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Before she hops on a Spain-bound plane with her two daughters to hike 500 miles of El Camino de Santiago, I caught up with hiker extraordinaire Patricia Ellis Herr, author of the book Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure (which I reviewed recently). Not only did she write a book about how her 5-year old daughter and her bagged all all four thousand foot-high mountains of New Hampshire, but last year she went on a hiking book tour with her two girls (who are just a year older than mine) highpointing along the way. Highpointing is not how you point to the clouds with your fingers – it’s the act of standing on the highest point of every state. If you look at their list, you’ll be very impressed by these girls and their mom. I wanted to know more about Trish, Alex and Sage’s next adventure and asked Trish a few questions. Mainly – how do you hike 500 miles with two girls aged 8 and 10 during the school year – in a foreign country – for charity? Geez, seems like a very tall order.
1. Patricia, tell me about your big project for 2013 – Girls on the Way.
The girls and I will hike the 800-kilometer Camino Frances portion (SJPP to Santiago) of the Camino de Santiago in March/April 2013. We are hiking to raise money for two female-empowering nonprofit organizations, Global Fund for Women and GirlVentures.
2. What led you from writing a book on a hiking challenge to Girls on the way?
Hiking is a way of life for us. We’re usually out there hiking one day a week; over the past four years, the girls and I have traveled thousands of mountain miles and ascended well over 250 peaks. We’re already used to traveling around the United States for the sole purpose of hiking various mountains; the next logical step is to hike something overseas.
A few months ago, our good friend MadRiver (he’s in our book) suggested we watch a movie called The Way. That movie prompted us to make plans for the Camino.
If this hike goes well, then we will travel to a different part of the world every year and hike a specific route. Hugh and I feel it’s important for the girls to travel as they grow; traveling broadens the mind, builds greater perspective, and instills respect for other cultures. Ideally, we’ll raise money for charities each time we hike. This way, our travels will benefit others as well as ourselves. We are pleased and honored to hike for two nonprofit organizations this time around. We hope to raise $5,000 each for Global Fund for Women and GirlVentures. Visit our website, www.girlsontheway.com for details about how you can donate in honor of “Girls on the Way.”
3. What do you think will be the biggest challenges for you during this trip?
Though we are used to hiking up to 18 miles in one day, we are not used to hiking 14+ miles day after consecutive day. We’re used to at least 24 hours of rest between hikes, so hiking every single day will take some getting used to.
4. How about your daughters?
The day-after-day mileage will also be their greatest challenge. I’ve no doubt they can do it, but I’ll make sure we don’t go too fast and that we take a lot of breaks.
5. What are you doing to train your girls in terms of exercise, reading, food, etc?
The girls and I have been hiking, on average, a mountain a week for the past four years. To prepare for the Camino, we’re simply doing what we always do — hiking…though we now carry fully loaded “Camino packs” (backpacks that contain what we will bring on the Camino). The month before we leave for Spain, we’ll hike two to three times a week instead of one. As far as food goes, we try to eat healthy all the time, with some chocolate thrown in here and there for good measure. Regarding reading — I’m doing all the reading for this trip, but I will explain the historical significance of each stretch to the girls as we experience the regions first-hand.
6. How are you managing school during that time?
I feel the Camino itself will be educational, but I may bring a bit of math so the girls can continue to build on what they’ve already learned. If we don’t do anything formal at all, though, that will be fine too. We homeschool, and both girls are academically ahead of their same-age peers. It wouldn’t hurt them to take a semester-length break.
7. What kind of special gear does a person need to hike El Camino de Santiago?
We’re hiking in late winter and early spring, so we’re packing and wearing the same things we pack and wear for our usual White Mountain hikes. Short-sleeve hiking shirts, long-sleeved technical base layers, fleece, wind-/waterproof outer shells, socks, sleeping bags, waterproof boots and shoes, two pairs of gloves each, hat, balaclava, and a small first-aid kit. To keep our packs as light as possible, we will only bring one change of short-sleeve shirts and base layers, and only one fleece and set of outer shells each — we’ll have to hand wash various items as we go.
8. How are the girls feeling about a big overseas adventure?
Regarding the hike itself — they are excited and nervous. Alex looks forward to meeting all kinds of people and trying out her Spanish. Sage looks forward to trying different kinds of food and sleeping in all the different albergues. Alex doesn’t have any specific worries about walking long distances, but Sage is a bit anxious about getting blisters. I will be sure to pay extra-special attention to her feet. Regarding the prospect of raising a significant amount of money to help girls and women around the world — both girls are very excited about that. They are happy they can help raise money for two important, female-empowering organizations. They (and I!) hope that everyone who visits our website (www.girlsontheway.com) considers donating at least $10 to GirlVentures or Global Fund for Women.
9. How can people follow your progress and help?
People can follow our progress on our blog, Girls on the Way. The blog currently documents our preparations and, once we’re in Spain, it’ll document our Camino progress. People can help us meet our fundraising goal by donating to either Global Fund for Women or GirlVentures through our blog — please be sure to donate in honor of Girls on the Way. We also have a Facebook Page and a Twitter account #PatriciaHerr.
I hope you’ll join me in wishing the best of trips to Trish, Alex and Sage and in supporting their amazing adventure. If you have any tips about things to do, local traditions or interesting people to meet along El Camino de Santiago, contact Trish via her website. I know she’ll do her homework but you readers are a resourceful bunch too.
You go girls!