The Camino to Santiago

My pack and me – an uneasy relationship

My pack just before I left home – I managed to stuff 2kg more into it. Photo: Sue Teodoro

What should I take for the Camino? This exercised my mind in the few weeks I had to prepare. A lot. And, it also exercises the mind of most people before they go – judging from the internet. Also a lot.

I decided I would carry my pack, even though a bag toting service was available.

Anyway, I hadn’t much time so I stuck to basics. I hardly ever check bags so it all had to weight less than 7kg. This was in line with internet advice which said to carry no more than 10% of body weight. For me, this meant 6 to 6.5kg was optimal.

When I left home, my 25l Deuter pack weighed 6.5kg. I felt smug. But I hadn’t yet got everything I needed. So after a few fruitful visits to the well-stocked hiking shops of St Jean, I acquired a crushing 2 more kg of stuff.

Soon after heading off early on September 7th reality hit. As I crawled up the hill past Honnto (about 2 or 3km outside St Jean) I started to feel pain. Real pain. My travelling companion for the day had bounded ahead like a mountain goat. While I, with each rasping breath, was cursing the weight on my back. Eventually I was stopping every three paces to rest. Vultures were circling overhead. Really. The sad truth of my situation was reinforced when I got overtaken by three Argentinian cyclists – carrying their bikes.

Clearly this was not sustainable.

Early morning views over the valley from the path just above Refuge Orisson. Image: Sue Teodoro

By day 2, walking over the mountain passes to Roncesvalles, I was shedding gear. the first casualty was my sandals. In addition to being heavy, with every step they were digging hard into the small of my back. I gave them to the bloke who runs the coffee cart up near the first mountain pass. He was happy, but not as happy as me.

Near the coffee cart at the first mountain pass outside Orisson. I look happy because I’ve just decided to ditch my sandals. Image: Pamela Illingworth

On days three and four, instead of admiring the views and thinking about my soul, I was instead mentally reviewing the contents of my overstuffed pack – plotting what more to ditch.

The Camino is a great repository of practical information and very soon quite a few people had told me about Ivar. He was rumored to live in Santiago and store people’s things in a room near the cathedral. You just “post it forward to Casa Ivar”, I was told. I wondered if he even existed. Maybe “Casa Ivar” was just a big black hole into which pilgrim’s stuff got tossed, only to be retrieved by grateful Spanish postal staff. At this stage, me even getting to Santiago seemed improbable in any case.

Anyway, by the time I got to Pamplona I no longer cared if he existed or not. I no longer cared if my things moldered forever in some dusty warehouse with the mythical Ivar. I was nackered. Everything ached and I just wanted to get rid of my stuff. I had carried the 8.5kg beast for four days, over two mountain passes, through muddy paths, in steady rain.

Time to go to Ivar, babies.

Arriving in Pamplona. Image:Pamela Illingworth

It didn’t take long to decide what to drop. I already had plenty of things I hadn’t used even once. I ditched the guide book by John Brierley (very heavy), three pairs of thick socks, all my make-up (the lipstick – what a joke), a bunch of slow-drying heavy cotton t-shirts (very heavy, and also useless), my third pair of hiking pants and a bag of meds. These were all ‘extras’ – things I brought along ‘in case’.

Gear I sent forwards to Ivar in Santiago. Image: Sue Teodoro

Here’s what I learned. Lesson one: take nothing on the maybe – “just in case” will probably never happen. Lesson two: carry nothing you don’t use. Lesson three: shedding feels good.

All in all, I dropped 2.5kg. When I left Pamplona, I wasn’t exactly skipping but my pack and I were definitely better matched. It felt good.

My pack after sending 2.5kg of gear to Casa Ivar in Santiago. Image: Sue Teodoro

What do you think?