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The Long Road to St. Jaques, France

“I think that I might have injured the tendons in my foot” said the beautiful twenty-something woman from Australia staying at our gite. She was stretching her muscles between yoga poses on the lawn. Her gold nose ring glistened in the sunlight.

“I think you need to rest it for a day” I said, immediately springing into my mother role of taking care of the young hikers we meet on the trail.

“Do you think so?” She asked. “It seems better when I rest for a bit.”

“It is probably a stress problem, you are going pretty fast on the trail and the trails are very rocky. You can’t just go every day. Everyone needs a rest day” I said.

“How much weight are you carrying in your backpack?” Ol asked.

“I don’t know exactly. I don’t have anything unnecessary in there” she responded. “Well maybe a couple things, but not much.”

“Go get your bag. Let’s see if that might be your problem” I said.

She left to get her backpack.

“She can’t weigh much over a hundred pounds” Ol said. “If she is carrying a lot of weight, that could be her problem and she will never make it to Santiago.”

She returned with a backpack half her size.

“Let me feel how much that weighs” I said.

“My God! This thing weighs more than Ol’s backpack! And he is more than twice your size! Its no wonder you are having trouble walking! What have you got in there?” I said.

She opened her backpack and pulled out a large 300 page book of fiction, a large glass bottle filled with olive oil, large containers of food, lots of clothing, a big sleeping bag, a heavy duty raincoat, and a bladder filled with water.

I was stunned at the things she was carrying. We had spent days paring down our items and lots of money on lightweight items.

One of the fun things about hiking is that it is easier to give fellow hikers “trail names” than it is to remember real names. That’s when Ol decided to call our new friend “Roo” the little Australian with the big pouch.

“These are the things that you are getting rid of today” I said, setting things in a pile beside her backpack. “If you want to finish this hike you can’t carry all of this stuff.”

“Don’t carry this big glass bottle. Get small lightweight bottles and refill them at different stops” I suggested. “And ditch the book! Download it on your phone and read it on there.”

We enjoyed visiting with Roo and enjoyed the beautiful sunset from the back patio of our gite. She was also walking to Santiago in Spain and had started in Le Puy en Velay, a few days after we did.

She shared with us the book, that inspired her hike and we shared stories about people we met along the way.

We all agreed that it was a hard day on the trail. It was hot (86 F) and there were long stretches without water. I had a blister that actually popped, a first for me. The last 500 meters up hill, Ol actually carried my bag.

As Roo and I were commiserating about our poor feet. She was becoming convinced that she should take a half day off. Her foot was hurting and it was affecting her ankle.

“I always say that you should listen to your body, and pain usually means stop. You need to reassess what is causing your problem. One day off for preventative care, is much better that having to be off the trail for weeks or months if you are injured” I told her.

I asked her if she did a lot of training for the hike. She was extremely fit, but her small frame just couldn’t carry all of that weight for that distance.

Ol and I finally convinced her to take a zero day, which means doing nothing all day. Just lay in bed and recover.

After examining Roo’s bag I am beginning to think that hikers are romantics. The people we meet tend to value post cards over email; books over tablets; journals with ink pens over electronic notes.

Such was the case with Roo. In just a few minutes we pared down her back by a few pounds. We convinced her that she didn’t need to carry a metal padlock and key, her glass bottle filled with olive oil, several bottles of essential oils, her heavy French novel, numerous pens, and to empty her water bladder and only carry a small water bottle.

We have learned a lot by hiking as much as we have. We enjoy sharing our knowledge. And, we especially like it when we can help a fellow hiker stay on the trail and achieve a goal.

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