The Things We Carry

We have a rest day today—no hiking—which means it will be a day dedicated to creativity. We called our pilgrimage the Creative Camino and today we’re focusing on the arts. I’ll be teaching a three-hour writing class this afternoon. Brenda taught a great three-hour watercolor session this morning. I love doing art with her. She’s a patient, kind and resourceful teacher.

In preparation for one of the prompts I’m going to have my students work on in our afternoon session, I gave them the following assignment for homework yesterday:

Take every item out of your backpack and fanny pack, as well as anything you carry while hiking the Camino (in your pockets, etc). Make a complete list of everything you carry, with a short description of each item and what it is for.

I love having people make lists as the basis for writing and I love having them write about objects. Objects reveal so much about a character, so much about us.

Although we were all given a packing list for this trip, everyone’s personal choices are far more idiosyncratic—as is the size of our backpacks, whether we’re minimalists or choose to carry everything possible thing we might need. Some of us have it all organized and know exactly where everything is. Others cram everything in and have to dig through everything to find what we need. Some carry extra food and some do not. Some bring large amounts of waters; some far less. It will be fun to see the diversity when we come together to share our lists—the first part of a longer writing exercise we’ll be doing this afternoon.

Here’s my list:


A green Gregory 36” backpack.

In the main pocket:

A long sleeve sun-resistant hiking shirt.

A sunhat from REI, the same one Brenda wears.

A black mysterioso kayaking shirt I’ve had for 25 years that makes me instantly warm when I put it on and is equally insulating when wet.

A favorite REI long sleeve insulating shirt as a medium layer.

A military-designed ultra-thin poncho I bought two years ago in Switzerland, expressly for this trip.

An extra pair of insoles so I can switch them out at lunch and give my aching feet a different experience.

A Nomadix multipurpose camping towel, “The Only Towel You Need,” which doubles as a blanket, a towel, a sit-upon, and picnic blanket.

2.5 liters of water in a bladder with its top carefully screwed on, shoved into its designated pocket.

A spare battery for recharging my iphone and the requisite cable.

A plastic kitchen garbage bag to keep it all dry.

In the outside pockets: A clean bandana for sweat.

A pair of collapsible hiking poles with rubber tips, folded in three, wedged in the side pocket.

A small water bottle with water and half a packet of electolytes.

A 12-ounce metal water bottle for pouring water over my head on a hot day.

A tube of HikeGoo to lubricate my feet before I put my socks on to prevent blisters.

A merino wool buff to pull over my neck, ears, and head should conditions get chilly.

A very thin windbreaker, originally for biking, that is tiny but provides a bit of extra protection.

A waterproof backpack cover that came with the backpack.

Thin gloves to protect my hands from chafing on hiking poles.

In the top pocket:

A plastic sandwich container that snaps shut to carry lunch and leftovers.

A Ziploc baggie filled with almonds, dates and dried mango. An orange pilfered from the breakfast buffet.

A detailed itinerary of every day prepared for me as a trip leader.

A beautiful art kit prepared by Brenda including my Camino journal, paint set, watercolor brush, various pens and pencils, a small ruler and various other art supplies.

An Outdoor Research Goretex rainhat so I can still see through my glasses if it rains.

On the outside of my pack: two striped diaper pins serving as an impromptu clothesline for my damp Ininji toe socks, still wet from being hand-washed the night before.

A Woobles elephant that I crocheted on the way here and in the evenings to unwind, my second ever crochet project, attached with a carabiner through the stitches in the top of its head. It reminds me of my son and daughter-in-law who taught me and Karyn to crochet just a few weeks ago, and of Karyn at home working on her little crochet animals. This elephant makes me laugh, reminds me it’s okay to be imperfect and reminds me of home.

A Piss Off silver-infused pee cloth for women, folded and snapped in a tidy triangle, hanging from a loop in my backpack.

A clamshell tied with a red ribbon, symbol of being a pilgrim on the Camino.

In my fanny pack:

Sunglasses, my passport, my pilgrim passport full of stamps from every place we stop along The Way.

A portable foot care emergency kit with a small pair of collapsible TSA-approved folding scissors, blister pads of several sizes, nail clippers, an emery board, alcohol wipes in tiny packets, a small packet of antiseptic gel, a book of matches and a needle to lance blisters.

An easy access small writer’s notebook and a gel pen for taking notes.

My iphone with a European e-sim card and unlimited data.

A small bottle of hand-sanitizer, a packet of electrolyte mix, a small tube of insect repellent, leftover from my last mountain camping trip.

Several ziplock plastic bags because they always come in handy, a bottle of Advil, half a dozen gin-gin ginger candies for quick energy, two kinds of lip balm.

A Swiss army knife, a roll of tape for my feet, an extra pen, my “green door” kit for toilets without toilet paper and peeing in the woods when I forget to take my pee cloth off my backpack.

A wallet filled with Euros which I have not used because I’ve only tapped with my iphone to pay at every counter, a snap clasp change purse for Euro coins (helpful mostly for bathrooms that charge a Euro to use).

A KN95 mask to wear in crowded indoor spaces.

I can’t wait to share our lists a couple of hours from now and to follow that sharing with a lesson about the power objects hold in our lives and how they can be used effectively as literary devices.

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