Packing Light as Light Can Be

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At 18, I had dreamy visions of traipsing around the world, my guitar slung over my back. Except… I didn’t own a neck strap and my massive, overstuffed orange backpack took up all the available space on my back.  (Photo by Justin Clark on Unsplash)

I have never been a good packer. I wish I could put my hands on the photo of me in my late teens wearing bib overalls and sagging under the weight of my bright orange (very uncomfortable, rigid frame) backpack. Draped over the top was a very thick, voluminous wool poncho (it wouldn’t fit inside the bulging pack). Because I couldn’t squeeze everything I wanted to take inside, I also had a large shoulder bag as well as my camera slung around my neck. And a purse. Oh yes, and a leather passport holder, tucked inside my shirt. I looked ridiculous for various reasons, but if you knew what I had inside the pack you’d really be laughing…

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Several books (assorted recreational reading as well as guidebooks and train timetables and hostel guides and such-like), a collection of notebooks and pens, a dozen spare rolls of film (because heaven knows you couldn’t buy film in Europe), a stash of tuna fish, a tin opener, spare shoes, multiple pairs of jeans and sweaters and tops and shorts and sandals and… and… and…and… Yes, I do believe I also started that trip to Europe with a guitar. Not stuffed into the pack, of course, but bashing against my leg in its unyielding hard case. The guitar was one of the first things I ditched at a hostel somewhere along the way, collected later as I retraced my steps from hostel to hostel, collecting possessions I realized I did not have any use for.

What a difference a few decades make. I don’t have the least bit of interest in pack-muling my way anywhere these days. I just weighed my pack for the Camino and it came in at a whopping 12.5 lbs – including the pack and a super lightweight sleeping bag. Not only have I pared down what I need to carry on the Camino to a bare minimum, I have way more computing and camera power tucked into an outside pocket than I could even have imagined on my last backpacking trip. Train timetables? Thank-you, Internet. Hostel guide? Internet. Books – recreational and reference plus a bonus stack of magazines? Digital library. Communications center? No more waiting to find a Post Office in some remote village each week so I could send home a TELEGRAM (!!) all of three words long – AM ALIVE. NIKKI. Occasionally I would splurge and make a three-minute phone call back home to let everyone know more or less where I was and where I was likely to be during the following week. Facebook posts? An up-to-the-minute Instagram feed? Hah! Postcards lovingly scribbled and then mailed (usually from the same post offices where those telegrams came from) took ages to get back to Canada and by the time they did their contents were very old news.

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And the new pack itself? We found a used Osprey pack online and it compresses down to carry-on size while still having tons of room for the modest amount of stuff I am taking. And it’s so comfortable compared to the Orange Beast I schlepped around way back when. Granted, I was a lot younger, but still…

That orange pack nearly killed me when, after renting a sturdy shopping-style bicycle in the Lake District I decided (somewhat ambitiously) to ride across England to visit some relatives near Newcastle. In a single day. With all that crap strapped to my back and stuffed into panniers and tied to the back of the bicycle.

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This is pretty similar to the bike that nearly met its end in England’s last patch of wilderness….    Photo by Khachik Simonian on Unsplash

Things went very sideways when I took a shortcut (you can hardly blame me, I was trying to avoid the massive mountains in the middle of England) and wound up slipping off a slick, moss-covered smallish cliff thing, doing a summersault, and crashing down into the forest below still clutching my handlebars. Said handlebars were somewhere up and behind me where the bike landed and wedged itself against the base of the cliff. Unfortunately, the sturdy frame of the backpack (still on my back) jammed itself into the frame of the bike rendering me helplessly pinned to the ground, unable to get up. Lying there, staring up at some picturesque English trees, I had visions of people, years later, stumbling across my skeleton entangled in the rusty bike frame. I imagined them flipping through the mouldy pages of the Collected Works of Franz Kafka pulled from the tattered and faded remnants of that pack and wondering if the tuna fish was still edible.

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The Lake District is a gorgeous place – until you have to pedal up and over those mountains to leave… Photo by James Qualtrough on Unsplash

Obviously, I managed to extricate myself eventually and other than the fact the bike chain popped off, neither I nor the bike suffered any serious damage. Unfortunately, the bike chain was cunningly protected by a steel shield and though I had all manner of things with me, a screwdriver was not one of them. That meant I had to carry the bike over hill and dale to get to a tiny farm way down in the valley below in order to get some assistance from the resident farmer… but not before being charged by a very angry ram protecting his harem. That was a very long field to cross, I can tell you – being battered and bashed by a furious sheep every step of the way.

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Photo by George Hiles on Unsplash

Fortunately, the bike served me well as I held it up between me and the curly-horned monster like a shield and managed to stagger backwards all the way to the gate — and safety — on the far side…

But, I digress. I have no intention on this trip of straining myself unduly. I am still a few weeks away from my departure date so I will repack and reconsider several times more, but before I set off I’ll post the exact contents of what’s in the new pack – just because I can!

Buen Camino! (because, I think, once a person has packed the bag the trip has already begun!)

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New Book Arrives!!

It doesn’t matter how many times it happens, it’s always exciting when a new book arrives in the mail! Cliffhanger is part of a new early reader series by Pearson Educational Publishing. I love the look of this book – clear, colourful photos and a subject dear to my heart!! Because it’s destined for the […]

via New Book!! Yippee!! — Nikki Tate – Author

Ruts are for Wimps (or, old dogs and new tricks)

Just when I thought I was more or less settling into a pleasant groove (the politically correct term for rut), life sort of took a turn. First, there was the big move from the coast to the mountains followed closely by the unexpected trip to Paris. Then there was the addition of a teenager into the household. Then there was the edict from my doctor to stop baking bread every day and give gluten free a try. A new bicycle (a very fast, very smooth bike…). A new phone (it was great for three days before I lost it overboard while sailing). A new iPad. And, a new backpack. The latter items were procured as I start my serious preparations for the Camino trip later in the fall. Actually, next month. And, if you’ve ever prepared for a big trip you know that can blast you out of even the deepest of ruts. These days, it feels like pretty much everything is up for negotiation, adjustment and change.

Dani, Dad and I are writing a book together about this Camino trip (Dani and I doing the bulk of the writing and Dad providing the artwork) and I have decided to finally ditch the kitchen sink from my must-take packing list. My goal is to take only the bare essentials needed for the walk. Given that I usually travel with laptop, reference books, a couple of notebooks, a small stationery store, camera, phone, go-pro, tripod, external hard drive, digital audio recorder, charging brick, cables to connect all of the above, plus multiples of all clothing options for any possible weather event plus a deck of cards, snacks, water bottle, and several hats and pairs of sunglasses, you can imagine this whole ‘packing light’ thing is quite the challenge. I’m even leaving my favourite pillow behind!

Given that this is a working trip, I do have to take some version of my office along with me. I bought a case with a built in keyboard for my iPad which, though fiddly (the whole setup is half the size of my MacBook), seems to function well. Yesterday, I slipped it into my tiny new pack and jumped on my bike (a great find by Fabio on the local used stuff website) to test out the equipment. Not only was I able to sit on a bench and type my observations and reflections on the spot (something I need to be able to do while we are en route), I even managed to insert an image snapped while sitting on said bench. Wow. Technology. When it works, it’s so COOL!! Then I fired off an email (yes, with an image attached) all while resting on a bench facing the mountains and felt rather proud of myself.

One of the things we want to try to do is send regular updates (Instagram, Medium Series, my Patreon blog, Facebook) while we are out there to try to share some of the experience with folks back home. I guess it’s a sign of my advanced years that I am still marvelling at how it’s possible to conceive of such magical computing and communications power contained in something smaller than a paperback.

I also find myself re-grieving the loss of my precious duffle bag containing all my trip journals and some unprocessed films when I was on my way back home from Greece back in 1981. Foolishly, I had left the bag in the baggage shelf at the back of the train car I was travelling in and some opportunistic moron (nope, forgiveness and acceptance remain elusive on this one) swiped my bag. Sadly for them (and for me) the bag contained only memories – souvenirs, the journals, the lost-forever films.

Options for protecting the data were limited back then. I could have made a parcel and shipped everything home, but packages can get lost and films were not always that robust), never mind the matter of cost for someone travelling on a very skinny budget. Even photocopiers were rare and expensive back in the day, so making a copy to put in another bag (or strap to my body under my clothes) wasn’t all that practical.

This piece of sculpture outside Elevation Place in Canmore is Touchstone by Peter Powning

Yes, I know that it’s entirely possible I could drop my iPad off a bridge (my recent iPhone/sailing disaster was a very good reminder of that) before the day’s images could be launched up into the cloud, but I’d be missing only a day’s worth of stuff and not several months worth of notes, laboriously hand-scrawled in a series of tattered notebooks.

Today’s post (created 100% on the WordPress app on my iPad) is another step in this ultra lite mobile direction. So far, I’m loving this latest aspect of my new normal. What about you? Have you ever had a painful loss of data (analog or digital) while travelling? How portable have you managed to make yourself these days? If you are a digital nomad (or even if you aren’t but your head is overflowing with good ideas), what’s the most valuable piece of advice you can give me before I set off on my next journey?

Blue Ribbon Bread Baker Goes Gluten Free – for now, at least

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Sandy Grayson snapped this photo of my prize-winning bread at the local fall fair a few years ago. Go gluten-free? Me? No bloody way.

OK, there’s a blog post title I never thought I’d write! There’s nothing like convincing yourself you have cancer of the lower realm to spur a person to action. Granted, I have an active imagination and have no problem at all conjuring all kinds of worst-case scenario stories for myself, but still – I had my reasons for being worried. Why my symptoms decided to become more pronounced about three years ago after a lifetime of scarfing back bread, bagels, cookies, pancakes, muffins and more is a mystery, but that’s exactly what happened.

Of course, two-and-a-half years ago was also about the time when I met my future fiancé (that was a long-distance relationship for ages), started doing a lot of travelling (including three months in Paris where I have to say, the ever-present baguette would have made making dietary changes excruciating), and didn’t have a good family doctor. The past few years have been nothing if not disruptive and, because symptoms initially would come and go, I put off doing anything about them.

Finally, I arrived properly here in my new hometown, found a great family doctor, and during my first intake meeting with her requested some screening tests. My doctor agreed and then suggested I look at my diet – how many carbs do I eat each day? What about gluten? I held back a snort – after all, I bake bread every other day and my go-to treat foods are all laden with sugar, chocolate, and flour. Yum!

All tests came back just fine – and, predictably, my doctor asked again about my diet and referred me to Dr. Perlmutter’s book, Grain Brain. “Have a read” she said.

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There’s nothing like a doctor who makes you look hard at your habits, do a bit of reading, and come to your own conclusions.

Reluctantly, I decided to see if I could find some good baking recipes that eliminate not only wheat but replacement carbs like rice and potato flour as well (as per Dr. Perlmutter’s – and my doctor’s – recommendations). To say I was skeptical would be an understatement. But I was motivated – not only by my grumbling tummy but also by the thought that I am willing to do pretty much anything to help prevent brain deterioration later in life. I watched my mother succumb to Pick’s Disease (a frontotemporal lobe dementia) at an early age and if there’s any way I can spare my nearest and dearest the misery of watching me head off down that same path… Getting rid of bread products suddenly seemed like not so bad a way to take one for the team.

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On the negative side, replacement bread recipes like the ones I found in the Wheat Belly Cookbook really can’t be considered true breads. They are some other kind of food, much denser and totally lacking in that light, airy texture I am so in love with in my home-baked breads of yesteryear. To his credit, Dr. Perlmutter doesn’t get your hopes up with claims of bread replacement recipes and, as a result, I found his suggestions less disappointing.

grain brain cookbook coverOn the plus side, though, wow. Within 24-hours I had complete relief from my symptoms. Ten days in, I am frankly shocked at the fact I am still alive without having consumed a crumb of bread (or other wheat-containing product). The baking experiments I’ve done have resulted in scones that resemble hockey pucks, bread that’s more like a dense I’m-not-sure-what, and pizza crusts that were more like… I have no idea. Which makes sense. I am baking with ground up nuts and not flour, so it’s more like I have moved to a different country with totally different staple foods.

Also on the plus side, I haven’t felt hungry at any point. There’s plenty of protein in this diet (eggs, cheese, meat, and more nuts and seeds than I can count) as well as unlimited amounts of veggies and salads. The smoothies are delish and I’ve been lucky enough not to suffer any carb withdrawal or any real cravings (which is nothing short of miraculous, given my high carb intake before this experiment began). If only it had been so easy to give up caffeine (which I did last summer and which, really, deserves a blog post all its own because that was a truly miserable experience).

I’m about ten days into this eating revolution and I am somewhat shocked to say that I think I’ll keep going for a while. I’m curious if there will be other changes (in the ability to focus, for example, and improvement in the quality of my sleep – which has been terrible for the past few years). In a subsequent visit to my doctor, she said she recommends patients try the gluten-free thing for 30 days, then let loose and have a carb-crazy weekend – pizza, beer, waffles with loads of syrup. Then, she says, they should take note of how they feel on Monday morning. I don’t know if I’m brave enough to try that, but so far anyway, I am feeling pretty good about this weird new way of eating.

And, as a footnote to all the above, I am really, really sorry for all the snotty things I have thought and said about people who have tried some version of the gluten-free, paleo diet, reduced carb way of life.  There may just be something to all this after all…

An update about the Camino

Our trip to Spain is getting closer! Follow the link below to my writing blog for more details…

There is nothing quite like receiving that email confirming your flight is booked. In this case, the series of emails (Calgary to Paris via Montreal, Paris to Madrid and then various bits and pieces of the return trip plus information about trains within Spain) have triggered a crazy mix of wild excitement and sheer terror. […]

via Camino tickets BOOKED!!!!!! — Nikki Tate – Author

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Over on the writing blog… what’s keeping me busy these days…

After three months of being a writer in Paris (oh, it was fun to just write that phrase!), I am back in the Rocky Mountains with a list of To-Do lists! [Click on the link below for the rest of the post…]

via Pushing Forward on All Fronts — Nikki Tate – Author

Oh, Paris – You Stole My Heart

I didn’t know it was possible to fall in love with a city. I mean, a city is crowded, smelly, full of strangers, polluted, confusing, and complicated. Who can you trust? Every time I take the Metro, disembodied voices over the PA system remind me to beware of pick-pockets. Over the past couple of weeks, those same multi-lingual announcements also reminded me to drink lots of water and not get too excited as we are having a heat wave and getting too excited could prove dangerous. The other day, the pollution was so bad here they offered discount transit tickets to try to encourage anyone who didn’t need to drive to leave their cars at home. It’s no wonder I don’t like big cities. I’m a farmer, remember? The kid whose dream it was to find herself a quarter section in the Peace River District so she never had to talk to her neighbours.

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#2 I added a little virtual graffiti of my own to this one…

What happened??? We came to Paris to spend some time with family here and our stay wound up stretching to a full three months. Now that our time is coming to an end (we head back to the Rockies in a few days), I’m feeling like someone about to experience a terrible break-up.

Which made me wonder, what the hell? Why on earth would I have become so infatuated with this place? Here’s my best attempt at explaining the impossible.

Why Nikki Fell in Love with Paris (in no particular order)

  1. The emergency vehicle sirens sound like musicians tuning up for a performance
  2. I love the graffiti – which is everywhere – which is simultaneously awful and cool. OK, I’m a bit conflicted on this one. The graffiti is like the strange habits one’s sweetheart has that simultaneously drive you crazy and yet are somehow endearing.
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  3. Tomatoes
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    Not just tomatoes. Fresh produce of all kinds in the many, many markets all over the city. For that matter, salami, fresh fish, olives (OMG – the olive vendors!), cheese, bread, dates… all manner of delectable edibles. It’s a drool-inducing pleasure just to walk among the rows of stalls, ogling, sniffing, and tasting. I could go on and on and on about those markets. (Note to self: the markets are worth a post all their own)
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  4. Flea markets
    Close cousins of the farmer’s markets, you don’t have to look too hard to find a flea market in Paris. I used to have a favourite – the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen -mostly because it is so huge – it’s said to cover seven hectares and on any given weekend you’ll find about 3,000 vendors and over 150,000 other flea market fanatics in search of a good deal) but now that I’ve been to several others scattered about the city, it’s hard to say which one I like best.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  5. Musicians are everywhere – and, I mean everywhere. The other day we were treated to a series of marching bands banging and tooting their way around our neighbourhood (they were taking part in some sort of band festival). Individual musicians play in the Metro, in parks, on street corners. One afternoon I stumbled across a fabulous Dixieland jazz band playing away for tips (and CD sales). Not a day goes by where I’m not serenaded by someone singing or playing an instrument (sometimes both at the same time). I’ve heard some world-class performers and some wannabes, but they are all passionate about their music and all those tunes provide a soundtrack for Paris that I will miss after I get home.
  6. For that matter, artists are everywhere. Shooting videos or taking photographs, drawing or painting, they prove I am not the only one who finds Paris to be an inspiring place to create. One group of avant garde dancers even painted each other in a performance piece executed in the shadow of Lady Liberty on the Ile des Cignes not far from our apartment.
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  7. The gardens are everywhere and they are spectacular. They are also where you will find Parisians enjoying the fine art of the pique-nique (see also #9). Gardens are also home to so many pieces of sculpture I finally gave up trying to photograph them all (that was a thought, early on). Sculptures actually warrant a blog post all their own as well. Such a great mix of ancient and avant-garde and all sculptural styles in between.
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  8. Even the door knockers and door handles are cool.
  9. Pique-niques. I have never been anywhere where people took their picnics so seriously. These are lengthy affairs with gourmet selections of cheese and exquisite charcuterie, olives to die for, fresh fruit, pastries, fresh bread, salads, and, of course, wine. Nobody seems to drink to excess, but just about everyone enjoys a sip of nice wine. These picnics go on for hours – in the summer, until well after dark. Musical instruments come out, or people provide amplified music of various kinds, all of which inspire dancing and singing.
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  10. Museums. Of course, some of the world’s great museums are to be found here – too many to pick from. I’m not sure that you’d call the Catacombs a museum, exactly, but I can tell you the cool, dark crypt that holds the bones of millions of dead Parians is worth a visit. Located waaaaaay below the city, the maze of tunnels and hollows and nooks and crannies is one of the most humbling places I’ve ever been to. Nothing like spending a bit of time with crumbling bones to make you keenly aware of your own mortality.
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  11. Ancient bones are one thing, but generally speaking, there are just a ton of old things – buildings, parks, monuments, scraps of ancient Roman walls – you know, really OLD stuff EVERYWHERE.
  12. Most of all though, there is always something going on (concerts, exhibitions, films, sporting events, tours, festivals, markets, conferences… happenings of all kinds). The city streets are alive with people until long after old folks like us collapse into bed, which can be a bit of a problem when the temperatures rise and you have to leave the windows open as there isn’t any air conditioning (though, nothing that a fan and decent earplugs can’t fix…).
  13. Where there is stuff going on, there are people. Yes, things like festivals and concerts happen on a grand scale, but what perhaps shocked and delighted me most of all about my time in Paris was how many cool people I met at writing salons, literary events, spoken word open mics, film screenings, and freelance writing get-togethers. And those people introduced me to other people and told me about other things going on (tango lessons, board game gatherings, walking groups, climbing groups, sketching groups, photography groups) – so many ways to connect and converse and share passions that I ran out of time before I was even able to scratch the surface! I had so much fun meeting people that I can’t wait until I am able to return… I have conversations to finish!
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    With Hazel Manuel at a book signing at WH Smith in Paris

    As I have been writing this list (while packing and getting ready to go back to the mountains in Canada) each point in this short list made me think of several other points that I could have made. Perhaps I should just switch gears entirely, move back to Paris and just blog about that. Yep, I am in love with a city and her name is Paris.

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    I couldn’t really finish a whole post about why I love Paris so much without including at least one Eiffel Tower portrait…