Primitivo – Day 04 – Borres

Today has become a rest day with only 15 km walked. There is very little in Borres except one very basic Albergue and a small bar.

A folk singer and songwriter from Forth Worth, Texas kept us entertained with very good music.

One beer, became two, which became cider which became wine.

Well it is Sunday so it’s probably proper to treat it as a day of relaxation and feasting.

Despite being around lots of people, I’m beginning to feel somewhat lonely now. I just have this feeling of melancholy and sadness about goals that have fallen by the wayside and people who are no longer part of my life.

Long-distance walking can be brutal in forcing you to think about things you would rather forget. It’s a time you come face to face with your own vulnerability and mortality. It’s a time to consider what it’s like to be truly alone in the world.

Long-distance walking can be like this, where without the daily diet of distraction, you have the time to experience these waves of emotions from euphoria to sadness.

Well tomorrow is another day. By all accounts, the harder variant though hospitales tomorrow is the best section of the whole Camino Primitivo. We shall see…

Camino Primitivo – Day 03 – Tineo

This is undoubtedly the best Camino that I have walked.

Picos de Europa

I make this comparison with the two Caminos which I have already done — the Camino Frances in 2013 and the Camino Norte in 2017. It is certainly more strenuous, but well worth the effort.

The whole lush green alpine vista is breathing-taking. If it’s possible to fall in love with a place, then this has to be the place.

Most of today has been spent walking in the shadow of the majestic Picos de Europa – the main mountain range in the north western part of Spain. I am very tempted to return here alone with a tent and spend a few weeks traversing and camping in these fine mountains with only the sound of nature.

On walks like this, there is a real letting go of what is wrong with the world today and just doing something so simple that dates back to our distant ancestors.

Tonight, I’m staying in another Municipal Albergue for €5 / night.

On this caminio, I have met ten Spanish, four French, three Americans, two Canadian, one Swede, one German and one Israeli. The Camino has a very cosmopolitan feel to it.

My pilgrim’s credencia is expanding with good memories.

Live is too short for one not to appreciate the wonder in it all. We spend too many hours running around taking ourselves much too seriously, when we should just be letting go and living the one life that we’ve got.

“Buen Camino” means “Good Journey” which can also be taken metaphorically.

Buen Camino!

Camino Primitivo – Day 2 Salas

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.

David from Canada on the left. Ravit from Israel on the right.

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.

Camino Primitivo – Day 01 Grado

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.

Camino Primitivo – Getting Started

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.

Travelling Light

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.

Thru-hiking Cost

How much does it cost to walk long distances in Europe.

€26 – The daily cost of Thru-hiking 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.

€26 / day or € 0.87 / km to Thru-hike Europe

I have extrapolated these figures from the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA), which seem to fit in with my experiences of walking in Southern and Eastern Europe.

Pacific Crest Trail Costs

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

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.

Blackstairs Walk 2019

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.

The Premeditation of Evils

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.

What does Hypothermia feel like

It’s a warm day, not a cloud in the sky. It’s the month of March on a isolated mountain in Ireland and the weather has been uncharacteristically warm for this time of the year. There is so much heat from the sun that you leave you warm clothes behind and don’t bring any food with you. It’s a warm day you’ll be up and down in no time.
After a four hour trek up to one of the summits, you spot a rocky outcrop that you decide will be a fun scramble. The is a beautiful scramble, just one little crux that you need to get across. A quick jump on to protruding foothold and you extend your hand to grab a very obvious handhold. As you switch balance and reach, the foothold snaps. The next thing you realise is that you are falling. You manage to land on your feet when you hear a snap. You try to stand up but pain shoots through your right ankle.
You are now immobilised alone on the top of a mountain. You sit on a rock berating yourself for being so stupid.
Sitting there you notice that it’s actually quite cold when you’re not moving. Searching through your small backpack for anything, you find nothing but your phone and a small bottle of Rum.
Hypothermia occurs when the body is unable to maintain normal temperatures because of exposure to cold. The body’s normal core temperature is between 36.5°C and 37.5°C.
Hyperthermia affects Hikers and armies alike.
The classical piece by Tchaikovsky, the 1812 Overture, commemorates the successful Russian defence against Napoleon’s invading army.

Hypothermia aided the destruction of the invading army by causing confusion, lost of consciousness and death. Others just fell to their knees and eventually died where they knelt.
As hikers, we may not be braving the severe Russian winters, but we are equally at risk of hypothermia. We are particularly at risk when temperatures are around freezing. Even in warmer temperature we can still be at risk. Simply being immobile on a mountain ridge at 10 °C in a storm can kill you. Windchill makes it worse by moving the warm air next to your skin away. Wet makes it worse. Water evaporates and cools. It also reduces the effectiveness of insulation. The combination is deadly. Skinny people are more susceptible than overweight people.
Not sure what to do, feeling the pain of the broken ankle, hoping someone will pass by, you decide to warm up by taking a couple swigs of rum. You now feel much warmer and more relaxed.
However, alcohol consumption increases the risk of hypothermia by increasing blood flow to the skin, resulting in heat being lost to the environment. This produces the effect of you feeling warm, when you are actually losing heat. Alcohol can also decrease the body’s ability to shiver and use energy that would normally aid the body in generating heat. The overall effects of alcohol leads to a decrease in body temperature and a decreased ability to generate body heat in response to cold environments.
The earliest stages, called mild hypothermia, are characterized by such things as a loss of coordination and changes in personality.
As the sun drops behind a far away peak, the temperatures plummets to around 7°C. You are feeling very cold and you’re core body temperature now drops below 34 °C, you now start to shiver. At this point, you still have the presence of mind to do things like make a phone call. You can temporarily stop the shivering to retrieve the phone and dial a number. But there is no reception, there are no network antennas in close proximity to even allow an emergency call.
As your temperature continues to fall below 34 °C, the shivering becomes uncontrollable.
The evening progress and you feel the cold. As you core body temperature falls to 32 °C, you are now having irrational thoughts, sluggish thinking, amnesia, and difficulty speaking. You know you are in a perilous situation, but you are feeling surprisingly calm. You have no real dread or any real pain or distress. Without that fear of death, the drive to take care of oneself is lost. At this point you know you should be doing something to save yourself but you can’t really be bothered.
As your body temperature drops below 32 °C,  you stop shivering. Now you feel really confused and start behaving more irrationally.
Once  shivering ceases you are in a life threatening situation and will very likely die if you do not get help.
Parts of your body will start to shut down, sending messages to the brain telling it that these areas are fine. Your brain doesn’t care anymore or simply doesn’t know that it’s cold.
You start to experience a behaviour called paradoxical undressing. You become disoriented, confused, and combative. You feel like your skin is too hot and burning and so start discarding your clothing, which, in turn, increases your rate of heat loss.
In severe hypothermia you can be quite serene, not frightened, or not even really alarmed. You know you are in trouble, but you have resigned yourself to it and are pretty calm.
You have been sitting here immobilised for several hours now while staring at a clear dark sky and the ambient temperature has now fallen to freezing.
Suddenly you hear a voice. Yes, it’s your friend, he’s calling. At last, and unbelievably, his hut is just 50 metres away hidden behind a boulder. Your friend helps you up and you now see his house, which is fully lit up. Opening the door, you are welcomed by a blazing open fire, your friend lays you down on a thick soft rug in front of the open fire. You begin to warm up and feel a great sense of relief and gratitude that the ordeal is over. The hut is beautifully decorated inside. Your friend is preparing a pasta dish and there is an opened bottle of red wine on the table. This was some ordeal but you sure will have some story to tell tomorrow. In the meantime you will need to get your ankle seen to and will have to make you way from your friends hut to your home. But those things can be taken care of tomorrow. Tonight, you are getting heat back into your body and are about to feast on a meal with wine.
The flames from the fire dance around the wood and then start changing form, the flames darken and get smaller, the interior of the hut starts to vanish. You call to your friend to ask what’s happening, suddenly you are alone staring at an empty sky.
With restricted blood flow to the brain, you have started to hallucinate. Your friend, the hut, the meal, the wine were only a illusions. You now become consumed with a sense of despondency of dying alone on the side of a mountain. Tears roll down your cheeks.
The despondency lasts for a while and then is replaced with a calm acceptance of your fate.
With your core body temperature below 29 °C,  you become unconscious. As the brain cools down, you experience a gradual decrease in your level of consciousness until you slip into a coma. After that, all of your metabolic processes start to slow down. As your body temperature drops below 26 °C, your heartbeat will become irregular and eventually stop. The moment of death will likely be silent and relatively painless.
A person dying from hypothermia will get into sort of a dreamlike state, drifting in and out of consciousness, and they may have visions of random things, possibly in a state of bliss. Dying from hypothermia is often perceived as a slow and painful death. It may be slow but by all accounts it’s not as painful as people believe.
The next day a walker finds your dead body and your death becomes another lesson and another statistic on how to dress for the outdoors.

This hypothetical account of hypothermia is based on my own experiences of mild hypothermia together with the research that I have done into the matter.