Saturday, October 9, 2010

The day is right nigh!

My suped-up brand-new 24-liter backpack sits fully packed on the living room floor awaiting the hour before dawn. My shiny new boots, buffed hiking poles and waxed credenziale full of empty pages...

I'm not too distressed that somehow going down in volume by 6 liters compared to last year (that's 20%!), my fully packed pack has gone up in weight by 5 pounds - yikes! - to 20 pounds but that includes the snowshoes. I hope only to need the snowshoes over the mountains of Colorado and then off-load them as soon as someone in some New Mexican town gives me reassurance that it would be highly unlikely I would need them there in April. Though flurries may fly even in the Chihuahuan desert in the dry season of winter, I don't expect that snowshoes will be necessary. Fully three pounds, they are, but warranted in the Colorado Rockies in October. Three high passes must be crossed before the sun-filled valley of the Rio Grande and wouldn't I feel like a complete putz if such unpreparedness holds me back right out of the starting gate. The snow is already pushing down from the 10,000-foot (3,000-meter) level.

The after-market modifications to my pack have been gleaned at the pilgrim's school of hard knocks. Firstly, conventional pack covers don't seem to be designed for the downpours and snowstorms I find myself in so often... it's the part between my pack and my back where the wetness seeps into the pack. No good. My designed solution is a packcove/raincape that covers the pack like a pack cover but extends at the top over my shoulders like a cape. I worked out the design and pal Eileen helped me to fabricate one to a level of smashing success on the last two trips until it got worn by age and harsh but unavoidable use and now have a second prototype made (how handy it is that my good friend took home-ec in high school and knows her way around a sewing machine... huge gratitude!)

Beyond that, I browsed through the 'swim and dancewear' aisle of the local fabric store and got a small length of two-directional spandex (in high-vis yellow) to put on the top of my pack, attached with bungee cord to the four D-rings, under which I can securely stow quick-access items, like a small water bottle and baggie full of raisins and nuts. I can reach it without taking off my pack to both get at whatever's stored there and to put it back. I long-ago discovered that a lot of unnecessary energy is expended in doffing and donning a backpack for want of easy access to needed items.

The upgraded clear plastic retractable mapcase mounted behind my head is an improvement over last year's prototype made with plastic proved too flimsy. I got simple badge-retractors from the hardware store the size of a 2-euro piece/half dollar for something like two bucks apiece. The retractable gadget survived the snow and ice and wind and rain while the zip-top clear plastic had to be repaired with packaging tape nearly every time I passed a post-office (where they unfailingly made the gratis repairs with great compassion for my plight : )) Though weightier this year by 5 ounces, the plastic sleeve is much sturdier and completely weatherproof. I have to refer to the map du jour frequently and in bad weather, the folded and unfolded paper disintegrated at an alarming rate. I liked the retraction feature so much that I've attached another one to my compass affixed to my left shoulder strap... no more dropping it in the snow.

I've added a small pair of 8x21 binoculars to my hipbelt, something I yearned for countless times of each of my walks - how many times I looked across a difficult barrier wondering what that sign said on the opposite side... an easy six-ounce and $10 solution.

One last small modification is that of silly little loops of elastic to hold down each of the strap ends that always annoyed me luffing unfettered in the breeze. Ten of these! Minutes to make and seconds to attach, and now, blissful tidiness. I think this agitated me so much on trips one and two because it was always in the worse weather that I needed to listen sharply for any number of reasons - the barking of village dogs telling me the direction of my destination; the cracking of the ice beneath my feet; the whistle of an approaching train when I found greater ease walking along the tracks - and was forced to filter out the slapping of all of the adjustable strap ends. I learned by trip three and was greatly soothed by the simple addition of little elastic loops.

For the interior, the only significant change from last year is the addition to a tailored down blanket bag shaped to the footprint of the bottom of the pack's interior. I prefer a down blanket - in truth, sold as a 'lap blanket' but perfectly sized for me as a full-size blanket - to the confinement of a sleeping bag. I used it many dozen times last winter in conjunction with my silk sleepsack for added warmth, but not every night. Expecting the same amount of usage this winter, keeping it snugly on the floor of my pack is ideal for volume reduction. It's made of the same silicon-impregnated ripstop nylon as the packcover/raincape except that the top surface is made of a durable breathable material - in actuality, surplus landscape geotextile intended to keep the weeds down in the flower garden. With the dual fabrics, the bottom and sides stay waterproof but it's not likely to get as stinky as it would in a completely unbreathable sack.

Here I rest with the excitement of a kid on Christmas Eve, staring at my possessions of the next six months. In keeping with the convention I experienced in Spain, I'll receive the ceremonial 'Pilgrim Blessing' at the end of the 8 am Mass at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Denver to begin my journey in the traditional manner. Of course, I'll get the first stamp in my credenziale. Afterward, I walk the few city blocks to the South Platte River bike path and take the entire day to walk 20 miles out of a city of 2 million.

[My thoughts digress to the last time I got a pilgrim blessing in Spanish. I had become concerned by the end of it that I was married... there was a peregrino, about my age, kneeling to my right at the alter as the Bishop, holding his hands above our heads intoned a solemn-sounding blessing in a language unknown to me... I comprehended our names being said, the peregrino smiling brightly and everyone applauding as we turned to face those present with the monks chanting beautifully in the astounding Templar church in Eunate, opened but one day a year - Candlemas, February 2nd... a little startling, honestly, but I signed no paper, so trusted nothing was binding. No chance of such confusion tomorrow - not only is my Spanish vocabulary quite a bit broader by now, but I'll be the only one in front of the priest.]

9 comments:

ksam said...

Buen Camino! When you get back...make a video of your pack modifications! They sound terrific, but a little visual would be nice..or diagrams! I'm excitedly looking forward to your adventures this year, and will be thinking of you at Mass this morning! Karin

The Solitary Walker said...

Buen Camino! And do try and avoid getting hitched...

Sheila Phelan Wright said...

Well, you're more than 24 hours into it. Can you feel all the love and light shining on you from all of us and from the beautiful community of Denver's church of The Lady of Guadalupe? Sent some photos to Eileen, and will post part of this to my blog today with photos. We're with you.

Anonymous said...

Ann ~ thinking lots of you as the rain continues Sunday, Monday, Tuesday ... We are REALLY looking forward to travelling with you vicariously! Jim & Agnes Anderson, Denver. Buen Camino!

Compostelle 2008 said...

I will enjoy reading about this pilgrimage in North America no less! Bueno Camino Ann.

Michèle (Ottawa) Canada

Gonzalo Garcia Duran said...

May God bless you on your pilgrimage.

Antonia said...

Ana, I was there at mass on Sunday and it was such a blessing and maybe even a sign from God that I went to church early that morning. The reason I say is because my mother, who passed away in April of kidney failure to diabetes, was very devoted to la Virgen de Guadalupe. She has a big painting of la Virgen in her room still and I thought of her when the priest mentioned your pilgrimage. I am not sure if you realized that as the priest began to Bless you the clouds that morning opened and rays of light came through. Thank you for taking the intentions that day. It was quite emotional and overwhelming for me and others as I am sure it was for you. May God and la Virgen bless you and guide you through your long journey to Mexico City and bring you back safely. We await your blogs and your return in April. God Bless You!!!

Anonymous said...

Thinking of you and hoping you are enjoying the beautiful weather. I hope you got my message with the Nambe phone numbers. If not, call if you can. Happy walking! Karen

Emilee said...

✓ Pilgrim 3:13 Enya A Day Without Rain New Age

I was listening to this song and thought of you.