Last night I dreamed I was wearing glass flip flops, lol
Feet become your most common source of anxiety on the Camino. Legs and other sore muscles tended to repair themselves every night, but feet will stop your progress all together, and maybe even send you home.
I have been thinking, but I am pretty sure there is really no way to adequately train for a Camino. You can walk with your pack for a month or so before you go to test your equipment and see how your body reacts, but really, you cannot walk all day every day for 20 plus days as practice. I would say on average I walked 7 hours a day on this Camino with only two non-walking days (my extra night in Coimbra and my short (one hour or so) bus ride day from Coastal to Central Camino). So, I think, even with good physical conditioning, you enter the Camino physical fitness blind, unless you have walked one before, which many people I spoke with had done. Eva, for example, had walked the French, the Primitivo, and one other I forget for now, and the Portuguese. Last year she bought a really expensive pair of boots and they wrecked her feet, she even brought them back to the store and asked for her money back. This year, when I was walking with her, she had a “cheap” pair. To me, they looked a bit loose on her, but she seemed fine until she did get on small blister on her big toe.
My feet, just the 460,000 steps with boot soles that were not, in my mind, up to the task I think did effect me psychologically. Feet are central to our feelings of personal agency and stability. Think of the many expressions with feet as central to mental well being. “I can stand on my own two feet” “She did not even have a leg to stand on” “Get a foot in the door” and so forth. Feet that may have felt “under attack” for example, may have triggered or compromised my state of mental health to some extent triggering that dream. I am not saying that it is inevitable that sore feet will trigger an anxious dream – just that one may need to be aware of the connection.
My dream, at one level, may have been about walking with glass flip-flops because indeed at a deeper level I was worried that my feet felt like glass, delicate, fragile, and so forth. And if so, that would trigger, I would think, or be a reflection of a kind of anxiety about that was more about physical anxiety – such as that I was in fact causing myself to become injured.
But, if we return to the more deep seated and psychological meanings about feet, perhaps I had started to doubt my ability to stand on my own two feet, or that at that point of the Camino I really had become dislodged from my “real life” and entering a life of just the Camino, me walking in a foreign town, talking with nobody (both of my walking companions that I spent 4 days with at different ends of my Camino were not native English speakers, so silence was common on those walks) not knowing what was my bed for the night etc. At a conscious level I was feeling secure and well, but, certainly under the glass surface anxieties at that point could have arose. It is worth mentioning that later that very day during a foot check, I found my corner of my toenail starting to act up a bit, which I caught. So, perhaps it was a warning of sorts too from an unconscious helper to be careful of my feet.
Finally, the dream could also be one about power, value, and discovered worth and not anxiety but rather a form of healthy narcissism. We are all familiar with the most famous of all glass slippers! There is reason to also suspect that being on my own, making my own decisions, choosing my own path, and having agency over my entire experience meant that I had “found my glass slipper.” And while the fairy tale promotes the age weary trope that the glass slipper was awarded to Cinderella for being the “belle of the ball” in my dream I award myself with glass flip flops – because I was learning my own self value for being brave, tough, independent, valued, and enjoying bringing those parts of myself to the surface and exposing them to myself and others and being powerful.
Blisters, for many long distance walkers, are the biggest problem I think on the Camino, they bring you down and for one of the Camino friends I made, sent him home one year to heal and he had to return another time to complete his Camino. I saw many people at the end of the day trying to work with their blisters, rearrange blister bandages and otherwise deal with covering them. The array of ways to deal with them was sometimes a bit shocking and maybe a bit humorous to see. One women had wrapped her foot in paper towels. But if you have ever had a blister you know the pain and to the extent the pain must be abated – even with the most primitive attempts. While it might not be everyone’s choice, you can google how Camino walkers deal with blisters, threads, needles, draining, and so forth, it is not for the faint of heart to view, however, they are informative if trying to really see the impact of blistering.
Shoes and boots that do not fit properly are said to be the cause or main reason for blisters. I also think there are psychological reasons for blisters, I am not aware of any literature on the subject, but I can certainly guess that blisters may be a bigger sign of “not listening to your body” or rather not attending to the boundaries of what your body can handle – a form of denial about one’s limitations. Blisters seem to me to be a symptom of a battle between your physical and cognitive self – your body is developing a blister – a warning that you are moving too fast, or not in a correct rhythm, but maybe somebody else’s rhythm? Yet, your cognitive or emotional self keeps pushing you ahead. As a cognitive problem, one’s mind is judging your worth on how fast and how many K’s one has travelled for the day. “How many K’s was the common refrain at the end of the day?” I heard endless conversations about how many K’s were walked that day with a relative “Camino worth” score mentally recorded. I know personally because I was laughed at least twice for “only walking” a 17 or 20 K for the day. One time a man and I waited at an albergue door to be unlocked who spoke some French. He told me in French he had walked twice as far as me that day. When I told him, in French, that I did very well actually, he smirked as if to say, no, you are wrong. He had walked that day 41K by the way, that is 25 miles, hilly miles! Other men talked of their 40 plus days, some had good reason to speed up, but the feeling was one of superiority usually. I found the women (they were all European) to posses the same pressures. Where is the Camino for them? What is a Camino for them? One man told me that his next Camino would be the Norte and that was a “real Camino” because it was over 800 K.
E, who was honest about this with me, said her FB friends were always asking her why her “K’s” were so low and she was always having to defend herself. “It is not a race” she would say to them! At that point I was walking with her and she had a “plan” that she followed. She had an injury that kept her “slow” which happened to be a pace where I was comfortable with. She was also patient with me on those level three (the toughest of the tough) difficultly days out of Tomar, that was really lucky of me to have met her that first day. Or, as she said to me once using a google translation app on her phone “there are no such things of coincidences.”
Evidence that one is not following “one’s own rhythm” is abundant. I recall a blog written by a woman who has walked maybe all of the possible Caminos with her husband wrote that her husband was plagued at one point with huge blisters – she on the other hand, complained that she felt alone on the Camino and pushed to the limits of her physical abilities. Here, I think we see two forms of being “out of rhythm”. But, what are we out of synch with exactly? Certainly, ourselves, that we do not find our own internal pacing due to cognitive pressures mentioned already. Walking not your own pace, walking to impress, walking to deny pain, walking with others out of sheer fear to not be alone, and so on. Blisters may also become a kind of symptom of insecurity that your walk was to feel your walk was a “real walk.” Perhaps other reasons to walk a certain pace and out of one’s own rhythm may be pressures to keep up with a companion or group, or even anxieties that if one does not have blisters, then they have not tried hard enough.
In 1982-3 William Least Heat-Moon wrote his famed travel book “Blue Highways.” In that book he took the blue roads on the map across the United States and visited small towns, drove along streams, and otherwise, stayed within the places he was visiting and not around them as the major freeways provided. His descriptions fascinated a “highway” generation and I think still stimulate decisions many make about how to drive a long distance. I recently saw an advert, I think it is a car ad, that is about a family driving the back roads to visit a family member. The voice on the phone asks why they just do not fly? The commercial shows the family driving past wildlife and other local attractions, not shying away from the “kitsch” that in part also defines America – and is also fun for many still to visit and explore. Later, Least Heat-Moon developed a method to measure a place that he calls “deep-mapping” where he analyses a prairie town in Kansas in the central USA. Through deep-mapping he looks at the totality of experience in a place, the flora, fauna, views, smells, social structure, and so forth. In a youtube video, he speaks of concluding that if one does not attend to the actual earth one is standing on, that a great imbalance emerges. He traces most social, economic, and human ills occur when nature is out of balance with a place. That really looking at a place, opens up a bounty of joys based on nature, that all places deserve a deep-mapping, that all places are valuable is sustaining a joy derived from the natural world.
Here, I am suggesting that blisters could potentially be symptom of missing a “deep-mapping” of the Camino, of not using the natural ebbs and flow of rhythm set by the trail itself. Wilco is a graphics expert on maps, and he and I will see if our shared experiences, through a deep-mapping exercise, can actually provide evidence that Camino walkers do or do not, or to what extent they attend to nature and people on the Camino.
Of late, in particular, there has been a expanding body of research on the topic of walking and related health benefits. The Patel et al, study (2017) in particular suggested that walk was associated with longevity and overall health. Other, more psychologically focused research, has suggested a negative correlation with walking and negative mood states such as depression (Harvey et al, 2017). While my walk was not assessed in any medical way, I can certainly understand the health benefits from my 21 day walk of 7 hours a day. My skin felt healthier, more pliant and waxy, my leg pain while very pronounced during the first 10 days, settled and perhaps reflected a kind of growth of capillary, muscle, and artery capacity. My reflexes seemed heightened and my vision had much long distance practice perhaps exercising my muscles controlling the lens and acuity.
However, for me, the most pronounced effect of walking so much, 230 miles, was more how it affected my mental state. After I returned I was asked by a colleague what I thought about all day. Before I left I thought that maybe I would day dream, and I did do some of that of course, and I think once on many K’s of cobbles and the rocking sensation they provide, I might have almost dozed off which seems unbelievable, but I am sure I was starting to drift off.
“Walking causes a repetitive, spontaneous poetry to rise naturally to the lips, words as simple as the sound of footsteps on the road. There also seems to be an echo of walking in the practice of two choruses singing a psalm in alternate verses, each on a single note, a practice that makes it possible to chant and listen by turns. Its main effect is one of repetition and alternation that St Ambrose compared to the sound of the sea: when a gentle surf is breaking quietly on the shore the regularity of the sound doesn’t break the silence, but structures it and renders it audible. Psalmody in the same way, in the to-and-fro of alternating responses, produces (Ambrose said) a happy tranquillity in the soul. The echoing chants, the ebb and flow of waves recall the alternating movement of walking legs: not to shatter but to make the world’s presence palpable and keep time with it. And just as Claudel said that sound renders silence accessible and useful, it ought to be said that walking renders presence accessible and useful.”
― A Philosophy of Walking
Rather, I was extremely heightened and aware of my natural world surroundings. I was completely in the present. For me, there was no past per se, no rumination of work or bills or other stressors, but rather, a complete focus and positive flow of the “here and now.” That state, for me, opened up a array of new ideas, new emotions even, that of freedom plus imagination to understand the natural world. In fact, this blog is very much a statement of where I was at during the days.
“The walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours… but it is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day.” Henry David Thoreau “Walking”
One time on the Camino, another walker told me that they were always thinking of the future, that they could not get in the present moment. They were, for example, planning their next Camino. I was always thinking about that exact moment. “Where do all of these Eucalyptus Trees come from?” Or, “I can tell when another town is coming up by the sound of the water running in the rivers, quiet rivers mean a town is ahead.” I thought of the Romans, I wondered about the legends of witches in Galicia as I walked for weeks along their ancient lands. I looked at every flower, smelled every orange blossom as I passed a tree, and I thought about what I eventually would write here in this blog each evening. The blog became my recording of my immediate thoughts that day, even if I could not write them all out, I did the best I could.
“Think while walking, walk while thinking, and let writing be but the light pause, as the body on a walk rests in contemplation of wide open spaces.”
― A Philosophy of Walking
So, for me, long distance walking, from a psychological standpoint was both physical, and opened up my consciousness and imagination. I must admit, and I do not think from what I saw that this is by far any means typical, but I never really knew where I was. I simply followed the arrows. It is both mindless, and highly engaging because your focus can shift from “where am I” to “what is around me now to interest me”? As long as I knew everyone I cared about was fine, I was completely free to think original and creative thoughts unfettered by conversation or otherwise sorts of intrusions on my stream of consciousness.
“We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relices to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave mother and father, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all of your affairs, and are a free man [woman]; then you are ready for a walk.”
Henry David Thoreau “Walking”
Patel, Alpa V., Janet S. Hildebrand, Corinne R. Leach, Peter T. Campbell, Colleen Doyle, Kerem Shuval, Ying Wang, Susan M. Gapstur. “Walking in Relation to Mortality in a Large Prospective Cohort of Older U.S. Adults.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine (Published online: October 19, 2017) DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2017.08.019
Harvey, Samuel B., Simon Øverland, Stephani L. Hatch, Simon Wessely, Arnstein Mykletun, Matthew Hotopf. “Exercise and the Prevention of Depression: Results of the HUNT Cohort Study.” The American Journal of Psychiatry. (Published online: October 3, 2017) DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.16111223
Fielding, Roger A., Jack M. Guralnik, Abby C. King, Marco Pahor, Mary M. McDermott, Catrine Tudor-Locke, Todd M. Manini et al. “Dose of physical activity, physical functioning and disability risk in mobility-limited older adults: Results from the LIFE study randomized trial.” PloS One (Published online: August 18, 2017) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182155
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Nicole L. Spartano, Jayandra J. Himali, Alexa S. Beiser, Gregory D. Lewis, Charles DeCarli, Ramachandran S. Vasan, Sudha Seshadri. “Midlife Exercise Blood Pressure, Heart Rate, and Fitness Relate to Brain Volume 2 Decades Later” Neurology (First published: February 10, 2016) DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000002415
Katrina L. Piercy, Richard P. Troiano, Rachel M. Ballard, Susan A. Carlson, Janet E. Fulton, Deborah A. Galuska, Stephanie M. George, Richard D. Olson. “The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans” JAMA (First published online: November 12, 2018) DOI: 10.1001/jama.2018.14854