I was recently sorting out some folders on my computer when I came across a file of packing lists. I had collected these from different websites and people. Then I made my own. In fact I made several including a list for warm weather, a list for hot weather and of course a list for winter. I remember the hours I spent looking at these then assembling the gear on the list then laying it all out on the bed. Over and over again.
I’d read all of the advice given by more experienced pilgrims. There was a great variety. However one thing on which everyone was agreed was that rucksack weight should be kept to a minimum. Having read the advice I promptly ignored it. Not consciously of course. It was simply that I considered everything in my pack to be essential. Within a few days of starting my first pilgrimage I got blisters. Very painful, can’t walk another step, type blisters. Only then did I review what was in my rucksack. Before leaving I had been self-righteously proud of the fact that even although I had bought a sleeping mat I had decided to leave it behind.
What I hadn’t realised was that in my caution to prepare for all eventualities I had too many of EVERYTHING - including 2 torches in case one broke down and of course extra batteries. A thermos and powdered soup (for those bitterly cold days in Extremadura which were 2 weeks ahead of me!) That got left behind on the second day. A tin cup - for the soup of course!
I also took a little short wave radio to listen to the BBC on those long winter evenings when it gets dark early rather than spend all evening in the bar - whilst this was a good idea it soon became apparent that the rhythm of each day didn't work like that and I could work out my walking day so that I arrived at 6pm just before dusk.
I also had far too much in my first aid kit - in case I needed field surgery! And of course that little bag of "spares" - matches, clothes pegs, sewing kit etc. That actually took me another couple of Caminos to dump. The ubiquitous but in fact redundant and expensive Swiss army knife; a pencil AND a pen.
But to keep my weight down I planned to meticulously rip out the pages of the guide book and dispose of them at each stage!
Blisters are powerful teachers and I soon learned that light is best. But I could have avoided a lot of problems if I had just walked with my pack more in the weeks before my first pilgrimage began. Although I had been out walking for a couple of long walks, these couldn’t prepare me for the 8 hours walking day after day I was going to undertake with a fully laden pack. I now know that only regular walking including spending some full days with a rucksack on your back is the only way to build fitness and stamina and get your legs, joints and feet ready for the trial in front of them.
There are many ways to prepare for a walk such as the Camino. I recommend http://www.walkit.com/ for people living in the UK. This website is ideal for charting walking routes around the major cities of the UK. There are equivalents in other countries. Then there are the many routes popularised by the Ramblers Association http://www.ramblers.org.uk/. For those living near a UK or other European airport there is the opportunity to practice in Spain itself. If you have 3 or 5 days holiday you could walk to Santiago from A Coruña or Ferrol. Madrid is another obvious option. Spain’s capital is readily accessible and the Madrid route presents a very straightforward way of preparing over a few days for a much longer journey on another route. The slideshow at the top of the page will show you more of this wonderful route.
Wherever you live there will be walking opportunities. I keep discovering them. Although I’m a foreigner living in London for the last 10 years I still haven’t visited Windsor Castle or Hampton Court Palace. But I discovered a walking route that would take me right past them. The Thames Path is a 294 km trail from the source of the great river on which London stands. I’ve been exploring it recently and I think it turns out to be one of the best practice walks ever. For those in the UK this is a very accessible route which would be great practice for the Camino. For those travelling through London on their way to the Camino a stop-over in London would give time to try out the Thames Path.
To conclude. Practice makes perfect they say. When it comes to long distance walking, practicing walking including with all the kit you are going to take is the best way to ensure a pain free Camino.
I was impressed with the Thames Path trail. Here are a couple of stages to give you a flavour of it: