Author Archives: tilster

MAGIC on the Camino

For us, the MAGIC started as soon as we began to dream of walking the Camino….making the final decision to do it, planning, preparing physically, mentally, and spiritually, and finally, setting off. From the very beginning, things just fell into place so naturally….so easily….a reaffirmation that we were on our “life path.” 

Now, starting week 4 of our long walk, the MAGIC keeps happening in all kinds of ways. MAGIC on the Camino is when:

– the sun rises behind you and gilds the window frames of the most mundane of buildings, making them sparkle with gold highlights, bringing them to life.

– you meet someone on the trail who is a reflection of something you don’t like about yourself, thus providing valuable insights into yourself and the time to ponder them.

– the “hospitalero” in one of our albergues who gave us “feminine pads” for our blisters which actually worked to our great surprise!

– a hawk soars overhead in the wind currents over the meseta.

– we reach our albergue just before the clouds part and the rain begins to fall in buckets

– having passed by most churches with “oohs” and “ahhhhs”, you pass Santa Maria del Camino in Carrion de los Condes, notice the open door and know without a doubt you have to go in. Once inside, the energy of this 12th century church with the music of Ave Maria playing and the many candles burning….was simply overwhelming for me. Why? I have no idea but it elicited much emotion. We sat there a good 30 minutes. The feelings stay with me, even now. Truly MAGICAL!

– the concept of “time” falls away. Time no longer drives your decisions. It literally falls away. It is truly MAGIC. We walk all day, sometimes plodding, sometimes marching, loitering, strolling, singing, laughing, intellectualizing, emoting…… time passes. We are fully in each and every moment. 

– decision-making also falls away. There are no decisions to make because when the need for a decision arises, the decision makes itself. For example, reaching Calzada de Coto today, there was an alternate scenic route to take which was along a dirt track. We wanted to take it but considered that the rain yesterday would have made it a very muddy track. We decided on the senda. When we set off this morning, I was feeling heavy in my mind….I was plodding along the senda, the path for pilgrims that follows the highway and the highway was busy – lots of diesel fumes and noise. We turned off to take the scenic route instead of staying on the senda as planned. Immediately, I was happier, lighter….my legs no longer plodding, a spring in my step. That was magic!!! There is no point in making plans or decisions – they are being made by a higher power!!

– your feet no longer hurt.

– you find coffee at just the right moment.

– you find out that they do make scrambled eggs in Spain and FINALLY learn how to order them in Spanish.

– you hear the sound of bells and see a shepherd, his dog, and a huge flock of sheep getting ready to cross the road in front of you…a magical photo opportunity.

– you finally discover that “Smell of Spain” you’ve been noticing along the way and asking everyone about is the anise seed growing wild along the roadways!

– you walk by a mercado and find pistachios and cheerfully crack, eat, and spit out shells as you walk, making the steps whiz by.

– you see this little silver tube on the ground. The you see it moving. It is a centipede, heading from my side of the road to Michael’s. You stop to watch as it meanders over and around objects blocking its path. You continue on and see 6 more in a short period of time. It leaves you asking, “Why are the centipedes crossing the road?” As yet, we have no answer for that!

– you walk the whole day threatened by rain but don’t have to break out the rain gear.

Magic on the Camino is the gift of being fully in each moment….appreciating and taking note of every new smell, taste, image, thought, and sound. The cares of your world fall away. You learn important things about yourself. Magic on the Camino is meeting fellow walkers from all over the world, sharing smiles, sharing meals, trying to communicate and laughing over the efforts. Magic on the Camino is being with the one you love, walking together in all conditions, learning the lessons that are there for you.

FASHION ON THE CAMINO

In good weather, layers are the best. Sleeveless first, then short-sleeved, followed by long sleeves. Strip as needed.

For cool windy days or for light rain, this wind jacket we bought last minute in Laramie WY has been a godsend!

When it rains steadily a poncho which covers everything, works the best. Shorts are best because bare legs dry much faster than leggings.

And when the rain stops, all you do is flip the front of the poncho back over your head where it can dry somewhat and allow you to cool off. That poncho kept me cozy and warm today for the first half of the day. The cap is a MUST as it keeps the raindrops off my glasses. The “mussar ” (scarf), my favourite from Oman, is also a MUST as it keeps your neck warm, soaks up sweat, dries quickly, and works as a blanket in the plane too. The little orange “baby wash-cloth” (thank-you Leah) is my “snot rag”. There’s already way too much tissue deposited all along The Way!

Today is Day 21. We are at the halfway point in Sahagun, just a few days before we get to Leon. We have had only one rainy day before today, earlier on in the walk. The MAGIC abounds on the Camino but that’s a whole other blog!!

MEDICINE BOW PEAK – A Soul Baring Experience

The most exciting (and exacting) of our “training hikes” began as we climbed Medicine Bow Peak at an altitude of 12,800 feet (3900 m) in the Snowy Range.

Driving to the trail head at Lewis Lake Campground. We hiked to the very top of the peak in this photo.

There are two ways to climb this peak: one way is from Lewis Lake, straight up. This is the steepest and most difficult and the one Michael chose for us to do, his memory serving him a bit hazily regarding the amount of scrambling this climb would require us to do. Michael had often mentioned this hike to me and really wanted to do it once more, with me. It was a compliment to me that he thought I would be able to do it. And so, full of excitement and with just a hint of trepidation on my part, we set off.

At the Lewis Lake Campground with Lewis Lake in the background. The pointy peak on the left is called Sugarloaf. We walked around it before starting the climb to Medicine Bow Peak directly behind Michael.

The trail during the first part of the hike was good.

It wasn’t long though until the trail started to climb, gradually getting steeper and steeper until we started encountering switchbacks, boulders to scramble over, and steep side hills.  All good at this point. We passed an 81 year old woman who wanted to climb this peak one last time. She was supported by her whole family…kids, grandkids and spouses! I was to remember her later on in the climb  for she became my role model….my mantra became, “If she can do it, so can I!”

Getting closer to the top. This would be the last photos we took until after we reached the summit and started down the other side (the ‘saner’ side, we discovered.) Behind Mike is the summit and the ridge we walked all the way into the distance.

Still smiling at this point. In the background is where we came from. Still not all the way to the top but getting there!

Every time we turned the corner of another switchback, I thought we’d reached the top. No such luck. I didn’t really know what to expect. Finally though, we made the last turn to find….not a trail but…..a boulder field. Some of these boulders were as big as small houses…some the size of the rooms in a house….with crevices….big black holes….between them. No problem. Don’t call me a whimp! I started off. Pretty soon the poles were folded up and given to Michael to carry as I needed both hands to make my way from boulder to outcrop back to boulder again. A few times I just sat on a boulder contemplating how on earth I would find my way through. (Later on Michael labeled that behavior as “freezing up” and as a “panic attack”  to which I took great offense!) In this moment though, the last 100 yards, he was a warrior, my warrior, and gallantly offered his hand and guided me safely through the boulder field to the top, promising that once we got to the summit, there would be a good trail down. Just a side note here: I wasn’t the only one experiencing difficulties. There was a young father waiting patiently on a boulder with his golden retriever beside him. Apparently the dog had found it difficult to keep track of where all four of his legs were and had already fallen several times into crevices and …  there were other “grey hairs” content to sit at the foot of the boulder field. I should have paid more attention. What was I thinking???

While I rested at the top, averting my eyes from the drop-offs all around me, Michael went searching for “the easier trail” down the other side. We were making a grand loop, intending to end up where we started at Lewis lake. He found the trail just beyond another boulder field. The boulders here though weren’t as large or as extensive as the previous ones. We found the trail and started making our way down….again Michael had to help me around the more precipitous ones.

The trail on the other side, descending. This side was much easier.

Beautiful views….

…still lots of boulder fields to scramble over…but these boulders were much smaller…

…..trail markers set into cairns all the way down.

It was a long way down…not as steep as the way up….just a constant downhill spread over a longer distance. We met lots of hikers coming the opposite way, asking always how much farther. One woman told us that she was afraid to go up the way we had – that she’d heard how difficult it was. That made me feel pretty good about what I’d accomplished.

By this time, I was getting tired. I had exerted a great deal of energy on the climb up and hadn’t really rested other than a few short stops. There was as yet no end in sight. We came to a section where the trail all but disappeared, turning into large, loose rocks on a steep, steep slope. The so-called trail did a major hairpin, turning back on itself. At that turning point, Michael was standing right on the edge….nothing behind him but blue space….waiting for me. I had no sure footing, a poor sense of balance, nothing to hold onto, and….did I mention how tired I was? My poles were no help in all that waste of rock!!! What to do?? I became spider-woman without the super-powers. I sat on my butt and scrabbled my way across the hairpin. No way was I going out on that point and falling to almost certain death! What else did I do? I got supremely, silently angry. That anger built up as I made my way down the remainder of that descent from hell. My mantra of “If she can do it so can I,” changed into, “How could Michael not know, not remember this part of the climb? How could he have forgotten that huge boulder field? Why would he bring me here knowing how frightened I am of downhill scrambling (ever since breaking my leg in three places trekking in Nepal?”

Thi is the last part of the descent from hell. It was much worse than it looks!!

At that point, as I finished my “spider walk”, Michael made the inopportune comments that I referred to earlier in this blog. Words like “freezing up” and “panic attack” were uttered with a total lack of awareness, on his part, of the volcano I’d become. At that point, nothing was said. We each remained silent until we were once again on firmer ground.

We sat here and rested after the descent from hell, before the ‘firmer ground’ was reached. The closest lake is Marie lake and just a bit farther is Mirror Lake.

THE SALVOS BEGAN…..we started firing shots until finally, Michael turned, looked at me and said, “Look into my eyes. Do you really believe I would ever knowingly put you into danger?” If you have met Michael, you know his eyes are the most beautiful blue eyes. At this moment, they were tunnels reaching directly into his soul….I got the message of his love loud and clear….I could see and feel it with so much intensity. The anger dissolved into tears which accompanied me the rest of the way down.

The last mile or so down to Marie and Mirror Lakes.

By the time we reached the bottom and filled up our camelbacks at the pump at Mirror Lake, we’d hiked 11-12 km. I was totally bagged – couldn’t walk another step. Michael left me sitting at the water’s edge, contemplating our hike, while he hoofed it back the 4-5 km left to Lewis Lake where we’d started and where the truck was parked.

At the bottom right you can see the edge of a small ‘fishing dock’ which is where I waited for Michael.

CAMINO PREP. CONTINUED – ON LOCATION IN LARAMIE WY

Excited about the arrival of our second grand-daughter, we didn’t get started with our on-going hiking/training program until 5 or more days into our visit. This was actually a good thing because here in Laramie, we are at 7,220 feet (2200 m), a good 2,000 feet (610 m) higher than in Lander, giving us time to acclimate.

Most of our hikes have been in the Medicine Bow National Forest (Vedauwoo, Happy Jack, Pole Mountain) 16 miles (26 km) east of Laramie, at an altitude around 8,000 feet (2440 m). This area is a favorite with bouldering/rock climbing locals and visitors alike. This was Michael’s playground in his youth. It is a spectacularly beautiful area – my pics don’t to justice to it.

Beavers are very busy here! Lots of homes and dams.

Adjusting hot spots before they become blisters.

Michael is always happiest in the wilderness areas of Wyoming….

…..and when he’s at the top of the world….

Meadows….

….rock formations….

….holes in rocks…. Michael called it “Angry Rabbit Rock”…

….”the Buzzard”….

Most of the time we have no service but when we do….this is what happens!

Great places to hike! Having experienced seriously challenging places to hike previously (next blog), we will continue exploring this area until it’s time to leave for Spain and the Camino Frances!

 

PRE-CAMINO DAYS – GETTING READY – ON LOCATION IN LANDER WY

Decision made…return flights to Paris reserved and bought…Denver hotel booked …

NOW WHAT?

We made the official decision to walk the Camino Francés on August 1st, 2017. The week before that, already deep in discussion with each other about when, where, and for how long to go, we’d had a FaceTime discussion with Harold (introduced by friends), who has walked the Camino 9 times starting at the age of 71! The result of that conversation created an impulse to jump right in and to buy our airline tickets. We were so enthused and excited. Michael and I tend to jump into things fairly quickly so this time we promised each other we’d wait for a week to see if we still felt as enthusiastic and certain about taking this giant leap of faith…..faith in our joint emotional and physical stamina! While we waited, we started physical training, planned what to bring, ordered our “Credencials de Peregrino” (from http://www.americanpilgrims.org), and ordered a great resource recommended by Harold, “A Guidebook to the Camino de Santiago,” by John Brierly.

Brierly’s Book – highly recommended!

Two separate credencial’s. The one on the left is the one we used in Switzerland. The one on the right is the one we’ll take to Spain. We still hope to complete the Swiss Camino.

The credential folds out accordion style. As you walk the Camino, you get stamps at the chapels, churches, and pilgrim hostels where you visit/stay at.

Our Physical Fitness Preparations:
We started to train quite seriously; spending as much time on our feet as they would allow….shorter distances at first, slowly increasing over time and interspersing the walks with the odd aerobically challenging cycle. From this point on, every walk would be in the boots/trail shoes we would wear on the Camino and would include daypacks and filled-to-the-top camelbacks. On the first 2 days we were content with a 7.5 km and a 6 km walk (both on paved, level surfaces). After that, we started increasing the distance, terrain, and elevation gains of our walks/hikes. I soon discovered that the boots I was using, wouldn’t cut it; my toes were constantly in pain from hitting the ends of my boots. Not only were the boots a bit too short, but my feet had grown accustomed (over the past 14 years of living in hot climates) to being in sandals and flip flops. Solution? New boots. I bought some Salomon trail shoes in a half-size larger than I would normally wear. At the same time, I purchased some super thin and silky liner socks and some merino wool over-socks. My feet love their new abodes and are now allowing me hikes of 24km!!

Lander, Wyoming is the perfect place to train for the Camino. Not only is it extraordinarily beautiful with a moderate climate, it has an abundance of hiking and biking trails all at ELEVATION….which is excellent….if I can hike steep uphills for 10 km at 7 – 9,000 feet, then I should find it a walk in the park at the lower elevations of the Pyrenees in Spain. One of our favorite places to hike is a park developed for mountain bikers, hikers, and horseback riders called “Johnny Behind the Rock.” We also love Sinks Canyon. Here are a few pics.

Johnny Behind the Rock (JBTR)

JBTR Hike with Mike’s Dad Marvin who’s 88 this year!!

JBTR Red Ridge – a favorite trail of ours now!

Squaw/Baldwin Creek cycle – 25 km.

Hike up Sinks Canyon from the state campground all the way up to Fossil Rock. !0 km up and another 10 km down. If you enlarge the pic you will see the road as it hairpins up the mountain.

 

Another hike up Sinks Canyon from the state park but this time to Bruce’s Campground up to the falls, a total distance of 14 km.

Taking a rest break looking out over the Popo Agie River (pronounced Poposhia).

At the top. You can see the falls top left of the pic but doesn’t do them justice. This was our first hike with loaded backpacks.

Today, we hiked 11 km at “Johnny Behind the Rock” with fully loaded packs. I carried 21 lbs and Mike carried 25 lbs. Lots of ups and downs and we hiked without stopping. Took us three hours. We are pretty pleased with ourselves and oh-so-happy we started training when we did. Soon we’ll be in Laramie, hiking in the Snowy Range which is at even higher elevations.

A MASS OF MOZZIES – Exploring Green River Lakes, WY

Originally, we intended to spend two weeks ‘boon-docking’ at Green River Lake – a destination 50 miles from the nearest town – in Wyoming. However, our one and only grand-daughter’s second birthday in Laramie, family members to visit in Lander, and a good monthly rate at the Maverick RV Park in downtown Lander caused us to re-evaluate our plans. After settling into the RV park and after several visits with family, we finally set off to explore the Wind River Wilderness.

In Lander, we are on the eastern side of the Wind River Range. Our exploration required us to cross the range and get to the western side. We didn’t want to do that pulling a 33’ fifth wheel trailer so we packed our camping gear and headed off ‘trailer-free.’ We took HWY 28 out of Lander, over South Pass and headed for Pinedale. Crossing South Pass put us on the western side of the Wind Rivers. We could have continued on paved roads all the way to Pinedale but in the spirit of adventure, we decided to take the turnoff to Big Sandy which put us onto a well-graded gravel road winding through range country. We saw lots of trucks pulling travel trailers of all sizes and types. We could easily have pulled our fifth wheel-oh well! The day was sunny; the scenery spectacular; snow-covered peaks, miles of meadows/grasslands/wild flowers, and numerous ranches. Wyoming produced……we saw cowboys on horseback moving their stock from one range to the other!

Where we turned off.

Following the signs.

What we look like.

Views along the way.

All too soon, we reached Pinedale, a quaint, western-themed little town.

A bit of history.

Stopped for lunch at the Wind River Brew Pub.

Great place.

Mike had always wanted to revisit Fremont Lake a short jaunt north of Pinedale and check it out for boon-docking and kayaking possibilities. We followed the road up and up and up some more to an elevation of 10,000’ at the end of which was a small state campground. This time we were happy not to have the 5W as the road was narrow, rough, and climbed so high. We could get the 5W to the top but there was no easy access to the lake; the only access we saw was at the bottom south end of the lake, before we started climbing. There were some possibilities for dispersed camping lower down.

Small “ranger station” at the top for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts to get maps and advice.

View of Freemont Lake from the top and of the storm brewing.

On the way back down, there seemed to be storms brewing all around us and sure enough, as we returned to Pinedale and were leaving the gas station, it started to rain. We headed first west and then north, towards Cora, on HWY 352. The rain turned into a driving hailstorm, making it impossible to have any kind of conversation inside the truck.

After the storm – hailstones everywhere!

One moment we could see the mountains and the next….

…they disappeared behind the clouds.

We entered the Bridger-Teton National Forest where the road turned to gravel once more.

Entrance to the park.

On the road to Green River Lake.

No sooner had we crossed the cattle guard than the road meandered through meadows along the Green River. The landscape lived up to its name….Green, green, and more green! There are many opportunities for dispersed camping all the way through the park from beginning to the end along the Green River. We saw lots of RV’s parked along its banks and started to feel a bit sorry we hadn’t brought ours too.

We reached Green River Lake Campground at around 4pm and spent the first hour looking for, finding, and setting up our ideal camp. It was at this point that we started to seriously regret not bringing the 5W…..you guessed it……MASSES OF MOZZIES….. TRUE MOZZIE MISERY! I have never experienced mosquitoes like this before. I was covered head to foot with homemade bug spray which worked well previously on other mozzie attacks. But, these Green River Lake pests were more determined than any I’d ever experienced before so we pulled out and applied the second line of defense….packets of bug repellent-soaked towelettes containing DEET, which we rubbed on our clothes….to no avail. They bit us anyways. Thankfully I’d prepared dinner before leaving home…foil wrapped packets of veggies and salmon in parchment….so we quickly threw them on the grill and tried to sip a Happy Hour drink while cooking.

Our campsite for the night.

Covered in beach towels for protection!

We had to sit inside the truck to eat and by then, I couldn’t have cared less whether I ate or not, I was so miserable. We cleaned up and decided to go and see the lake. It lived up to its reputation for beauty. Not only was it wildly beautiful, it was also sunset time so everything was bathed in the orange light of the setting sun. We felt vindicated, even as we were being eaten alive.

First view of the lake.

To the south.

To the southwest

Southeast

East

8 o’clock rolled around and we had no choice but to crawl into the tent to escape the tormenting mozzies. We read for a while and then fell into an uncomfortable sleep (not used to sleeping in sleeping bags on pads) waking up often to roll over and commiserate with one another between bouts of scratching ( I know … you’re not supposed to scratch) mozzie bites. Once we woke up to the howling of wolves….that was really something to hear! There we were, in the middle of the night, discussing how cool (or not) it was to hear these wolves and about the fact that there never used to be wolves in this area – that their population had exploded right out of Yellowstone.

Next morning, our plan was to kayak to the end of the lake but a poor night’s sleep, the prospect of having to deal with mosquitoes….well….plans changed. we headed home. Safely insulated from the bugs in the truck, we enjoyed the drive back to where we had entered the Teton – Bridger Wilderness area.

At this point, we decided to explore further, taking the Union Pass Road over the Wind River Range.

We came from the road to/from Green River Lake on the right in the pic and and followed the sign to the left.

It was a very rough road but worth every bump. It was gravel all the way and wound through ranch-lands, open range, and mountain meadows (where we hoped to spot a grizzly but saw only deer and antelope.)

We headed across this beautiful direction towards the left of the mountain and started climbing.

Another sign – great names. We did NOT stop at Mosquito Lake!

Beautiful views all along the route.

Even the cycle tourists like this road.

Meadows filled with flowers….no wildlife though.

In one area the meadows were covered with blooming thistles.

No wonder we didn’t see much wildlife – they are so well camouflaged.

At the top of Union Pass….

Spectacular views in all directions!

Still snow in mid July!

Heading down the other side into Dubois….

A beautiful trip. I got to see parts of Wyoming many travelers to the state never get to see.

THE SAGA CONTINUES AND…..CONCLUDES….COINCIDENCE?

The phone was lost on Friday; we bought a new one on Sunday afternoon; and by Wednesday we had put the whole experience behind us and were happily exploring Boysen Reservoir. This reservoir stretches in a north-south direction between Shoshoni on the south end and Thermopolis on the north end with the spectacular Wind River Canyon joining them. Mike wanted to see as much of the reservoir as was possible, the roads around it, and any potential camping spots we might be able to pull our fifth wheel trailer into.

We started on the west side of the reservoir, heading in the direction of Lake Cameahwait which is very close to Boysen reservoir…you can see the reservoir when you drive into the lake. This time though, instead of turning right onto the road to Cameahwait we went straight…the road was paved for a lot of the way but eventually turned into a well graded gravel road. We stopped often and turned into every side road we saw to explore….beautiful and remote-feeling.

Eventually the gravel road (turned out it was a loop road) became pavement again. Continuing along, we drove directly past the spot where we had gone fishing and kayaking exactly 7 days prior! No sooner had we passed “THE SPOT” and noted the absence of the fishermen and their fifth wheel trailers, than my phone, the new one that is, started to ring. It was a woman asking to speak to “Michael.” I put it on speaker and it turned out to be “Heather” calling from the Verizon store in Thermopolis to tell us that she had our phone!!!! We were gob-smacked….astounded….amazed…..couldn’t believe it…..asking each other “Now What?” COINCIDENCE? I always have believed there are no coincidences but this???? Hearing it had been found when we were in almost exactly the same spot we’d lost it???

At that point, we were near the south end of the reservoir, heading around to the east side where there are a lot more campgrounds to check out. We were already half way to Thermopolis so we headed directly there, deciding to investigate all the campgrounds on the return trip.

Arriving in Thermopolis, we located the Verizon store and met Heather who turned the phone over to us. Oh how we wished that phone could talk!!! She told us that the phone had been turned in by their ‘mail lady’ whose husband had found it floating not in Lake Cameahwait but at “Tough Creek” (Boysen Reservoir). Floating….probably it had been; close….but not where we’d been fishing and kayaking. It had been turned in a few days prior and Heather said she’d kept waiting for someone to call for it. We’d checked Shoshoni, Riverton, and Lander but hadn’t considered Thermopolis! She’d finally looked up the ID# on the back of the phone and had seen it belonged to us and called us. All the way back, we conjectured about what had happened because the facts didn’t match but finally, knowing we’d never get an answer, we stopped “scenario-izing” and simply were grateful for getting the phone back. That gratitude was amplified tenfold when we were informed by Heather that we would be able to return the new iPhone we’d purchased.

A huge thank-you goes out to the Verizon staff in Riverton, Lander and Thermololis who were so helpful; to Verizon, the company; to the fisherman who found the phone and to his wife who returned it to the Verizon store!