Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Camino de Santiago Walking Equipment: After Action Comments

Hello, everyone.

I woke up this morning before the alarm with my mind thinking about what I would say on this subject. Why disregard inspiration? The pictures of our museum visits in Madrid will still be there tomorrow. 

Some things I took and how they worked out:

My Kindle: I'm very glad I had my Kindle. Books I used on it were: airplane novels (re-read a couple I had on there by Jack Campbell;) Kelly's Guide to the Camino de Santiago (this wasn't just a map book, it had directions to the albergues in the villages and other useful information;) Gitlitz & Davidson's _The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago_ (wonderful, informative book--I bought the Kindle version because the paperback we had already purchased is too, too heavy.)  My Kindle is not the fancy Fire version with the internally lit screen. It's one of the classic models that requires external light. My son gave me a 1" long tiny flashlight which I attached to the zipper pull on the case.

Headlamp style flashlight: Not useful for me at all; shipped it home from Leon. I did see a man using it to go through his pack after bedtime once. The rustling had kept me from falling asleep right away.

Boots: I had the Merrell half-height ladies' boot, purchased at REI.com, in a half size larger than my usual tennis shoe size. I didn't realize this when I bought it, but this boot is a water-resistant style. It didn't keep out any water on the day of flooding rains. Nothing could have that wasn't a pair of fishing waders! But it did keep any moisture inside the boot with me from evaporating out. Like, say, sweat. Of course it had trouble drying out when it was soaked, but I could have helped that along if I'd had a clue. 
This was the second pair of boots. The first, in my regular tennis shoe size, gave me mauve toe on our first 10 mile training hike. But it didn't slide on my heel! This one had room in front, but it slides on my heels sometimes. Female feet, feh!

Shower sandals: I had bought a pair of cheap rubber flipflops at Wal-Mart. They are thong-style. The paint on the top surface began to peel off and stick to my foot toward the end of the trip. The thong gave me new blisters when I wore them all day long while tramping around Pamplona. If I were buying new sandals today, I'd buy a pair that doesn't have the toe strap, so I could wear them with socks. That way if things were just impossible (I am thinking of the day of floods here) I could take the boots off and hike in the sandals. When I wear rubber clogs to to gardening, if I get wet and have no socks, I get blisters. When I wear socks with the clogs, even though the socks get wet, I have no blisters. You absolutely need to have shower shoes of some kind, since you really don't want to go barefoot in the albergues. Too many feet with too many possible fungal spores! As you can tell if you stand downwind from the shelf of Botes. ;-)

Tummy meds: I took Pepto-Bismol. I also took Loperamide generic gel pills. The Pepto is my go-to answer to the bloating that turns into trouble if not attended to. You can take it when you feel the bloat starting and it will help fairly soon. The Loperamide you really need to take the night before. But how do you know in advance that you will need it? The airport in Dublin had no anti-diarrheal stuff at all in the airport shops. (This fact mystifies me still.) The Spanish pharmacies have never heard of Pepto Bismol and don't have anything similar that I was able to find. And I asked for it by the generic name: bismuth whatever-whatever. 

Pain meds: We left with 2/3 of a bottle of Bufferin. We ran out. The pharmacist had never heard of buffered aspirin. She sold us packets of Ibuprofen powder (really strong stuff!) to drink with water. Later on we got a tube of Ibuprofen gel for my sweetie's feet. This stuff is good, but they don't have it in the States. For some kind of equivalent here, you have to see a doctor and get a script. We bought Compeed while we were over there. This isn't sold at all in the US. (I have no idea why not.) It's a gel stick-on that you apply to the (unpopped) blister to protect it, make the pain go away, and help it start healing. In Spain you can get many, many sizes and shapes of Compeed. It works wonders for the top or side of the foot. Not the sole. On the sole it gets hard and is like walking on a shelf all day long. The gauze bandage with the stickum on the sides (fairly wide) that you cut to length, which was sold in the pharmacies, was good on the soles of the feet. I did cover it over with tape sometimes. (Adhesive tape) Scissors are useful and used. Take a pair that you can cut bandages with and trim toenails with. If you're taking a sewing kit, take another scissors that only cuts thread. (Unless you don't sew and don't care that you have to make three tries to cut the strand!) Speaking of sewing kits, you will be glad if you take a medium sized hand sewing needle and a bobbin of thread. You can repair your mesh laundry bag if you brought one--the mesh loves to let go at the side seams. I had a big needle but never used it. I had a screwdriver for glasses and needed it. You don't want your earpiece to fall off when you're three days from the nearest place to get a new screw.

Charmin To Go: I had about two-thirds of a roll of this on hand before we left, and I supplemented this with a three-pack of Camper's Toilet Paper from Wal-Mart. I am very glad I did. I put 2 rolls in my sweetie's pack and kept the Charmin container and the 3rd roll in mine. He sent his two rolls home in Leon. I kept mine. And since he didn't realize that it's a good thing to have, I took to saying "Charmin To Go for the win!" whenever I came out of the bathroom after needing to use it. Fellas, I gotta say this: we ladies have entirely different plumbing setups and surrounding areas, so we need to at least pat off every time we go. It's as important as being able to sit down is...though in desperate necessity we can hover, it's not fun. End of embarrassing digression. 

Socks: As I have mentioned before, socks became an issue for me. I took thick, soft, purpose-made Hiking Socks with me, and at the last minute I left home the Liner Sock pair that I had intended to pack because I was trying to get my pack weight below 20 pounds. (That is about 9.5 kilos for all you metric folk.) That weight includes the pack itself, by the way. So there I was with 4 pairs of socks, and when there was a washer and dryer to use, I used it. Mistake! All those "feels like buttah!" socks shrink like nobody's business when the hot dryer air and tumbling hit them. I should have taken 3 pairs of thin socks, most likely, and a pair or two of medium thick ones. They would have dried a lot faster (well, the thin ones would have) so I wouldn't have been all wound up on putting them in the dryer. The Altus socks I bought just before reaching Virgen del Camino are good, and I still have them. The Nike running socks that wick and are blister-resistant, that I bought at El Corte Ingles in Madrid are good and I wear them still, too. (They have separate right and left socks! And feel wrong if you put them onto the incorrect feet.) You can put a Liner sock inside of another thin sock if you need more fabric between your feet and the boot. You can't thin out a fat sock if your feet have gotten bigger than they were to start with.

Undies: I took the fancy Ex Officio panties, which are made of mesh. You don't want to sweat on your rump while hiking in these panties. They chafe. I wish I had taken my tried and true Breathe by Barely There ones--I can't even find this brand any more, but they're wonderful!--as I think they would have dried just as fast, and they aren't scratchy mesh, they're some jersey-like knit instead. Bras became an issue immediately. And I had taken two of the same model, a sturdy sports bra with Velcro-adjustable straps. The bra straps put up a territorial fight with the pack straps, hurt like the dickens, and were working on making a pressure sore on one shoulder. I had to quit wearing a bra. I can't say that "free-boobing" across Spain was the most comfortable thing I ever did. (And I'm not huge.) But I skipped the bra starting on about day 2 and didn't start wearing a bra again until we got to Santiago and I could leave the pack sitting by the bed all day long. Shipped one of them home from Leon, even. You probably want something with thin straps that won't make a miserable lump under the weight of the strap on your shoulder, but I don't know which brand or style to suggest. Anyone who has solved this issue is welcome to chime in in the comments!

Thin, lightweight, quick-dry shirts: One would have been sufficient. I had a long-sleeved "fishing shirt" that had straps to keep the sleeves rolled up and also a short sleeved one. They're not hot, really, but they don't retain any warmth at all on the cold days. And spring in the Pyrenees is not like spring in Texas. It's about 20F degrees colder! Or more. We plant our tomato sets in February in South Texas, and we don't need to put caps on them. The days are generally warm then. (Sometimes we have a late frost and cover the transplants for a night.) In May in Spain, we saw new tomato sets in the gardens and they all had clear caps on them to build a little warmth in the day and keep the frost off at night. You should probably look at the latitude of your home and compare it to the latitude of northern Spain when considering the clothing issue. I bought a fleece long-sleeved shirt in Pamplona at Caminoteca and it became my best friend for the next several days. The last week and a half or so, I didn't need it at all. But that is what happens when you walk during the change of the seasons.
You can see the pink fleece from Pamplona here. Also, the camera is hanging from my chest strap. The hat is tucked into my belt, with its stampede string looped around the strap. These are the zip-off pants. They were fine. By this time, I had begun carrying my water bottle in my waist pouch. I can't reach it when it's in the side pocket of the pack.
Jacket: I got a little don't-hit-me-green rain jacket from the clearance rack at the San Antonio REI store. My sweetie got the packs-into-its-own-pouch rain jacket from Sports Authority in the next town over from us. We layered these over our other shirts. Sometimes over more than one shirt.
You see the green jacket here, and the sticks. This was on Day One, the Route Napoleon. The pants are a pair of gray exercise tights, that got a hole in the back of the leg when I sat on the grass that day. They were PJ pants after that for a while, and then I tossed them.
Hat: I got a green hiking hat from Amazon and my sweetie picked up a bone-colored fishing hat from either Academy or Sports Authority. We wore them a lot! They had adjustable strings, so we could tuck them up under our chins against the wind snatching them, and they were squashable if we wanted to fold them or stick them into the pack.

Pilgrim water fountain at Estella. My sweetie's camera case is much smaller than mine. He's wearing a "fishing shirt" and zip-off pants and his hat.

Climbing the 12-degree slope to the top of the mesa after Burgos. The "fishing shirt" with the sleeves rolled down here, the hat, and that bright green bit is the rain jacket, tucked behind as it got too warm. Stick in carry loop on pack.
Rain poncho: We both had blue taffeta rain ponchos, the kind that have extra length to cover our packs. They have hoods with draw strings. The taffeta rustles. When I have it on, and the hood up, I can't hear anything behind me. I think this was a frustrating thing for faster walkers behind me during the early days. (I often stepped to the side at the next wide spot in the path to wave the faster ones on. It's just neighborly, after all.) I wore my hat under the hood of the poncho to keep the rain off my glasses. That worked out well.
Leaving Roncesvalles, with poncho, hat, and sticks. The monastery had a molded-concrete walk leading to the path.
Sleeping bag liner: This was useful. I didn't always tuck myself into it, because it was a bag and I had to worm myself into it after getting into the sleeping bag (which unzipped) and then straighten out the sleeping bag afterwards. But it did serve nicely as a pillow, and because it had a pillow extension at the top, it covered the pillows on-hand in albergues. I didn't sleep on the pillows without something. Often I pulled th sleeping bag up enough to cover the pillow. Then I tucked my camera and waist pouch into the foot of the bag to keep the weight of the sleeping bag from pressing on my toes. (Purple toes make you think of things like that.)

Sticks: My sticks paid for themselves the first two days. But after that, I concluded that they were too much for me to coordinate and were slowing me down. I had to find firm footing not only for my two feet but also for my two stick ends. People differ on this issue. But on the first day, buffeted by the tropical storm force cross winds on the steep downhill paths, the sticks paid for themselves. I'm glad I had them, even though they spent much of the trip in their little carry-loops on the sides of my pack.

Camera: My sweetie's camera fit into a pocket. Mine didn't. I probably should have had one like his. Mine was basically a cube shaped blob in its case. You can see it sometimes hanging from my chest strap in the pictures. 

Batteries: I brought swap batteries for our cameras (one each) and if the charge ran low in a cathedral, we swapped out to the fresh battery. We then charged the empty one that night or at the first opportunity with the 3-outlet travel plug. (I got that from Amazon for about $7. And then I wrote my initials on it.) We only carried one cell phone and its battery, in case we should fall and break a leg or something drastic like that, and we didn't use it from when we left the US to when we got back there again. And because my touch screen Storm BB kept trying to turn on inside the pack--jostled by stuff--I took the battery out of the phone and kept them together in their Ziplock bag in the bottom of the pack. After the second time I had to recharge the darned thing. I also used the travel plug to recharge the Kindle battery. I just plugged the proprietary charger into the travel plug. My sweetie had brought camera cable (the USB thingie to get the pictures out with) but we shipped that home from Leon, too.

Ziplock bags. Yes! But if you use it for your travel-soap bar, it will get worn and torn from all the opening and manipulation at the shower. So have an extra. The groceries in Spain do sell sandwich sized plastic bags, but I didn't notice whether they have waterproof closures or not.

And this post is really long, so I'll stop here for today.