The walk today is truly stunning with more Alpine-like features.
My pilgrims credencia is beginning to fill out nicely with a good memento of where I’ve been, but not necessarily where I’m going.
The Camino is not just about the walk, it’s about the people that you meet along the way and the time you take to think about what is important.
Today, I met David from Canada and Ravit from just outside Tel Avive, Israel.
Apparently, Ravit is Hebrew for “I quenched you’re thirst” or something like that.
Speaking of thirst, the water infrastructure on this route is superb with water fountains every few kilometers. Today, I am staying in Salas, which is an exceptionally beautiful village with Alpine-like vistas.
After a long day of walking, I have availed of the Menu del Peligrino, which consisted of six courses. Yes, you’ve read right. Six courses including a complementary bottle of wine for the princely sum of €9.50. The Albergue tonight will cost €5.
Starting the Primitivo from the Cathedral in Oviedo.
This is a beautiful Camino which I would describe as quite country roads and beautiful alpine-like scenery.
It reminds me a bit of Austria but with much cheaper prices and a very friendly people.
Along the way, I meet another countryman, Cathal from Donegal and Corey from Minneapolis in Minnesota, USA. After 13 km my fellow Countryman bailed for the day and so I continued on to Grado with Corey.
At the end of the walk, I stay in a Municipal Albergue, which works on a donation basis of €5 per night including breakfast.
Checking into the Albergue, I’m greeted by two very friendly hosteleros, Herman and Sita, both from Holland, in Nijmegen and Friesland respectively. Herman tells me I should do the greatest walk in the world, which happens to start from his hometown, Nijmegen, and is called the Walk of the World – Four Day March.
Later, I had a “Platos Combinados” consisting of a salad, potatoes and chicken, followed by a desert for €8.
I’m sleeping in a mixed dormitory with 15 other walkers. When staying in an Albergue, the general protocol is a curfew from 10:00 PM and the Albergue must be vacated by 8:00 AM.
A necessary prerequisite for this type of accommodation is a good set of earplugs, as the cost of such a low price is having to endure someone snoring. A Camino such as this is like a mental reset, just like a fast is a dietary reset. The stamps on the credencia represent not only a physical journey but also a journey of freedom. Walking the Camino, while carrying everything on your back, helps you separate the necessary from the unnecessary, both physically and metaphorically, to truly realise how little you really need. Just basic food, basic shelter and good friends.
The Camino Primitivo starts in the Spanish city of Ovie
Before starting any walk it’s necessary to get to the start of it which for me involved a flight and three busses.
I’ll be travelling light on this one as I’ll be able to stay cheaply in Albergues (Hostels for Pilgrims) and Monasteries for about €5 / night. However, as a backup, I’ll be packing my trusty bivy bag along with a sleeping bag.
Weight Loss and Menu Del Dia
A walk of this distant would take a typical hiker about six hours per day, causing one to lose about three kilograms of body weight over the entire route. However, it’s worth mentioning that a typical Spanish Menu del Dia, costs about €10, which comprises a three course meal with a complimentary bottle of wine, so finding those extra calories shouldn’t be a problem. Speaking of money, if you’re spending more than €26 per day on total costs including food and accommodation then you’re either doing something wrong or living high on the hog. Walking the Camino should be less than the cost of doing a standard thru-hike through Europe.
Pilgrims Office in Dublin
Before embarking on my journey, I paid a visit to the Pilgrims office in James Street, Dublin. This office is staffed by volunteers who have already walked different routes of the Camino.
People walk different routes of the Camino for many different reasons. Even though it’s a religious route, less than 30% of those who walk it, do it for religious reasons. I, myself, as an agnostic, would like to think that I’m walking this Camino for spiritual reasons or at least an immersion in nature and culture. Perhaps simply being immersed in nature qualifies as being spiritual and then maybe the reasons are do not really that important after all.
The volunteer that I spoke to had some good tales from the Camino. In my enthusiasm, I splashed out on a “celtic” Camino passport for the princely sum of €10.
A Camino passport is necessary to stay in the cheaper Albergues and Monasteries and also as evidence that you have walked the way if you want a Compostela – a certificate stating that you have completed the Camino.
I am not particularly interested in the Compostela, but the passport is a nice memento of the walk. The passport can be had in Spain for between €2 and €5.
How much does it cost to walk long distances in Europe.
Well it depends a lot on where you walk. Doing a thru-hike through Scandinavia will cost a lot more than a similar one through Romania. However, it is useful to have some kind of a yardstick when deciding where to hike and for how long.
Comparing Apples to Apples
To make a good comparison between different trails and to be able to adjust for the duration of the walk it is necessary to compare the on-trail costs while excluding once-off costs, such gear and the costs of travelling to the trail.
Once you have invested in hiking equipment it will serve its purpose on multiple trips so this cost can be excluded.
The next consideration is the cost of getting to and from the trailhead. This depends a lot on where you are coming from and what deals you can find.
Once-off trail costs such as these will cost the same whether you walk for two days or two months and so it doesn’t make sense to factor these costs into the daily on-trail costs for comparison purposes.
This leaves us with the magic figure which is the on-trail costs.
The On-Trail cost
I begin counting my On-Trail costs from the first morning of the walk, usually starting with breakfast, and continue counting up until I finish the hike on the last day. I include the meal of the last day but not accommodation.
The costs of getting to and from the trailhead with possible accommodation at the start and end are not included in the On-Trail costs, but are included in the transport costs.
The On-Trail costs includes all trail costs while walking the trail such as accommodation, food, drink, medical supplies, tours, etc. A good ballpark figure for a fit and reasonably frugal individual thru-hiking in Southern or Eastern Europe would be around € 26 per day. Assuming an average distance of 30 km per day, this works out at €0.87 per km.
According to the PCTA, the average PCT thru-hiker will take between 4.5 and 5.5 months to walk the 2,659 mile PCT, while spending between $4000-$8000+. Applying these stats to the average fit and thrifty hiker, the PCT could be a be walked in 4.5 months for a cost of $4000. So on a daily basis, this thru-hiker would walk an average of 19 miles per day while spending $29 per day.
Spain and the Frugal Dutch Man
Based on my long-distance hikes in Spain, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, I think this cost could be much improved on. I have hiked a month-long section of the GR7 in Valencia, Spain, at a cost of €19.67 / day.
While walking the Camino Norte, in 2015, I met a Dutch man who had been walking for three months, from his home in Utrecht, Holland to Santander, Spain for about €17 / day. The Dutch have a reputation for being very wise with their money. But this man’s frugality was quite impressive considering that he had spent two months walking through France, which is much more expensive than Spain.
The Camino Primitivo is considered to be the original way to Santiago, when King Alfonso II of Asturias was the first pilgrim to walked there in the year 814CE from his capital, Oviedo, to the present location of Santiago de Compostela. This was a time when most of Spain was under moorish control.
The Primitivo is the fourth most popular Camino behind the Francés, Portugués Central, and Norte, with about 12000 pilgrims walking it every year, which is about 5% of all the walkers on all the Caminos. As the toughest of all the Caminos, the Primitivo would appeal to more seasoned hikers. Starting at the cathedral in Oviedo, the Primitivo crosses the mountains of the Picos de Europa, while passing through the Spanish provinces of Asturias and Galicia, finishing 320 km later at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. The Primitivo joins the more popular Camino Frances in Melida which is about 50 km from Santiago. The Primitivo section, before it joins the Camino Frances at Melida, is 270 km. The suggested time for walking the Primitivo is 11 days averaging about 25 km a day with 800 metres of ascent.
The Blackstairs Challenge consists of a distance of 31 km with 1700 metres of ascent along the Carlow-Wexford border.
It’s one of those walking events where you can choose how much of a challenge you want it to be by simply varying your speed. A slower pace makes for a very enjoyable leisurely walk. Pushing the pace on this walk turns it into a very hard challenge to rival any serious competitive event.
Is this a walk and or is it a competitive challenge? It’s hard to say, but allow me to indulge in some subjective reasoning here. I would say that completing this event in a time under six and half hours makes this a seriously hard challenge, whereas in a time over seven hours, I would classify it as challenging walk.
Johnny’s subjective classification:
Serious Challenge: < 6.5 hours
Respectable Walk: > 7 hours
Leisure day out: > 9 hours
Note that this classification is only my own humble opinion.
The walk itself doesn’t have the climbing toughness of the Maamturks Challenge or the bog drudgery of the Lug Walk, but nevertheless it’s a beautiful walk and one that can be taken at a leisurely pace or turned into a very serious challenge by doing it at speed. The walk is organised by the Wayfarers Association who do an excellent job every year in organising what is probably the most enjoyable challenge hike in the province of Leinster.
The walk takes an average time of nine hours to complete. Though the last time that I did this hike, two years ago, I clocked in at four hours and fifty four minutes, a record for my club, bringing me in as the fastest hiker or fourth place overall after three runners.
But it’s not all about speed or who’s first, it’s a beautiful walk for its own sake. Apart from being a challenge event, this is a wonderful solitary walk that can be done at anytime when you need time alone for contemplation. Contemplative walking is a whole different ball game where focus switches from objective measurements, like distances and finish times, to subjective qualities and experiences. Which is better? In my view both have a place, like two sides of the one coin, the yin and yang if you like. It’s like the weather, you can’t appreciate the sunny calm days without experiencing the wet and stormy ones.
For 2019, the ending of the challenge has changed. I have had the great pleasure of reccing the new route with the Wayfarers Association and have included the GPS route below.
To give you an idea of the terrain, I have included my route from 2017. Please note that this includes the 2017 ending, which differs from the 2019 ending.
As training is under way for the first hiking challenge event of the year, the Maamturks Challenge, it has got me thinking about the pain of training and it’s benefit.
When training for any big event, we often put ourselves through many months of pain for an event that will only last several hours. Is the pain and hardship really worth it for just one event?
I think so, but the real value of the effort is not for the event itself, rather the value is in the pain and suffering itself.
The endurance sports writer, Matt Fitzgerald, writes about pushing through psychological boundaries to achieve higher athletic performance.
Fitzgerald maintains that the perception of effort is the true barrier to elevated performance, not the body.
According to Fitzgerald, if you feel worse than you expected to feel in the event, then your perception of effort will increase and your performance will suffer. On the contrary if you brace yourself for a hard time, then how you feel during the event will be no worse than you expected and you will be setting yourself up to get the most out of your body.
This runs against the grain of the current trend of positive thinking. A positive mental attitude of always expecting the best will eventually leave you feeling worse when your lofty expectations are not met.
I’ve noticed this with myself where preparation for competitions that haven’t gone to plan, such as concern about not getting enough sleep or being in a bad frame of mind and then as a result going into that event expecting very little. I have noticed that I have often outperform more on those occasions when things don’t go to plan than when I have had high expectations from things being perfect.
This is not a new idea, nor is it solely related to sporting performance. It’s an idea that dates back over two thousand years to Stoic philosophy.
Rather than practicing positive visualization, the Stoics practiced the opposite, negative visualization, or what they called the premeditation of evils.
A stoic would spend a few minutes every morning visualising everything that could go wrong that day. When that bad event didn’t happen they would take joy and appreciation that it didn’t occur. If the bad event did happen, then they would be prepared for it and it wouldn’t disrupt their tranquility.
The Stoics, like the Buddhists, understood the folly of attachment and realised that one will eventually lose all one’s possessions, if only by one’s own eventual death, and so cautioned about becoming overly attached to anything external. A stoic would advise to value what is innately one’s own, such as one’s attitudes, beliefs and choices. Anything external is outside one’s own control. Being dependent on any external entity or condition surrenders one’s freedom to it and turns one into a slave. One of the most famous proponents of stoicism, Epictetus, was actually a slave, so he knew what he was talking about.
In a sporting event, stoics would advise to do all the necessary training and preparation to perform at one’s best, but then not become overly attached to the outcome. Like an archer taking the perfect shot but missing the target due to a sudden gust of wind. The archer would praise himself for taking the perfect shot and would be completely unmoved about missing the target.
A premeditation of the evils that can befall one either in a competition or in life, sets you up to appreciate the simpler things in life that, as a human, you naturally take for granted.
The official event is held in the Spring of every year, with those participants who successfully complete the course, by reaching specified control points within the given cut-off times, receiving a certificate of completion. It should be noted that not everyone who attempts the challenge will actually complete it. The traverse is also attempted outside the official event by groups organising their own logistics, but still attempting to hit the same control points.
The distance and ascent may seem less daunting until you consider the terrain and elevation. It’s not a gradual climb on a waymarked trail, but rather it’s a very hard slog over rough open mountain. It consists of a series of steep energy-sapping climbs followed by steep descents. Then there is the difficulty of the navigation in very unpredictable weather.
According to Mountain Views, a respected Irish mountaineering website, it is the second toughest challenge in the country1. An article in the Irish Times newspaper reported it was harder than climbing Kilimanjaro2. In hillwalking circles it is spoken about with great respect.
The unrelenting steep climbs and descents are what characterises this hike and garners so much respect for it. Even the names of the locations can conjure up ominous visions of what awaits. One such name is “the col of despondency” which might have been taken out of some puritanical book such as “Pilgrim’s Progress” as a gauge of how you feel at this point. At this point the fatigue from the day’s unending ups and downs and the rather uninviting view to the next seemingly insurmountable climb towards Leenane Hill will lead a strong feeling of despondency. Here you will see people panting, falling, and crawling – in fact anything to get themselves up that last pull. Should you consider quitting at this point, well the available options are pretty unattractive also.
The following points (with Irish Grid Coordinates) must be hit in the following order.to complete the challenge:
Eventually, having made it to the finish, you will cast your weary eyes on the quaint village of Leenane, where you can relax in the satisfaction of having completed the second toughest hiking event in the country.
Experienced hikers tend to take between ten and twelve hours to complete the traverse. The walk is already challenging enough in itself, but when you add speed to the equation you bring a new dimension of suffering. Most participants are happy to complete the challenge within the standard cut-off time, but there is a small cohort not content on just finishing, but want to push the limits of human endurance and stamina by adding the extra burden of a time constraint.
The challenge starts at a non-descript pull-in on the side of the R336 road about four kilometres from Maam Cross, at the Irish Grid Reference: L 964 497 or GPS coordinates N53.488 W9.559.
A route of the challenge can be viewed from the following View Ranger site. A GPX of the route can also be exported and imported into the GPS device of your choice.
A GPX of the route can be viewed and download from View Ranger.
Over the last few years, people have suggested that I should start some kind of a blog to document my travels and life musings. I have never thought that my life was in any way extraordinary or that anyone would be in the least bit interested in what I have to say. After some reflection, I guess I have had a few adventures and for some reason people find my musings on life, the universe and everything, slightly interesting or at least entertaining. Setting up this blog may be an indulgence in allowing me to talk about what I’m passionate about. It is certainly are welcomed outlet for talking about hiking when I’m away from the trail. For me, hiking, walking, sauntering, rambling or whatever you want to call it, is not just some recreational activity, it has much greater significance. It is a metaphor for life itself.
If what I have to say is of any interest, I credited that to my fellow hikers and non-hikers alike with perhaps a little blending of my own mix of philosophical thought.
The Name of The Blog
With all the best and most memorable domains name already taken, especially under the “.com” top-level domain name, trying to find a catchy name is no easy task.
Eventually, after hearing the Chuck Berry oldie, “Go Johnny Go”, I opted for the name “Walk Johnny Walk”, as it seemed to fit my passion.
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