Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mission Creep

The military calls it "mission creep." You start out with a manageable few things blocked in on your calendar, and suddenly there are events squeezed in and doubled up and conflicting, and all the best laid plans tumble on top of each other like a child's block tower. That's November and December for you. And that's my excuse for the last post being over three weeks ago.

I did some brisk walking around a toney neighborhood in Woodstock, Georgia, where my step-daughter and her family have just moved in. That nicely worked off the Thanksgiving repast.

And last Sunday I explored Cherokee Park in Louisville. That city is blessed with absolutely gorgeous Olmsted parks. I walked a couple of times around a loop there, filled with runners, moms (and dads) pushing babies in strollers, lovers linked arm-in-arm, friends urging each other on in good-natured jogs, kids on bikes, and serious cross-country bikers popping out of the bushes! It was great!

Next time I'm up in Louisville, I am going to check out Cave Hill Cemetery. Folks say it is beautiful, too. And I have a fondness for cemeteries. One served as our backyard while we grew up as preacher's kids. (Dad got pretty mad at us when we were cavorting there during a funeral one time.)

But it is getting harder and harder, I must admit, to get out and walk as the weather gets cold and wet and dreary. My husband always says you don't need to practice suffering. It comes naturally. And I know that my pilgrimage will mostly tend to be hot rather than cold, with a bit of wet thrown in. So I don't want to invest in expensive cold weather gear. (Oh, my gosh, there's some crappy excuses. Pitiful.) BG rescue me! Let's go for a walk! "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!"

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Millenium Trail

Last Thursday BG and I decided to make a day of it and head to Bernheim Forest. It was a warm day, even though the trees were mostly bare and the leaves formed a thick brown carpet on the forest floor. The guide at the visitors' center pointed out the longest trail of 13 miles. All the others were pretty short for us long distance veterans-heh, heh, so we declared that's the one we wanted to take. Our helpful guide seemed a bit hesitant. "It is very primitive," she said. "And you need good shoes and water." No problemo. So, we signed our names in case we never returned and set out at about 10:15 am.

By noon we had progressed all of three miles along the trail. I said, "This is what it will be like to climb the Pyrenees," as I dug my trusty walking stick into the soft leafy humus. We traversed many hills and hollows and seemed to cross the creek five or six times. Realizing that at this rate there was no way we could do all 13 miles by the 5:00 closing time, we shifted into Plan B. If we reached the half-way point, we could take the main paved road back to civilization. "Only two miles from there," the guide had said.

We trudged into the half-way point by around 3:00. We thought all was well. Two miles in two hours along a paved road. No problemo! (I'm practicing my Spanish.) BG hauled out her geo-caching GPS system and said "Hmmm.. It says 3.7 miles." Our guide was slightly off in her estimations. We walked silently down the paved road. I got to thinking. "Is that by the roads or as the crow flies?" BG's eyes widened. "As the crow flies," she said quietly. After punching buttons for a few minutes she showed me the road route on the GPS. It said 5 something miles. I don't remember exactly. All I knew was, no way could we get back before closing time. "Well, we'll just do the best we can," said BG.

And so we did. The closing security guard was a bit put out with us, but he gave us a lift. BG marked the spot where we got picked up as 10.7 miles total walking distance. Hey, not bad, considering the terrain. I think we could consider that a fair day of walking for pilgrims in the Pyrenees!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Time Travel

Last Thursday, I went on a great new walk with my friend BG. It's nice and close: just across the Brandenburg bridge in Mauckport. It's a road that goes up to the little town of New Amsterdam. We took a six-mile hike that ended at a little general store, nestled in a time warp. I think BG knows everyone who lives in the tiny little town and the surrounding countryside. On the way every driver (I guess there happened to be about three cars pass us) slowed down to talk or waved at us with a smile.

As we sat down in some dry leaves on the side of the road for a snack, a camoflaged hunter emerged from the woods carrying a bow and several arrows. We said we hoped we hadn't scared off any deer he was stalking. He said, no, that he had not shot the deer in his sights, but was going to hold out for the nine-point buck he had seen, since he had more meat on him. He and his wife pretty much live off of the deer meat. That and a few squirrels.

Speaking of squirrels, on our way, we stopped to visit with ol' Paul who lives by himself on a farm. He was sawing logs at his saw mill behind back. I asked the 80-year-old if he didn't need someone to help him, holding the planks and all. He said, naw it was easier for him to do it himself. He could tell how the sawing was going by the sound, and helpers tended to drop stuff. Paul runs a beautiful orchard, with neat rows of special peach trees he has grafted and developed himself. BG says the peaches are huge and white and juicy. He has also developed a breed of walnut that is extra large and meaty. He has a sign up on his barn announcing "unconventional Stover walnuts."

And speaking of walnuts, he has a bunch of them drying on a screen just by his living room window. That's important because he has to keep an eye on the squirrels who keep trying to steal his walnuts. (The nerve!)
He told us that he saw a squirrel at his dirty deed last night, put down the top of his window, (purposely minus the screen), rested his rifle on the window frame, and got himself his dinner for the evening. Paul gave us a description of how you cook squirrel and make a delicious gravy out of the drippings. I must admit, I have never had squirrel for dinner. It is a rodent, after all. But I've a mind to try it, now.

We said hey to another neighbor on the way, Paul's nephew, I believe. Big time lawyer from Louisville, come for a little peace and quiet. He later followed us down to the general store. We were sitting with the proprietress, Faye, eating some sandwiches she had fixed for us. Faye was sitting in a rocking chair by the pot-belly stove, and there were benches around it and a sign that read " Fishermen, Hunters, and other Liars sit here." We sat jawin' for a while. BG was talking about her latest hobby of wine-making. Faye said everybody in these parts makes wine and apple brandy and such. The area used to be a huge apple growing region; grapes, too. I suspect there are  a lot of private distilleries in those hills.

Like I said, I felt like I was in a time warp, sitting there in that store. Farm implements, pedal sewing machine, old tins and bottles, cast iron frying pans, posters on the wall dating from the 50's. Faye had a loom in the back, strung up for making rag rugs. I bought some homemade peach jam and apple butter that Faye had put up herself.

My mind drifted to imagining all the places I will discover on the road to Santiago: quirky little out of the way places and people, hidden jewels. Just like Faye and Paul and the itty bitty village of New Amsterdam.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ten Miles!

Well, I guess I was a bit premature in my desire for a fifteen mile trek this week. I still have a ways to go to earn that. But I did do ten miles around Freeman Lake today, limping in with some sore feet the last mile or so. Even with moleskin on the balls of my feet--they are just not tough enough yet. I have no complaints about my boots. They are great and do not rub anywhere. Ten miles is definitely a lot harder than five. "Duh!" as my youngest son would say. Not so young as of today, however. Alex is nineteen. My little boy.....We have pictures of him in his cadet blue uniform performing a color guard ceremony at the UK football game, looking every bit the Air Force lieutenant. But I digress.

I am always plugging in to my trusty mp3 player on my walks. At first I thought it was kind of cheating and I should be practicing being "in the Now" as a good pilgrim would. But I rationalized that there would be plenty of time for that on my real trek, so I savor the time where I can listen to uplifting music (such as Libera or Anonymous 4) and listen to downloaded podcasts. One of my favorites is Krista Tippett's "Speaking of Faith." She is a great interviewer of leaders of different faith traditions, and I just love the subject. (Inherited from my dad, the world religion professor, I guess.) Today I listened to an interview with Stephen Mitchell, a translator of many great sacred literatures and a poet in his own right. He wrote what he calls an improvisation on Psalm 4, which brought me to tears, it is so beautiful. Here it is:

Even in the midst of great pain,
Lord, I praise you for that which is.
I will not refuse this grief
Or close myself to this anguish.
Let shallow men pray for ease:
"Comfort us; shield us from sorrow."
I pray for whatever you send me,
And I ask to receive it as your gift.
You have put a joy in my heart
Greater than all the world's riches.
I lie down trusting the darkness,
For I know that even now you are here.

Truly, these are words for the pilgrim! I think I will tuck them in my backpack.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Eight Miles

I thought it was time to stretch my hour and a half walk, so I prepared my feet with moleskin where the hotspots tend to start (balls of my feet) and set out to walk the Freeman Lake trail. I wanted to do the loop twice which is just short of ten miles, but ran out of time before my Spanish lesson, and had to settle for eight miles. I remembered the first time I walked the loop and how very far it seemed, but now it's a snap! Still, eight miles is only a half of my future daily walk. Next week I hope to take a day and tackle fifteen miles: three times around the loop. If I can do it I will really be psyched! I've been carrying a light backpack with water and a snack. Eventually, I'll need to simulate carrying my 15 lb. load. That will add another dimension to the walk, for sure. This rainy weather will also help me "simulate" walking in the rain...You know about the rain in Spain, where it falls and all that, right?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Another Glorious Autumn Walk

I'm back from a long weekend exploring ancient mounds in the St. Louis area. Average age of my travel companions was over 70, so there wasn't much vigorous walking, but they were a hoot to travel with. You young whipper-snappers have no idea how much fun your elders can have without you!!

Meanwhile, it was another glorious day for walking. It is fun walking with friends, but I really do love the solitary walk. What St. Augustine said about walking is so true...Solviture ambulando-(It is solved by walking). Not all problems can be solved in a mere hour and a half, but much progress can be made. Today a couple of friendly dogs decided to accompany me en route. They wouldn't listen to me telling them to go back, no matter how rude I was and how much I stomped my feet. I was afraid they would have to be returned to their own territory in some way if they followed me all the way home. I finally decided I could probably coax them into the jeep and take them back. When I turned to see where they were, they had vanished. I guess they had met their invisible boundary and had followed their noses home.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Kentucky autumn morning

Oh, what a glorious morning! I could barely refrain from dancing down the road, (and why do I refrain, pray tell? Only for fear of what the neighbors would think. Sad, sad, sad.) My feet were light, my gait was sure, my ears were plugged in to Libera singing Be Still My Soul, and all was right with the world. Truly this was an hour walking meditation, or you might say "praying by foot.".
I am finding at this point that I feel I could walk on another hour or even two. However, the limitation is my feet. I just start developing "hot spots" on them after about an hour and a half. I hope this will go away as my feet toughen, but I don't want to risk blisters developing. Wednesday I am going to stop by a shop in Louisville called Fleet Feet to look for a product called "Blister Shield" which is a kind of silicone power that athletes swear by.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Walking in a Relaxed Manner

I could spend all day reading the blogs of the vast "underground" of long distance walkers. (Yes, there is such a thing!) They are so inspiring and fascinating. Here is another quote I found which will keep me going:

Only those willing to risk going too far, can find out how far they can go.~ T.S. Eliot

I have a nice three and a half mile jaunt starting at my front door which I really like. It is mostly a peaceful country road with an "agony hill" at the end to get me ready for the Pyrenees. I walked it yesterday with my friend, MB, and explained to her that the goal was not to see how fast we can do it, but to walk in a relaxed manner as all those who have walked the camino advise. It is not a sprint, nor is it a marathon. It is more a walking meditation, and the idea is to be present to the moment at every step. This goes counter to the American spirit of competition, doesn't it? However, I intend to make walking a lifelong endeavor and it is essential to enjoy it. And an easy, thoughtful stride is deeply satisfying to me.

I will eventually work up to four times around that loop, and that will be about a day's journey on the camino. A typical day on the camino will start early with two hours in the morning, 7 o'clock to 9, say. A good hour's break for breakfast. Two more hours of walking, 10 to 12, another break for lunch, then another two hour trek, 1-3, and it will be time to find an albergue. Throw your sleeping bag on the bed, crash for as long as necessary, then explore the town with some fellow peregrinos and find a bar that serves a pilgrim meal, remembering the Spanish habit of very late evening meals. Keep in mind that a bar or Spanish barra is the word for a local hangout, not specifically for adult beverages! This doesn't sound too arduous, does it? But those who have gone before me know that the hard part is getting up every day and doing it again, day after day after day. That is where the mental toughness is required.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Poetry for the Road

A pilgrim blog quoted this from Wordsworth, an avid walker, who never walked the camino, however. This is from his Tintern Abbey:

Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations!

I look forward to filling my "mansion" with many "sweet sounds and harmonies!"

Friday, September 18, 2009

Reporting Back from my Travels

I have returned from my trip to a PEO Convention in San Diego and a visit to my sister in Utah. Two significant things related to my camino trek have come out of those travels. First, I was pondering the possibility of using my long walk to benefit a favored charity, and have decided that I would like to walk to benefit my favorite PEO scholarship, International Peace Scholarship (IPS). I thought it would be particularly a propos, since I hope to meet many women on my pilgrimage from many different lands. Perhaps we will talk about the importance of educating women, and I will have the opportunity to tell them about this wonderful $10,000 scholarship for women who are willing to return to their homeland to use their education to benefit their home country.

Secondly, while I was in Utah, I attempted to walk a great deal and found that walking in the high desert got me winded very quickly! I started to think about how high the altitude in the Pyrenees was, and whether I needed to take that into consideration in my preparations.At least I will have a heads-up on it.

Now I am back home, but about to leave again to visit my son in Seattle, (Fort Lewis), who is about to be deployed to Iraq. I am trying to keep up my walking, but it is difficult to maintain a challenging walk schedule while traveling. Things should settle down by mid-October, however.

My Utah visit included some white-water rafting in Moab. It was delightful! We met people from Belgium, Germany, England, and The Netherlands, as we floated down the Colorado River. When we returned to the Moab Adventure Center, I lucked out in buying a light-weight nylon pair of pants with zip-off legs from Ex-Officio, for 60% off! I am now testing them to see how quickly they dry.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Walking and Testing

Today I tried a walk over at Doe Valley. I tested out the idea of two pairs of socks, one thin that wicks away moisture under a regular pair of cotton socks. It seemed to work fine. Not sure if there was any difference. I didn't feel any hotspots on this walk, but did have a sensation of numbness in my left foot as I got toward the end of my walk, which turned out to be about 3.6 miles. I came across a sign on the road pointing to "The Johnson Cemetery". The fun part about walking is, you can just take a notion and go explore, and that is what I did. The path led in about a tenth of a mile and was very overgrown. I finally came across the cemetery, very neglected with fallen and broken and faded stones. There were Applegates, Fowlers, Wilsons, and Benhams, but nary a Johnson to be seen. The Benham plot was very sad. Seven smaller stones behind two large ones, of children a few days old to five years, some with only initials on them. These dated to the last half of the 1800's. Life was tough back then! My walk took about two hours, including my adventure in the cemetery. I keep a very relaxed pace, as this has been the advice from pilgrims. I only hope it will serve to get me in shape.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Time to Get Serious

I finally have a serious purpose to apply to this blogging business. Hopefully it will help me to keep on track and religiously keep this blog up to date. My husband has kindly consented to support me in realizing a long time dream. That is to walk the Camino, the thousand-year-old pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. My plan is to take the next seven months or so to get in shape to make the 500 mile journey across northern Spain from St. Jean Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. I hope to begin in mid-April of 2010 and take a biblical 40 days to accomplish the feat (or rather "feet" since those darlings are going to be what gets me there.) You have but to type in the word "Camino" on any search engine to find out what I am about to do. Literally hundreds of thousands of people will be making this trek next year, a holy year on the Way of St. James, since in 2010 the feast of St. James will fall on a Sunday. I am so overjoyed and overwhelmed with the idea of really doing this, that I secretly think about it all the time, while pretending to go about my normal everyday activities.

I've purchase my hiking shoes, North Face boots from Zappos (at 50% discount on top of Zappos' everyday discount, Woohoo!) and have done some preliminary walks: Buttermilk Falls, Brandenburg, 4 miles; around Freeman Lake, Elizabethtown, about 5 miles; Saunders Springs, Radcliff, an hour's worth of down and up. My MP3 player froze up on my walk around Freeman Lake. I didn't have a paperclip to poke in the little hole to unfreeze it, so accomplished most of the walk without it. I think this was a good thing, as I had to walk in silence, which is , perhaps, the correct way to walk a pilgrimage!

My goal is to walk one or two hours three times a week with a longer trek, maybe three or four hours, on the weekends until January. Then I need to crank it up a bit to prepare for 12 to 15 miles a day, the normal distance that pilgrims walk on the camino. That is no big deal, the 12-15 miles part. The hard part is doing it day after day for forty days.

I have also been researching to find the lightest clothing and equipment to carry on my back. Now you may think it is impossible, but it is my goal to have no more than 15 pounds of clothing, toiletries, first aid and sleeping bag to carry with me. I know it is possible, because my hero, Peace Pilgrim, survived many treks across our country with only a comb and a pen in her pocket, and faith in God and the kindness of strangers. I don't want to burden strangers quite so much, but I do hope that I can simplify my needs and trust that God will provide as He always has so generously!

I covet the prayers of my friends and family in this endeavour. I make this journey for spiritual growth. The more I surrender to God and allow Him to direct my path, the more I will be blessed. This I believe. Out of the nest you go, dear heart! Fly, Pilgrim, fly!