i go out walkin’….

It’s been less than a year since retirement. Nine months. We did not want to spend the first year getting oriented to our new lifestyle. Reflecting on past careers. Sifting through travel guides. Let ourselves get mired in “analysis paralysis.”

We decided to put a virtual taser to the gonads and shake shit up.

The key question we’ve set out to answer — “how do you travel when you have more time than money?” We’ve been fortunate to cover a lot of miles – we want to change how we go.

Shortly after retiring, we stumbled our first few miles on the Appalachian Trail last August, thinking that backpacking  would be the obvious means to travel on the cheap. What we quickly determined is that we were in no shape to tackle such adventures. At least not right away. i also was reminded how much i despise sleeping on dirt.

Studley’s daughter, Pixie, was very supportive of our pursuit of an adventurous travel habit. We discussed other options – including El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. “From what I have heard, one of the hardest things about doing the Camino is staying sober – they serve a LOT of Spanish wines during the meals there…”

Studley and i exchanged a glance – and a high five. “Drunk walk Spain? Yeah. We can do that…” We started planning our camino. While still chasing other adventures, staying in Turkey for a month, and living our regular lives, El Camino became a quest.

We started training. And by “training” i mean “walking” – because it’s really just a walk. Doing 30 half-marathons back to back, however, will wear down your body, so we have been walking. A lot. We’ve walked in rain. In snow. On the one warm day this season, we walked 12 miles. Has it been enough? Probably not. But here we are, about to get on an airplane.

i’ve got several friends who have taken on this pilgrimage. They have been our primary resource in thinking through what to pack. My cousin (who has walked El Camino twice) did a gear shakedown – we were pretty proud to show her that we’d gotten out packs down to 15 pounds.

Cousin L [pulling a tiny travel mug from Studley’s pack]: Isn’t that adorable. You know, they DO have cups in Spain.

gear

She was brutal, questioning each item. With her help, we further lightened our loads. Base weight of my pack is 10 pounds (4.5 kg). This is a very good start. With water and consumables, i’ll be at about 13 pounds (7 kg).

One of the most challenging aspects has been preparing to be GONE for so long. Bill paying, mail, home maintenance, appointments. All of this must be squared away so we can disappear. Taking my cat to go stay with a friend was difficult. This is also training…

We’ve walked. We’ve packed, repacked, and packed again.  There’s not much more to do but get to the airport. And start walking…

Rain Gear

For decades my “power word” has been “onward”. When i felt mired in the muck of life, or quicksand of toxic relationships, i have grabbed that word as my shield and plowed ahead. Within Camino culture, there is an ancient equivalent – “Ultreia” (old Spanish spelling – “Ultreya”). Rough translation – ‘Onward! Beyond!’

 

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Road nuggets

Somewhere between London and Philadelphia, the fever hit. i have spent the past week dealing with a mild case of the flu, while managing re-entry after being away from home for a month. Some random nuggets…

  • Thirty days. That is the longest i’ve ever been away from ‘home’ as an adult. This is mostly because of The Job, which i no longer have. Studley and i were very deliberate about pushing our comfort limits, and we’re still sorting out how we feel. Not seriously considering life as ex-pats, but some gentle experience should we ever choose that route.B1
  • i missed my pets. If i am going to do this on a fairly regular basis, i probably should not have pets. My live-in pet sitter had a pre-planned trip in the middle of that 30 days, so i scrambled to hire people, and find a friend, who could cover those 10 days. One of the most stressful aspects of being gone – and most expensive. i took to feeding treats to the street cats and dogs. cIMG_6363
  • Air travel is still pretty awesome – about 12,000 miles flown on this trip. How long would it have taken by ship? Who knows? Luggage lost on the way to Athens, but it found us a couple of days later. British Airways thought we hadn’t shown up for our flights TO Athens, so they canceled our return, but still managed to get us on a flight home. For all the barking about how shitty air travel is, it’s pretty amazing when you stand back a bit…izmir to istablnu
  • Turkey – Izmir is a lovely city – about the size of Chicago. The public transit cards include use of buses, ferries, trams and bike share. To the people who consider this a ‘third world country’? Rethink that shit… We were out and about alone, day and night, and i NEVER felt unsafe.10
  • Plumbing – in Turkey, there are bins in the toilet stalls for the collection of used paper. The plumbing systems and sanitary waste processing facilities do not handle toilet paper. Surprising how fast you get used to this. On the plus side? Most toilets in Izmir (public, private) have built in bidet functions. Surprising how fast you get used to this, too. Exploring options to upgrade my home toilet…IMG_6268
  • Language – We started using an app (Duolingo) to learn Turkish about two months before launch. The Girl emphasized the need to be fluent in numbers – enabling basic commerce. We thought we’d done ok. We were wrong. i DID have a really cool conversation with my son-in-laws 2 year old niece about colors and animals. i think this topic requires a separate post, as there are numerous examples of how things worked, and didn’t, and many lessons learned along the way!b13
  • Baggage – The Girl had a list of things she wanted us to bring, and we hauled another bag of Christmas gifts from The Girl’s Dad and his wife. We had to bring the big suitcases. Limited to 50 pounds each, we still had to deploy two roll aboard suitcases, along with our standard travel backpacks. Didn’t leave a lot of space for our personal belongings – so we packed REALLY light. Turns out, i can live for a month with just a few shirts, trousers/leggings, a dress, a fleece jacket, raincoat, two pairs of socks, one extra pair of shoes, and four pair of undercrackers. Excellent training for what lies ahead…55

Not thru*….yet.

After toying with it for about six years, it finally happened – a backpacking/camping trip. In late August i finally hiked in, camped, and hiked out of a wooded area, with no toilets and a lot of bugs.

Studley’s daughter, Pixie, is a supreme badass, hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail (AT) this year. She started walking northward from Georgia in mid-April. 2,190 miles – it takes from five to seven months to complete – and only about 20% of those who start a thru-hike complete it.

Her Dad was cheering madly, tracking her progress, and enjoying her adventure vicariously through intermittent phone calls.  Somewhere in those conversations, the prospect of the two of us joining her for a portion of the trail went from “notional” to “no shit”, and we started our own scaled-down preparations.

We started walking. Just on a flat track at the outset, but had to tackle hills. And we did. Added backpacks with some weight. Quickly realized that we were going to suffer, but just kept at it – while sorting gear lists, deciding which tent to use, meal planning.

In the meantime, Pixie kept walking. Every day, 15-20 miles. Knocking off the states – Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut… As we’d bitch about being hot, sweaty and covered in bugs on our daily walks, we reminded each other that Pixie was doing 4-5 times our mileage, over mountains, and we needed to shutthefuckup and keep walking.

We met her in Massachusetts in late August. Parked the car at a trailhead, grabbed our packs and set out for a 7 mile hike, meeting Pixie at a shelter for the night. Our mantra – “We have no idea what we’re doing. Let’s go!”

Only 7 miles. We’d been doing 3-5 miles, with loaded backpacks nearly every day for the prior two weeks, so how hard could it be? The first few miles we were completely fine – and then there were moments of “i have to adjust the strap, it’s wiggling funny on my shoulder” and calls for “rest stop” became a little more frequent. We had another hiker take this shot – for possible use on the cover of “Search and Rescue” magazine.

AT1

Pixie caught up with us about a mile short of our stop for the night. “I thought I was going to catch you a few miles back! You guys are moving right along!” Encouraging words for a couple of out of shape old farts…

Tucked into our tents shortly after dark, we were awakened to a bit of a rainstorm somewhere around 3am. The tent started leaking pretty hard. And we got seriously soaked…  But we packed up, hiked out, and — perhaps most surprisingly — didn’t die!

We have no idea what we’re doing. Let’s go!” — continues as the mantra for damn near everything we’ve been doing for the past couple of months! We are stretching. We are well outside our comfort zone! And we still have no idea what we’re doing!

S'more you do it

*i am not a fan of this spelling, with a strong preference for proper spelling “through”. This spelling is the norm for “thru-hiking” the Appalachian Trail, so i decided to go that route.