Saturday, December 6, 2008

Why Winter?

A frequent question asked of me: why ever would you choose winter for a pilgrimage across Europe? The simple answer is: because I'm chubby and lazy.

Mediterranean summers can be rather hot. Shall we take a poll of short, squat, freckly, blue-eyed, pink-skinned heat-lovers? I could attempt scientific banter that the ratio of my body's surface area to muscle mass is very low, thus my body doesn't cool as efficiently as a tall, skinny, dark-complected person, but I'm not compelled to rationalize what may well be just personal taste: I don't like to sweat outside of a sauna. Hot summers beckon me to shady areas with a cool pinot grigio in hand. Any movement produces uncomfortable perspiration that I'd prefer to go without. A long pilgrimage demands long daily walks. Even walking between the 5 o'clock sunrise and the first refreshment break at, say, 9 in the morning, I'd be sweating up a storm and done until dusk. Sweat, and all the associated discomforts - that pesky chaffing, blisters, and - God forbid - foot fungus - are things that make me downright cranky. So summer's not an option for me, even for a few days.

Spring, with the heady-scented flowers, and autumn, with the harvest and foliage, are absolutely enjoyable in Europe. With these delectable seasons, however, comes unpredictable weather. The temperatures may range from the freezing point to the uncomfortable sizzle. Thus, the long-distance pilgrim must bear the burden (read that: carry the weight) to be prepared for anything. Carry the longjohns and heavy jacket while walking much of the time in light pants and a tank top... nah, I'm too lazy for that. If I were 'pilgriming' (crassly morphed into a verb, the way 'foodies' speak of 'plating') for only a week or two, I could track the weather and ease the burden appropriately (then choose autumn when farmers are happy to share their bounty of freshly harvested fruits and nuts, eliminating the need for me to carry snacks). Three months on the go is something else.

Winter has wonderfully predictable crappy weather.

I'd rather wear it than carry it. It may be the same weight on my feet, but my back and shoulders prefer the distribution wearing provides over carrying. On most days, I wear the longjohns and heavy jacket, carrying a few additional items in case the crappiness exceeds normal expectations, and on those days when the weather's an absolute delight, I don't mind so much stuffing my little pack full of the layers I usually wear and strapping my jacket over top of everything, basking as I walk along with my pants rolled up over my knees and wearing the first layer tank top in the warm sun.

There are other benefits enjoyed by a long winter's walk - the crowds are away, for one, and locals looking for diversion are generally so surprised to see a stranger ambling around that conversation is easy to strike up. I also find it more satisfying to linger inside museums or castles or ancient monasteries or even cafés when it's raw and rainy outside than when it's sunny and beautiful.

Cold temperatures are something my short, chubby body shape can endure with little discomfort, even walking along the damp canals of northern France or on snowshoes over the Alps. Sure, mud I could do without, but that comes in spring and autumn as well, and in winter, it has the chance of being frozen; ditto, all the little streams that must be crossed.

Every season has its beauty and challenges. A long winter's walk is good for the soul that can endure the cold. Each at his own pace. Something of a pilgrimage creed.


Anonymous said...

Dear Ann,
You are really something...:) I wish You a great journey and hold fingers for many wonderful encounters with The Allmighty and His human manifestations!

Anonymous said...

Dear Anne(sp?),

Have fun, take care. Love Mom

Katja said...

Dear Ann,
enjoy every moment and every step!
May God be with you on your long way.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you are enjoying the new year. I keep leaving comments ---But where do they go???

love Mom

The Solitary Walker said...

Nice to hear this. I'm a big fan of winter walking too...

Bibi said...

Hi, Ann

What you are doing is great! I'm a travel blogger, too. I wonder if you could leave a message on my blog telling me what the average daily cost is for the Compostela trail?

thanks, Bibi

Neville said...

Hi there Ann!

I'm currently preparing for my winter walk from Prague to Finisterre.

My plan is to sleep out in a sleeping bag.

My route will take me through CZ, Germany, France and then of course Northern Spain.

Are there any specific tips you could give me?

Thank you so much.

Buen Camino!

Nev :-)