Camino training – a lighthearted look

Training for any long walk, including the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain, requires some preparation, both physical and mental.

Physical preparation – walking with backpacks

Firstly, physical preparation must include walking on paths analogous to the kinds of track we expect to encounter, with distance and hills and varying terrain. And as departure time approaches it is important to get used to walking with poles – remember a million step walk over 800km (500 miles) requires you to lift those poles a million times. The poles feel light, but you need to build those muscles. And of course, it is vital to practice with packs loaded with everything you intend to carry. Here is a typical day on the track. We are currently covering around 10-12kms (6.2 – 7.5 miles) a day training with packs.

Becoming aware of the bigger picture – taking note of your surroundings

Walking frees the mind and de-stresses the body. The body establishes a natural rhythm and if you keep your eyes open you will see connections that show how the landscape shapes a society, or you will encounter and take note of those services required to maintain a modern society the way the components of a complex organism interact to sustain life all around us. Or maybe I’m just over-thinking it…

Acceptance of setbacks

Life is full of setbacks – some minor, some major – and these serve to make us pause and consider alternative solutions to our problems. It is part of the creative process that enriches our lives. Setbacks can be in our career, our relationships, or losing that fiddly little piece that sprung out of your glasses frame. Whatever it is, there is an analogue in finding a physical barrier to our habitual training route. This time after walking for 4km only to have to turn back and find another route before breakfast.

Making friends with the locals

No matter how isolated your training path may be, no matter how isolated you feel, there are always unexpected encounters. As the saying goes, “there are no strangers, just friends you haven’t met yet”. We are often accompanied on our training walks by a whole range of such friends – be they people out for a ride on a mountain bike, or fellow walkers enjoying the fresh air and bucolic ambience. But quite often there are no people at all – just the local kangaroos or foxes or cockatoos bemused at our antics.

It will be interesting to see how well our training has prepared us for the road ahead. And let me know in the comments about your insights into preparing for a long trek.

 

 
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Caiguna Blowhole

Around 5km west of Caiguna on the Nullarbor Plain, you will see a blue sign pointing the way to the Caiguna Blowhole. The sign breaks the monotony of the view 🙂

Straight road

The Caiguna blowhole is disturbingly close to the highway, being only about 20m from the road, and it marks an entrance to the vast underground limestone cave system that lies beneath the Plain. And I briefly wondered how solid was the road foundation – a thought quickly put aside as hundreds of heavy hauling road trains criss-cross over it daily.

Caiguna Blowhole

Caiguna Blowhole

Blowholes are a result of weathering of the ground surface through to a cavity. The cave beneath the Caiguna Blowhole is between 0.5m – 1.5m (1.6 feet – 5 feet). Some blowholes on the Nullarbor have been measured with a wind speed of up to 72kph. Caves breathe out when the air pressure falls, and breathe in when the air pressure rises. The speed of air flow is dependent on the size of the cave entrance and the volume of air contained in the cave.

Some of the caves beneath the Nullarbor have been mapped for several kilometres, and many of them contain large reservoirs of water that collectively form the artesian aquifer. This aquifer supplies the region’s bores and wells with fairly fresh water.

Caiguna blowhole is one of an estimated more than 100,000 blowholes scattered across the plain and it is certainly one of the most accessible. I noticed that someone had tied a piece of cloth to a stick placed at the bottom of the hole to show the air movement, so I made a short video…

 

 
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Eucla – connecting east and west

Eucla Telegraph Station

The Eucla telegraph station was particularly important because prior to Federation in 1901, South Australia and Victoria used American Morse code, whereas the rest of the country used International Morse Code. So the station was staffed by both South Australian and Western Australian telegraphists – separated by a barrier across the telegraph table which held the equipment.

South Australian telegraphists transcribed messages from that State and passed them through holes in the barrier, to Western Australian telegraphists who translated the messages into international morse code for delivery to the West – and vice versa. With a sense of ceremony, the barrier was taken down in 1901 following Federation. But it could easily have remained in place. When the Federation was drawn up in the Constitution, Western Australia was not keen to join, whereas New Zealand was written in (later crossed out) and Western Australia was given the option to join at a later date should it so choose.

The Eucla station was first opened on 8 December 1877. At its height in 1927, more than 600 messages a day were passed across the single copper line. The station closed in 1929 when a new line was erected along the trans-continental railway. By 1927, Australia was the 7th most wired nation in the world – which says something about our human need to communicate, and overcome our isolation.

Eucla Telegraph Station

The State of Victoria installed Australia’s first telegraph cable system as early as 1855 – just 11 years after Samuel Morse invented his famous dot-dash code. and Australia joined the international telegraph network in 1872 – an early adopter of the electric telegraph.

The Eucla station was particularly important because prior to Federation in 1901, South Australia and Victoria used American Morse code, whereas the rest of the country used International Morse Code. South Australian telegraphists transcribed messages from that State and passed them through holes in a barrier on the telegraph table, separating them from the Western Australian telegraphists who translated the messages into international morse code for delivery to the West – and vice versa. The barrier was taken down in 1901 following Federation. But it could easily have remained in place. When the Federation was drawn up in the Constitution, Western Australia was not keen to join, whereas New Zealand was written in (later crossed out) and Western Australia was given the option to join at a later date should it so choose.

Early Eucla telegraphists

Eucla telegraphists 1898 (image photographed at Eucla Museum)

Plagues of rabbits

After plagues of rabbits in the 1890s and a subsequent plague of cats (introduced to deal with the rabbits) the damage to the vegetation holding the sand dunes together was complete and shifting sand drifts further complicated the lives of those keeping the telegraph station in operation.

Finally, in 1927 with the advent of automatic repeater technology, the coastal telegraph station was closed down leaving the buildings to the mercy of the sand dunes.

Eucla Telegraph Station

Eucla Telegraph Station

Eucla Museum

Eucla itself comprises a roadhouse, two motels a museum and the old Telegraph Station – but it is well worth visiting the museum and telegraph station ruins as they tell a fascinating story of Australia’s communication economy and history. The museum is open 24 hours a day and operates on an honour system.

telecommunications equipment Eucla Museum

telecommunications equipment Eucla Museum

The wind-the-handle handsets were still in use in the one public phone box there in 1976 – I used one to call my place of work in Adelaide to let them know I had been delayed. The call was sent via Kalgoorlie Exchange where they still used human telephone operators to make the connection via a manual switchboard. They would time the call and at the end you were asked to put in the right number of coins. In this case the operator must’ve heard my plight and claimed she hadn’t switched on the timer so the the call was free – I really appreciated that act of generosity at the time – and hope she didn’t get into trouble over it.

Many earlier drivers have broken down in the vicinity – it is a psychologically challenging road today, but there are reminders that the road takes a physical toll on vehicles too.

ute wreck

Eucla is also home to another signpost to the rest of Australia

Eucla signpost

And a ‘Big’ Whale – which is actually quite small as whales go…

Big Whale

In light of the UK drifting away from Europe, perhaps one day they will need a sign to guide them… 🙂

EU sign

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