. 18 pounds, with water, but no food. Ugh. I’d been hoping to keep the total weight (with water and food) to 15/16 pounds, and I actually thought it would be easy. No problem! A few tshirts, a few socks, a rain jacket… what else could I possibly need?
But the weight adds up. It adds up fast. As I began my hike and walked through the trails that I’ve come to know so well, all I could think about was how heavy my pack felt. I’d done lots of training hikes with the pack, and in the past few weeks, I’d been carrying about 15 pounds. Why in the world did the extra 3 pounds feel like an extra 20?
I mentally scanned through the contents of my bag, searching for items I could toss. I probably didn’t need to bring a tank top, when I already had two t-shirts. Did I really need the travel neck pouch?
But I couldn’t think of much else to get rid of. I’m taking a few ‘luxury’ items, but these are non-negotiable. I’m bringing a small point and shoot camera, in addition to my iPhone. I know that I don’t need it, I know that the camera, and case, and cord just adds weight. But I want to take photos on this trip, and I don’t want to be limited to what my phone can store. I’m also bringing a journal, and again, I know I don’t need it. But I don’t think I’ve ever traveled without a journal before, and I can’t imagine ever traveling without one.
And yet, my pack just felt so heavy. Uncomfortable on my shoulders. I sort of felt like my pack was betraying me: I’d opted for the really small size because it was the best fit. During all of my training hikes, the pack felt so perfect. And now, days before my trip, I was questioning the decision to buy a 24 L pack for a 5 week trip.
As I walked I thought about how I’d thrown my stuff into my pack at random. And then I thought of the articles I’d read about how to properly load a backpack. Ahh. I found a bench, sat down, and pulled everything out of my pack and then reloaded it, trying to remember the tips I’d read about weeks before. I repositioned my heavier items in the middle of my pack, close to my spine. I squeezed everything back into my bag, put it on, and began to walk.
It was like I had my perfect pack back. Still heavy, but this time my pack felt like it was part of me, rather than some foreign thing that was out to get me.
And this, I realized, is why it’s so important to do training hikes with your pack and everything that you’ll bring on your Camino.
So much has been running through my mind as I get ready to leave for this trip. Some of it is the small stuff, the little questions that linger: is it wise to go without sock liners? Now that my pack is fully loaded and packed to the gills, how in the world will I have any room to carry food? What will it be like to use one bar of soap to wash my clothes, my body, my hair?
Then there are the bigger questions: will I actually get down to St Jean Pied de Port by Thursday morning to begin my Camino? Not only has there been a huge train strike in France, but i just read that air traffic controllers will begin a strike on Tuesday. The day I am supposed to fly to Paris. Oh France and your strikes. They always come at the worst times.
And then there are even bigger questions: am I mentally prepared for this journey? What do I want to get out of it? Can I walk this distance?
But I no longer have much time to dwell on these questions. Now I just need to leave and begin taking my first steps. So for the first time, but most definitely not the last, I’ll say: Buen Camino! Let the journey begin.