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carry as little as possible

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

"Carry as little as possible, but choose that little with care." Earl Shaffer.

Five days into my greatly anticipated 1,500 km pilgrimage and I had not chosen with care and I was struggling.

I was in the south of France in early April and I had anticipated cold showery days. Instead, I had beautiful cloudless blue skies and a merciless sun. I needed more water but finding clean drinking water en route was another challenge I hadn't anticipated. I had to carry three litres of water, to get me through the day, just to be certain. This added three kilo of weight to my already crammed backpack, I was guessing at 18 - 19 kilo, hence the struggle.

I laboured into a small French village. It had the typically beautiful square with wide leafy trees offering blessed relief from the sun and a cafe serving life-saving ice-cold sparkling water. My aroma was, how to put it, low level pungent, so I selected a table furthest from the other lunchtime diners. Off came the boots and socks which I placed further away, even I didn't like the smell.

If I didn’t lose weight from my rucksack I doubted my resolve to continue. My body was taking a beating but I could get through it. It was my head, I doubted my mental determination. There was a voice, in my head, as real as the voices from my fellow diners, it said "quit". Almost every waking moment, and even in my dreams, the siren song would serenade me, urging me to stop, take some rest, the voice whispered "quit".

I sat chewing my baguette au jambon et fromage and contemplated my problem.

Specifically my 18-kilo backpack problem.

I made a decision and emptied my entire pack onto the pavement.

After five days I had a routine, I knew what I used and what I would probably use again, easy. Everything else ended up in the dump pile, and it was a big pile. What on earth made me think I would need two (two) head torches? Did I think I couldn’t buy replacement AA batteries in France and that’s why I had a pack of 24 in the cardboard packaging? Idiot. At the end of the cull I had a double think and saved a couple of items, the rest was dumped next to the community garbage bin, in case anyone fancied a heavy emergency bivvy bag or a tin coffee mug. Those few items a saved from the bin, I dumped them in another bin a week later. Hard choices had to be made, ditch, or quit.

It occurred to me, this is a spiritual journey, and “sorting my pack” was a metaphor.

I didn’t know it at the time but I was “burning out” (this would be pointed out to me long after I finished my Camino). I was in a constant state of exhausted energy, frantically busy but empty and drained, tired but unable to sleep. To quote Bilbo Baggins “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread”.

Luckily, a Camino pilgrimage is a journey where you are allowed to tip your life out onto the pavement, better that than quit.


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