Monthly Archives: February 2014

Ready, Set, GO


Well, we are on our way overseas to our dream vacation.  We checked the weather forecast for Rome and Catania and of course it is expected to rain for our first week.  No worries, as we have our Camino rain gear so anything short of a hurricane and we will be OK.
At the Atlanta airport we ate some oriential food at Pei Wei and our fortune cookie provided the following fortune:


So, off we are to strange places.  All roads and airspace leads to Rome.



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Ready, Set…

As we prepare for tomorrow’s flight to Rome, I thought I’d share a little postcard featuring Mark Twain’s words of wisdom on traveling.



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February 21, 2014 · 09:32

American Pilgrims on the Camino training hike and Shell Ceremony

A 0500 alarm clock wake-up started our day as we prepared to drive to Colorado Springs for an American Pilgrims on the Camino hike. The hike was organized by Stella Juarez who had recently completed the entire French Route of the Camino de Santiago. We departed Conifer at 0600 and drove through Pine Grove, Deckers, Woodland Park, Manitou Springs on our way to the designated meeting location. We arrived at our meeting point at the Starsmore Discovery Center just before 0800 where we were joined by five future peregrinos and our host Stella.

The group then caravanned past the discovery center and up Cheyenne Canyon Road to the uppermost parking lot. Sandy and I had never been to this area before and we were both amazed at the number of trails and natural beauty the open space park possessed. Our initial observation is that North Cheyenne Canyon has so many trails and old Gold mining roads it is probably a good idea to have a detailed trail map or a GPS handy when hiking.

We took the hike with our Camino packs, Sandy’s weighing in at 15 pounds and mine at 18. The St. Mary’s Falls trail begins on an old road/train bed and gradually climbs up into the canyon.

After about the half mile mark, the trail conditions went from dry to icy and snow packed. The group then all placed their Micro Spikes and/or Yak Tracks on for improved traction. My five year old Yack Tracks lasted about another 1/2 mile before snapping the side band. I was able to improvise a repair which looked funny but lasted the entire hike.

After a while, the road ended and we proceeded on the single track trail along side a icy creek, presumably St. Mary’s Creek. Hiking alongside a creek is always a real highlight.

As we began gaining altitude the views of the high plains and Colorado Springs began opening up. The vistas were amazing.

We hiked a bit over three miles up an oft times very steep grade (25+ percent) until we reached the falls. The falls were completely frozen over, but we were able to hear the roar when standing on top of the ice as the water flowed below us.

After a short break for snacks, we were treated to a very moving Camino de Santiago Shell Ceremony preformed by Stella and her father Roger. Roger read the ceremony in Spanish and Stella translated to English. Sandy and I were standing on top of the icy waterfall during the event. We were both touched by the words of encouragement, prayers and thoughtfulness of the ceremony.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, we were presented with our Camino scallop shells. Scallop shells are the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. The shell is seen frequently along the Camino’s trails. The shell is placed on posts and signs along the camino in order to guide pilgrims along the way. Also, wearing a shell denotes that you are a traveler on the Camino de Santiago. Most pilgrims receive a shell at the beginning of their journey and attach it to their backpacks.

After the conclusion of the ceremony and some nice conversation, we all began the slippery hike back down to the trail head. It is amazing how many different things you see when walking the opposite way on the same trail. I guess it is all about different views and orientation perspectives.

We made it down to the trailhead with a few slips but thankfully no falls. Once our gear was stowed we decided to go to the nearby Colorado Mountain Brewery for a lunch and some beers. It was great to sit down and listen to Stella’s unbelievable stories of her journey along the Camino.

As we were driving home and had some quiet time to think, we both agreed that today’s hike, the shell ceremony and lunchtime conversations were something we would never forget.

Today’s hike statistics:
Miles: 6.29
Altitude gain: 1,812′
Moving time: 4:01 hours
Maximum Grade: 25.6%


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Snow, ice, water, mud + scenery = a really great hike

Today’s training hike took us to Castlewood Canyon State Park. Castlewood Canyon is a 1,120-acre day use area and offers a variety of neat trails in a beautiful setting. The park features a scenic rocky canyon, spectacular views of the Front Range and the remnants of a historic failed dam.

First, a little history. In the 1880’s the Denver Water Storage Company was formed and build the Castlewood Dam. It took 11 months to build the 600-foot-long dam, which was 70 feet high and eight feet wide at the top. An estimated 85 men and many teams of horses and mules wrestled the rocks into place according to the design of Chief Engineer AM. Welles. The total cost to construct the dam was $350,000. The Denver Water Storage Company sold water and land to farmers.

The dam, completed in October of 1890, began to leak almost immediately. Denver citizens worried the dam would break, sending flood waters rushing downstream to their city. The engineer who constructed the dam promised residents that it would never fail.

20140215-055126.jpgPhoto courtesy of the Colorado Historical Society

It rained hard on the first two days of August in 1933. The reservoir was full and water poured over the top of the dam. Dam caretaker, Hugh Paine, was uneasy the night of August 2. Lightning crackled, thunder roared and on the early morning of August 3rd at 1:30 am the dam gave way. Immediately, 1.7 billion gallons of water was released and raced toward Denver. Dam Keeper Paine ensured that telephone operators downstream were notified and this act is generally what was responsible for saving many lives downstream. At 7:00 am the floodwaters reached Denver. Damage to Denver downstream was extensive but miraculously only two souls died.

The following two photographs show what the dam ruins looks like today.



We started out our hike by entering the park from the lessor known and crowded west side. The dirt parking lot immediately gave us a clue of what was to come, as it was a combination of snowpack, ice and mud. After finding a decent place to park, we started out on the Creek Bottom Trail. This was a difficult challenging task as the trail was sheet ice in spots and really wasn’t on the “creek bottom” as advertised. There were some cliffs of over 100′ right next to the icy trail which caused us to pay attention to every step. Our determination was rewarded by the amazing natural beauty. White chalk cliffs, the Cherry Creek cascading over a half frozen waterfall and beautiful blue skies all contributed to a great day hiking.

Here are some photos of our hike:







20140214-210918.jpgSandy contemplates this rocky creek crossing.

20140214-210928.jpgAnother hiker crosses the fast flowing creek

20140214-210939.jpgA little bit muddy on the trail!

We hiked 7 miles on the Creek Bottom, Inner Canyon, Canyon View and Lake Gulch trails. We spent a total of 4 hours on the trail. We started at 6,311′ elevation and topped out at 6,641′. Our maximum grade was 19.3%.

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Preparing our lives and our packs for the Camino

We have been spending the last several days making preparations for our trip to Europe and the Camino de Santiago. We start by heading to Italy and France for just over a month before beginning our trek in Spain – which we have allotted 45 days. Our plans involve shipping our backpacks and Camino related gear to our relatives in Italy. We will travel to the first half of our vacation with traditional “Rick Steves” style travel bags with our regular, try not to look like a tourist, clothes. Once we arrive in Genova, we will transition to our Camino backpacks and hiking gear and will ship our travel bags and clothes back to Colorado.

Today, we organized all of our Camino clothing and gear into our backpacks for our final weight check. It is recommended that you keep your packs at or less than 10% of your body weight. We have read Camino related books and blogs to obtain as much information as possible on what to bring, what not to bring and how to keep pack weight down. One book that was especially helpful was, “To Walk Far, Carry Less” authored by Jean Christie-Ashmore. While we did not go to her suggested extremes (cutting off backpack loops, cutting cords, etc.) we did weigh everything and made lightweight related choices.

We started out by sorting all clothing and personal items we needed. Here is what that process looked like with Sandy’s gear:


We then weighed our backpacks to determine the total carrying weight. Both packs were a bit over the 10% rule, so we trimmed down our apparel and other items. Our final Camino weight for our packs is 16 pounds for Sandy’s and mine is 19 pounds. This is not counting water, which weighs about 2 pounds per liter. On an average day we will carry 2 liters, but we both have the capacity for 3 liters in our Camelbacks. So, our actual daily start weight will be 20# for Sandy and 23# for me. Good news however…As the day goes on and water is consumed your backpack becomes lighter.

Here is what my backpack looks like. After hiking with it for more than a month I am sure I will grow to dislike it quite a bit. Ha

Tomorrow we will determine the least expensive way to ship the packs and send them on their way. We will catch up with them on the last week of March when we arrive at our cousins home in Genova.

Finally, we will conclude this post with an amazing photo of our destination:

20140204-215523.jpg Buen Camino!


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