Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Plan is Forming For My Next Trike Tour

Over last winter, I did something different than the usual trike tour. I went walking. A number of years ago, I did a trike tour in Spain and cycled many of the Caminos de Santiago. Meeting so many interesting people who were walking hundreds of miles gave me the inspiration to do the same. I am very happy to have walked both the Camino del Norte and Camino Frances. I highly recommend walking these Caminos for anyone thinking about it. The Camino del Norte is very challenging and stunningly beautiful every day while the Camino Frances offers a different kind of beauty along with the quintessential pilgrim experience.  I was amazed at how little material things I required. It was thrilling to walk with only 10.4 lbs of gear and never need anything more. On both walking tours I knew I would always have a place to stay at night and food was readily available all day. There wasn't any reason to carry camping or cooking gear and this made packing simple. Both Caminos are fabulous and, I have to say, after walking 1300 miles, I got that out of my system. I discovered that walking is far more difficult than cycling. With the trike, I now realize how much more freedom of movement I have to go further if I want and I can carry more creature comforts. Trying to keep my packweight down, I only used my Samsung phone for photos, which took surprisingly good pictures, but I learned that I like having a real camera. After these many months of walking, I am really looking forward to my next trike tour.

Camino scene

Once again, I've returned to Portland for the summer. Every summer for the last 8 years I've stayed in a friend's house while she spends the summer in France. This arrangement has worked out as well for my friend as it has for me. She has someone to make sure everything is taken care of and I have a very comfortable place to relax, recover and regroup after many months of touring. This time, I came back to Portland with very sore achilles tendons and lots of ankle inflammation. I've been limping around especially in the morning until my ankle muscles warm up. Apparently, my ankles are objecting to all the walking I did on the Camino. I had the injury looked at by a doctor but this appears to be something only time will take care of. Soaking in epsom salt baths feels good and seems to be helping with the inflammation. I'm still walking and triking but not as far as I'm used to. It's now been a couple of months and my physical ailments are slowly healing.  I've still got a few months before my next tour and expect to be 100% by then.

Iconic Portland sign

Earlier in the summer I visited friends in Missoula for a week. They took me fly fishing on Rock Creek which was super fun. Adventure Cycling Association is also in Missoula and I stopped in to say hello. They gave me a tour and showed me a very professional operation with 40 full-time employees. I also reconnected with Ethel McDonald, another tourer, who I hadn't seen since we first met in Florida at a WarmShower's hosts farm over a year ago.

Visiting Ethel in Missoula

Then I went on a fun trip with tennis buddies to explore Smith Rock in central Oregon. What a beautiful area. We hiked Lava Lands, the demanding Misery Ridge Trail and enjoyed a day in Bend. We rented a very nice house with an impressive view of Smith Rock State Park. This was my first time to the area and can highly recommend visiting.

View from the top of the Misery Ridge hike

A short video I put together of the trip.

A big item on my list of things to accomplish over the summer is upgrading from iMovie to Final Cut Pro video editing software. On my next tour, I want to incorporate more video with the intention of making my blog a richer experience. iMovie has felt limiting and I figured the summer would give me a good start on learning the more complicated Final Cut Pro. I also set up a new YouTube channel called Travels By Trike where I've started doing short videos of trike rides, travel tips and gear reviews. I plan to continue putting together more videos throughout my tours. Be sure to subscribe in order to follow the continuing adventures of Myrtle the Turtle. I've also upgraded my cameras. I bought a Panasonic LX10 p&s and a new Sony FDR-X3000 action camera. I've been messing with video cameras for many years and feel like this action camera is finally giving me results I've been wanting. There are 2 important improvements these cameras achieve. One, image stabilization and two, wind reduction. Shaking and noisy video is difficult to watch and I think these cameras will be much better than ones I've used in the past.  I've also purchased a hand held gimbal to create smooth videos while I'm walking or hiking. 

Testing my new Sony Action Cam

I'm also making a big effort to continue studying Spanish. I've been attending classes twice a week, 2 hours a day at Portlandia Language School and also doing a conversational Meetup at a local cafe to practice speaking. As I walk around town, I often listen to an app called News in Slow Spanish. The app offers a new podcast every week with a transcript I can read to follow along. The stories are mostly current news headlines related to Latin America. Much of what I hear is a bit above my level but I still think it helps to try and understand. Even though learning is slow going, I'm determined to have a better understanding of this language.


I had such a good time studying Spanish in Guanajuato, Mexico last winter, I've already got a plane ticket to return in October to study at the same school, Escuela Falcon. This time I'll stay for 4 months and expect to be much more conversant and have a better understanding of the language by the time I leave. After 4 months of study I want to be able hold simple conversations with less hesitation. I don't need to be fluent in Spanish but think being able to speak easier will make my travels richer, safer and more enjoyable. For me, it's always about the people I meet and being able to talk to locals should make that more fun too.

After studying Spanish for 4 months it will be time to take my language and video skills on the road. I've come up with a tentative route riding from CancĂșn, Mexico though Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and ending in Panama. This trip will be for 3 months and cover about 2,000 miles. Central America is so hot and humid, I'm considering not taking a tent or cooking gear. The idea of camping solo in this type of heat sounds awful. I have a feeling the weather will be similar to SE Asia and I didn't take a tent or cooking gear on that tour either. I'll know better after doing more research.

Tentative route for my next trike tour

View from the house in Portland. Not too shabby.
Otherwise, so far, I've had a splendid summer spent mostly recovering, visiting with friends and riding my trike. As the summer comes to a close, I've got 2 more group trike rides planned. The first is an annual memorial ride on the wonderful Banks/Vernonia trail with lots of recumbent buddies. Then I'll be riding to the Oregon Coast to attend the Recumbent Retreat. This will be my 12th year attending and I have always ridden there. It looks like I'll be joined by 2 other trikers this year, Anni and Brandon. The ride to the coast takes 2 days. We will camp, as usual, at Big Eddy County park before tackling the ride over the coastal range and 63 miles the next day. I love the recumbent retreat. Please be sure to check out the links for more information. OHPV (Oregon Human Power Vehicle Association) has been putting on this event for 19 years. They book 2 loops at Ft. Stevens State Park for everyone to camp in over 4 days. I always arrive on Thursday and stay until Monday typically getting a ride back to Portland with a friend. Ft. Stevens is a gorgeous park in Warrenton, OR with lots of fabulous bike trails. There are many bike rides every day for everyone to participate in. The lighted bike parade is legendary with everyone lighting up their bikes and trikes and riding through all the loops in the campground to the delight of campers young and old. The Recumbent Retreat is truly the highlight of my summer.

Well, that's about all I've got for today. As another fantastic summer in Portland comes to an end, my attention will turn to my upcoming studies in Mexico and my next trike tour through Central America. Thanks for following along!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Los Caminos de Santiago

Hello, my friends, after a long absence. Oh my, lots has happened and there is lots to talk about. In this blog post I'll describe my incredible walking tours, yes two!, on the fascinating El Camino de Santiago.

Las Tortugas Ancianas
I have trike toured in Spain twice and loved it.  Both times I rode many different Caminos that go to Santiago de Compestela. These Caminos are ancient pilgrimage routes that all end at a gorgeous church in Santiago de Compestela in the Galician province of northern Spain where the bones of the apostle St. James are interred. Every Camino is fantastic and wonderful to experience. On my tours, there were a few other cyclists but mostly the Caminos are for walking. These pilgrimage paths have a long, rich history and people have been walking them from every part of Europe, and beyond, to Santiago de Compestela for over 1,000 years. Every day I would meet people from all over the world and it seemed like everyone had a distinct purpose for walking. Some pilgrims were walking for religious reasons, some for spiritual reasons and lots more were walking to get through difficult times in their lives. I met people who were grieving the loss of loved ones, getting over relationship breakups, celebrating surviving cancer and others trying to overcome addictions. The stories I heard were endlessly fascinating. After traveling by tricycle for many years I decided to mix it up and do a walking tour following the ancient pilgrimage route of El Camino de Santiago del Norte.

There are many popular starting points for each of the Caminos. People fly, take trains or buses to get to starting points. Others simply open their front doors and start walking, often thousands of miles from Santiago. I met people who started walking from Bavaria, London, Vienna and even Belarus. After the experience of meeting so many pilgrims, I felt compelled to walk as well.

There are many Caminos to choose from but I was interested in only 2, the Camino del Norte and the Camino Frances. Both Caminos start just over the Spanish border in the French Basque country.   The Camino Frances is inland and the Camino del Norte is along the coast. I chose the Camino del Norte for a particular reason. The year that I wanted to walk turned out to be a special one. This was a year of mercy which is a holy year in the Catholic calendar where the holy doors in the grand churches are open. For Catholics, it is a big deal to take a pilgrimage and then enter the church in Santiago through the holy doors.  Because it was a holy year, the most popular Camino, the Camino Frances, was far too crowded for my comfort  and so I decided to do the Camino del Norte. After posting on Facebook about my plans, 2 gals I know through triking asked to join me.

Guggenheim Bilbao

After lots of research and planning into how to pack for a walking tour, including buying my first backpack, I flew to Spain in early October to start my own Camino. The 2 gals, who also ride tricycles, joined me in Madrid. One gal, Susan, lives in Montenegro and April lives in Connecticut. They didn't know each other but both are also big time hikers. I was a bit apprehensive how they would handle my slow speed. Yes, it's true, I'm not just a slow triker but a very slow walker as well. We continued together on a short flight to Biarritz France to start the Camino del Norte. This Camino is considered the most difficult and also the most beautiful.

The reviews for this Camino were spot on. It was spectacularly beautiful everyday and also very difficult. Some hills were so steep I felt like they were actually dangerous.  But wow, the views were incredible. The three of us called ourselves Las Tortugas Ancianas, the old turtles. Most days we would walk alone not seeing any other pilgrims until we got to the Albergue, pilgrim accommodation where we could stay the night. I have a difficult time sleeping under the best of conditions and the snoring at the Albergues was very hard on me. Not being able to sleep well can really wear me down. Luckily, we were able to stay in many towns that also had hotels. Usually, Susan and April would share a room and I would get a private room. This helped a lot. Each day we walked through quaint countryside with jaw-droppingly gorgeous views of the sea. The whole Camino was stunningly beautiful every day. The path was also super hard for me. It seemed like everyday I would hobble into town completely exhausted.  I have terrible depth of perception and the steep paths required I walk at an even slower pace. By the end of the day I was so tired often I actually had trouble moving my legs. Sometimes all I could do was collapse in my bed and the gals would go out and get me food. I learned a ton about hiking from April and Susan and I don't think I could have finished without their help. We also had fun but, unfortunately, we really weren't the best matched trio. It is hard traveling with 3 people and then so intensely for 6 weeks. With the personality issues, we were all pretty tense and uncomfortable. In the future, I think I would ask more questions about trip expectations to get a better feel for personality fit. I would also figure a way to build in an escape option ahead of time when traveling for so long with others. Many days the mileage was more than stated in the guidebook and sometimes we had to walk 15 miles or more which is too much for me. Being exhuasted and in pain every day didn't help either. That being said, we survived and made it to the end. It was a true feeling of accomplishment to arrive at the church in Santiago to finish the Camino del Norte. Unfortunately, the holy year ended 2 days before we arrived and the holy doors were shut. None of us are especially religious people so this wasn't a huge disappointment.

Pilgrim passport needed to stay in Albergues and receive the Compestela

The experience of being in Spain also inspired me to learn more Spanish. I was the only one in our trio who was able to speak even a little Spanish and that little bit proved very helpful.  Learning Spanish has been a goal of mine for many years and it felt like the time had come to start that challenge. I returned to Portland for a family event in late November and began researching where to study Spanish.  I also kept feeling like my Camino experience with the 2 gals was incomplete and it, somehow, felt unfinished. I kept feeling like I wanted to have a more contemplative and meditative Camino.  I wasn't sure exactly what that meant but the feeling continued to haunt me.  Then a lightbulb went on. Why not go back and walk another Camino, this time alone? I immediately loved the idea and made plans to do the Camino Frances. But first, I decided to go to Mexico and spend 2 months at a Spanish language school. I not only want to learn more Spanish to use while walking another Camino but, in the future, I also want to do trike tours in Cuba, Central and South America. Knowing more Spanish will make those trips easier, safer and much more rewarding. Not to mention that Spanish is the 2nd most spoken language in the world, after Chinese. More people speak Spanish than English. Spanish is spoken in 22 countries and all over the US.

In January, I went to Guanajuato, Mexico to study Spanish at Escuela Falcon on the recommendation from a friend. Guanajuato is a Pueblo Magico and a Unesco Heritage city high in the mountains of central Mexico. I signed up for classes 3 hours a day/5 days a week for a total immersion experience. When I enrolled, 2 months seemed like such a long time but, in reality, studying a language for 2 months will only give the very basics. I've been to this city before when I triked for 6 months through Mexico in 2007. Guanajuato is one of the few places that truly captured my heart and I have always wanted to return. One of my goals was to feel more comfortable speaking Spanish. I am painfully shy to speak Spanish. It takes me so long to hear what someone is saying, translate and then think of a response I know the words for. The teachers were incredibly patient with me and little by little it became easier. I loved the teachers and, even though it was very hard, I had a great time learning Spanish at Escuela Falcon and want to return to learn more.

In April of this year, I flew back to Spain to walk the Camino Frances. I followed the same transportation method from just a few months previous. I flew into Madrid, took a short flight to Biarritz, France and then a bus to the starting point,  St Jean Pied-de-Port. The first day I walked over the Pyranees mountains. This Camino is the most famous of all the Caminos and there are always many people on the path. There is a lot to see on this Camino. A lot of art, culture, architecture and history. I walked with people from all over the world. Some of the most fun people I met only spoke Spanish and they loved that I was trying. I couldn't believe that I was not only able to communicate but be understood. My Spanish is still very basic and it takes me a long time to translate in my head and think of words I know to form a response but, hopefully, as I speak more this will get easier.

One of the most amazing aspects of walking the Camino is carrying so little on my back. I walked with only 10.4 lbs of gear and didn't miss anything. There is a lot of freedom with carrying so little. I gave myself 2 months to do the Camino Frances. I ended up in Santiago with 2 weeks until my flight and so I walked a loop out to the coast and KM marker 0.0 in Finesterre. Then I walked to sweet Muxia before returning to Santiago. Upon completing atleast 100 kms of any Camino you can receive a Compostela and a certificate of distance from the pilgrim office in Santiago. There are 2 more certificates for walking from Santiago to Finesterre and Muxia. I left Santiago with 4 certificates. Each is very different and a nice momento from the trip.  The last loop was lovely and capped off the trip nicely. The Camino Frances is very busy and the walk out to the coast is tranquil and quiet. It was this last bit that gave me the contemplative and meditative Camino I was looking for. I enjoyed the extra time to digest all the walking and experiences and felt totally done with walking when I returned to Santiago. 

Another thing that happened is I have a whole new appreciation for cycling. Oh my goodness, walking is so much harder than cycling. On my trike, I can go further, carry more and I have more options available. My body doesn't hurt as much either. I'm really happy I did these Caminos and got it out of my system. Now I'm ready and excited to get back to trike touring.

Stay tuned for my upcoming trike tour plans!