Category Archives: Travelogs

The “Rideau Adventure” – An Overview

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I saw no naked lady on the Rideau, but there was this fetching blonde at Smiths Falls Locks

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Welcome to the “Georgia Wasp…”

This blog is modeled on the Carolina Israelite.  That was an old-time newspaper – more like a personal newsletter – written and published by Harry Golden.  Back in the 1950s, people called him a  “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.”  (For his work on the Israelite.)

That’s now my goal as well.  To be a “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.”

For more on the blog-name connection, see the notes below.

In the meantime:

Last Saturday evening – September 1st – I got back home from my “Rideau Adventure.”  (Which included passing through the Poonamalie lock station – at left and discussed further below.)  That adventure involved canoeing the Rideau Canal, from Kingston – on Lake Ontario – to Ottawa.

I previewed it in Next adventure: Paddling the Rideau “Canal.”  Also – from July 31 – “Naked Lady” – on the Rideau Canal?

In a nutshell, I didn’t see a naked lady on the banks of the Rideau.  I did see a fetching blonde in a power boat, explained in the notes below.  And incidentally, “Poonamalie” is the station just before the Smiths Falls three locks.  (We followed “Yvette’s” Fuego on the first two of three locks…)   

And now for the overview:  The guide books say it should take from six to ten days to make the trip.  They also say the prevailing winds are “generally” from the southwest, but to be “ready for anything.”  We ended up taking 11-and-a-half days – and 11 nights – but two of those nights we spent in relative luxury in a rustic cabin in Portland, Ontario (Nine days “actual canoeing.*”)

1534935865425That was after taking a wrong turn padding north from Colonel By Island on the morning of Wednesday, August 22.  That overnight campsite included a violent rainstorm and raccoons breaking into our plastic food containers and taking our supplies of breakfast bars, crackers and trail mix.  That in turn was preceded by us paddling through a veritable monsoon, on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 21.  That morning we made 10 miles, but in the afternoon – after leaving the Narrows (Lock 35) – we made four miles before stopping at ” Colonel By.”

But such is “the stuff of legends.”  And we digress…

Getting back to those prevailing winds.  For the first few days the prevailing winds were from the north, in our faces.  Plus we had to delay our start – by one day – because The Weather Channel predicted heavy thunderstorms on the afternoon of Friday, August 17.  That forecast wasn’t accurate, but the one for the afternoon of Tuesday, August 21, was accurate.

We got the predicted heavy rain.

Which is another way of saying the trip featured highlights and lowlights.  “Yvette” was a definite highlight.  The heavy rains of August 21-22 were lowlights, as was taking a wrong turn after leaving Colonel By Island.  But that was followed by deciding to take two nights off – resting and refitting – in beautiful Portland, Ontario – a definite highlight – on August 23 and 24.

Thereupon,” on leaving Portland our main goal was to get off “all those big-ass lakes.”  With their unpredictable winds and a constant threat of being swamped by inconsiderate big-boat drivers.  Speaking of that, on the afternoon of August 24, we were in the process of getting off Lower Rideau Lake(The last of the “big-ass lakes” in the Rideau system, which is actually further north than Upper Rideau Lake Big Rideau Lake – with Cow Island – lies in between.)  

We were heading for the Poonamalie lock station, and my brother was sitting in his canoe, minding his own business and checking our bearings on his big book of charts.  Some jerk in a big-ass boat came zooming out from the river to the north – where we were headed – making a huge wave and yelling out, “GET OFF THE F’ING CHANNEL!”  Which just goes to show that life is like a box of chocolates:  “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

1534674220192Also speaking of that:  To avoid the often-contrary prevailing winds, we started getting up at 4:00 a.m.  Which leads to the picture at left, of one of the benefits of getting up at 4:00 a.m. and stumbling around in the dark while breaking camp.  Aside from the water being much smoother – which was especially important on those “big-ass lakes” during the first half of the trip – you also get to see some beautiful sunrises.  (As seen at left.)

So all in all we spent 11-and-a-half days on the trip, but that included two nights in a nice cabin in Portland Ontario.  And aside from primitive camping the first two nights – “dig a hole and squat” – most of the rest of the nights we camped at the lock stations themselves.  They featured nice level lawns, hot and cold running water in the nearby “washrooms,” and every once in a while a nearby pub or restaurant with hot food and cold beer.

Which led to my conclusion that this Rideau trip was “more of a Camino than the Camino.”  That is, last September and October – on Spain’s 450 miles of the Camino de Santiago* – my brother and I kept meeting up with flocks of fellow pilgrims, all or most greeting us with “Buen Camino.”  In other words, the Rideau trip was more of a pilgrimage, in the truest sense.  That is, a “journey or search of moral or spiritual significance.”  Or consider the words of John Steinbeck in Travels with CharleySpeaking of long-distance driving – at least in 1962 – he wrote:

If one has driven a car over many years [one] does not have to think about what to do.  Nearly all the driving technique is deeply buried in the machine-like unconscious.  This being so, a large area of the conscious mind is left free for thinking…  [T]here is left, particularly on very long trips, a large area for day-dreaming or even, God help us, for thought.

Unfortunately, there was precious little of that on the Camino.  (Or for that matter, on any modern long-distance driving trip, what with Sirius, GPS, iPod Shuffles or the new “Sandisks,” not to mention “books on CD,” none of which were available in 1962.)  On the other hand, there was plenty of time – paddling up the Rideau river system – for “God help us, thought.

In my case, on the Rideau I spent plenty of time – along with Steinbeck – thinking about the past:  “And how about the areas of regrets?  If only I had done so-and-so, or had not said such-and-such – my God, the damn thing might not have happened.”

Which is another way of saying there weren’t that many other canoeists or kayakers on the Rideau.  In fact I can only remember one, the lady kayaker shown below, portaging – carrying her kayak – at the  Burritts Rapids lock station.  Whereas my brother and I paid extra to take our canoes through the locks, this younger lady chose to do it the “other way.”  She’d carry her kayak on one trip – from one end of the lock station to the other – then go back and get all her gear, stacked what seemed to a mile high on her backpack.

The point being – in case I’m being too subtle – that the dearth of fellow paddlers meant there was plenty of time “for day-dreaming or even, God help us, for thought.”

Which seems to be what makes a pilgrimage a pilgrimage(Though it helped to find the Lock 17 Bistro, a short walk from Burritts Rapids, where we camped the night of Sunday, August 26.)

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The upper image:  My photo from our passage through the first two of three locks at Smiths Falls, Ontario.  I wrote that we got to the lock at 8:30 and they didn’t open til 9:00 a.m., so my brother walked to a close-by convenience store and got some REAL coffee and a chocolate-chip cookie.  Then the lady in question – I’d like to think her name was Yvette – “and her old-guy SO” – whatever that meant – “went off into the Rideau.”  I also journaled: “The point being:  This trip has been mainly pleasant.  Early stops, lots of breaks, a two-night stay in Portland…”  (Portland Ontario that is.)

Re:  My not seeing “a naked lady strolling the banks of the Rideau Canal.”  The reference goes back to the August 2016 post, “Naked lady on the Yukon.”  (Where the “mighty Yukon River” was the last place on earth I expected to see a lady sun bathing, “In the altogether” as it were.) 

Re:  Portland, Ontario:  “The Landing on Big Rideau Lake, which is now the community of Portland, lies at the heart of the Rideau Canal System and is central to the history of the canal and to the early development of Canada.  Portland is on Highway 15, midway between Ottawa and Kingston, Ontario.”  See also Portland, Ontario – Wikipedia.

Re:  Distances on the canal system.  Using the figures from Rideau Canal – Distances between Lockstations, it is 125.6 miles from the Lasalle Causeway in Kingston to Ottawa proper and the last several lock stations leading to the Ottawa River.  But we stopped at Hartwells lock station, 4.9 miles short of the Ottawa River, for reasons including there was no apparent take-out available, at which my brother could park his car and trailer, and we could unload the canoes.  Moreover, we put in at the small but better-suited “Elliott Avenue Parkett” – at the water’s end of John Counter Boulevard – some two miles north of the Lasalle Causeway.  Thus we arguably covered some 118.7 miles on the trip.  On that note, in an email post-mortem dated September 4, my brother noted this:   

…to set the record straight, the entire Rideau is 125 nm (nautical miles), of which we did 120 nm.  That works out to 138 statute miles.  And, we started Saturday, August 18]. around 11 am and finished at about the same time on Wed[nesday, August 29]., 11 days total, two of which were, going backwards to Portland and a day spent in Portland.  So 9 days total actually canoeing. 

Re:  “Our’ 450 miles of the Camino de Santiago.”  For more on that pilgrimage see “Hola! Buen Camino!” – Revisited and/or “Buen Camino!” – The Good Parts.

Another note:  For the next canoe trip I’m getting a bigger tent and a cot.  (No more sleeping on the ground for me.)  But that trip won’t happen until at least 2020, as next summer my brother, his wife and I plan to hike the Portuguese Camino.  That hike will involve a “mere” 150 miles, from Porto to Santiago de Compostela.  This route is said to be a “fantastic route for pilgrims looking for a more rural experience on the Camino de Santiago.”

The quotes from Travels with Charley are from the 1962 Penguin Books edition, at pages 94-95.

The lower image:  My photo of a lady kayaker, portaging – carrying her kayak – at the Burritt’s Rapids lock station. My brother and I paid extra to take our canoes through the locks – resulting in the previous picture of “Yvette,” bending and stretching, but this lady chose to do it the “other way…”  (“Oh  to be young again!”  Or not, once was enough…)

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Also of note:  In Geezer’s guide to supplements – Part II, I wrote of supplements for “men my age,” that is, 67.  One of the recommended supplements was Selenium:  “No other single nutrient appears to prevent cancer more effectively…  It basically forces cancer cells to self-destruct.”  The good news was that “Nature’s selenium supplement is the Brazil Nut, which measures 100 mcg per nut.   So you get your daily dose by eating two Brazil nuts.”  But that presented a problem in accounting:

I bought a 9.5 ounce container at the local Fresh Market for $12.95 on July 15.  I’ll update this post when they’re gone – at the rate of two or three a day – but … it’ll be awhile.

For the record, I had my last two Brazil nuts from that batch on September 7, 2018, less than a week after I got back from the aforementioned Rideau Adventure.  I took the supplement from July 15 to August 17, for a total of 63 days.  I didn’t take the supplement while on the Rideau, from the 18th to August 30, when I left for home.  I then took it from August 31 to September 7, eight more days, or 71 total.  Thus the cost of this supplement rounds up to about 19 cents a day.     

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Re:  The Israelite.  Harry Golden grew up in the Jewish ghetto of New York City, but eventually moved to Charlotte, North Carolina.  Thus the “Carolina Israelite.”  I on the other hand am a “classic 67-year-old “WASP” – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant – and live in north Georgia.  Thus the “Georgia Wasp.”    

Anyway, in North Carolina Harry wrote and published the “israelite” from the 1940s through the 1960s.  He was a “cigar-smoking, bourbon-loving raconteur.”  (He told good stories.) That also means if he was around today, the “Israelite would be done as a blog.”  But what made Harry special was his positive outlook on life.  As he got older but didn’t turn sour, like many do today.  He still got a kick out of life.  For more on the blog-name connection, see “Wasp” and/or The blog.

“Naked Lady” – on the Rideau Canal?

I’m more likely to see a “Lady with a Parasol,” strolling the banks of the Rideau Canal

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As noted in Paddling the Rideau Canal:  This August my Utah-brother and I will be canoeing – some six to 10 days – up the Rideau Canal, from Kingston to Ottawa, Ontario.

Which brings up the fact that two years ago this August, we spent two weeks canoeing the Mighty Yukon River(Also in Canada.)  We paddled 440 miles – from Whitehorse  to Dawson City – in 12 days.  (Not counting the one day  we took off from paddling – Sunday, August 14 – in beautiful Carmacks, Yukon Territory.  The idea was to rest, refit and enjoy an ice-cold Yukon Gold.)

One result of that trip was a post on August 28, 2016, “Naked lady on the Yukon.”  As noted in the post, the Yukon River was “the last place on earth I would expect to see a lady sun bathing.”  (In the altogether, as it were.)  But I could probably say the same thing about the Rideau Canal.

You can read the full story in the Naked lady post, but here’s a short version:

It was Friday, August 12.  We were a day away from Carmacks, and had been on the river five days already…  About 4:00 my brother was way ahead of me, when he went around a right-hand bend and looked like he was heading to shore, for a break.  There followed one lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ng right-hand curve in the Yukon, that seemed to last forever.  It was getting late and we were looking for the “good camp” listed in the guidebook.  When I finally got to the end of the long right-hand curve, I could see something, way off, a half-mile or so ahead.

That “something way off” turned out to be one of two canoeists (one canoe), who’d passed us at the north end of Lake Laberge (The other person “in the shadows” was her husband, methinks).  So anyway, the point is:  There – where we’d wanted to camp – lay a lovely young lady, face down aside her “grounded” canoe – in her birthday suit – “for all the world to see.”

Which brings up the strong current in the Yukon River.  It ranges from four to seven miles an hour, which is one reason you can cover 440 miles in 12 paddling days.  That averages out to over 36 miles a day, which is usually good.  However, when there’s something you don’t expect but would like to linger over, that presents a problem:  “By the time I recognized the naked lady as a naked lady, the current was already pushing me farther down-river.”

Again, you can read a fuller version of this tantalizing tale in “Naked lady on the Yukon.”  That’s along with references to a hike we did on that same trip, four days on the Chilkoot Trail.  (The “meanest 33 miles in history,” as seen at right.)  But for now, let’s get back to the upcoming Rideau trip…

For starters, only 12 of the 125 miles are actual “canal.”  The rest are woodland rivers and lakes, including Big Rideau Lake, 20 miles long and over three miles wide.  But this water route has one thing the Yukon River didn’t:  Plenty of places to stop for the night and shower, along with a goodly number of bed and breakfasts along the way.

So here let me try a bit of prognostication – or guesswork – for the first two days of canoeing.

Our plan is to average 15 miles a day, and thus cover the 125 miles in eight days.  (That’s not counting the total 677 miles of shoreline along the way, full of nooks and crannies we may choose to explore.)  And according to Google Maps, it’s roughly 17 miles from the Doug Fluhrer Park in Kingston, to the Rideau Rendezvous Bed and Breakfast, also listed as Kingston.  Or it’s a mere 14.5 miles if we start out at the Belle Island (Cataraqui Park) location.

Chaffeys LockThen – if we make the Rendezvous that first day – the next “pleasurable” stop up could be Chaffeys Lock (37).  That was the location of Chaffey’s Rapids, “333 yards (304 m) in length, descending about 13 feet … where Indian Lake flowed into Opinicon Lake.”

And as such it used to mean a 1,500-yard portage, which would have required unloading both our canoes, carrying them and all our baggage those 1,500 yards, then packing up and setting out again.

Of course if you really want to you can still do that.  However, we’ll pay the small fee…

But once again there are some comfy lodgings there too.  (For a full list see Rideau Campgrounds, Cottages & Lodges – rideau-info.com.)  And according to the Rideau Canal map in Wikipedia, it’s 28 miles from the starting point in Kingston to Chaffey’s Lock.  Which should be a do-able enough starting-out pace for two old guys, aged 67 and 72.  Now, whether we see a young lady sunbathing In the altogether those first two days is another question entirely… 

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bowdlerized version of what I saw one day on the Yukon River

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The upper image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article on sun bathing.  The full caption:  “‘La promenade’ (1875) by Claude Monet.  At that time in the West, the upper social class used parasols, long sleeves and hats to avoid sun tanning effects.”  (More’s the pity.)  See also Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son – Wikipedia.

Re:  The Chilkoot Trail.  See my posts, On the Chilkoot &^%$# TrailPart 1 and Part 2.

The lower image is courtesy of Sun tanning – Wikipedia The caption:  “A woman sun tanning on a Portuguese beach.”

Next adventure: Paddling the Rideau “Canal”

A 1906 photograph of the Poonamalie Lock Station (32) on the Rideau Canal in Canada… 

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Taking a break from Politics:  My next big adventure is coming up in August.

November 10, 2014 photo IMG_4329_zps7f7b5ddb.jpgMy Utah-brother and I will be paddling – some six to 10 days – up the Rideau Canal, from Kingston to Ottawa, Ontario.  (This is the same brother with whom I canoed 12 miles off the coast of Mississippi in 2014, as seen at right  And 440 miles on the Yukon River.  And hiked the Chilkoot Trail – “the meanest 33 miles in history” – and most recently hiked and biked 450 miles on the Camino de Santiago.)  

But don’t let the “canal” name fool you.  (Or the photo at the top of the page.)

This Rideau “Canal” is a water route of “mostly natural waters, made up of lakes and rivers.”  Of the 125 miles on this “canal,” only 12 – about 10% – are “manmade locks and canal cuts.”  The rest of the route consists of “natural waters,” as noted.  That includes Big Rideau Lake, some 20 miles long and over three miles wide.  (For comparison, Lake Laberge on the Yukon River – which we paddled in 2016 – is 31 miles long and up to three miles wide.)

The direct route from Kingston to Ottawa is 125 miles, but that includes over 677 miles of shoreline.  (Most choose that route because the prevailing winds are from the southwest.)  

Also, from Lake Ontario at Kingston the route rises 166 feet.  It rises to the “summit of Upper Rideau Lake,” from where it then descends 275 feet to the Ottawa River at Ottawa.

The canal system was built between 1826 and 1832, to help defend Canada by allowing boats to travel safely along the southern border.  I.e., Canadians could travel along their southern border – the border with the U.S. – “without having to travel along the St. Lawrence River, in gunshot range of the Americans.”  (And Donald Trump wasn’t even president…)  

The construction of the Rideau Canal was a preventive military measure undertaken after a report that during the War of 1812 the United States had intended to invade the British colony of Upper Canada via the St. Lawrence River, which would have severed the lifeline between Montreal and Kingston.

Then there’s this added note:  “It is the oldest continuously operated canal in North America.  Most of the locks are still operated by hand, using the same mechanisms that were used to operate the locks in 1832.”  (Speaking of “delightfully retro.”)

To give some perspective on how long such a canoe-trip can take, early voyageurs could cover the distance  in three days.  (But those were “very long days with lots of paddling.”)  And that would include portaging around the areas that have since been made locks and canal cuts.

Today the recommended pace is anywhere from six to 10 days, as noted.

And there are 26 lockstations to pass through.  Those you can either portage around – like the early voyageurs – or pay a fee.  They all have washrooms and potable water, and most offer camping.  (So it won’t be like canoeing 12 miles offshore, featuring eight days of primitive camping, on places like Half-moon Island, Ship Island, and “from time to time an occasional salt marsh.”) 

Other notes:  The name Rideau is French for “curtain,” and comes from the “curtain-like appearance of the Rideau River‘s twin waterfalls where they join the Ottawa River.”  And:

The canal also served a commercial purpose.  The Rideau Canal was easier to navigate than the St. Lawrence River because of the series of rapids between Montreal and Kingston.  As a result, the Rideau Canal became a busy commercial artery from Montreal to the Great Lakes.  However, by 1849, the rapids of the St. Lawrence had been tamed by a series of locks, and commercial shippers were quick to switch to this more direct route.

Thus it “remains in use today primarily for pleasure boating, with most of its original structures intact, operated by Parks Canada.”  But it’s not all fun and games, necessarily.

One Canal-guide noted three possible issues:  Wind, waves and big boats.  As for the first, while the prevailing wind is from the southwest, “be prepared for anything,” including a change in wind from the northeast.  Also, waves can be an issue on big lakes, “with large sections of open water unprotected by islands.”  And such large waves “can be an issue for a canoeist.”

The same is true of “big power boats (cruisers)” which also share the waterway.

One idea (the guide said):  Paddle close to shore.  It’s more interesting – with more wildlife and such – and keeps you further from the waves produced by big boats.  But if you encounter one – here I’m writing under the “memo to self” idea – the general rule is to turn into such waves, meeting them head on.  This “can actually be fun in a kayak (not as much fun in a canoe).”

I’ll be writing more on this adventure, if only in the form of a postmortem(But not in the literal sense.)  Meanwhile, here’s hoping we don’t have to use this little maneuver this August…

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Image titled Canoe Step 14

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The upper image is courtesy of Rideau Canal – Wikipedia.  Caption:  “Poonahmalee, on the Rideau River, near Smith Falls, Ontario – October 1906.”

Portions of the text were gleaned from “Watson’s paddling guide to the Rideau Canal” (PDF), by Ken W. Watson, First Printing 2012, Current Revision May 2018, at pages 9-10, 17-18.  The “wind, wave and big boat issues” are discussed on pages 13 and 14. 

Re:  “12 miles offshore.”  See Canoeing 12 miles off the coast of Mississippi, from 2016.  (It was a both a review of the 2014 canoe trip and a preview of last fall’s Camino de Santiago adventure.

 The “retro” image is courtesy of Delightfully Retro – Image Results.

The lower image is courtesy of How to Canoe (with Pictures) – wikiHow.

“Buen Camino!” – The Good Parts

A Pamplona monument to running with the bulls.   (Something that is not on my bucket list!)

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Some people reading “Hola! Buen Camino*” might think I had a lousy time in my five weeks hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  For example, there was my comment on the first 10 days – after starting in Pamplona – being “pretty miserable.  My left foot constantly throbbed, until it blistered up and got tough.”  And that it took about 10 days for that to happen.

But there were lots of good things that happened during those 30 days on the Camino…

21743239_361474040953373_4085132213676039775_nThe good times started with Pamplona itself, where my part of the hike began.  I had drinks – two separate times – at the Café Iruña(Immortalized by Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises.)  And before the hike started my brother and I spent a day sight-seeing.  (During which I took my own photo of the “running of the bulls” monument, at left…)

Then too, at the end of the first day’s hike we stayed at the Albergue Jakue, in Puente la Reina.  That was September 13, when we made 15 miles but didn’t reach the albergue until about 8:00 p.m.  The good part:  “They had a $13 dinner special,* which included wine.  I GOT MY MONEY’S WORTH!”  To explain:  The wine came in a serve-your-own set of three spigots, not unlike those for draft beer.  (Except for the privilege of “pouring your own.”)  

As I recall, there was a red wine, a white wine, and a rosé (And I noted that I had a good portion of each.  As added in my journal, “Did I mention that I got my money’s worth on the wine?”)

Perhaps fittingly – or preemptively – during that first day we had hiked up and over the 750-meter high Alto del Perdon(Also known as the “The Mount of Forgiveness.”)  And as the link at left says:

It is a very windy place, and a long winding climb.  The path is not very steep but feels tiring…  Maybe the weight of unforgiven sins on our shoulders?  Once the top of the hill is reached, [the pilgrim-hiker] is welcomed by these statues representing pilgrims, braving the wind to continue their chosen path.  (Emphasis in original.)

For myself I was mostly glad that some enterprising lady had a “cafe movil,” basically a truck-pulled trailer offering cold drinks.  And it was interesting to go “‘horsing’ around with some of the cut-out statuary at ‘the Peak…'”  (The Peak of Forgiveness that is, as shown above right.) 

This is also a good time to mention that dinners on the Camino were universally delicious.  Most of the albergues featured a three-course special, including a salad, main course and choice of desserts.  Which may explain why – even though people said I “looked thinner” when I got back home – I actually weighed the same 160 pounds as when I left.

Then on September 14 we stayed at the Albergue de Capuchin, a pilgrim’s hostel run by monks in a monastery:  “Though ‘Spartan’ it has wifi … and a shower, w/ washer/dryer and a restaurant downstairs.”  That was in Estella, not to be confused with Estrella, “a lager beer, brewed in BarcelonaSpain.”  (With which I became well acquainted, while in Spain.)

Getting back to the hike, September 16 “was tough. 17.3 miles, from Los Arcos to Logrono. We’re both limping this fine Sunday morning.  I have an unpopped blister on the ball of my left foot…  I put a bandaid on it.  Then duct-taped a gauze pad on top of that.”  But along the way we had gotten some “jamone” sandwiches to go, and later ate them in a copse next to the “Ermita del Poyo,” or Hermitage of the Virgin of Poyo (As shown above left.)  

And incidentally, those “jamone” sandwiches became pretty much part of our daily routine.  Jamone is “basically a cured ham, thin sliced and dark hued, with cheese, on a half loaf of French bread,” as I wrote.  I suppose the bread was actually “Spanish,” but either way it was very chewy, as was the jamone itself.  Which led me to ponder at one point during the hike, “I wonder what people with dentures do for lunch in Spain, what with the chewy sandwiches?”

One answer?  They probably go hungry!

And speaking of routines, breakfast had a routine as well.  Fresh-squeezed orange juice – one feature I do miss about Spain – along with café con leche and tostadas(As in toast, or “more French/Spanish chewy bread, toasted and spread with butter and marmalade.”)  But however routine those early meals of the day, “dinners on the Camino were universally delicious.”

Unfortunately I’m approaching the limits of an ideal blog post – 1,000 words or less – so I’ll have to wrap it up.  And what better way to wrap up an emphasis on the good parts of the Camino than the photo at right:  A “scene along the way:  A shepherd and his ‘flocking’ sheep.”

I took that picture on September 17, the fifth day of hiking.  And aside from a quaint shepherd and his flock, you can also see “some fellow Peregrinos in the background, walking along the road.”  That particular day featured a lot of hiking on macadam and asphalt highways, but with more than two months’ hindsight, the picture above right made it all worthwhile.

Plus I discovered – in just checking my hand-written notebook – some more good parts of the Camino.  I wrote on September 15, “Two nice Spanish ladies helped us today.  One came from behind and zipped up my pack.”  (As in the side pockets that I’d left unzipped.)  Then, “Another [lady] pointed us back to where ‘we’d’ made a wrong turn.  We had to hike across a field.”

I remember that.  While the Camino is normally well-marked, there are times when you can get lost.  We’d taken what we thought was the right path, but then discovered there were no other hikers around.  That’s when the Spanish lady took the time to point out the error of our ways.

But now I’m getting really close to the 1,000-word maximum.  So I’ll wrap up with the picture below, from the first day off we took from hiking.  We reached Burgos – with a population of some 180,000 – on Friday evening, September 22.  (After 10 days hiking.)  After checking into our swanky hotel, we went out for a bite at the Cafe Dolar, an American-themed pizza parlor.

It was quite the Friday-night hot spot, and featured American-movie posters on the walls and ceilings, and some old-timey advertising posters and such.  I had such a good time that I went back Saturday afternoon, for a quick cerveza.  And to take the picture below.  (You can see my yellow-shirted arm to the left in the mirror.)  It was almost like being home…  (But better.)

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The upper image is courtesy of Pamplona – Wikipedia.  Caption: “Monument to running of the bulls.”

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus, as to “Some people reading ‘Hola! Buen Camino*,'” the full reference is to the post dated October 23, 2017, “Hola! Buen Camino!” – Revisited.  (As opposed to the “primitive” post I did while on the Camino itself, “Hola! Buen Camino,” dated October 3, 2017.)  

And as to the “$13 dinner special,” that would have been 13 euros. 

“Hola! Buen Camino!” – Revisited

My completed pilgrimage started at Pamplona, at lower right, for miles of hiking and biking…

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Well, we did it.  My brother and I arrived in Santiago de Compostela on Thursday, October 12.  This was after hiking – and biking – the Camino de Santiago, as shown in the map above.  Along the way I occasionally listened to my iPod Shuffle – to help pass the time – and one of my favorite songs was It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.  Except in my mind I had to change the words to “It’s a long way to Santiago!”

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I did my last post from Puente La Reina, in Spain – “about eight miles shy of León” – on October 3, 2017.  For reasons including that I only had my tablet, the post was extremely primitive.  But it did note that – upon reaching Leon – “we will have hiked 250 miles from Pamplona, in the 21 days since we left on September 13.*”  Here’s what I also noted:

The first 10 days after [Pamplona] – on the hike – were pretty miserable.  My left foot constantly throbbed, until it blistered up and got tough.  But the day off in Burgos helped a lot.  And since then we’ve made good progress.  Still, we had to implement a Plan B, which involves renting bikes in Leon and cycling the remaining 194 miles.

Image may contain: sky and outdoorAnd speaking of Burgos, here’s a picture of the city’s famous cathedral.  It shows my fellow traveller, and was taken on the morning of September 26, on the way out of town.  (That took over an hour, hiking.)

To make a long story short, we covered the last 195 miles or so in seven days, riding mountain bikes, complete with panniers on the back.  In other words, during the first two-thirds of the trip we averaged 12  miles a day, hiking.  In the last seven days we averaged closer to 28 miles a day.

But in a way that turned out to be simply a variety of Dorothy Parker‘s “different kind of hell.*”  (We just got way too sore again, but in different parts of the body.)

You can get a better idea from the map at the top of the page.  It took ten days to hike from Pamplona to Burgos, where we too our first day off.  It took another 10 days to reach Leon, where we took our second day off and picked up our pre-ordered bikes.  Then that long section from Leon to Burgos – some 195 miles of the 450 – we covered in seven days.

But not without mishap.  Neither one of us had ridden a bike in 40 or 50 years, so it wasn’t really surprising when my right handlebar took out – smashed the heck out of – the side-view mirror of some poor slob’s nice new car.*  In the second mishap I literally “ran my ass into a ditch…”

We were zooming downhill one afternoon.  I tried to adjust my left pantleg, and the next thing I knew I was laying in a ditch, bleeding like a stuck pig.  And not just any ditch.  A nice deep ditch covered with thorns and brambles on the sides and bottom.  The “stuck pig” part came when my Ray-Bans gashed the bridge of my nose, causing it to bleed profusely…

The third major mishap came a mere six kilometers from Santiago, when my rear tire when flat.

We finally got a new tube on and inflated, but then had a time getting the chain back on the derailleur.  I finally flagged down a passing Spanish cyclist.  He helped get that straight, but then – after he peddled his merry way – we found out there were no rear brakes, which posed a problem.  We knew that much of the remaining six kilometers was downhill, and also that if applied too forcefully, using front-only brakes can cause a cyclist to go “ass over teakettle.”

So my brother had us switch bikes, and we both glided – carefully and gingerly – into Santiago.

I’ll be writing on more of these adventures, including the several times I – or we – got Lost in Spain.  But after five weeks in Spain – the last part of which included a nine-hour bus ride from Santiago to Madrid, and a 10-hour flight from Madrid to Atlanta – I can only say, with feeling:

There’s No Place Like Home!!

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There is indeed “no place like home” (especially after a long pilgrimage…)

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The upper image is courtesy of Camino de Santiago 800 PROJECT: Map of the Routesilverarrow18.blogspot.com.  

The “Tipperary” image is courtesy of It’s a Long Way to Tipperary – Wikipedia.

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus as to the asterisk next to the passage “the 21 days since we left on September 13:”  We actually reached Leon on October 4. 

Re: Fellow traveller.  Here referring to a person who is “intellectually sympathetic” – in this case, to the crazy idea of spending thousands of dollars and five weeks to hike in a foreign country – as opposed to the term as used in U.S. politics in the 1940s and 1950s.  At that time and place the term was a “pejorative term for a person who was philosophically sympathetic to Communism, yet was not a formal, ‘card-carrying member‘ of the American Communist Party.” 

Young Dorothy Parker.jpgRe:  “Different kind of hell.”  The allusion is to Dorothy Parker‘s famously saying – whenever the door rang in her apartment – “What fresh hell is this?”  That’s also the title of Parker’s 1989 biography by Marion Meade.  See Amazon.com: Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?  

Re:  “Some poor slob’s nice new car.”  City streets in Spain are generally very narrow and difficult to maneuver. 

The “bicycle in a ditch” image is courtesy of Cyclist falls into ditch at opening of new safer bike path …telegraph.co.uk.

The lower image is courtesy http://f3nation.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/no-place-like-home.jpg.   See also No Place Like Home – Wikipedia, which noted that – aside from the famous line in the movie Wizard of Oz – the phrase may also refer to “the last line of the 1822 song ‘Home! Sweet Home!,’ words by John Howard Payne and music by Sir Henry Bishop; the source of inspiration for the other references here: ‘Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home,’” and/or “‘(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays,’ a 1954 Christmas song most famously sung by Perry Como.”  For a “live” version, see also There’s No Place Like Home – YouTube.

“Hola! Buen Camino!”

It's_a_Long_Way_to_Tipperary_-_cover_2

I’m now in Puente Villarente, about eight miles shy of Leon.  (In Spain, on the Camino de Santiago.) By the time we get there – tomorrow – we will have hiked 250 miles from Pamplona, in the 21 days since we left on September 13. (We took a day off in Burgos.) Unfortunately my tablet isn’t good for the usual high-quality posts, so for now I’ll try this more-primitive version.

The image above refers to one of the favorite songs on my iPod Shuffle. The one I sneak out every once in a while, “on the march.” But I’ve changed the words to “It’s a long way to Santiago!” (Santiago de Compostela that is.)

IMG_20170912_144540

Here’s a picture from Pamplona, showing two “turistas” in front of a statue commemorating the annual running of the bulls. It seems like an eternity ago.

The first 10 days after that – on the hike – were pretty miserable. My left foot constantly throbbed, until it blistered up and got tough. But the day off in Burgos helped a lot. And since then we’ve made good progress. Still, we had to implement a Plan B, which involves renting bikes in Leon and cycling the remaining 194 miles.

But for now we’re happily ensconced in Puente Villarente, a city named for the old Roman bridge shown below.

I’ll try to either update or add some such primitive posts, but if not, I’ll be back home on or about October 17.

IMG_20171003_142757

 

Going back “whence we came…”

I’m going east to explore Spain.  (That’s where Columbus – center – started west to explore us…)

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Within 48 hours I’ll be winging my way from Atlanta to Madrid (As in Spain, and as indicated in Training for the Camino.)  From there I’ll be taking a train to Pamplonafrom whence my brother and I will hike 450 miles in 30 days, on the Camino de Santiago.  Which brings up the whole “whence we came” thing.  (As illustrated at right, and in the title of this post.)

That phrase is attributed – variously – to John F. KennedyJames Baldwin, and Jesus.

Jesus said – in the King James Version of John 8:14 – “I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go.”  John F. Kennedy put it this way:  “When we go back to the sea … we are going back from whence we came.”  And James Baldwin said, “If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”

Which pretty much sums up the whole idea of going on a pilgrimage.  As in – for example – going for a 450-mile hike on the Camino de Santiago. (As shown at left, in an illustration from a far earlier time.)

Or, as Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI put it:

To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history.  To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself…  Above all, Christians go on pilgrimage [for example] to Compostela, which, associated with the memory of Saint James, has welcomed pilgrims from throughout the world who desire to strengthen their spirit with the Apostle’s witness of faith and love.

The point of all this being that – in going to Spain – I’ll be going back to the place where the whole American Saga really began.  (As illustrated in the painting at the top of the page.)  That saga – the American Journey – began when one Chris Columbus met “Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon.”  I.e., back “whence we all came.”

Metaphorically or otherwise…

But there is one problem.  In preparing for the trip, I found out that I know very little about Spain as it is today.  For example, I didn’t know that Spain is now both a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy.  (One of “19 full democracies in the world.”)

I also didn’t know about the Iberian Wolf – at right – but there’s more on that later.

More to the point, I didn’t have much of an idea of what kind of sections or provinces of Spain that I’d be hiking through.

But I know now – through the magic of Googling – that my portion of the 450-mile Camino-hike will go through the four most-northerly regions of Spain:  NavarraLa RiojaCastilla y Leon, and Galicia.

(My brother will be hiking further:  Over the Pyrenees – from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France – and meeting up with me in Pamplona.  So he’ll do 500 miles and I’ll do 450 miles.  But personally I had enough mountain hiking last August.  See On the Chilkoot &^%$# Trail! – Parts One  and Two.)

So anyway, the capital of the first province on our mutual journey – Navarra (Navarre) – is Pamplona.  This – it is said – is “a quiet and pleasant city … world-famous for the Running of Bulls which form part of its most famous festival, Sanfermines, in July.”  (And as immortalized in The Sun Also Rises, the 1926 novel by American author Ernest Hemingway.)

Wine with the La Rioja Designation of Origin © La Rioja TurismoThe La Rioja region also has one province, of the same name.   The “smallest of Spain’s Autonomous Communities,” the first thing that comes to mind for La Rioja is “probably the wine bearing the same name.”  (Memo to self:  Do more research on this topic.)  

Along the Way of Saint James there are monumental towns of great beauty lined up:  Calahorra, Arnedo, San Millan de la Cogolla,Santo Domingo de la Calzada, and Logroño, founded already by Romans and today the region’s capital.

The next region – Castilla y Leon – is not only the largest region of Spain, it’s also “the largest region of all the European Union.”  And it’s actually two regions in one:  “Castilla and Leon came together in 1983, when the regions of Castilla la Vieja and Leon were united.”

The 450-mile hike ends in Galicia, the region “known in Spain as the ‘land of the 1000 rivers.'”  It has four provinces:  Lugo, Ourense, Pontevedra and A Coruña.  The capital of the latter province is – as we well know by now  – Santiago de Compostela.  And that’s the “final destination of the famous pilgimage way” and “certainly among Spain’s most beautiful cities.”

In closing this post, I’m not sure when I’ll get to do another one before I get home  That is, I’m not sure how safe, secure and user-friendly are the “public” wi-fi connections in Spain.

But in the meantime, consider the following little tidbits of information:

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The region of Spain where my brother and I will be hiking…

The “approximate geographical range of the Iberian wolf…” 

IberianWolf-Map.png

And finally, an “Alpha male Iberian wolf with blood stains in its snout:”

Just Sayin’!

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The upper image is courtesy of Spain – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Christopher Columbus meets Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon in the Alhambra.”

Re:  “Whence.”  The Kennedy-quote image is courtesy of To sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we camequotefancy.com.  Kennedy made the comments at the “Dinner for the America’s Cup Crews,” on September 14, 1962.  Here’s the full quote:

I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it’s because we all came from the sea.  And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears.  We are tied to the ocean.  And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.

Re:  “American Journey.”  See also The American Journey: A History of the United States, the text book, not to be confused with American Journey, the “six-part orchestral composition” composed by John Williams and “commissioned by U.S. President Bill Clinton to accompany a multimedia presentation titled ‘The Unfinished Journey’ directed by Steven Spielberg for the 2000 ‘Millennium‘ celebrations.”

Re:  “Back ‘whence we all came.'”  Yeah, I know, the Vikings Beat Columbus to America, but they didn’t stick around very long.  See Norse colonization of North America – Wikipedia:  

The Norse colony in Greenland lasted for almost 500 years.  Continental North American settlements were small and did not develop into permanent colonies.  While voyages, for example to collect timber, are likely to have occurred for some time, there is no evidence of any lasting Norse settlements on mainland North America.

Information on the “northerly regions of Spain” was gleaned from Regions of SPAIN – All about Spain.

The “wolf” image is also courtesy of the Wikipedia article on Spain.  The caption, “Iberian Wolf.”  The caption for that link indicates that the Iberian Wolf is “a subspecies of grey wolf that inhabits the forest and plains of northern Portugal and northwestern Spain.  The 2003 census estimated the total Iberian population to be 2,000 wolves.”  The article further indicated that “Iberian wolf lives in small packs.  It is considered to be beneficial because it keeps the population of wild boar stable, thus allowing some respite to the endangered capercaillie populations which suffers greatly from boar predation.  It also eats rabbitsroe deerred deeribexes and even small carnivores and fish.  In some places it eats domestic animals such as sheep and dogs.”

The “La Rioja” image is courtesy of Tourism in La Rioja (Province) in Spain | Visit La Rioja.  The caption:  “Wine with the La Rioja Designation of Origin © La Rioja Turismo.”

Note again that the map above – showing the “Approximate geographical range of the Iberian wolf” – roughly coincides to where I’ll be hiking.  See e.g. the top map in Training for the Camino.

Also, note that the idea of Columbus starting “west to explore us” is a bit of Artistic License.

Training for the Camino

My projected route will start at Pamplona, at the lower right, for some 450 miles of hiking…

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Some three weeks from now I’ll be winging my way from Atlanta to Madrid.*  (As in Spain.)  I’ll arrive at 8:30 Saturday morning, after an all-night flight.  (And no doubt suffering from jet lag.)

The bad news?  “Travelling east causes more problems than travelling west because the body clock has to be advanced, which is more difficult.”  Also, if you cross six time zones – like I’ll be doing – “the body will typically adjust to this time change in three to five days.”  By which time I’m supposed to be in Pamplona, getting ready to hike 450 miles, in 30 days, on the Camino de Santiago.

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And now for some background:  Last year at this time I was training for a four-day “hike” on the Chilkoot Trail.  I was also training for a canoe trip.  That canoe trip came after the Chilkoot-Trail hike, and entailed my brother and I paddling 440 miles “down” the Yukon River,* in Canada.

I described those adventures in On the Chilkoot &^%$# Trail! – Part 1 and Part 2, and in “Naked lady on the Yukon.”  (As metaphorically illustrated at right.)

The “Chilkoot” was pretty much a nightmare.  For one thing, it’s not a trail at all.  It’s more like one big pile of &^%#$ rocks after another.  But I’m glad I did it.

I’m also glad my brother and I canoe-paddled 440 miles “down” the Yukon River, from Whitehorse  to Dawson City.  (For reasons including but not limited to the “naked lady” sighting described in my prior posts.)  So now I’m ready for a new adventure.

For one thing, between last summer and now we’ve had a contentious presidential election, and an even more contentious beginning-of-the-Trump Administration.  So my new adventure in Spain is a chance to get away from it all.  Then too, I’ve tried to keep pace with all the resulting mayhem since last August, but to no avail.  (For one thing I was going to do a post on a “Bizarro Trump.”  But that’s been impossible because it’s hard to tell the Bizarro version from the real thing.)  So I’ve decided to focus on some things I can actually have an impact on.

Things like my upcoming pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago.  (Where I’ll meet up my brother in Pamplona, but not during the “running of the bulls, as seen at left.)

And incidentally, the map at the top of the page is courtesy of Camino de Santiago 800 PROJECT.  That post described a 14-day trip on the Camino, starting at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.  But that guy and his travel-buddy covered the 500 miles on bicycles, not on foot.  (Though traveling on bikes could be a fallback position for us:  “an alternative course of action that may be taken if the original plan fails.”)

Other sites with good advice include Preparing for the Camino and Training for the Camino.

Then there’s Camino de Santiago – Helping pilgrims since 2004, and – for some “devil’s advocate” feedback – a post called 10 Reasons Why El Camino Santiago Sucks.

Among the reasons the Camino “sucks:” Car traffic within earshot 95% of the time, monotonous scenery and unfriendly commercialism.  But apparently the biggest reason:

It’s hard to take a piss.  There’s little privacy. Cars and pilgrims are constantly passing you by.  After 3 p.m. most pilgrims retire to their albergues (huts) and you’ll get more privacy to do your business.  Nevertheless, at 7 p.m. one jogger still managed to catch me with my pants down.  [Emphasis in original.]

13 Dead Horse GulchWhich could be a personal problem.  And for that matter there was also very little privacy on the Chilkoot Trail.

But as I described the situation in The Chilkoot – Part 1, that was more of a problem of “cursing my fate” rather than answering a call of nature.  (See the notes…)

Then too, I ran into a similar problem kayaking into the Okefenokee Swamp – twice – for overnight camping trips.  But in that case it was a matter of no solid ground – in the swamp – for you to get out and stand up.  (For whatever reason.)

But we were talking about “training for the Camino.”  For starters, there’s a boatload of paperwork:  Making sure your passport is up-to-date, and has at least three months left after your projected departure date.  (Departure back home from Spain that is.)  Getting your pilgrim’s “credencial.”  Booking your air line flight.  Getting travel insurance.  Getting your pack ready, and making sure it weighs no more than 10% of your body weight.  (For me, 16 pounds.)

You could get all the necessary prep-info from the websites noted above, or other informative sites. Or, you could have an ex-Marine Sgt. Rock-type older brother who’s done the research already.

And sent a number of informative emails, plus a 4-page single-spaced “to-do list” to check before you leave.  (Not to mention a note saying, “I hope you’re saving this information I’m passing on…”) 

As to getting ready to hit the trail itself, the hardest part is getting your feet ready.  (Like the hardest part of getting ready to paddle six hours a day for eight days is getting your wrists and hands in shape.)  To that end, I’ve been hiking 12 or more miles a day, once a week, for the last several months.  And making sure my feet are in good enough shape the next morning to hike another five or six hours.  And for the past several weeks I’ve been doing my weekly hikes on the Pine Mountain Trail, near F.D. Roosevelt State Park, near Warm Springs, GA.

But there’s a big difference.  The Pine Mountain Trail is – I hope – far more rugged than the Camino.  Lots of roots, boulders, sheer drop-offs and slippery-rock streams to cross.  On the other hand the Camino seems to be more smooth and level, or asphalt-paved.

Naturally I’ll be doing a post-mortem in this blog, once I get home.  So “we” will see if my hike-training preparations were adequate.  But in the meantime it pays to look ahead.  And looking ahead to some time on the weekend of October 14-15 – some seven and a half weeks from now – I hope to catch a glimpse of of our final destination, shown below.  That would be Santiago de Compostela, whether the “Pico Sacro*” is in the background or foreground.

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“A partial view of Santiago de Compostela, with the Pico Sacro in the background…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Camino de Santiago 800 PROJECT: Map of the Routesilverarrow18.blogspot.com.  

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus as to the asterisk next to the passage “from Atlanta to Madrid:” The image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article on Spain, including a link to the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).  The caption indicated the words “No pasaran” translate to “They shall not pass.”  The caption further noted a sub-title on the banner, that “Madrid will be the graveyard of fascism.”  And finally, the caption noted that “Fascism was on rise in Europe during Spanish Civil War,” which somehow seemed appropriate…

Also, re:  “‘down’ the Yukon River.”  As explained in the “naked lady” post, the Yukon flows north, like the Nile River but unlike most other rivers in the world.  Thus the anomaly of saying you are paddling “down” a river, but also paddling northward, which most people refer to as “up.”  See The Straight Dope: On maps, why is north always up?

Re:  “Cursing my fate.”  See On the Chilkoot &^%$# Trail! – Part 1:

What with my lack of depth perception, going over “one big pile of *&$% rocks after another” was like negotiating a minefield.  I wore heavy hiking boots, but they felt like ballet slippers. Every step was sheer torture…  I had just taken one of many missteps – especially bad that day – and let loose a string of pungent epithets. Then I looked behind me and there – climbing “personfully” behind me – was [a] sweet young [lady hiker].  Sheepishly I apologized, noting that I had “no depth perception.”

Also re:  The Camino.  See also Camino de Santiago – Wikipedia.

The image to the right of the paragraph “But as I described the situation,” shows “Dead Horse Trail,” so named for the number of horses who died on White Pass, the only alternative route to the Klondike gold fields in the 1898 gold rush.  As to which route was better – White Pass or the Chilkoot Trail –  “a pioneer – Mont Hawthorne – said there really was no choice:  “One’s hell.  The other’s damnation.”  

The “Sgt. Rock” image is courtesy of Sgt Rock Wallpapernocturnals.com.

The lower image is courtesy of Santiago de Compostela – Wikipedia.  As to “Pico Sacro,” see Pico Sacro | Web Oficial de Turismo de Santiago de Compostela, which added these points:

The history of the municipality of Boqueixón is closely linked to its main geographic landmark and greatest natural and cultural resource:  Pico Sacro, one of Galicia’s most mythical and best-known mountains.

Pico Sacro’s silhouette is a scenic point of reference in a wide-ranging area.

Pico Sacro is the source of countless legends and traditional tales.  The region’s inhabitants venerated the mountain before and after the arrival of Christianity, and it plays an essential role in the myth regarding the transfer of the Apostle James’ body.  It has a peculiar shape formed by rocks of crystallized quartz and a height of 533 metres above sea level.

Canoeing 12 miles off the coast of Mississippi…

November 10, 2014 photo IMG_4329_zps7f7b5ddb.jpg

A mere 10 miles out in the Gulf, off the coast of Mississippi  –  Dawn, November 10, 2014…

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In September I’m flying to Madrid, Spain.  From there I’ll take the train to Pamplona, to meet up with my adventurous brother, Tom.  From that point we’ll both be hiking the Camino de Santiago.  (At left.)  We plan to hike 450 miles in 30 days.

Which brings up the 8-day canoe trip that we two took back in November 2014, “12 miles offshore.”  (I.e., 12  miles off the coast of Mississippi.)  We started out on Lake Pontchartrain, then paddled through the Rigolets, then out into the Gulf of Mexico.

12 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico.

We paddled a whole lot during the day.  In one stretch we paddled 17 miles in 11 hours.  Then at night we “primitive camped.”  We primitive camped on places like Half Moon Island and East Ship Island.  (And from time to time we camped on an occasional salt marsh.)

Which naturally brings up the question, Why?   Why would two old geezers – 63 and 69, respectively and at the time – paddle so far out into the realm of sharks and drowning?

http://walkinginfrance.info/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/Travels1.jpgI still don’t know the full answer, except to say that such adventures are a whole lot of fun once they’re over.  But part of the appeal got spelled out by both John Steinbeck – in Travels with Charley – and Robert Louis Stevenson.  (His Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes is at right.)

The sum and substance of it is that there’s something rewarding to doing the unexpected.  There’s something rewarding in paddling 12 miles offshore, at the mercy of the elements, with day’s end promising “naught but a lukewarm meal on a soggy beach,” or a more soggy salt marsh:

But as it turns out, that’s the nature of pilgrimages.   They give us a break from “real life,” from the rat race that consumes so many lives today…  [T]hrough the raw experience of hunger, cold and lack of sleep, “we can quite often find a sense of our fragility as mere human beings, especially when compared with ‘the majesty and permanence of God.’”   In short, such a pilgrimage can be “‘one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating’ of personal experiences.”

As Wikipedia noted, such journeys – pilgrimages – can be to a “shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs,” or some other search “of moral or spiritual significance.”  (Wikipedia also noted that one “popular pilgrimage journey is along the Way of St. James to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, in Galicia, Spain,” but that’s a subject for future posts.)  

But perhaps the best answer – at least for people of a certain age – is simply to show that we can still do it.  Or as John Steinbeck said in Travels with Charley, too many men – as they get older – “hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood.”  But that wasn’t his way:

I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage…  If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway.  I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage.  It’s bad theater as well as bad living.

Or to put it simply:  I want to have these adventures before I get too old and decrepity.

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And incidentally, the photo below is another one I took near dawn on November 10, 2014. (That’s the day we did 17 miles in 11 hours, which amounted to some six hours of actual canoeing.)  Also, given the age of the “intrepid canoeists” it behooved us to learn – through “OJT“ – the technique of “siesta at sea.”  Note the calm water that is a necessity for such a siesta when you’re 10 or 12 miles out in the Gulf.  In other words, it pays to pace yourself

In further words, we’ll likely be taking plenty of siestas on the Camino de Santiago.

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November 10, 2014 photo IMG_4332_zps47e076b9.jpg

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The upper image is a photo I took near dawn on the morning of November 10, 2014.  (And incidentally, those are clouds on the horizon, not land.)  That day we got up and broke camp at 3:00 a.m.  We hit the water at 5:00 a.m. and paddled 17 miles in 11 hours, not counting an hour break on Cat Island, before proceeding to West Ship Island.  

For a longer version of this tale, see On canoeing 12 miles offshore, from May 2015.

The “pilgrim” image – to the left of the first paragraph in the main text – is courtesy of the Wikipedia article on the Camino de Santiago.  The caption:  “Way of St. James pilgrims (1568).”

Re:  “Calm water.”  The Gulf waters were so calm because we got up and broke camp at 3:00 in the morning.  Later on in the day – owing to increased wind and the heat of the sun – the waters in the Gulf of Mexico get way more roiled.

Re:  Siestas.  Wikipedia noted that such short naps include the “traditional daytime sleep of Spain,” while in America and other non-Mediterranean cultures the habit has caught on while being referred to as a “power nap.”  The article included the image at left, with the caption:  “A painting of a young woman taking a siesta,” or The hammockGustave Courbet (1844).

Some highlights from 2016…

Seeing a “naked lady on the Yukon” – symbolized here – was one of my highlights from 2016…

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It’s New Year’s Day, and so a good time to recall some highlights from 2016.

Johnny Mercer, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948 (William P. Gottlieb 06121).jpgThere was of course the Election From Hell, but the less said about that the better.  I prefer to “Accentuate the Positive.”  (Referring to the 1944 song with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, shown at left.)  And seeing a “naked lady on the Yukon” certainly qualifies as one of those positive 2016 highlights…

Back in August my brother, nephew and I met up in the town of Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory.  From there we drove to Skagway, Alaska.  And from there we hiked the Chilkoot Trail in four days.  (The “meanest 33 miles in history.”)

And here’s a news flash:  There’s a good reason why they call it the “meanest 33 miles in history.”  Mostly it’s because “the Chilkoot” is not a trail at all, but just one big pile of rocks after another.  But it was a man-against-nature venture, and fortunately the “manly men” won. (Though not without some bruises and blisters that lasted for weeks…)  

After that my nephew had the good sense to head back east to begin classes at Penn State.  However, my brother and I proceeded on to a twelve-day canoe trip “down” the Yukon River.  We ended up in Dawson City, also in the Yukon Territory.  But the most “poetic” part of the journey involved two days paddling on Lake Laberge, at right.

Most people know it better as “Lake Labarge,” thanks to the famous poem,  “The Cremation of Sam McGee.”  But that’s only because “Laberge” doesn’t rhyme with “marge,” meaning “shore” or “edge.”  (As in “edge of a lake.”  And further as in the poem’s narrator hauling McGee’s body to the “marge of Lake Lebarge.”)

I figured there was an object lesson there, somewhere…

All in all my brother and I spent five weeks driving up to the Yukon – from Utah – then doing the two “man against nature” adventures, and finally driving back home from the Yukon.  But by far the more traumatic of the two was hiking the Chilkoot Trail.  It was so traumatic that I had to do two blogposts on the subject:  On the Chilkoot &^%$# Trail!, Parts 1 and Part 2.

One of the highlights hiking the trail came as we three were approaching the summit of the Chilkoot Pass.  (My brother and nephew were way out in front.  And at left is the good part.)  

And what with my lack of depth perception – from having only one good eye – going over “one big pile of *&$% rocks after another” was like negotiating a minefield.  I wore heavy hiking boots, but they felt like ballet slippers.  Every step was sheer torture, and brought new pain to each aching foot.

So anyway, I had just taken one of many missteps – causing severe pain – and thus let loose a string of pungent epithets.  Then I looked behind me and there – climbing behind me – was a sweet young lady hiker.  Sheepishly I apologized, noting that I had “no depth perception.”  But she went ahead and passed me.  (And probably rolled her eyes in the process…)  A short while later I had another misstep and loosed another string of epithets.

Again I looked behind me, and again there was a young couple, including another “sweet, innocent young thing.”  So I said to myself, “Hey, I may be on to something here!”

Unfortunately I tried it a few times later on the trail, but my magic formula didn’t work.  (On the other hand there I did see that “Naked lady on the Yukon,” 10 days later, on August 12…) 

You can see the full story at the “Naked lady” post, which brings up the strong current on the Yukon River.  Generally it’s pretty fast, ranging from over four miles an hour up to seven miles an hour in some places.  (Except on“Lake &^%$# Laberge,” where the paddling is very slow.)

That’s the kind of current that helps you paddle 440 miles in 12 days.  But it also means that when you see something totally unexpected, by the time you recognize it, the current is already moving you downriver…  Which meant that by the time I recognized the naked lady as a naked lady, the current was already pushing me farther down-river.

SwampWaterPoster.jpgWhich is enough – for now – about the naked lady on the Yukon.

Which brings up one of my other 2016 adventures, a return trip to the  Okefenokee Swamp, as detailed in “There he goes again.”  That post – from Monday, May 30 – looked ahead to the middle of the week.  I actually put in 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning, June 1, and counted 39 gators in the first hour of paddling.  (Then I stopped counting.)   I never did do a post on that little adventure, which is something I need to do in the next week or so.

As for an excuse, I had “another stinkin’ funeral.”  A close friend died unexpectedly the day before, but I didn’t find out about it until I was already in Valdosta.

Which makes this as good a place as any to end this particular post.  Except to note that there were way too many “stinkin’ funerals” to go to in 2016.  (As noted also in the December 19 post, A funeral and an NTE (Near-Ticket Experience).)

And to note that I didn’t see any naked ladies in the Okefenokee Swamp.

Just at lot of alligator[s] mississippienses…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Sun tanning – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption:  “A woman sun tanning on a Portuguese beach.”  Further references are in the blog-posts cited in the text.  And a BTW: Googling “election from hell 2016” got me some 154,000,000 results.