Monday, May 31, 2010

PIT & Biometrics

Eileen's made a milestone! She's walked over a century - 100 miles - since her training began in April. She's still a committed PIT (pilgrim-in-training)and we're tracking her miles around town and on the biweekly mountain hikes - as of today, 102 miles in these 7 weeks. This is with a weight loss of 10 of the 70 pounds she wants to loose, and a significantly improved diet. Her kitchen is now free of artificial foods, which interfere with proper metabolism, unnecessary additives like high fructose corn syrup, and aspartame, and processed foods no matter what claims are printed on their eye-catching packaging. Fruits, veggies, yogurt, grains... wholesome, real food now fills the fridge to fulfill daily nutritional requirements. Very simple.

If she were really walking from Denver to Chimayo, by now, she's made it as far as Cripple Creek, a former mining town up in the mountains. The plan remains: walk a cumulative distance of 383 miles around town and she'll be ready to walk the 383 miles (or so) to Chimayo. She only whined in protest once on today's mountain hike, but close to the summit and short lived.

Our first interim destination toward Chimayo will be San Luis, Colorado's oldest town and the location of a remarkable public art exhibit installed a few years ago - bronze life-sized Statues of the Cross. Neither of us has seen it yet, though it's gotten quite a bit of publicity here in Denver. For Eileen, the challenge lies in the fact that the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies must be crossed in order to get into the broad San Luis Valley. I'm not exactly sure of our route yet, but right now, it seems that we'll take a route up through Cripple Creek in the direction of Cañon City and then to Westcliffe and down into San Luis. No matter how we'll do it, there will be mountains to cross. Mountain training is therefore important for her.

Getting a sense of a comfortable pace on steep ups, level ground, and steep downs is important for a long-distance pilgrim. These are examples of the biometrics I use everyday on my treks. Eileen's pace on the uphill part was markedly faster today than it was two weeks ago. Other than fitness level, heat, breeze, shade, time of day, mood, etc, affect pace. One's pace (one example of a personal biometric) will vary, but hopefully will fall into a predictable range useful for planning a route. The PIT effort over the coming months will include gathering biometric information for Eileen - mine are well established by now:

Pace - kilometers(or miles)/hour
Stride - the distance in meters(or feet) of each step, right foot to right foot (or left to left)
Step Rate - number of steps per 100 meters (or tenth of a mile), to be extended to kilometer(mile)

Pilgrims going to Santiago de Compostela on the Camino Frances or trekkers using other well-established paths might not concern themselves with these measurements and do just fine. Others who blaze their own trail using a map and compass or who combine paths and tracks in unusual ways to get where they're going will need to know how their bodies perform in order to predict their progress reliably. It just makes sense - the map shows a village is x miles away... wouldn't anyone want to have a sense of how long it would take to get there?

Conversely, you spy a village on a hillside some distance away - wouldn't you like to know how far away it is and how long it will take you to get there? This would require perceptual biometrics. I've learned that if I - nearsighted as I am - can just make out that there are buildings, but not necessarily individual ones, the village can be up to 10 kilometers distant. If it's a sprawling city, it could be much further. If I can see individual buildings, and maybe some characteristics about them, like watchtowers or steeples, then it's somewhere just beyond 5 kilometers. If I can see individual buildings and their doorways and windows, maybe individual farm animals, big ones, that is, then it's maybe 3 kilometers. And if I can see individual people, smaller animals, smoke from the chimneys, more details like this, then the village is likely 1 to 2 kilometers away, in other words, for me, 10 to 20 minutes by foot.

I know my biometrics and use them every pilgrim day without thinking. So many people, men and women alike, who comment on the 'courage' I must have to go walking on my own. I think it's rather more confidence that comes with knowledge than it is courage. Courage implies overcoming a fear. I'm not afraid to walk on my own in land unknown to me, so it takes no courage to do it. I'm confident that I know how far I can walk in an hour or a day, how far I can walk in a morning, how long it will take me to get from one village to the next. This part is empirical data. Easy-peasy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Kyiv - Patras Statistics

It took a little while, but here are some geeky statistics that future pilgrims/trekkers might find useful.

Firstly is lodging. The graph reflects the lodging distribution for the entire 140 nights. It's a little misleading to think of it equally distributed per country... I never stayed in a hotel until I got to Turkey, for example, and both in Turkey and Greece, every time I stayed in a hotel, it was as a guest of the town, church, mayor, police chief, etc.

In Ukraine, when I started tracking the type of lodging, I made a distinction between staying as a guest in a village house and staying as a guest in a Soviet-style block apartment. In hindsight, I'm not sure why I thought this was a noteworthy distinction. Either way, I was a guest in someone's home.

The category 'Religious House' includes both monasteries - men's or women's - and churches. Often, I found that churches have side rooms or outbuildings with basic accommodation for guests. Monasteries were far more interesting because there were monks or nuns for company and conversation. Small church rooms were usually pretty rustic and I was on my own.

I would have enjoyed couchsurfing more often, but because I didn't carry a computer with me and there wasn't always wifi or mobile coverage around me even if I did, the online nature of connecting with couchsurfing hosts made it challenging. I did send requests to couchsurfers while I was on the go in Ukraine but never got responses. I sort of gave up until I got to Turkey where the couchsurfers were more often situated along my route, but again, it was a little difficult to go back and forth to finalize the arrangements. I only stayed twice with couchsurfers - once in Kyiv and once in the northwest of Turkey. On both occasions it was relaxing and fabulous. For anyone packing more electronics, I still recommend it as a way to meet and mingle with interesting like-minded folks.

While I walked, I collected weather data, if for nothing more than to show yet again that winter is not a bad time to take a long walk. See, there were more sunny days than snowy and rainy days combined. It's just that in my memory, there were a lot of bad weather days. It must just mean that when the weather was bad, it was really bad.

It should be obvious that the temperature ranges reflect the temperature variation while I was walking, not the nightly low... I slept at night and wasn't inclined to get up to check the temperature outside. I noted the temperature when I started walking in the morning and again sometime in the afternoon. I would guess that until the end of March, the temperature sunk below the freezing point every night. I like best walking between -5 and 10 Celsius (25 to 50 F). There was just one wicked cold snap right there in the middle of January. March was generally a little too warm for my taste, though it was a nice change and I was physically strong enough by then not to feel the extra weight and bulk in my backpack from having to carry most of my clothes instead of wearing them.

It's interesting to note that during the autumn and winter, the temperature variation was relatively small, yet as spring approached, and I happened to be in very mountainous terrain, the morning and afternoon temperatures varied widely. In the winter, I wore nearly everything I had and wore it all day long; in Greece, it was very important to dress in layers and I was actively stripping throughout the day.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pilgrim in Training

My pal, Eileen, is really intent on being physically fit enough to walk to Chimayo... she readily admits that it won't be an easy task, but her commitment is admirable. She's well along the way on the virtual pilgrimage starting from Denver.

Since her training program began when I returned on April 12th, she's already logged a respectable 77 miles (124 km) of walking mostly around the urban neighborhood. While she walks, about 3 miles a day, 5 days a week, she tries to keep at an aerobic pace - one where she can still hold a conversation, often with retired neighbor, Ellen - and stays pretty close to an average of 2.5 miles per hour. She finds enjoyment walking a different route every day and reports for me to tally the number of blocks east/west and the number of blocks north/south. (Denver blocks aren't square - there're 16 blocks to a mile east/west and 10 north/south.) There are endless opportunities for her to gaze at the houses and apartment buildings in a 1.5-mile radius and gather ideas for gardening, landscaping, window treatments, etc. [This would bore me to tears! I need to have a destination to head towards in order to get enjoyment out of a walk.]

By the distance she has accumulated so far, she'd be past Monument, CO by now, via Littleton, Sedalia, and Larkspur southward along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. But there's an important lesson learned in her training: her pace in the mountains is very different than around the urban environment.

We took a day hike at Mt Falcon Open Space earlier this week for performance testing. She walked for 3 miles (5 km) up a long, steep mountain path with an elevation change of +1,600 feet (490 meters) and then down a slightly longer trail to the starting point. Big difference! While around town, her level-ground pace is a pretty consistent 2.5 mph, yet in the mountains, her ascending pace is barely 1 mph and her descending pace is 1.7 mph. The climate was a significant factor for her - the east-facing mountain slope gave us a lot of exposure... 74ºF (25ºC) and very arid. She had to stop for several short rests, especially when there was a bit of shade. I took longer trails than she and reconnoitered at agreed-upon landmarks. I also brought along a book.

For whatever series of reasons, the climate and steepness factors don't impact my pace much... I'm at 3 mph up 3.5 mph on the flats and 3.8 mph down. Clearly, this underscores that people with different paces shouldn't even try to walk together. I'm younger (she 58; I 46) and in better condition, yet I'm somewhat shorter. These factors don't cancel each other out. More significantly, I'm more comfortable taking risks - more confident to have both feet leave the earth as I jump from one rock to another or over a gulch, more experienced in shifting my direction with the walking sticks, less inclined to take even a slight pause seeing the rattlesnakes on the path. I do my gawking on the go, she stops to gawk. Different people, different paces. Walking to Chimayo together, we'll be using her pace to determine the length of a day's stage and won't walk together between stopping points (except when prudent).

Eileen's training continues. It will be interesting to see if her pace will improve as her fitness level does. My planning continues... determining the stages and appropriate routes, and supply points.

Stages Kyiv to Patras

Now that the trip is over, I want to list all of the places I've stayed and distances walked per day in one place:
12-15 Nov Kyiv, Ukraine 0 km
16 Nov Neshcheria 38 km from Kyiv
17 Nov Rsheshchiv 74 km
18 Nov Pii 91 km
19 Nov Kaniv 132 km
20 Nov Mezhyrich 152 km
21 Nov Moschni 172 km
22 Nov Charkassy 204 km
23 Nov Lesky 224 km
24 Nov Trushvtsy 249 km
25 Nov Chihirin 274 km
26 Nov Velika Andrewsivka 301 km
27 Nov Svetlovodsk 328 km
28 Nov Komsomvdsk 369 km
29 Nov Kriminchuk 401 km
30 Nov Mlynok 433 km
01 Dec Mishurihi Pia 467 km
02 Dec Pushkarcevka 501 km
03 Dec Ukrainka 535 km
04 Dec Dniepropetroska (w) 573 km
05 Dec Dniepropetroska (e) 585 km
06 Dec Sursko-Latovskoe 602 km
07 Dec Selonoa 624 km
08 Dec Lukosheva 654 km
09 Dec Zaporozia 687 km
10 Dec Primorscoe 719 km
11 Dec Vasylevka 747 km
12 Dec Timoshova 784 km
13 Dec Novonicholaevka 825 km
14 Dec Akimovka 851 km
15 Dec Sokolohovno 884 km
16 Dec Shchorsovna 918 km
17 Dec Chonhar 940 km
18 Dec Johnkoy 983 km
19 Dec Azouska 1013 km
20 Dec Nishnehorsshia 1035 km
21 Dec Nishnehorsshia 1055 km
22 Dec Bohata 1081 km
23 Dec Hrushevka 1110 km
24 Dec SUDAK 1133 km
25 Dec Morskoe 1164 km
26 Dec Malorechenskoe 1193 km
27 Dec Alushta 1215 km
28 Dec Yalta 1252 km
29 Dec Simiez 1274 km
30 Dec Orleno 1302 km
31 Dec Balaklava 1328 km
01 Jan Khersoness (Sevastopol) 1350 km
02 Jan Kacha 1380 km
03 Jan Nicholaevka 1417 km
04 Jan Saki 1447 km
05 Jan Vinogrodova 1480 km
06 Jan Stepnoe 1517 km
07 Jan Krasnoperekopsk 1559 km
08 Jan Armyansk 1581 km
9 Jan Kalanchak 1617 km
10 Jan Veliki Kopani 1660 km
11 Jan Tsyuroopinsk 1692 km
12 Jan Chornobiavka 1728 km
13 Jan Shchenkova 1752 km
14 Jan Nickoliav 1780 km
15 Jan Nechayanoy 1815 km
16 Jan Novofedorovka 1847 km
17 Jan Yuzhny 1872 km
18 Jan Odessa 1920 km
19 Jan Illichesk 1952 km
20 Jan Belhorod-Dniestrovsky 1984 km
21 Jan Devezin 2030 km
22 Jan Tatarbunari 2066 km
23 Jan Komenskoye 2096 km
24 Jan Preozornoi 2127 km
25 Jan Kesletsa 2154 km
26 Jan Izmail 2181 km
27 Jan Galati, ROMANIA! 2201 km
28 Jan Tulcea 2221 km
29 Jan Sarachioi 2253 km
30 Jan Ceamurlia de Jos 2284 km
31 Jan Istria 2312 km
01 Feb Navodari 2356 km
02 Feb Constanta 2381 km
03 Feb Medgidia 2428 km
04 Feb Adamclisi 2471 km
05 Feb Ion Corvin 2490 km
06 Feb Dervent 2511 km
07 Feb Dobrich, BULGARIA 2536 km
08 Feb Botevo 2570 km
09 Feb Varna 2602 km
10 Feb Byala 2646 km
11 Feb Nessebar 2690 km
12 Feb Burgas 2729 km
13 Feb Krushevets 2760 km
14 Feb Malko Tarnova 2803 km
15 Feb Karadere, TURKEY 2833 km
16 Feb Demirkoy 2873 km
17 Feb Kishlagik 2904 km
18 Feb Cilingoz 2940 km
19 Feb Kastenelık 2976 km
20 Feb Karaburun 3007 km
21 Feb Shishli/Istanbul (e) 3057 km
22 Feb Shishli/Istanbul (e) 3057 km
23 Feb Fatih/Istanbul (w) 3065 km
24 Feb Buyukcskmace 3100 km
25 Feb Silivri 3143 km
26 Feb Marmara Ereğlisi 3177 km
27 Feb Barbaros 3222 km
28 Feb Sağlemtas 3262 km
01 Mar Keshan 3308 km
02 Mar Kipi, GREECE 3344 km
03 Mar Alexandroupolis 3386 km
04 Mar Panorama 3402 km
05 Mar Xylogani 3340 km
06 Mar Porto Lagos 3476 km
07 Mar Xanthi 3502 km
08 Mar Kavala 3554 km
09 Mar Mouratheni 3588 km
10 Mar Asprovalta 3636 km
11 Mar Loutra Volvis 3672 km
12 Mar Thessalonika 3710 km
13 Mar Kolindros 3748 km
14 Mar Elafos 3776 km
15 Mar Kato Melia 3802 km
16 Mar Livado 3837 km
17 Mar Elassona 3870 km
18 Mar Deskati 3915 km
19 Mar Kalabaka 3960 km
20 Mar Trikala 3986 km
21 Mar Karditsa 4022 km
22 Mar Kedros 4048 km
23 Mar Rendina 4092 km
24 Mar Makrakomi 4128 km
25 Mar Lichno 4158 km
26 Mar Maurolithari 4200 km
27 Mar Gravia 4236 km
28 Mar Delfi 4286 km
29 Mar Itea 4307 km
30 Mar Galaxidi 4328 km
31 Mar Eratini 4351 km
01 Apr Marathias 4377 km
02 Apr Nefpaktos 4402 km
03 Apr PATRAS 4423 km

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Here in Denver, where I studied and lived for many years before my life of travel began, I have a good number of friends, outdoor enthusiasts (hard to ignore the beautiful mountains and conducive climate of the Colorado Rockies), though no pilgrims among them. They've all become very interested in the pilgrim life now that I've shown them the light. I've given many presentations in Denver and Boulder about my European cultural pilgrimages, which have been well received. [Upcoming dates forthcoming.]

One of my particularly supportive pals, Eileen, has become almost unstoppably interested in the brainstorming of the long walk to Mexico City. I estimate at first glance that we're talking something on the order of 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) on rather a direct route. Why be direct? The history of the region is what turns me on and there's plenty of it: the various Native American cultures populated the area for countless millennia and the Spaniards began their colonization in the early 16th century. The history didn't stop there. To see all of this first hand, I'm drawn to the historic missions that still dot the land as far north as Taos, near the New Mexico-Colorado border all the way to Mexico City. While the research is underway, I can feel comfortable that a distance perhaps half again greater will not be unlikely. This would be a few steps too far for Eileen; indeed, she's never walked more than 5 kilometers in a single day in her life, and never with a backpack, and never in the desert wilderness, and never alone... Nonetheless, she's up for the idea of the trek for fitness as well as for the beauty of the mountains.

The first stage made itself evident from the earliest thought of a southward journey. Denver to Chimayo, New Mexico.

Chimayo, about 600 kilometers/380 miles south of Denver, has a fascinating history. This fertile valley in the high desert was a site held sacred by the aboriginal people throughout history, particularly for a mineral-rich spring and a nearby holy mountain. When the Spanish missionaries arrived, several miracles were attributed to the area. Churches were constructed to honor the mystical events and today it is the destination of up to 300,000 pilgrims a year, many by foot, the majority on Good Friday. The current shrines, El Santuario de Chimayo and El Santo Niño de Antocha, have become general tourist attractions in recognition of their status as a National Historic Landmark but are particularly visited by faithful Catholics seeking a handful of holy dirt from the spot where the prior holy spring has dried up.

On the way from Denver to Chimayo, there are six other historic Spanish missions dating back to 1598: Taos, Ranchos de Taos, Picuris, Las Trampas, San Juan, and Santa Cruz. In addition, in the village of San Luis, Colorado, by chance the oldest town in Colorado, there is an extended shrine of bronze statues depicting life-size Stations of the Cross completed in 1990 and a grotto of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Cool historic and beautiful things to see.

Challenges are several but not insurmountable. Firstly, the situation that Eileen's never gone for such a long walk. She's begun a training program - a veritable virtual pilgrimage. Nearly every day, she walks around the neighborhood clocking at least 25 kilometers/15 miles a week. We figure that on our trailblazing pilgrim path, it's reasonable to calculate that as her daily maximum. Since I returned to Denver and we began to formulate this idea, she's walked a total of 74 kilometers/46 miles. That would be just over 3 days' worth of pilgriming. She has the idea of taking a longer mountain day hike at least once a month as well to get some daily distance in as well as some significant elevation change. When she's walked the cumulative distance of the pilgrimage to Chimayo, sometime in September at her current rate, she'll deem herself fit to go.

Secondly, the great distance - 400km/250mi - between Denver and the first interim destination, San Luis, simply doesn't have enough towns to enable the type of pilgrimage that I've grown accustomed to... I like to sleep in a bed every night, and enjoy some heat source, and some small amount of food provided... It goes without saying that I've particularly enjoyed nightly protection from the elements and wild animals. These luxuries won't likely be available, sometimes for days on end. By their design, the mission sites in New Mexico are spaced within a day's walk, so these issues should become less of a concern the closer we get to Chimayo. But even if there's no roof over my head, I at least want a cot to sleep on. And real food to eat. And proper cookery for the preparation. And a solar-bag shower for some hot water. And I don't want to carry it all on my back. Thus, the llama. These domesticated beasts of burden, prevalent in the high country of Colorado, eat whatever they encounter along the trail and can carry about 50 kilos/100 pounds.

Third, we're considerably further down the food chain compared to anywhere I've walked in Europe. While I have extensive experience in the Rockies, I've never been on such an extended journey. We're thinking of going in October, to arrive in Chimayo on November 2nd, the celebrated Day of the Dead in Hispanic Catholicism. October is known for variable weather - this is one of the reasons why I prefer to be a winter pilgrim rather than an autumn pilgrim... but the snow will already be flying in the high country and while I don't mind snowshoeing, as I did frequently on my winter walk on the Via Francigena, camping in the snow for three weeks presents other challenges. Higher up the October food chain reside bears, wolves, many types of venomous snakes and spiders, lynx, bobcats, coyotes, and - gulp - lions. It's the mountain lions that give me the greatest concern... sneaky, big, and silent.

Fourth, the vast expanses of uninhabited land we'll walk through aren't under the same jurisdictions. Between Denver and Chimayo, there's land owned by Colorado counties, by the State of Colorado, National Parks, Forests, and Wilderness Areas, various Spanish Land Grants (ceded after the Mexican-American War of 1844 honoring agreements made after the Mexican War of Independence from Spain in 1821), and the Taos Indian Reservation, not to mention enormous tracks of privately owned land. I foresee lots of rules to be investigated and conformed with...

How clear it is that this pilgrimage will be completely different! I'm up for pushing the boundaries again.

Eileen's training in earnest and I'm researching a sensible route. October will be here soon enough. I'll post the planning process as the idea ferments and matures.