Mount Diablo Hike with Scott “Shroomer” Williams

I finally hiked Mount Diablo, which I’ve been seeing all my life, as it’s the highest peak in the Bay Area at 3,849 feet elevation. I did it in a big way, with the guidance of long distance hiking expert, Scott “Shroomer” Williams and some of his hiking buddies.  We did nearly 3,000 feet elevation gain in four miles on the way up to the summit, and back downmy ears actually popped at one point! This was the ultimate Camino training hike, and I now can see why it’s called Devil Mountain.  Scott said there is nothing this tough on the Camino (thank goodness!) and that people train for Everest on these trails.  Below is my account of hiking with Shroomer.

The rolling hills leading up to the summit of Mt. Diablo

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Super Hike and Yoga on Wildcat Ridge

The Tuesday Training series continues with an awesome hike at Tilden Regional Park – Wildcat Canyon. This hike was organized by the East Bay Hiking and Yoga Club founder Tamara, who leads weekly hikes in the Berkeley hills.  I’ve led a few community yoga sessions with this club at the Berkeley Rose Garden and Codornices Park after shorter hikes, so I was excited when Tamara suggested this longer 8-9 mile loop.  Peregrina friend Cathy Seitchik Diaz joined us since she planned to be in the East Bay to watch the Super Bowl with family later that day. We met at Inspiration Point at 9:30 am and Tamara led us on a wonderful 8.75 mile loop in Tilden-Wildcat Canyon Park . It was a crisp, clear winter day and the hills were green thanks to our El Niño winter.

We had a few #PilgrimStrong moments, like hopping a cattle gate and trudging through some mud – but we are stronger for it and we made it home by kickoff! 🙂

Mama cows were blocking the cattle gate so we climbed over the fence. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do!

Mama cows were blocking the cattle gate so we climbed over the fence. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!

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Training Tuesdays: Santa Cruz Coastal Hike

I’ve been doing a lot of training hikes in the last few months to prepare for my upcoming Camino, so today begins a new series, Training Tuesdays. This is where the tread meets the trail.

But first, why all this training? Here are my reasons:

  1. To build physical endurance. I’ll be walking 10-15 miles a day to cover the last 100 +/- miles of the Camino Portugues. I walk an average of 4-5 miles on a typical weekday, so I’ve added longer hikes on weekends.
  2. To test my gear. Backpack, shoes, clothes, and iPhone Apps. By now, most of these items have been fully tested and trail approved. I’m happy with my Sirrus backpack, and reviews for everything else will be shared soon.
  3. To learn from others. Throughout this series I’ll share the helpful hints of the wise pilgrims and experienced thru-hikers I’ve had the pleasure of blazing a trail with.
  4. To explore Bay Area trails. I’ve lived here all my life and never got around to hiking Mt. Diablo or Mt. Tam, two of the highest peaks in the area.  Thanks to the Camino, I’m familiar with these parks and a few more.

Oh, how the Camino provides. I have a lot to catch up on, so here’s a hike that I organized with peregrina friend Cathy Seitchik Diaz in January.

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The Camino Experience with Nancy Reynolds

I usually highlight a Camino blog for Friday Favorites, but since there aren’t many active blogs in the winter, I opened up the topic to share other great resources.

Nancy ReynoldsNancy Reynolds of The Camino Experience does a wonderful presentation called Walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain at REI stores and by special request for groups. I attended Nancy’s talk recently in Berkeley and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Camino.  She shares interesting stats, great tips, fun photos and practical advice—expertly delivered with enthusiasm.

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Planning Part 7: What inspired me to want to walk the Camino

This is where it gets personal

The Camino is calling and I must answer. I have been attracted to Spain since a backpack trip in 1992 that concluded with a month in Sevilla, where I lived with a family while taking Spanish language courses.  Since then, I have been to Spain four times (see favorite places in Spain, so far).

Pilgrims at the cathedral in Santiago

Pilgrims on October 8, 2014 on a drizzly morning in Santiago. Click photo to enlarge. Know any of them?

The most recent visit was last October on a Trafalgar tour of northern Spain with my mom on our annual mother-daughter trip. I didn’t know much about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage until this trip. We stayed in some of the towns that are along the way, and toured the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. We saw pilgrims of all ages with backpacks, looking both exhausted and elated in the cathedral, cafés and the pilgrim office. Continue reading

The Quest for a Camino Backpack

Two weeks ago I started researching backpacks that would be good for walking the Camino. I was going to wait until the end of the year to buy a backpack, or put one on my Christmas wish list, for I have been a very good girl this year.  However, now that I have a date set for my first Camino in May 2016, I am anxious to do practice hikes to test the gear that I’ll take.

I love a good deal, so I checked out the REI Outlet website first and ordered four backpacks to be delivered to the Berkeley store. I figured I can try these packs out on-site and also get measured and fitted by the expert staff.  The day I went to REI for pickup was also the day they had their members only used gear sale outside in the parking lot. What perfect timing! When I arrived around 8:40 am, there was already a long line, so I waited half-an-hour with other deal seekers.

photo 1(1)    REI Berkeley Used Gear Sale

REI Berkeley Used Gear Sale on August 8, 2015

When it was finally my turn to enter the sale, I was hoping that one of those pricey Osprey or Gregory brand backpacks I’ve been curious about would magically appear in the piles of backpacks I rummaged through.  While I did see a few of these brands along with many more types of backpacks, I didn’t have a clue what size I really needed.  I asked an REI attendant about sizes and he did a quick measurement from my hip to my shoulder.  He said my torso was 15″ so that would be between an Extra Small or Small  in women’s backpacks sizes.  What?!? I was stunned. I am 5’5″ and XS has never been on a label in my wardrobe! He said when it comes to backpacks, it’s not about height, it’s about the length of the torso. He too was surprised when he learned that he should use a men’s Medium size backpack even though he is 6’3″. I thanked him and started my search for a S or XS backback on the tables.  Slightly dismayed, and tired of looking through the piles,  I moved inside the store, empty handed.  At least I had a good caffeine buzz, thanks to Allegro Coffee Roasters and Whole Foods for their tent with free coffee and pastry for the early risers at the garage sale.

I picked up my order of backpacks at REI Customer Service, and headed over to the camping department.  I found a guy nicknamed “Zoo” who took a more accurate measurement with a nifty Osprey tool. He noted that my torso is actually 16.5″ which is still considered XS or S.  Zoo helped me try out these four backpacks I ordered from the outlet: Continue reading

Planning Part 6: Training and packing for the Camino

Training and packing for the Camino

The final steps of Camino preparation are to train and pack. For any long-distance walking trip, it is essential to train by taking practice hikes with your gear based on your goals of average kilometers per day. For example, if you plan to hike the Pyrenees stage, which is mostly strenuous, you will want to do practice hikes averaging 12 – 16 kilometers per day in similar mountainous terrain. For route stages that are more level such as the Meseta, you should practice with longer day hikes of 25 to 30 kilometers per day. Make sure the shoes that you bring on your Camino are comfortable and already broken-in. Hiking boots that are above the ankle provide the best support, but running shoes may be an option if you are used to hiking with them. Feet may swell a shoe size on long distance hikes—buy accordingly.1

When it comes to packing for the Camino, carry only essential items in a lightweight backpack, so that you will be able to walk long distances without putting extra strain on your body. Although some first-time pilgrims might be tempted to pack emergency “just in case” items, they should keep in mind that Spain is a first-world country and provisions along the routes are plentiful. It is highly recommended to select and pack gear so that your backpack weighs 10% of your total body weight.

Sound impossible? I thought so too. Here’s what I’ve learned. Limit clothing to just two pairs of each item: one outfit that you wear and one clean set to change into. Hand-washing facilities and drying lines are common in albergues and some even offer washing machines and dryers. At the end of each day, most pilgrims hand-wash their undergarments, socks and shirts and hang them to dry overnight. If the climate is cold, rainy or damp, clothing might not air dry completely, but the clean change of clothes will be ready for the next day’s walk.

Fortunately, a great variety of lightweight, quick-drying clothing has become widely available at most sporting good and travel stores. The basic items you pack should be customized as needed. For example, you might opt for a sleeping sack instead of a sleeping bag if you travel in the warmer months. Or you might bring walking poles or find a walking stick in the forest to help distribute your weight as you walk.

My Camino Packing List, Part 2: Gear and Accessories

My Camino Packing List, Part 2: Gear and Accessories

The concept of packing light with just the minimal essentials might prove to be the biggest psychological challenge for many people. Some pilgrims start out by packing way too much, making their daily walks uncomfortable. Pilgrims can always lighten their load along the way by donating unnecessary items in the albergues or mailing heavy items to Santiago where they can be picked up at the end of the journey. Ironically, when pilgrims understand that lightening the load lifts a heavy burden, both literally and figuratively, they might just realize they don’t need all the “stuff” they accumulate in their homes. I have found in my research that all sources and pilgrims agree, the Camino provides.

Peregrinos, do you stick to the 10% weight limit?  Digame in the comments below.

PS. Here’s a video that I found amusing and helpful about packing for the Camino.
Packing list review / Revisão da mochila para o Camino de Santiago (4:45 minutes)

If you know of other helpful Camino videos or resources that should be included on The Camino Provides, please email me at

Up next: What inspired me to want to walk the Camino? – Part 7 and final post of this series.


1. Alcorn, Susan. Camino Chronicles: Walking to Santiago. Oakland: Shepherd Canyon Books. 2006. Print.

Planning Part 5: Hospitaleros, Volunteers of the Camino

Hospitaleros: Welcoming Pilgrims on the Camino

Learning about the customs of the Camino will allow you to enrich your journey. One that is particularly fascinating is that of the hospitaleros, or volunteers of the Camino. Generally speaking, those responsible for albergues look for volunteers who have walked the Camino and who have taken a hospitalero training course.  Their most important duty is to serve as host to a steady stream of pilgrims.1 Most speak Spanish and multiple languages and can answer questions about the region or route ahead. Most are trained in first aid or know where to get emergency medical care. The common thread that these hospitaleros share is their gratitude for the Camino experience and their desire to give back by serving as a volunteer.

Americans Pilgrims on the Camino Hospitalero logoAccording to the American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC) website, “Those who have gone on from walking the Camino to serving as hospitaleros say that this experience is in every sense a Camino of its own…. Many walkers on the Camino carry a strong sense of being part of a stream, a stream of humanity or even a flow of history, moving ever westward. As an hospitalero you become a rock in that stream. The rock stays in place and a drop of water hesitates briefly and then moves on, leaving the rock to interact with the next drop and the next and the next. You provide the resting place where fellow pilgrims can stop and renew themselves in body, mind and spirit.”

The requirements and training info are listed on the APOC Hospitalero page.

During the research for my essay, I was fortunate to be able to attend a Blessing of the Pilgrims Ceremony for Northern Californians who are planning to walk the Camino this year. I didn’t know what to expect because I thought I would be the only newbie there. I also thought it would be overly religious as it was held at a church community space. To my surprise, there were many of us Camino “virgins” there and it was an open and lively atmosphere.  The variety of dishes in the potluck brunch was outstanding and everything was delicious. Wine, of course, helped break the ice and there was plenty of it.  I got a big dose of hospitalero hospitality that day, and I loved it. Everyone really made me feel welcome. Below are photos from the gathering.

Blessing of the Pilgrims Ceremony

Northern California Chapter’s 4th Annual Pilgrim’s Blessing and Potluck in Pleasant Hill, CA on March 28, 2015

We were welcomed by friendly greeters who gave nametags, blank for newbies and with arrow symbols for those who had already walked the Camino. They encouraged me to ask any questions of these arrow-badged people, so I did. I met a few pilgrims who are passionate about the Camino and decided to serve as hospitaleros. One of them is a woman who arrived in Spain without a map and forgot her pin number on her ATM card so she couldn’t get cash for a few days. She lived off the kindness of strangers, as pilgrims have done through the centuries. This year she attended a hospitalero training and returned to Spain to volunteer at the albergue that provided her with free shelter in her time of need.

After lunch, there were presentations and Q & A's about the Camino

After a delicious lunch, there were presentations, stories, songs and Q & As about the Camino

Another woman I met is a high school Spanish teacher who embodies the spirit of hospitality in her life. She didn’t pre-arrange her hospitalero experience—she just walked until she found a place that was willing to let her stay and volunteer. Although she is fluent in Spanish, she learned a few phrases in French, German and Italian, such as “Boots go here. Backpacks go there. Here are the showers. Lights out at 10.”

These stories and the many more that I’ve heard since then are inspiring to me. In the spirit of the hospitaleros, I am already thinking of ways that I can give back while I am on my Camino, such as offering evening yoga sessions and morning Sun Salutations to fellow pilgrims. I believe that a good stretch will keep joints and muscles in good shape for all that walking.  So yes, the Camino provides, but it takes many dedicated volunteers to do so. Gracias hospitaleros!

Peregrinos, what was your experience with hospitaleros?  Digame in the comments below.

PS. Here are two videos that highlight the Hospitalero experience:
El CAMINO DE SANTIAGO “Hospitaleros Welcome” (in Spanish with English Subtitles, 10 min.)

Hospitaleros (in Spanish, 24 min.)

If you know of other hospitalero videos or resources that should be included on The Camino Provides, please email me at

Up next, training and packing for the Camino – Part 6 of this series.


Hospitaleros American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC).

Planning Part 4: Camino history and symbolism

Camino history and symbolism

pilgrims-shellAs I mentioned in part 1 of this series, the Camino isn’t just for devout Catholics. The pilgrimage has been embarked on by followers of other religions, spirituality seekers, atheists and adventurers alike — and in recent years has attracted up to 275,000 people annually.  Whatever your background or type of spirituality you practice, I believe it is good to know a little about the history of a place to  understand its significance. In this post, I continue to share my research, along with some personal observations. I welcome your comments in the form below.

After you decide what route and when to take your journey, you will want to learn about the Camino symbolism and history. Of historic and practical significance is the scallop shell, which symbolizes the spirit of St. James. Saint James the Great was chosen by Jesus to be one of the twelve apostles and was given the mission to spread the gospel of Jesus. He made a pilgrimage to Spain to spread the word. St James returned to Judea, where he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa I (10 BC – 44 AD) in the year 44. 1
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Planning Part 3: Route Stage and Season

Choose your route stage and time of year

Once you have decided which route to take, you can choose what stage to begin on the selected route based on your fitness level and the amount of time you have.  There are 31 stages on the Camino Frances from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago. The first few stages cross the Pyrenees Mountains, with a steep and treacherous climb, starting from at 594 feet elevation in St. Jean to a peak of 4,719 feet at Collado de Lepoeder. 1 You may decide to tackle this rugged terrain for a week, then take a relaxing break in the seaside resort of San Sebastián. Perhaps you will skip the challenging crossing of the Pyrenees completely and begin the Camino Francés in Pamplona at Stage 4. There are as many unique itineraries as there are pilgrims, and the length and pace are up to each individual. If you rush through the journey on a tight timetable, you might miss some of the scenic beauty that northern Spain offers, or end the journey without time to contemplate your personal reasons for doing such a pilgrimage. Continue reading