Two New Hampshire girls hike the 500-mile Camino de Santiago to raise money for women around the world.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Final Gear List (Unless Someone Grows)

Alex put on her backpack yesterday didn't fit.  Her child's backpack is suddenly too small.  Two weeks ago, it fit perfectly.  Now, it's tight and uncomfortable no matter how much I adjust all the straps.  The same thing happened with her base layers...two weeks ago, they fit just right.  Now they're too small.

I wish the kids would put a hold on their growing until we get back from the Camino!

I'm off to buy a new backpack and larger base layers for Alex.  When I return this afternoon, I'll list our final gear and clothing choices for the Camino.  We are going as light as we can for this -- both girls will carry just under 10% of their body weight.  I'll carry a little more, since I've decided to put the girls' clothes and extra shoes in my own pack.  Even with their extra items, my pack feels relatively light.  I'm used to carrying an obscene amount of weight up and down the mountains here in the Whites -- when I winter hike with the girls, I go overboard in packing because I'm always worried about the "just-in-case" scenarios.  In contrast, my Camino pack feels feather-light.

Final and updated gear list will be posted this afternoon or evening.  It WILL NOT CHANGE (I mean it this time!) unless one of the girls has another growth spurt before we leave.

EDIT -- The Final Gear List can now be found on our Camino Gear page.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

NH's in a deep freeze!

New Hampshire's in a deep freeze!  Temperatures have recently hovered around 0-5 degrees Fahrenheit, with windchills of -25 and lower.  I'm not talking about mountaintop temps...that's how cold it's been right outside our front door!  I've therefore kept our recent walks short to minimize the danger of frostbite and hypothermia.

We'll get back to our usual training schedule as soon as the temperatures return to the upper teens.

Regarding gear -- we now have it all figured out except for footwear...I'm still going back and forth on Sorels vs. Merrells vs. hiking sandals vs. tennis shoes.  I'll write more on Monday evening.  Also, new fundraising details are coming very soon!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Credencials, Health Insurance, Check-Ups, and Gear

Our credencials arrived!

Thanks, American Pilgrims on the Camino!

The girls and I (and Hugh, when he's with us) will show our "pilgrims' passports" at each albergue (hiker hostel) we visit along The Way.  The owners/volunteers at the albergues will stamp these passports with their own, unique markings.  

The back of an unfolded credencial --
there's lots of room for lots of stamps on both sides!

When we get to Santiago, we'll show our stamped credencials to the officials at the Pilgrims' Office -- then we'll receive our Compostelas (certificates of completion)!  

Health Insurance

I made a phone call this morning and learned our health insurance covers us overseas.  Phew!  (Some folks need to buy additional coverage for international travel).  


The girls recently had medical check-ups and were pronounced 100% healthy and rarin' to go.  No surprise there.  I'll have my own doctor appointment next month.


With the exception of Alex's hiking shorts and Alex's non-winter hiking boots, we now have everything we'll need for the Camino.  Some strange choices were made -- for example, Sage is bringing a pair of boys' swimming trunks (size 4T!) to use as her warm-weather hiking shorts...but they fit her just fine and they're not made of cotton, so why not.  I'll provide more details about our kit on the gear page of this blog during the next couple of days.  It feels good to have most of the decisions behind us.

More Training Hikes

The training hikes continue...though we've had to stay off the mountains lately because of insanely cold temperatures.  It's -15 degrees F outside my front door right now.  Tomorrow, we'll hike our usual eight-mile loop up and down the hills around our house in what might be -30 degree F windchills.  I imagine we'll look a bit strange in our balaclavas, facemasks, and goggles...a passerby might think we're taking the long way to Everest.  Still, we need the exercise and we'll be close to stores and houses the entire way, so all should be well.

I'll post the updated gear list (and more fundraising news!) before the weekend.  

Stay warm, everyone!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Rise Above Those Narrow Confines

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. 
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Photo taken from
Yes.  That.

That's why we're doing this.  That's why I insisted we use our Camino as a way to raise money for charity.  I want Alex and Sage to grow up with social consciences.  I want them to understand that we have a responsibility to help others however we're able.  Hiking is something that comes naturally to my daughters so, at this point in their lives, hiking for charity is how they can contribute to a higher cause. 

I'm often asked if I will write a book about our Camino experiences.  That's an understandable question; I did, after all, chronicle my oldest daughter's first peakbagging quest in Up: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure.  However, Up was written after Alex completed that quest, and only because Alex asked me to formally pen a memoir of our journeys.  We didn't start our quest with the intention of writing a book --  I only agreed to publish something after I realized our tale might inspire other young girls to hike or, at the very least, spend more time outside.  Up has done exactly that, given the content and quantity of my incoming emails.  I'm glad I wrote Up and I'm happy it's had such a positive influence on so many people -- but, again, our original intention was to hike.  The memoir idea came later.

Photo credit: Guy Cunningham
Similarly, we're hiking these 500 miles to a) enjoy the Camino and b) raise money for others.  Memoir-writing is not a primary goal.  If it was, then our Camino wouldn't really be about helping others -- it would be about helping ourselves.  

The girls should learn to give because giving is the right thing to do...not because they might get something for themselves in return.  There's a fine line between publicizing your efforts (so that you might raise money for others) and publicizing yourself (for the sake of self-glory).  We want to do the former and not the latter.

All that being said, I have toyed with the idea of a memoir (mainly because people keep bringing it up).  I've written a few introductory chapters and thought about the possible angles.  No doubt the bits and pieces are intriguing -- two young girls, their double-amputee/famous scientist father, their atheist mother, a 500-mile Catholic pilgrimage, the sights and sounds of northern Spain, the characters we'll encounter, the fundraising efforts, our struggles, triumphs, interpersonal relationships, etc. etc. etc.  Yes, there will be plenty of fodder for another memoir.  And, if such a book inspired even one more person to donate to Global Fund for Women and/or GirlVentures, then I'd view the book's publication as a huge success.

However, memoir-writing can't --and shouldn't -- be the focus of this trip.  I'm going to do my best to blog, in entertaining detail, our adventures as we hike the Camino.  People will be able to follow along on this website and on my author Facebook Page.  If our fundraising goals are not met by the time we return from Spain, then I'll think about writing the memoir (I'd donate part of the author proceeds to the two nonprofit organizations).  In any event, that decision will have to come later.  We walk with the intent to walk, and to do what we can to raise money for two female-empowering nonprofit organizations.

Photo courtesy of GirlVentures
Speaking of raising money -- I believe we're now past the $3000 mark.  I'll be back on Wednesday to post the updated tally and other important Camino-related developments.


Monday, January 14, 2013

More Mountain Training, Footwear, and Fundraising Update

Fundraising Update

So far, we've raised a total of $2906.  Specifically, $1455 for Global Fund for Women and $1451 for GirlVentures.  A huge thank you to all who have donated!  Your tax-deductible contributions will help empower females around the world!

We hope to raise $5000 for each organization by the end of our Camino (late April)...and we'd REALLY like to have at least half (if not all!) of that taken care of before we leave for Spain in early March.  To those who haven't yet donated -- please help us reach our fundraising goal by giving whatever you can to GirlVentures and/or Global Fund for Women

NH and MA folks -- visit the Portsmouth Brewery on Tuesdays, buy a "Community Pint," and choose Girls on the Way as your charity of choice.  In April, that "community pint"  money will be sent to Global Fund for Women in honor of Girls on the Way.

Gear Update

I've decided on my footwear.  For snow and cold -- my North Face winter hiking boots.  They're old as the hills, but they're trustworthy and comfortable.  I wore them on our last two training hikes (see below) and my feet stayed warm and dry.  For warm weather -- the Hedgehog GTX XCR III.  I've no experience with these shoes, but they were on sale at a local store and they came highly recommended.  I'll break them in before we leave.  For albergues and town-walking -- my ancient Crocs.

Latest Training Hikes -- Mountains with Views Galore

Last week, I wrote that we were going to stick to long road walks for a while.  Of course, right after I posted, the girls decided they wanted to do a couple of 4Ks.  We therefore ascended Tecumseh on Thursday and Moosilauke on Saturday.


Mt. Tecumseh Trail.  2250 ft elevation gain, 5 miles roundtrip.

Alex on Tecumseh, June 2008
Tecumseh holds a special place in our hearts; our love of hiking began with this peak. In 2008, then-five year old Alex and I hiked this Four-Thousand Footer for the first time. Reaching the summit had a profound impact on my daughter. She immediately decided she wanted to hike more mountains and, fifteen months later, she became the second-youngest girl to have hiked all 48 of New Hampshire's highest mountains. (Her original "NH48" quest is chronicled in my book, Up: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure). In March 2012, then-nine-year-old Alex became the youngest person to have hiked all 48 of these same mountains during calendar winter.
Alex on Mt. Adams.  Feb. 2012

Sage's first 4K was also Tecumseh. She first climbed it when she was 4 -- I suspect Alex's enthusiasm was responsible for Sage's motivation. Sage loved her Tecumseh experience and soon began her own NH48 quest. In November 2011, Sage broke her sister's record and became the second-youngest girl to have hiked the all-season NH48.
Sage and Alex on Tecumseh, Feb. 2010

Since Alex's first ascent of Tecumseh back in 2008, both girls have hiked hundreds of mountains, including 42 of the United States highpoints. They've hiked in all kinds of weather and in all four seasons. Now, we ready ourselves for an amazing 500-mile walk across Spain.

In other words, Tecumseh completely changed the course of our lives.

Our latest Tecumseh hike was accomplished quickly; the girls now usually hike at an average adult pace.  We were up and down in three and a half hours.  That's another reason we like Tecumseh -- it doesn't take all day to hike, yet it still gives the legs a nice work-out.

Alex and Sage at the trailhead, Jan. 10, 2013
Snowy trek

Up we go

Soon there
Sage and Alex at the summit cairn.  Jan 10, 2013

View from the top of Tecumseh

Sage and Alex on Tecumseh, Jan. 2013


Glencliff Trail, Moosilauke Carriage Road.  3300 ft. elevation gain, about 7.8 miles roundtrip.

Moosilauke is another special peak -- Alex finished her first round of the NH48 on this "gentle giant" in August 2009.

Last Saturday's hike was lovely.  The weather was unseasonably warm, which meant there was no risk of frostbite and we could take our time on the summit without succumbing to hypothermia.  Hugh came with us, as did our friend, Samantha.  As you can see, we were blessed with an excellent undercast.

Going up

Going up

Here comes the sun

Samantha and Hugh in the fog

Gorgeous undercast

Looking back at South Peak

"Sea" of ice
Almost there
Sage and Alex on the summit of Moosilauke.  Jan 12, 2013

We love undercasts!

Franconia Ridge in the distance

The Herr clan on Moosilauke.  Jan. 12, 2013

Heading down

Hope everyone has a great week!  I'll post again next Monday.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Portsmouth Brewery, Training Update, Backpacks

Great news -- each Tuesday, the outstanding Portsmouth Brewery will donate $0.25 from every bought beer to a charity of the patron's choice.  Choose us, "Girls on the Way," and the money will go to Global Fund for Women in our honor.  So -- go visit the Granite State's "oldest original brewpub" and drink up!


It's been too cold and windy to go above treeline lately.  Our hikes last week consisted of 5-10 mile jaunts close to our home.  Our time on such jaunts is improving -- we're averaging 2-3 miles an hour at a fairly relaxed pace.

View of Franconia Ridge from the top of our local (big) hill.
I previously wrote the girls and I are going to do 4Ks every week until we leave, but, after a bit of discussion, we decided against that.  There are four specific 4K hikes we all want to do, but other than those four hikes, we're going to stick to long-distance roadwalks and hill-trekking.  There are a couple of reasons for our decision.

1) From what I understand, there are only a few mountains we'll need to climb on the Camino.  Most of the trek will be on paved or relatively smoothed-over surfaces (not snow, rocks, or roots).  We've discovered path-walking is actually more difficult for us than mountain-trekking, since our muscles are used to the latter and not the former.  Therefore, we're now including more paved/hardened surfaces in our hikes.

Me and 7-year-old Alex on Lafayette, March 2010
2) Winter 4K hiking is a big deal.  Last year, Alex and I finished hiking all 48 of New Hampshire's highest mountains during calendar winters and, though I loved almost every minute of our quest, the worry and stress I carried on each and every hike was unreal.  Winter 4K hiking is dangerous.  The consequences of things going wrong during winter are almost always deadly.

Alex is now the youngest person to have hiked all 48 of NH's highest mountains during the winter (she was 9 years, 2 1/2 months old when she finished last March) -- I was worried 7-year-old Sage would want to try to break her sister's record, but, thankfully, that doesn't seem to be the case.  Sage is capable of doing the entire list, no doubt -- she already has 8 winter 4Ks under her belt, including the longer/more difficult peaks Carrigain, Garfield, and Isolation.  However, she has no desire to ascend the likes of view-less East Osceola, Hale, etc.  In other words, if there are no views to be had, then she doesn't see the point.
9-year-old Alex on Mt. Madison, Feb. 2012

That being said, there are four specific, absolutely gorgeous winter 4K hikes she/we would like to do before our Camino -- Mt. Madison, Mt. Monroe, Mt. Moosilauke, and Lincoln/Lafayette.  Those four hikes are, in my opinion, the best of the winter 4Ks.  They're also potentially dangerous, since each of those hikes requires a fair bit of above-treeline winter hiking.  The temperatures and conditions have to be just right -- and we want views!  While we're waiting for sunny skies and calm winds, we'll continue our 10-15 mile road-and-large-hill walks.


The girls are set on their aforementioned packs.  For a while, I thought I was going to buy a new one for myself, but then my car broke down and our downstairs heater finally died.  I now have a heater that works and a brand new Subaru...while both these items were necessary, I hadn't planned on spending that much money this month (or next month, or the month after that).  In other words, I can't afford a new backpack right now.

Fall 2008 -- Alex was five, Sage was three,
and my backpack still had all its pockets and straps.
There's really nothing wrong with my old one, anyway.  It's a North Face Terra 40.  Sure, the chest straps were eaten by a tight boulder cave on Mt. Percival and Hugh ripped a few holes in it the one time he borrowed it to climb Cannon.  The mesh pockets are torn and a few of the zippers have been replaced with duct tape.  It's been thrown down cliffs, tossed in deep snow, and dragged over a multitude of granite ledges.  It also smells like a dozen AT thru-hikers since it hasn't ever been washed.  Still.  It's been with me since the beginning of all our adventures and I'm comfortable with it.  I can always buy a new one in Pamplona if it completely falls apart along The Way.
Hope everyone is having a wonderful New Year thus far.  I'll post again later this week.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday.  Our family enjoyed a relaxing two weeks off.  We skied, we hiked, we lounged about.

Snow finally arrived in New Hampshire; we received about eight inches of powder over the past few days.  The temperatures dropped and now it feels like a proper New England winter.  The girls and I have been taking advantage of this cold spell to prepare for the Camino.  There's a lovely 6-10 mile loop (mileage depends on variations) around our home that takes us over hills and roads and plunges us into deep forests.  We've used that to train lately, as windspeeds have been too high to venture above treeline.

Winter is here! 17 degrees F

"Cold Camino day" training.  Halfway through a 7 mile hike, windchill five below zero (F).

We hope to climb a mountain this weekend if the wind is relatively calm.  'Tis the season for frostbite and hypothermia, so I'm conservative when it comes to taking the girls up peaks.

Gear Notes -- Socks

Alex insists on bringing the same Wigwam hiking socks she's been wearing since she was five years old.  They're full of holes and thin as paper -- however, she's worn them on every single hike she's ever been on.  That's four and a half years of almost weekly hiking, well over 200 mountains big and small.  I'm surprised they haven't completely fallen apart.  The socks are now too small for her, I don't see how they keep her feet warm, and you can practically see through them...but she's never gotten a blister and she likes them.  Whatever works, I guess.  That being said, I'm bringing an extra pair of thin, new socks for her...just in case.  I mean, seriously -- if hiking day after day after day over almost 500 miles doesn't finally do these socks in, then I don't know what will.

Sage...ditto...except Sage wears SmartWool and develops blisters from time to time.  I'll bring new socks for her too, and I'll give her the Vaseline treatment every morning or evening.  I've read that coating the feet in Vaseline (or a similar product) before putting on the socks is helpful for the prevention of blisters.  We'll experiment with this process before we leave.

Safety Issues

I've received a few emails asking about safety precautions.  My answer to those questions is yes, we're taking multiple (legal) safety precautions.  I won't elaborate on the specifics.