Category Archives: Travelogs

Remembering the Okefenokee…

An “alligator mississippiensis,” prevalent in the Okefenokee Swamp – where I kayaked – twice

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Okefenokeelocatormap.pngThis May I’ll be making a two-week pilgrimage to Jerusalem (As part of a local church group.)  Which makes this a great time to remember some past pilgrimages.  Like my two separate overnight-camping ventures into the Okefenokee Swamp (Shown at left.)

I wrote of those Okefenokee trips in several posts:  Operation Pogo – “Into the Okefenokee” (11/7/15), “Into the Okefenokee” – Part II (11/15/15), “Into the Okefenokee” – Part III (11/24/15), “There he goes again…” (5/30/16), and “There he goes again” – Revisited (5/31/17).

The original Operation Pogo noted that my fascination with the Okefenokee started – at age 10 or so, back in the 1960s – when I saw the movie Swamp Water, starring Walter Brennan:

The part I remember best was watching Walter Brennan getting bitten in the face by a snake.  In the scene, he kneels over and parts the bulrushes to get a drink. (Of  “swamp water,” while hiding from John Law in the Okefenokee.)  As Walter [kneels], the viewer can see a grinning cottonmouth off to his right.  (The viewer’s left.)  The grinning cottonmouth then proceeds to bite him “right on the cheek.”  I’ve been fascinated ever since…

Part of that fascination also came from the old Pogo comic strip.  (It ran from 1949 to 1975.)  It starred Pogo Possum, was set in the Okefenokee, and featured “social and political satire through the adventures of its anthropomorphic funny animal characters:”

Pogo is set in the Georgia section of the Okefenokee Swamp;  Fort Mudge and Waycross are occasionally mentioned.  The characters live, for the most part, in hollow trees amidst lushly rendered backdrops of North American wetlands, bayous, lagoons and backwoods.

Also, note that my original “Pogo” post was very long.  It clocked in at over 1,600 words in the main text, and over 2,000 words including the notes.  Since then I’ve cut down on blog-post wordage, mostly because the average reader has the attention span of a gerbil.  (You could Google “ideal number of words for a blog post.”  One site – Forbes – said that for one thing, “most people only read between 20% to 28% of a post” anyway…)

1445698042386Revisited” noted my second fun trip into the Okefenokee, from the west entrance into the Okefenokee east of Fargo, Georgia (In the “tagalong” combo at right;  a kayak with a rubber dinghy trailing behind.)  “Among other things I saw some fifty alligators during the first hour of paddling.”  After that I stopped counting…

I camped at the CANAL RUN shelter, “some nine miles in from the Foster State Park launch site.”  And … because it was so early in the season the canoe-only trails were much vegetated-over.  Which meant that many times I had to “butt-scootch” my kayak over a barely-sunken log, and sometimes had to stick my hand out, grab another log and finish pulling the kayak [over].  The last time I reached my left hand out I saw a patch of white.  It turned out to be yet another gator … “smiling” nicely at what he no doubt thought was a tasty new snack.

In case I’m being too subtle, that “tasty new snack” would have been my left hand.

And speaking of “pilgrimages” – and why I do things like camp overnight in the Okefenokee (twice) and fly to places like Jerusalem:  I addressed that topic in my companion blog.  See for example, On St. James, Steinbeck, and sluts (The “sluts” came from Robert Louis Stevenson.)

That post noted that on a true pilgrimage – usually by and through such things as “the raw experience of hunger, cold, lack of sleep” – we can quite often “find a sense of our fragility as mere human beings.”  (And to that might be added, mosquitoes, snakes and great numbers of alligators.)  The post added that a true pilgrimage can be “one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating” of personal experiences.

I certainly felt “chastened” at almost having my left hand chomped by a “smiling” gator.

1445624973384And speaking of being chastened:  “One thing I learned is that – in the Okefenokee – there are precious few places to stop and take a break…  The shelters – for day use or overnight – are few and far between.  As a result, the ol’ keister got extremely sore by the end of the second day.  (Not to mention blisters on my palms…)”  That is, in this swamp there are few “shores” to speak of.  Just a “line of reeds that an alligator can mash down.”  And where a wandering kayaker – for example – steps off at his own peril, as shown above left.

Also, one time I was paddling through a very narrow canal when I saw a big bull gator – who eventually submerged. This was on the canoe trail to Monkey Lake.  As I paddled over the water where the gator had been, I could swear he came up and nudged the bottom of my kayak.  I figured it was an accident, at least the first time.  (But the second time?)

That added some spice to the trip.

Then there was the time I miscalculated my canoe-speed, and ended up paddling – late in the dark of night – through what seemed like miles of water lilies.  (Well after 8:00 p.m., as noted in Okefenokee … Part III.)  Which led me to think, as I paddled through the swamp in the dark:  “That Monet guy can take his stinkin’ water lilies andstick ‘em where the sun don’t shine.’”

That is, the canoe only trail to the Cedar Hammock Shelter is – or was – loaded with water lilies…

I discovered a nasty thing about water lilies.  They’re hard enough to paddle through during the day, when you can see what you’re doing…  [But] in a kayak – in the dark and in a hurry – your paddle tends to grab great wads of swamp weed.  Then the paddle tosses the soggy lily-entrails – wet and cold – all about your head and shoulders.

But such are the things that make for a great pilgrimage!  (At least in hindsight…)

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Poster for the 1941 film, Swamp Water.

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The upper image is courtesy of Alligator – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “American alligator (A. mississippiensis).”  For more on the upcoming two-week pilgrimage, see “On to Jerusalem!”!”

Pogo - Earth Day 1971 poster.jpgRe:  “Pogo,” running from 1949 to 1975.  Cartoonist Walt Kelly (1913–1973) fell ill in 1972, and was unable to continue the strip.  The strip continued for a short time with reprints, and cartoons from other artists.  But Kelly’s widow ultimately decided to discontinue the strip “because newspapers had shrunk the size of strips to the point where people could not easily read it.”  Also, one of the reasons I liked the strip was because – in hindsight – it seems rather prescient, as seen at left.

I took the photograph of the alligator basking on the “line of reeds.”  (From a safe distance.)

The lower image is courtesy of Swamp Water – Wikipedia.  That article noted the 1941 Jean Renoir film “starring Walter Brennan and Walter Huston, produced at 20th Century Fox, and based on the novel by Vereen Bell.  The film was shot on location at Okefenokee SwampWaycross, Georgia, USA.  This was Renoir’s first American film.  The movie was remade in 1952 as Lure of the Wilderness, directed by Jean Negulesco.”

Remembering the “Chilkoot &^%$# Trail!”

The “Chilkoot Trail” isn’t really a trail, it’s just “one big pile of &%#@ rocks after another!!!

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Back in 2016, my brother, nephew and I hiked the Chilkoot Trail.  People call it “the meanest 33 miles in history,” and I found out why – the hard way.  After that adventure, my nephew – just out of the Army – headed back east to start the fall term at Penn State.  My brother and I went on to take two canoes “up” the Yukon River – paddling 440 miles in 12 days.

Once back home I posted “Naked lady on the Yukon,” on August 28, 2016.  (The events of that trip were still fresh in my mind, for one reason or another.)  I later posted Chilkoot &^%$# Trail! – Part 1 and Chilkoot &^%$# Trail! – Part 2, on September 7, 2016.

I guess I’ll have to revisit “Naked lady” in more depth later on. (Deep sigh.)  But for now it’s enough  to say:

I just got back from two weeks canoeing the Yukon River…  And the “mighty Yukon” is the last place on earth I would expect to see a [naked] lady sun bathing.  But one moment, out of nowhere, there she was…

You can see the full story in the 8/28/16 post.  But for the metaphorical lead picture above left, you’ll have to imagine no sand.  “(And no ‘Bikini Bottom,’ for that matter.)”

Which brings us back to the “Chilkoot &^%$# Trail!”

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The “Chilkoot” starts in Dyea, Alaska.  And Dyea is pronounced “DIe-eeee,” maybe prophetically.  (Like, “that’s what you feel like doing once you get on the &$%# Trail!”)  It ends in Bennett, British Columbia.  That’s where you end up waiting, a long afternoon, with other hikers who’ve shared your ordeal. (Of four days or more.)  There’s only one train, at 3:15 in the afternoon, so all the footsore hikers get a chance to sit on something besides rocks, and pitch their tents to dry out.

Which brings up the fact that the number of hikers is strictly limited; you have to get a special permit to even start.  And they keep track of who gets where and when.

Like on the second afternoon – on the way to “Happy Camp,” seen in part at right.  That late afternoon I was “dragging tail” and the light started fading, so a nice lady ranger came out to help me, along with a nice husky young gent who carried my pack the rest of the way.*

That’s when I experienced the phantom pack phenomenon.  It’s not unlike the “phantom limb” sensation, but leaves you weaving and rolling like a drunken sailor.

That was one time I got to “if I could have cried I would.”  (Hey, I’m secure in my masculinity.)  

Another thing:  The nice lady ranger felt so bad for me she let us three stay in her private facility – the one above right – which meant we didn’t have to pitch our tents in the dark.  (She also gave us juice boxes, like “heaven on earth.”  I could have sworn they were raisin juice, but my older brother later said raisins are just dried-up grapes. It may have been the delirium, or the relief…)

Another excuse?  “Hiking the Chilkoot Trail is sheer torture for someone – like me – with only one good eye and and thus no depth perception.”  (For more detail see the February 2017 post, On that nail in my right eye.)  So my word of advice:  If you have only one good eye and no depth perception, take it slow and easy, and be ready to let the other hikers pass you by.

More good advice:  Anyone hiking the trail is advised that if they have to get airlifted out – like for a twisted ankle or such – the cost will be a cool $28,000.00.  Which brings up another point rangers make in the process of getting your permit to hike the trail:  Watch out for the bears!

A historical note:  The Chilkoot’s claim to fame started with the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896–99.  That “transformed the Chilkoot Trail into a mainstream transportation route to Canada’s interior.”  Also, the only other route to the gold fields was through White Pass.  (Up to 1899, when a railroad was built from Skagway to the Yukon.)   So which route was better?  Pioneer Mont Hawthorne said there wasn’t much difference:  “One’s hell.  The other’s damnation.”

13 Dead Horse GulchAnother side note:  White Pass was also called “Dead Horse Trail,” apparently renamed by Jack London:  “Nearly 3,000 pack animals died.  Drivers rushing over the pass had little concern for beasts.  Exhausted horses starved, were hurt on rough ground, became mired in mud and fell over cliffs.”

Which also gives you a feel for “hiking the Chilkoot.”

Which in turn brings up the question:  Why the hell would you do such a thing?

One answer can be seen in a post from my companion blog, On St. James, Steinbeck, and sluts.  It spoke in part of the “value of such pilgrimages in general.”  For example:

We were speaking of pilgrimages.  More to the point, of why an otherwise-relatively-sane 65-year-old [at the time] would either hike the Chilkoot Trail or spend 12 days canoeing 440 miles on the Yukon River.  That of course brings up St. James the Greater

And James is the Patron Saint of Pilgrims.  On that note, the post cited the book Passages of the Soul: Ritual Today. (James Roose-Evans.)  It said a pilgrimage – like a 12-day canoe trip on the Yukon or a “hike” on the Chilkoot &$%# Trail – “may be described as a ritual on the move.”

Further, the book said that through “the raw experience of hunger, cold, lack of sleep,” we can often find a sense of our fragility as mere human beings.  (And that’s especially true when the “majesty and permanence” of God’s creation included “all those &$%# rocks!”)

Finally, the book noted that such a pilgrimage – such ritual on the move – can be “one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating” of personal experiences.

I certainly felt “chastened” after we got back to Skagway from the Chilkoot Trail.  (Although the 10-of-12 beers that my nephew and I shared – of the two six-packs I bought – helped a lot too…)  But as I said in I pity the fool, “I pity the fool who doesn’t do pilgrimages and otherwise push the envelope, even at the advance stage of his life.”

Besides, my Chilkoot Trail experience made the Happy Camp “raisin juice” taste great!!!

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To repeat, the Chilkoot Trail is just “one big pile of &%#@ rocks after another!!!

(And this is one of the smooth parts…)

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The upper image is courtesy of Chilkoot Trail – Image Results.  From a post, “What the Chilkoot Trail Taught Me about Leadership – Pt. 6,” posted on , “b.”  A highlight:

We endured miserable weather throughout the day – cold, rainy and very windy…  At times, especially hiking up to and down from the summit I was quite frightened as I was afraid we would either be blown off the mountain or slip careening down the mountain.

I knew the feeling…  Also, this review-post borrowed liberally from On the Chilkoot &^%$# Trail! – Part 1 and Chilkoot &^%$# Trail! – Part 2.  

Re:  “Up” the Yukon River.  Like the Nile River, the Yukon flows north, which makes it unusual.

Re:  “Husky young gent who carried my pack the rest of the way.”  My brother and just-out-of-the-Army nephew also took turns carrying my pack part of the way to “Happy Camp.”  

Re:  “But as I said in I pity the fool…”  There followed a loose translation of Ralph Waldo Emerson‘s saying, “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.”

Re:  The book Passages of the Soul: Ritual Today.  The book also noted that a healthy sense of ritual “should pervade a healthy society, and that a big problem now is that we’ve abandoned many rituals that used to help us deal with big change and major trauma.”

Re:  The negative tone of this post.  My brother thought my post “Hola! Buen Camino!” – Revisited was also too negative; too “complaining” in general.  So I posted “Buen Camino!” – The Good Parts.  

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

But “fun stuff doesn’t make for good drama.”  See What Elements Make for [Good Drama]?

If your drama doesn’t have a juicy, complex, emotional, heart-wrenching, personal, intelligent, connectable role for an actor – it’s dead in the water.  And as a side note, don’t be afraid to inject some comedy into your dramatic scenes.  Except for Schindler’s List, every single drama listed above has more than one moment of levity.  However, there is one thing that every good drama needs no matter what the story is.  It’s more than a trend – it’s the mandatory ingredient – CONFLICT.  Drama is based on conflict.  And not just any conflict, but one that is powerful, relatable, and complex enough to propel a story forward… 

And BTW:  That hike on the Camino de Santiago in Spain took place in the fall of 2017.

The lower image is courtesy of Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site – Parks Canada:  “The Chilkoot Trail is a 53 kilometre / 33 mile trip through history and one of North America’s most fabled treks. The trail crosses the international boundary between the United States and Canada and is co-operatively managed by Parks Canada and the US National Park Service.”

Last year the Meseta, next year “Porto…”

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My brother exploring some “ruinas” on the Camino de Santiago, this time last year (10/4)…

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Image may contain: bridge, tree, outdoor, water and natureThis time last year – October 4, 2017 – my Utah brother and I were hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  Specifically, this day we managed to hike into León, for our second one-day break after 20 days of hiking.

We got to the PENSION BLANCA B&B fairly early in the afternoon, and could then start relaxing.  Or at least easing our aching feet…

The good news was that once we reached León, we had to switch from hiking to bicycling.  (We were running out of time.)  The bad news?  That change just led to “a different kind of hell.”  (From Dorothy Parker’s famous quote, “What fresh hell is this?”  In our case, it only meant a change in where we got sore…)

Just the day before – October 3 – we hiked from Reliegos to Puente Villarente – shown above right – some 7.5 miles shy of León.  (See also the blurb on the hike from El Burgos Raneros to Mansilla de las Mulas.)  I know because I wrote in my journal, “We hiked 7.5 miles today.”  So again, we got to the PENSION BLANCA in León early in the afternoon, and started relaxing.

The other good news was that we were finally done with the Meseta part of the hike.  Which brings up the picture at the top of the page.  The caption:  “Tom heading back to the Camino.  Which gives an idea of the landscape we’ve been hiking through.”  That hiking-through was on the Meseta Central plateau part of Spain – and it’s dry, dusty and hot.  In fact, it’s the part that some people recommend Camino pilgrims skip.  (If they want to be all “wussified.”)

So the Meseta part of the hike presented its own “fresh hell,” its own set of fresh challenges.  But hey, that’s what a real pilgrimage is all about.   A “journey or search of moral or spiritual significance,” as shown at left.  Or in other words, “Finding yourself.”

Anyway, by October 4th we’d already hiked from Pamplona for 20 days, and ended up in León.  We’d hiked 250 miles.  And aside from taking a day off in León, we got our rented 15-speed mountain bikes.  With them we covered the remaining 200 miles to Santiago de Compostela in seven days.  Even though neither of us had ridden a bike in 40 or so years…

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Before leaving for Spain – and the 450-mile hike-and-bike – I wrote about this pilgrimage-adventure in Training for the Camino and Going back “whence we came.”  (We started hiking from Pamplona on September 13 and got to Santiago October 12, 2017.)  Once I got back I did “Hola! Buen Camino!” – Revisited and “Buen Camino!” – The Good Parts (The latter because my brother thought “Camino – Revisited” was too negative.)   From the latter post I said this:

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.

Also about this time – leading up to the Leon stayover – there was a mass shooting in Las Vegas.  Bill O’Reilly posted that that latest mass murder was “the price of freedom.”  I posted in response, “No Bill, putting up with dumbasses like you is the price of freedom.”

So much for a pilgrimage making you all kumbaya and hug-your-neighbor.  But we digress…

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The start of the Meseta outside Burgos - el Camino de Santiago, Camino Frances, SpainThe point is that this time last year we were just finishing the dry, dusty Spanish Meseta part of our Camino hike.  But next year we plan something different.  We’ll go back for another hike, but this time on the Portuguese Camino, “a fantastic route for pilgrims looking for a more rural experience on the Camino de Santiago.”  And the “we” will include me, my brother and his wife.  Which means I’ll have to get my own lodging.  (So it’s time to start saving my pennies.)

I plan to fly into Lisbon, mostly because I’ve never been there but always wanted to visit.  The three of us will meet up in Porto; “gorgeous Porto with its colorful riverfront and home of Port wine.”  From there it’s a mere 161 miles to Santiago de Compostela, on a more-leisurely pace of ten miles a day, for 16 days or hiking.  (Who says you can’t can’t teach old dogs?)

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Meanwhile, back in Leon, last year.  On October 5, on the day off, I found a McDonald’s restaurant, for a “little taste of home.”  And we practice-rode our rental 15-speed bikes.  I “didn’t fall down, and shifted gears without the chain coming off.”  But from there it wasn’t all smooth sailing.  On the ride out of Leon October 6, “my right handlebar took out – smashed the heck out of – the side-view mirror of some poor slob’s nice new car.”  In a second mishap:

I literally “ran my ass into a ditch…”  We were zooming downhill one afternoon.  I tried to adjust my left pant-leg, 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…

See “Buen Camino!” – Revisited.  The point is:  We covered the remaining 200 miles to Santiago de Compostela in seven days, but not without some adventure (As illustrated at left, “An exciting experience that is typically a bold, sometimes risky, undertaking.”) 

Which can be what a pilgrimage is all about.

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So anyway, this time last year we were just coming off the dry, dusty Meseta part of the Camino Frances, in our case from Pamplona to Santiago de Compostela.  And who knows, maybe this time next year we’ll be finishing up our hike from Porto to Santiago.  Or somewhere in the middle, or maybe just starting out.  Which leads to this thought:

I’m sure the Portuguese Camino will have its own challenges, it’s own way of helping me “find myself.”  But considering we’ll be starting in Porto, at least the start should be happy…

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Rabelo boat, used to transport barrels of port down the River Douro,” to Porto . . .

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The upper image is my photo, taken with a “tablet” rather than a camera.  A word of advice:  Take a real camera.  It adds very little weight, while the tablet seemed to take forever to set up, meaning you really had to think ahead to get a decent picture.

The image to the right of the paragraph beginning “This time last year” is also my photo of the bridge for which Puente Villarente is named.  “Puente” means bridge and “Puente Villarente” is four miles northwest of the “Mansilla de Las Mulas” mentioned in El Burgos Raneros to Mansilla de las Mulas.  See also Camino Day 24: Puente Villarente to León 12km.  

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

Re:  “The part some people recommend.”  The actual title:  The Meseta – Walking the Camino de Santiago.  It says in part, “many people decide to skip this section of the Camino Frances entirely, which is a shame, because this part … has more to offer than meets the eye.”

The pilgrim image is courtesy of the Camino link at Pilgrimage – Wikipedia.

A note about the Camino Frances, in our case from Pamplona to Santiago de Compostela.  My brother opted to start at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the northern end of the “French Way,” after flying into Paris.  I opted to fly into Madrid and take a train to Pamplona, where we met up.   

The lower image is courtesy of Port wine – Wikipedia.  The full caption:  “‘Rabelos,’ a type of boat traditionally used to transport barrels of port down the River Douro for storage and aging in caves at Vila Nova de Gaia near Porto.”  Also port wine is defined in pertinent part as…

… a Portuguese fortified wine produced with distilled grape spirits exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal…  Fortified wine is a wine to which a distilled spirit, usually brandy, is added.  Many different styles of fortified wine have been developed, including PortSherryMadeiraMarsala … and the aromatised wine Vermouth.

So that part should be fun…

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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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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Image may contain: one or more people, outdoor and nature

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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.     

“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.)

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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.

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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.